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March 2011

February 2011

Georgetown Net – VHF on Steroids

Georgetown in the Bahamas is a different kettle of fish – or harbor. Georgetown is evidently the Mecca for cruisers in the Bahamas and currently there are over 200 cruising boats anchored here. We’ve heard that in other years, there have been as many as 500. They keep a rough count by having new arrivals check in and by having those who plan to leave “check out”. P2150152

This is not the VHF radio we are used to. Same radio. Different Channels. Communication on Steroids. They have created a community here with classes, dances, lunch and learns, and a regatta week full of events in March.

In some ways, the cruisers at Georgetown form a clique and there is certainly that “Starting at a New School” feeling listening to your first Net. You’re in the cool group if those on the net know your first name upon hearing your boat name. You’re in the losers’ group if those on the net miss-pronounce your boat name, and you don’t know the net radio rules.

EW and I don’t have much time to move from “newbies” to the cool group. It will not surprise you to know that we have already attended a seminar on Pactor modems, and got tapped to do a boat count. Evidently they have volunteers count the boats in their anchorage and radio it in to one of the leaders of the cool group. On Thursday,  I will begin a series of 4 “Total Immersion” swimming lessons, which will certainly allow a number of boaters to get to know me but could also push me deeper into the Loser’s column.

All through the Bahamas, EW and I have been surprised (stunned?) by the number of commercial establishments who go on Channel 16 and advertise their services. We’ve heard full restaurant menus, gotten phone numbers for numerous taxis and – my personal favorite – heard one business owner list the fresh seafood available at the hair salon across from the Shell Station, followed by a list of braiding, cutting, and styling options available at that same salon. I've come from hair salons wearing the odor of permanent chemicals, but never of grouper.

In Georgetown, they have taken this chatter (or most of it) off of 16 and moved it to 68 at 8:00 AM daily. One of the cool group big deal cruisers gives up a couple of hours or more each day to manage the Net. I’m not sure whether this person sailed/powered here to anchor in Georgetown and run the Net, or whether a number of them switch off so all get to actually cruise the Bahamas. The cruisers’ Net has programming, rules, and testy sounding in-crowd folk who will jump on and scold the newbies and habitual transgressors. The programming for the Net is as follows:

  • Welcome and introduction by the gentleman and his wife who run the Net. The gentleman we heard is on the vessel “Hairball” with his wife and two cats.
  • Weather.  This is provided by a lady from another boat. She sounded mature, accomplished and provided clear and accurate weather, so calling her the “weather girl” would be inappropriate.
  • Trade Announcements. Local businesses let us know where we can have lunch or dinner, get our hair cut, fill propane tanks, find taxi services and more.
  • Safety Notes.
  • Rules. We can’t legally sell items or services in the Bahamas without paying a duty to the country. We can offer goods for free and that is all that we can do on the radio. (Except for one determined newbie who has offered his mechanical skills for two successive nets. I suspect the leader of the pack talked with him mano a mano, as he did not advertise his services this morning.)
  • Community. These are “Cool Group” sanctioned or organized events such as a lesson in Kindles (of all things); Bocce Tournaments; Classes in Aqua Fitness, Volley Ball, Knot Tying (featuring making a rug – bring 60 feet of rope you have hanging around the boat); and a Valentine’s Day Party.(This was followed by a pajama party on someone’s boat but that must be a joke, right? Not being in the know, I’m clueless on that one. We will not be attending.)
  • Boaters’ General. This seems to be where even the newbies can get on the Net, with dumb questions, or offers or inquiries. Folks going to and from the airport will look for others to share a taxi. We hear announcements regarding a children’s net, requests for party lights, offers of items to give away, even requests for items to be brought in from the states by those who have guests on the way.
  • Regatta. During the week of March 7 the cruisers host a “regatta”, a fun-filled week of events, none of which appear to require any of the actual cruising boats to haul anchor. We know they’ll have a talent show,  bocce, volleyball, model boat racing, kayak races, sailing and rowing dinghy races and (my personal favorite) a downwind rubber dinghy sailboat race.
  • New Arrivals. You check in you give them your boat name – and the name of those on board. If you have guests you announce them.
  • Departures. If you are planning to leave that day, you let them know.

There are two ways boats can broadcast on the Net, those really in the know and sanctioned events register with Hairball in advance and he calls on you by boat name at the appropriate time. The rest of us say our boat name and wait to be acknowledged. You announce your boat name again, state your event/request/offer and say that you will be “on 68 after the net”.  Have a paper and pen handy when you start listening to the Georgetown Net because you’ll want to write down the name of the offering/requesting boat. A sure sign of a newbie, “This is La Luna to the vessel who had the spinnaker.” What I should have said, “Camelot, Camelot, this is La Luna.” (Never did reach them in time.) 

Once you do reach your party, you switch channels to find one where you can converse. In this busy harbor, the accepted practice is to pick a channel and say, “and up” or “and down”. For example, if your contact says to go to “17 and up”, you switch to 17 and if that is currently being used, you go up to 18, then 19, until you find an available channel.

You have to be quick and speak clearly. I didn’t successfully contact the boat with the spinnaker, but did get on the waiting list for the swimming lessons. It’s not acceptable to use 68 after the net to contact a friend’s boat. One lady who did that was scolded by a nameless lady in from the “cool group”. The rules are enforced, but not explained in advance – just like high school.

We’ve also learned that they use 68 as a local “16” all the time. Really.

This is a community – sort of a blend of high school cliques, a networking group, and a neighborhood Mr. Iguana committee. They offer an excellent service, good advice, and fun opportunities to the boaters who stay here for the season and to those who spend a week or so passing through. We’ll get involved a bit – and we’ll probably come back to Georgetown in a year or two and use it as our base for a more in depth visit to the Exumas and Southern Bahamas, but neither EW nor  I expect to spend a winter sailing season on the hook here running events with the cool group – there are just too many places to visit, and all sorts of new folk  to know. 

 

 

(More about the cool dude on the right in a future blog about our Exuma Adventure.)

 

 

Here is a photo of one of the anchorages in Georgetown. P2150154  There will also be a post on anchoring in tight quarters. It’s been a bit of an issue for La Luna. (Well, for me – so it’s an issue for EW. If I’m not sleeping – he’s not sleeping.)


Changing Your Life - Together

 

Change happens. It can creeps up on us, or slap us in the face, or we can make decisions that will take us in a new direction in big giant steps. A lot of books have been written by individuals who’ve made great changes in their lives, sometimes after a divorce or sometimes while conducting business and lives as usual. As adults, we deal with the joys and challenges of children, parents, careers, and moves that are expected in a “normal” life. When a couple chooses to sell their home and go to sea, or take off in an RV, or move off the grid – they make a joint decision to live an unusual life together. This is largely an uncharted path as we learn new skills,  leave family and friends behind, and in the case of an RV or sailboat experience being together 24/7 in a small space.  Life still happens, marriages still need work, and the spouse we married is still that same spouse. What does it take to stay happy together and when you’ve chosen to change your lives?

Since I’ve become active on Twitter, Facebook, and with this blog, EW has frequently called himself “the Topic”. Calling him EW was one way to provide him with a teeny bit of privacy, and I generally avoid any discussion that would embarrass him.  Recently, he’s agreed to accept that I will share some of the good and bad about our relationship and some of the challenges we’ve encountered (or created). I’ve agreed not to tell our secrets and I will focus more on my quirks than his -- though certainly some of his will be mentioned. This is our story, told from my point of view, but he’s always welcome to provide a guest post with and his side of things.

So on Tuesdays and Saturdays, this blog will discuss change and our relationship.  I welcome input from other cruisers, RV’ers and couples who are undertaking great changes together and hope that we can help each other – and I hope that something I write (or confess) here will help you.

As I’m writing this, EW is working on a difficult splice in our anchor line. He’s grunting and groaning and exclaiming and saying bad words. It’s hard for me to concentrate and I’ve no quiet place for escape. On another day, I might be struggling with the computer or a sewing project and I’ll be grunting and groaning and talking to myself and saying bad words and he’ll have no quiet place to go for escape.

I’ve found out that we both talk to ourselves when working on a project – so a frequent conversation goes like the one yesterday.

Me, in the forward head. “Darn it! I just cleaned that mirror and it’s cloudy.” (This was for my benefit only)

EW: “I told you that it was rusting and I’d get to it.”

Me:  “Not that mirror, I wasn’t talking to you – I was talking to myself .”

EW: “What mirror?”

Me: “Never mind. This is a ridiculous conversation.”

And I will do the same thing to him. He’ll be working on something, and start mumbling and I will interject and offer to help, when all he really wants is to be able to think out loud and work it through.

We even have a phrase for that. One day EW said something (evidently for his ears only) and I said, “Sorry, I didn’t hear that.” and he said, “Never mind, I was just talking out loud.” I laughed and asked him if any thinking was going on. So, “Sorry, just talking out loud” is a phrase to let the other know that the current conversation does not require a reply – or even that the other pay attention.

Neither of us are going to stop “talking out loud” (though I’m working on curbing my bad language). in this small space at sea, we’ll both have to learn when to listen and when to let it go.


I Went Up the Backstay. Way Up

EW has been focused on getting the Single Side Band (SSB) radio up and running. Here’s the synopsis:

1. While still in Maine, we purchased the SSB, a Pactor Modem, and a new GPS (thanks, Huffs for the GPS)  and EW installed the copper ground plane, the tuner, and ran the antenna wire.

2. We stored the rest of the stuff in boxes aboard La Luna, and left Maine.

3. EW planed the next stages and put together a parts list. We (mostly I) made many, many trips to West Marine in Hampton Virginia and Fort Lauderdale for this and other projects. While in Hampton, EW paid a marine electronics specialist to wire a special cable. On one of my trips to town in Fort Lauderdale, EW had me purchase three connectors for this project and he put them in a safe place.

4. In the Bahamas it quickly became apparent that we needed the SSB to get reliable weather – it was either that or rely on the kindness of strangers to tell us the weather after they listened to Chris Parker.  So, once we were safely anchored in Devil’s Cay, EW took a day to install the system.

5. He worked hard and got a lot done, but couldn’t find the connectors. I had gone to shore to patch and clean the dinghy and when I returned instead of finding a smiling husband and a working radio, I found a raving man, who was tearing the boat apart. I helped. We searched for 4 hours. No connectors. We spent the next few days enjoying the Berry Islands and hoping that if he relaxed the safe location would come to him. No dice. We sailed to Nassau.

6. Once in Nassau, we searched the island for two days for this connector, once on foot and then with Bahama John, Taxi Driver. John used every contact and took EW to every possible store until they found a guy who had one of these things left over from a previous job. We bought it and we paid Bahama John for three hours of extraordinary service.

7. EW works diligently to solder this part in place in a choppy bouncy anchorage.

8. The radio didn’t work.

9. We talked with neighboring boats and read the manual and discovered that one problem may be our backstay.  See, in this installation the backstay becomes the antenna. The wire antenna goes from the boat up the backstay about 6-8  feet or so to an insulator. Thirty-seven feet above that is another insulator. The antenna is the space between those insulators and that space is “sacred”. We had two items attached to that space with metal clamps and everyone agreed they had to come down.

So I went up the backstay. High up.

On a quiet morning in Rose Island, EW got out the boatswain’s chair, tools, and two short lines we made up with snap shackles. See, the backstay goes from the stern of the boat up to the mast at an angle. The halyard used to raise me up goes straight down from the mast, so I had to attach myself to the backstay in order to work on it. I had to get above other items, such as the first insulator, so had to shackle in above an item, remove the shackle below and have EW haul me for three feet before I had to move the shackles again.

Did I say I went way up?

P1280006 I removed the clamps for the man overboard pole and we found a new location for that.  This photo is at the lower work area, where I was about 13 or 14 feet above the deck.

Then I went way up and removed the flag halyard. Here I am. Way up. P1280007

It was fine. I wasn’t scared and waved to the nearby boaters who were having their morning coffee while watching the show. No problem.

 

 

 

 

As for the radio … more on that later!


Thirteen (13) Things to Know Before You Sail to the Bahamas

We left the Florida on Christmas so we’ve spent just over a month in the Bahamas. We’ve learned a lot – some of it even useful. 

  1. Wifi is elusive in the Exumas. While some facilities mention wifi – the fine print says you only can use 200 or 400 mb per 24 hours. That is not worth the $10.00 fee. Of course many of the Exumas are uninhabited and we can’t expect the iguanas to offer wifi. Since we still can’t transmit on the SSB, we can’t use the email option. All of this explains why we’ve been silent. We are fine, happy, and having fun. Just not connected. We are in Black Point Cay today and tomorrow and plan to leave for Georgetown on Saturday if the weather allows. There we will be on the dock for two days and have plenty of wifi for that whole visit. You’ll hear from us. Promise.
  2. Sand Happens.  When you think about walking the beaches of the world, you forget that you bring some of that sand back with you. Keeping sand off the boat is more of a challenge than we thought it would be. We’re now bare feet only below, unless under way. Sand in the cockpit and on the cabin sole is still better than sand touching the keel, and it’s the rare boat that doesn’t touch bottom in the Bahamas. ThatPC290019 doesn’t mean you should plan on running aground or dragging your anchor to the beach. It does mean that your keel will most likely touch down on sand (or sand will come up to meet your keel) and you have to get used to it. The tides here range from 2.8 to 4 feet so don’t count on a high tide to get you off. Dave from Choctaw Brave taught us this one: “Brown brown run aground. White, white you just might. Green, green nice and clean. Blue, blue right on through. We get caught on the very light greens – so light they may be white and we definitely might. In the Bahamas, sand happens.
  3. Beer is really expensive here. Stock up. When you think you have enough, get more. Your wife (who never drinks beer) may begin to do so in the Bahamas. You could stay in Nassau three weeks longer than you intended. Bring more beer.
  4. Many food items are expensive here. Some I expected and some were quite the shock. Ever paid $3.98 for a can of chick peas?  Whew! We use a lot of them as I put them in lunch salads and make humus for cocktail hour. (Humus on sliced zucchini is an excellent appetizer.)  Other things to stock up on: chocolate, chips, pretzels, crackers, butter, and all kinds of nuts.  Side note: In Jacksonville when UA took EW to Costco, my sweetie returned with a 5 gallon canister of pretzel rods. I was less than impressed. Then, I realized that the pretzel rods are a great snack and the container is perfect for keeping nacho chips fresh and unbroken. I found room for 3 or four of them and then couldn’t find another 5 gallon canister of pretzel rods. I’d love to have a couple of canisters of pretzels and nacho chips on board.
  5. The People of the Bahamas are Wonderful. I don’t know when I’ve had better conversations with P1260005 strangers. Nearly every person has been friendly, helpful, and welcoming. The manager of the Green Parrot was sorry to see us go, said that they would miss us. One of our football watching friends left two cigars for EW.  At right is a photo of a souped up car. The owner, an elderly gentleman “just has fun with it” and was delighted I wanted a photo. Moments before, we had watched a domino game in the park and were invited to join. Come to the Bahamas for the sailing and the beaches, but make sure you take time to know the people.
  6. Nassau is worth a visit.  The Explorer Chart Books didn’t make Nassau sound welcoming at all. We did heed their advice and did not walk around at night, but we were all over that island by foot and bus over three weeks. The palm gardens on the eastern end only cost $2.00 to visit and are nearly worth it. The experience certainly was.
  7. Bahama John, Taxi Driver Extraordinaire in Nassau is a trip.  He drives like a maniac. He knows almost everyone on the island. He’s traveled in the US and he’s sailed in the Exumas. If you hire him to help you find a part, he will help you find that part. It will cost you, but you’ll have the part, a great story, and a new friend.
  8. They have a litter problem in the Bahamas. Some islands are better than others, but it’s clear that they P1260001 have not undertaken a successful anti-littering campaign. We walked past a young woman who was cleaning chewing gum off of her car. When she was done, she threw the paper onto the ground and drove off. That was minor compared to the litter we’ve seen in most neighborhoods. The mentality toward littering seems to mirror that of the US in the sixties. They need a “Give a Hoot” campaign down here.
  9. You need a Glass Bottom Bucket but you don’t need to spend $32.99 for it. You’ll use it to view starfish and search for conch. It will be extremely useful as a tool to check your anchor. A glass bottom bucket is a $3.99 hardware store bucket with the bottom cut out and replaced by a piece of plexi-glass. Before heading over here, go to your neighborhood hardware store and make a glass bottom bucket. Side note: EW loves the glass bottom bucket as it has provided me with much peace of mind regarding the anchors. When I am at peace, EW is at peace.   (NOTE: Below right is the CQR not holding the boat.
  10. Bahamians think a mile is too long for us to walk.  Every time we asked someone for directions, they told us it was “too far to walk”. Usually we just set out on foot anyway. Twice we took the bus, but it was only necessary once. From the marinas or dinghy dock in Nassau you can walk during the day to almost anywhere you need to be. If you take the bus, tell the driver where you are going and he or she will make sure to let you know when you get there. You can pay them as you exit. Exact fare is generally required.
  11. BASRA Radio offers local marine weather on VJF Channel 72 at 7:20 AM. On Thursdays they invite all cruisers to join the local sailing club for lunch at the Green Parrot. I imagine it would be a great way to meet sailors. We didn’t hear about it soon enough to attend.
  12. 66-foot tall boats can get under the twin bridges to exit Nassau to the east. Those bridges are posted as 69 feet on the charts. That’s pretty close to 66 feet, and we don’t have an exact measurement of La Luna as we simply determined that she couldn’t get under the 65-foot bridges in the Inland Waterway. During our time in Nassau we watched a lot of boats go under the bridges, and we talked with sailors but never found one with a mast over 55 feet. We stopped by their harbor office and asked folks at the fuel dock. We planned our exit with low tide (bridge heights are listed at high tide) and held our breath going under the first bridge. We didn’t touch but it sure looked like we would.
  13. Rose Island is the best kept secret in Nassau. The Rose Island anchorage is on the chart and P1280015 mentioned in Van Sant book as a good starting point for going across the Yellow Bank. His book is about making passages in the Bahamas and Caribbean, not about what you will see along the way. The Explorer Charts don’t mention Rose Island at all. We stopped there for two nights, arriving at 4:00 PM and spent the next day touring the area. There is a small island with a beach and a concrete walkway, and the main island has a stone jetty and steps cut into the hill to allow folks to walk to the beach on the ocean side. On Friday night boats from Nassau head over for the weekend – so Rose Island is their secret and their cocktail cove.  It’s not protected to the south or west, but is great in the prevailing winter winds. 

Other photos from Rose Island:

P1280024 This is the life.

P1280010 This coral was cut to create a wide and deep opening into the island. It may have been a salt works. They are now selling lots with docks.  The view above was as we were exiting the one below is the view into the circular harbor. P1280011 There is an island within the island and you can circumnavigate that in a dinghy, power or sailboat. Lots are available on the inner island as well as on the Rose Island itself.