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January 2011

Connections

NOTE: This post was written on 1/4, but I wasn’t able to upload it as my laptop was down for a week. Here it is.

 

Have you seen the book, “Six Word Epitaphs”? I found it by turns humorous and poignant, and of course wrote my own: First word, “Hi!” Hasn’t stopped since.

Communication, connecting with others, energizes me. Connecting - talking, emailing, tweeting, blogging, listening, reading, learning, staying in touch, keeping informed, giving advice, telling stories, getting help – defines me.  I competed in oral interpretation (now that dates me!) in high school, earned a degree in Human Communications at the University of Maine, and all of my careers have focused on communications in some way. 

We left Bimini on December 27th to make our way east in the Bahamas. We’ll eventually end up in Nassau prior to heading for the Exumas and from there, I’ll post this blog, catch up on email, take care of business, and call friends and family. As I write this, it is January 4th – we’ve been unconnected for eight days. 

In the meantime, we’re anchored off of Devil’s Cay (pronounced key) in the Berry Islands. It’s beautiful. We’ve been on 3 of the beaches in the area – there are many many more. We’ve explored one of the islands; floated lazily over a sand bar where we observed a ray, starfish, a crab, and many mysterious “Hole Digging Fish” (more on that later) and at least one small shark; visited the only commercial establishment within miles (Flo’s Conch Bar – more on that later, too); harvested a coconut; and had a day of repairs and projects.

We’ve not called anyone, emailed, tweeted, checked the web, or otherwise communicated with family and friends. We can’t. We haven’t had wifi since Bimini and using our AT&T iPhone is just too expensive here. We haven’t listened to the news because I can’t find a radio station that carries the news. I expected to listen to the BBC in the Bahamas and miss “my” NPR and MPBN Radio.

We are not connected.

I hate that. Truly.

When we left Bimini we “buddy sailed” for two days with Linda and David who are aboard S/V Choctaw Brave, crossing  Mackie Shoal from Bimini to the Berry Islands. We chatted on the radio with them and maintained a connection until they decided to spend a few days at a marina on Great Harbor Cay. Since December 31st we’ve been on our own, though we’ve chatted with one other couple anchored nearby, four young men on a power boat, and Chester from Flo’s Conch Bar. I’m not the kind of person who can count on two hands the number of people I’ve spoken to in eight days --and have fingers left over!

We are not connected.

I hate  that.

There have been so many times I’ve wanted to Tweet out a quick observation or a (hopefully) humorous thought. Even more often, I wonder what’s going on and what I’m missing in Maine, on the news, and on Twitter.

I’m keeping a list of things that I want to look up on the Internet. Are starfish edible? What are those strange little hole digging fish we saw? Can I take a HAM test in the USVI? What kind of bird was that? What is  a Key/Cay, anyway and why do they spell it Cay in the Bahamas? While we’re at it, what’s an atoll? What is with Bimini? Does the Explorer Chartbook website offer a warning about the entrance to Devil’s Cay? (It should. It really should.) What kind of shampoo works in salt water? (Because what I’m using most certainly does not.)

We are not connected.

I have no way to connect with my family and friends. I miss the phone calls with my sister and with C. I miss having lunch with K, and having wine and cheese and black olives (never green olives) with L and R. I don’t know what is happening in their lives. How was the trip to Annapolis? Is the flooded office back to normal? Where is L now? Did my cousin and his wife make it back safely from Europe? Where is Mo? Did he make it to Key West Race Week? How was R’s Christmas Brunch? When will J and D head for the Bahamas? How was my sister-in-law’s trip to Buffalo? What is going on? What am I missing?

We. Are. Not. Connected.

I hate that.

In Florida at No Name Harbor I had a delightful discussion with a British couple who’ve been sailing and living aboard for 8 years. As we did, they also lived for a time on the dock year round, but they’ve spent more time cruising. She said that it took her two years to get used to the cruising life. She truly hated it for a time. Her challenges were related to learning to “make do” in new ports of call, provisioning and laundry. I find that fun and exciting. I love the living aboard and cruising tasks that seem like obstacles to others. Walking for propane? No problem. Using less water? OK. Making shelves for the lockers, sewing a sail, weathering a storm (just one, thank you) are all part of the adventure. (And when you think about it, that walk for propane allowed me to connect with more people in two hours than I have in the past 8 days.)

I’m a connections kind of person. I like to know what’s going on. I like to have my hand in running a few things (and EW does not  let me run him) I like to visit with my friends and share in their joys and challenges. I like to tell my stories to folks who love me. I love to hear from and about folks we love. I cherish my connections.

I am not connected. This is my struggle.

EW spent yesterday afternoon getting the SSB radio installed. He should finish the project today and we’ll then be able to talk more easily with cruisers in this region. Once he has the pactor modem also installed we can start using our Sailmail email address and connect with short messages to and from family and friends and post on the blog.   When we get to Nassau, we’ll purchase a Bahaman Phone Card and call some folks from the may pay phones in the islands.

And when we leave Nassau for the Exumas we’ll still have days where wifi antennas and phone cards will be useless as we explore remote, uninhabited islands.

We will not be always be connected.

I worry that I didn’t prepare friends and family for our silence this week. I know I wasn’t prepared.  Evidently, this, too is part of the adventure.

 

UPDATE: January 15, 2011

EW did not get the SSB installed while we were in the Berry Islands. Careful readers will note that we have lost important connections somewhere on the boat. After an exhaustive search and much help from Bahama John, the taxi driver, we found one of those connections in Nassau. Since the weather was cloudy and windy we elected to stay here and EW is now installing the SSB, Pactor Modem, and the new GPS. He is talking to himself, reading 3 different instruction books, sighing, cutting holes in the bulkheads, making a mess and working hard to connect us.

It took three days and two very good computer companies to get my Dell fixed here and I have just had use of her since Thursday evening. These are all part of the challenges of living aboard and cruising and we are actually coping really well with all of it. Have walked a lot – to stores for parts; and frequently remind each other that we have no deadline until April. It’s not snowing here, everyone is very friendly, and we have a safe and comfortable free anchorage. Life is great.

 


Getting to Devil's Cay

NOTE: This post was written January 4th. Our connectivity prevented me from uploading the photos at this time. Sorry about that. I posted the photos here on January 19th.

 

We’re using the Explorer Chartbook series for as main resource and charts for the Bahamas. They're the best available and very good, but this navigator has had a few problems. The most serious was the entrance to Devil’s Cay harbor.

We’d already bumped bottom three times, twice in Bimini in sand and once heading west to the Berry Islands. The first time was my fault , the second due to shifting sand in a channel. The third grounding was practically planned when we crossed Mackie Shoal on a rising tide in the deepest water possible at that location. On paper, La Luna draws 6 feet 2 inches, but we’ve now decided that a fully loaded La Luna draws 6 feet 5 inches and figure that into all plans. (This photo is at the “planned” grounding, where the monitor shows .1 foot below the keel. The depth sounder thinks we draw 6 feet 2 inches. The depth sounder didn’t load or provision the boat.)   PC290019

We didn’t like Bimini, though we met some nice folks there. If I were to make this crossing from Florida to the Bahamas again and had a larger weather window I would definitely not stop at Bimini. The name conjures up sandy beaches and lovely turquoise waters and (for some reason) pink colored buildings. They have the sandy beaches and the turquoise waters, but must of the buildings are run down, cobbled together, or in total disrepair. I think Hurricane Andrew hit them hard and the island as a whole hasn’t recovered. (I’d check the Internet for Bimini information, but as you may recall – I’m not connected as i write this.) To me, Bimini is largely uninviting and it’s a shame. There is litter everywhere and, more tragically, apparently an island wide problem with alcohol abuse. Perhaps we caught the island on a bad week during the holidays, but it certainly wasn’t what we imagined when we left Key Biscayne.

PC270008
So we left North Bimini to anchor off of North Cat Cay with Dave and Linda (and Jack) on Choctaw Brave. It was the first of three nights in which we anchored and didn’t go ashore. The next day we traveled for over 30 miles in 8 – 15 feet of water (except for that one spot early in the day) across Mackie Shoals. That night we went north for a bit over a half mile and simply dropped the hook. In the middle of nowhere. Nothing. We anchored in 13 feet of water with nothing around us for 30 miles. It was eerie. And beautiful.  It was a three day passage like no other we’ve undertaken and much more restful than keeping watch overnight every three hours.

(Jack is a miniature Doberman Pincher. He is a good boy. He and his folks, Linda and Dave, visited for Christmas dinner on the 26th. He “goes” on the boat. Good dog.)

PC290026 Our third night out, we anchored 10 miles east/southeast of Great Harbor Cay. Again, we could see no land.  David and Linda’s boat holds less fuel and water than La Luna, and Linda had planned on doing laundry back at Bimini before deciding to join us at the last minute, so they wanted to spend a couple of nights at the marina on Great Harbor Cay. We’re trying to avoid marinas, didn’t need fuel and water and have to get propane – which we can only do at Nassau – so that will be our marina stop before the Exumas. In the meantime we wanted to visit the Berry Islands. (The photo at the left was taken at anchor.)

NOTE To Cruisers: (J & D – this means you!) Dave and Linda loved Great Harbor Cay and you can check into the Bahamas there. If you have a 3 day weather window from Florida, I’d go across Mackie Shoals, anchor like we did and clear the country in Great Harbor Cay. You just can’t get off the boat until you check in. Since there is no place to go, that isn’t a problem.

The Explorer Chartbook says:

The lovely cays and harbours of the Berrys are generally underutilized as a cruising area. If the enticement of fewer boats and a better chance of finding a secluded anchorage appeal to you, this is a sojourn to jot down on your itinerary. … Several anchorages are accessible by entering the cut between White Cay and Devil’s Cay. Your draft and the state of the tide will be factors in how far you can go behind Saddleback to the south or Hoffman’s to the north.

EW and I thought we were being very, very cautious on December 31st when entering the cut between Devil’s Cay and the breakers off White Cay.

I screwed up. Big time. I totally misread the directions and the channel. (The key phrase that I misread was in that paragraph above: .. you can go behind Saddleback …

I thought the entrance was south of Saddleback, but we were very, very cautious.  We weren’t sure that this channel would work for our vessel and had contingencies. We discussed it at length and agreed to enter the cut – a nice wide one with deep water – and take a moment to look things over. We knew we could safely go north to an anchorage inside White Cay – but could we get to the preferred anchorage behind Devil’s?

We got here the hard way. And I do mean hard. There’s a coral and rock bar between Devil’s and Saddleback – the direction I had charted for us. EW could see the ripples at high tide signifying a strong current and shallow water, so he immediately knew we couldn’t go through there.  He saw we were being sucked onto the ridge and put the engine into full reverse. The tide and incredible current were against us. At one moment we were in our safe zone in six meters of water and at the next we were swept onto the southern end of the bar off of Devil’s. Crunch!

Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god! EW could look down to port (easily since the boat was over on her side) and see deep water not 2 feet away. We couldn’t get there. He tried using the engine until Pine Top overheated, and then we turned off our trusty Perkins for a rest and sat there, wondering what to do next. Who would we call? How long would it take them to come? What could they (whoever they were) do?

We knew the winds were going to increase that evening and that the safe cut would be transformed into a “rage”. The Explorer Chartbooks talk about “a rage over the bar”.  That is not a good thing. We had timed our entrance for high tide, favorable winds, and calm waters. If we were stuck for four hours all of those would disappear and La Luna would be grinding on the coral and rock in very bad conditions.

(NOTE: This was not living coral. This was rock. No live coral was harmed in this grounding.)

EW knew we had to get over the bar as there was no way the current and incoming tide would allow us to get back to our safe spot and head north to the other anchorage. But how?

He was so calm. He was upset and worried, but he was calm. He kept thinking of the possible ways out of this mess. I could see none. He kept looking at the deep water on the other side of the bar. I couldn’t make out what he was seeing. La Luna would almost float and then fall back on the coral. We had failed her. She didn’t deserve this.

I’m not sure how long we were stuck. EW thinks 40 minutes. How long does it take to overheat a Perkins and let it cool down enough to use again? I truly don’t think it was 40 minutes but it was definitely too long.  I assured him that once we got to deep water, we were home free – though I also said that I had no idea if (or how) we would be able to get safely out of the harbor.

EW could see deep water to our port side, and I could tell that La Luna was pointing toward the deeper end of the bar. If we could get her to go forward and slightly to port, we would have a chance. He directed me to unfurled the jib, and started Pine Top, and the coming tide and very strong current all worked in our favor to push us over the bar into safe harbor.

We anchored.

La Luna at Anchor in Devil's Cay

(At Anchor in behind Devil's Cay)

We calmed down. Gradually.

I didn’t sleep that night until well after 3:00 AM. The winds picked up and I had a great view of the rage in the cut and over the bar. I was sickened. If we had come into the cut and immediately turned up to the right, we would have been fine. I have gone over the instructions and the chart numerous times and discovered most (hopefully all) of my mistakes. Having run aground 4 times between December 24th and December 31 our theme for 2011 is “nothing but water”. La Luna will touch nothing but water from here on. We’ve promised her.

EW was determined that we would find a way out of this harbor. I was pessimistic. We checked tide tables and watched the rise and fall of the water for two days. We poured over the charts. We took the dinghy out with a small anchor and marked the rode at 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 feet. We found the channel along the inside of Saddleback Cay. We hailed 4 young men on a sport fishing boat and asked for confirmation. We went back out in the dinghy at high tide with the GPS and marked over 50 waypoints from La Luna’s anchorage to the safe exit out of this cut.

We took the dinghy to Flo’s Conch Bar and talked with Chester, owner, proprietor, and the “they” who would have appeared had we called for help on the radio. According to Chester and the young guys on the fishing boat, this happens with some regularity. Sailboats come safely through the cut, slow down and get swept over the bar. Chester saw an 80-foot sailboat with a draft of over 8 feet do the same thing. Eighty feet! I don’t think the coral bar is 80 feet wide! Chester had to help pilot that vessel out of the harbor at deep water and there were times he was praying they would make it. (Chester does not take praying lightly.)

EW and His First Coconut

(EW and His Coconut)

 Deep breath. We are in a beautiful anchorage.

 We celebrated New Year’s Eve on January 1st (once we had calmed down) with grilled steak, incredible red wine (a gift from C & L in Maine – thank you very much) proceeded by pina coladas made in part from a coconut that EW had harvested.  Pina Coladas and Tapas

 Life is good. I am very thankful. Every day I am becoming a better navigator.

And the Berry Islands are beautiful. 

 


Nassau Harbour

NOTE: My laptop has been down since we landed in Nassau. It worked just fine in the Berry Islands but isn't working now. The good news is we found a reputable Dell service center where it is being repaired as I write this. Blog posts and photos that are locked in that computer will see the light of day. One day.

 

We did not want to spend much time in Nassau. For us it was a necessary one-day stop on the way to the Exumas. We needed propane and every other island we visited sends the tanks to Nassau on the mail boat. We preferred to keep our very good tanks in our own hands, thank you very much, so an overnight stop in Nassau was required. In addition, we sought special connectors to complete the SSB installation.  We'd purchased three of those connectors in Fort Lauderdale and EW stowed them in a safe place. It's real safe. Haven't seen them since, even though we've torn most of the boat apart looking for them.  Plans must be fluid when you are cruising on a sailboat, so we decided to spend a few days in Nassau.

The Explorer Chart Books, everyone's favorite charts for the Bahamas, doesn't make Nassau sound very welcoming. They discuss area attractions and the opportunity to get supplies and mention the high duty charged for imported items and this about being a tourist:

"The down side, of course, is city congestion of traffic and tourists with the attendant crime having its effect both on land and in the harbour. Your most alert security precautions are necessary here. Do your strolling in the daytime with other people as there is serious street crime, particularly at night."

As for anchoring:

"NOTE: There are no highly recommended anchorages in Nassau Harbour. Better to take a slip, especially in bad weather. Much debris on the bottom, very strong tidal currents, and poor holding except for the west end of the harbour. Nassau Harbor: West end off British Colonial Hotel, far from boaters' services and noisy from nearby nightclubs, but good holding in sand and light current. Off BASRA Dock: unpredictable currents and winds, boats swing wildly. Often crowded.

Thanks to our friends Dave and Linda on Choctaw Brave, we had an excellent weather report when we left the Berry Islands. As predicted we sailed in strong winds with some sea swells, making great time on a close reach. Also as predicted, the winds started to build from the west and did clock in at over 30 knots by midnight. Unfortunately also as predicted, all reasonably priced slips were taken and we had to anchor out. We opted for "good holding in sand" off of the British Colonial Hotel. Three other sailboats and one crewed power cruiser were also anchored out for the night. None of us dragged, but we were all pretty uncomfortable. There may be "light current" in that anchorage but we rolled in chop from the west winds. Boy, did we roll! 

I did not sleep at all. In fact, I really wanted us to take night watches. EW totally and correctly trusted the Fortress anchor in those conditions and we were soundly dug in, but I couldn't relax. If Barbara ain't relaxin' ain't nobody relaxin'. He claimed he didn't get any more sleep than I did, but I heard snoring from the master stateroom. I sat on deck until 5:00 AM. No one would mistake La Luna for the Love Boat the next day. 

Sometime after midnight, the power cruiser gave up. Maybe the owner finally decided to spring for $5.00 a foot at the Atlantis. The other three sailboats left the anchorage by eight. We still didn't have a slip and we were strongly anchored, so we decided to roll with it. Literally.

The next morning, we launched the dinghy to explore Nassau Harbor and look for a new anchorage. The "crowded/wildly swinging" anchorage was directly off the dinghy dock but was crowded and the boats were swinging every which way. No sleep there. One of the boats which had been anchored near us during the storm was anchored within sight of the dinghy dock but across the harbor, in front of the Yoga Center. There was definitely a calming effect. We chatted with Jeffrey, the owner of the boat, and with Ray, his temporary crew. Jeffrey has made the trip from Florida to the Bahamas for over 10 years and gave us some good advice. Wish we could have talked with him some more.

We parted from them and did some more exploring and when we headed back to La Luna we saw that Jeffrey and Ray had pulled anchor. It took us less than an hour to move La Luna to the calm  and good holding in front of the Yoga Retreat and here we sit (or float). It's a quiet anchorage and the Yoga folks don't play rock n' roll or Reggae. There is room for only one more boat, but we've only had one neighbor for one night. We get to watch all the tour and fishing boats go in and out and there is definitely no "No Wake" rule, so we bounce a bit during the day, but the nights are calm and quiet and perfect for sleeping aboard. 

Overall, if you know where to go, Nassau is a fine anchorage. Shhhh. Don't tell anyone.

 

 


Breakfasts

While EW and I (particularly EW) love bacon and enjoy hearty breakfasts, we have a big supply of oatmeal and steel cut oats for our everyday breakfasts. A lot of cruising articles and cookbooks offer tips for making smoothies, a breakfast treat that never really appealed to us before.

Then we had a true Bahama cruising day on the hook. It began with some boat work first thing in the morning as EW had to go up to the top of the mast. We use the Top Climber, a boating device that uses some of the same techniques as rock climbers use in order to haul ourselves up. (And yes, I have gone up the mast -- but not all the way to the top. It is actually good exercise and we've talked about getting it out once in a while for practice. But I digress.)

The temperature was in the mid to upper 70's, there was no wind and it was the perfect time for him to climb so we waited on breakfast. After hauling himself up and down 55 feet above the deck he deserved a good breakfast but neither of us wanted something heavy.

I decided to make a smoothie. We had pineapple juice, fresh coconut juice, canned coconut milk, ripe bananas, and fresh coconut (harvested and prepared by EW), and ice.

I also have a Cuisinart that works on our inverter. I was good to go. 

But the food processor didn't work. I'd had problems with it back in Maine, but thought they had been magically resolved, so I didn't purchase the boater smoothie maker thing (Magic Bullet) every cruiser swears by. I could have picked one up at Staples in September .. but nooooo.

So I mashed the banana with a fork, grated the coconut, and put everything into a jar with ice and shook it up. A lot. I then let it sit for a few minutes to allow some of the ice to melt, then shook it up again and served it up in two glasses.

It was delicious. And filling.

We call them lumpies. 

 


On the Hook in Nassau

We arrived in Nassau at 2 this afternoon. They are predicting squalls until midnight - so far we seem to be in the "lucky zone". I have much to share and two (incredibly good) posts ready but my laptop is down, so I will have to take the time to write other good posts -- no photos until my laptop is up and running. 

We will be here a couple of days at least. May not try to get a slip since we have such great wifi on the boat -- paid $24.00 for 7 days (it was either that or $10.00 a day) and it seems to be strong and fast. Will try making a Skype or Google call later. 

So far, the Bahamas have been great -- but we are anxious to get to the Exumas. Every guide mentions that crime is rampant in Nassau so we aren't sure what we'll do about getting ashore to get the laptop fixed, and get a couple of needed items. 

We dragged anchor last night and didn't get a lot of sleep -- La Luna did not touch bottom but it was close. We've promised her nothing but water for her future and intend to keep that promise. When I can get those blogs out of the laptop you'll learn why that promise was necessary. 

All is good. We are healthy and happy. The finger is healing and will probably be a bit crooked. It adds character. I'm not using the splint now -- just taping it when I'm not typing. 

Hear you Maine folk -- and a certain New Mexico woman -- have been experiencing winter weather. So sorry. We've been wearing shorts and snorkeling, and fishing for conch. 

Much more (and hopefully much more interesting) later.