Sunday, March 30, 2008

Oh, The Beauty

Vero Beach Panera

I wish that I could take credit for this splendid photo. In reality, I bought it on a post card and scanned it in to my computer. Nevertheless, it was take in the Bahamas.

Bahamas Follow Up

Vero Beach Panera

So. We're in Vero Beach again, and liking it. We are rafted up with the Westsail Zaftra with our friends Don and Gloria, and with Eagles Wings with our friends Walt and Pat who we met in the Bahamas. In addition, so far we bumped in to Reg and Teri on Blue Topaz, and Stephan and Lori on Twin Spirits. It's like old home week here for us.

I have a number of things to order and receive by mail, so we'll be stuck here for a few weeks, but I promise; we won't stay here for months this time (I think:)

I blogged about this scandalous piece of cruiser's gossip before, but now I learned some new details so I'll repeat the story. About 10 days ago we were anchored in White Sound on Green Turtle Cay. A number of other boats anchored in there were waiting to pass through The Whale. The Whale is a short passage that takes you part way out to sea in one of the cuts between barrier islands. Shallow waters prevent sailboats from using any other route between Green Turtle and the rest of the Abacos.

These barrier islands face the open Atlantic Ocean with no additional obstacles between here and Europe and Africa. When big Atlantic Swells come rolling in from the east and then meet the barrier reefs, and especially the gaps or cuts between reefs, they become very violent. Couple that with the action of wind and of the strong tidal ebb and flows, and it makes for a very dangerous combination of elements. Bahamians call it The Rage. On that day, everybody who listened to VHF radio had to know that The Rage was on. Friends told us that on that day they went to the southern tip of Green Turtle Cay were they could look out over The Whale. They said that there was so much white spray in the air, that it just looked like a big white cloud hanging over the passage.

On that day, we saw a big, beautiful 45 foot charter catamaran leave White Sound. On board was three couples on vacation, plus a paid professional captain. That vessel very foolishly tried to go through The Whale ignoring The Rage. A few hours later, the boat returned. We heard that the boat had been “trashed.” Yesterday, I also learned the new fact, that all six vacationers were injured and are in the hospital.

My oh my, how could a professional captain have made such a blunder? I expect that the consequences for that captain and for the charter company will be very severe.

More Bahamas follow up. We learned that the peak season in the Bahamas is actually May and June. In those months, the weather is so placid that even the Gulf Stream is tamed and anybody with a 14 foot or larger motor boat can cross over to the Bahamas from Florida. They reportedly do so by the thousands. In addition to all the other appeals, The Bahamas are also about 10 degrees cooler than Florida in the summer and much more comfortable.

Still more about the Bahamas. We learned that a big fraction of the cruising community that goes to the Bahamas in winter, live a life style that resembles that in Vero Beach or Marathon. In Marsh Harbor, Abacos, members of the Royal Marsh Harbor Yacht Club have negotiated a rate of $0.60/foot for a slip if you pay in advance for 90 days or more. That's very cheap. Tarwathie could stay at a slip there for only $576/month. Down in Georgetown, Exumas, there is another cruisers culture that locks people in to staying in one place for the whole winter season.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

(no subject)

Fort Pierce, FL USA
N 27 27.362 W 080 18.396

Libby and I both had the same reaction after we dropped anchor tonight. The Bahamas were great but we're glad to be back.

The passage over here from Great Sale Cay was smooth and uneventful. The wind let us down. For a large part of the past 36 hours, we had to motor instead of sail.

Last night we cheated. We arrived at the edge of the Bahama Bank at 0430. We didn't want to sail in the ocean until dawn, so we anchored right there for an hour's sleep. It felt really strange anchoring way out there with nothing but water around us. We were also close to what must be a very big underwater cliff. At the edge of the bank, the depth goes from 20 feet to 1500 feet in almost one step. It would look like the Grand Canyon if one could see it.

Out in the middle of the Gulf Stream today it was really beautiful. We had partly sunny skies, 6 foot swells that were pretty gentle, and the water temperature in the Gulf Stream was 81F (27C). The color of the Gulf Stream is impossibly blue. So blue that I can't describe it. I tried taking some pictures but the water will probably look black in the pictures. We were entertained by the flying fish and by dolphins. I saw one flying fish that flew and flew and flew for what must have been 100
meters. Wow. I didn't know they could go that far. We also had a visit from a pod of three dolphins who escorted us part of the say, swimming in our bow wave.

Our friends Leon and Kim on Gypsy caught up to us last night and sailed along with us all the way here.

The roughest part of the trip was entering the inlet here at Fort Pierce. The tide was going out and meeting the ocean swells trying to roll in. Those conditions create an area several hundred yards deep where the waves are very big and totally confused. Small boats would likely capsize or swamp in those conditions. Even Tarwathie was hard to handle. Libby was at the helm and it took all her strength to wrestle with the tiller. Libby is getting pretty salty though. She knows what to expect
and doesn't blink an eye navigating such obstacles now.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

West Sailing

At Sea
N 27 01 W 078 24

Well, we decided to leave Great Sale and head for Fort Pierce Florida. Most of the other boats in the anchorage are going to wait another day before leaving to avoid the 7 foot swells in the Gulf Stream. We decided that the swells don't bother us and that we had enough waiting around. So here we are. It is about 1800 on Wednesday right now. We have partly cloudy skys, temperature 75F (24C). Winds are on the starboard stern quarter at 15 knots. We are still on the banks, with water depth only
4 meters. There are almost no waves out here on the banks. At about 0300 tomorrow we'll leave the banks and around 0600 we should find the 7 foot swells, again on the starboard stern quarter. We'll have to turn the boat another 20 degrees to port when we're in the middle of the gulf stream, so the seas should be following. That shouldn't be bad. We should be in Fort Pierce sometime after noon tomorrow.

We just experienced another first. We're used to meeting up with cruising friends in the anchorages and ashore. Just now, we met up with Gypsy while at sea. Gypsy, with Leon and Kim on board, is an acquaintance from Marsh Harbor. I've written about them before in the blog. Anyhow, they too are en route to Fort Pierce, so we'll cross together.

By the way, we learned more about the boats dragging on Monday night. It seems that one of the sailboats near us had their anchor break loose in the middle of the night. They drifted backward (away from us) just missing the boat behind them. Then, before crashing on the rocks it plowed in to another sailboat.

The crew on the other boat were awake standing anchor watch and they saw it coming, but they were unable to get out of the way in time. It had a center cockpit, and the female crew member was standing at the wheel. The bowsprit of the dragging boat hit them from the side, and protruded right in to the cockpit just in front of the wheel. The poor woman must have been terrorized and in fear for her life at that moment. Anyhow, one of the boats cut their anchor loose to help separate the two boats.
Yesterday, the two skippers were said to be negotiating a financial settlement for the damage.

Wow what a story. The lesson to us is that we need to redouble our determination to stand anchor watch when conditions are dangerous.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Drag Queens

Great Sale Cay
N 26 59.15 W 078 13.01

Weather dominates the news today. Sunday night at Allen's Pensacola, we were sheltered from NE wind but we got surprised by strong SW winds around 25 knots. It got very rough and a couple of boats dragged their anchors. I sat up on anchor watch. The winds finally settled after midnight, but I got very little sleep.

We left Allen's Pensacola at 0700 and the winds were calm. We watched a beautiful sunrise as we motored eastward. Soon however, we ran in to light rain. After noon we were approaching Great Sale Cay and I could see a dramatic cold front just sitting there about 15 miles north of us. It wasn't moving. It really got my attention though when I spotted a waterspout descending from that frontal boundary.

We scrambled to get in to the anchorage ASAP, and set out two anchors. There are about 20 other boats in here with us. The winds swung to the north and started increasing. By around 2100 the winds were up to 25 knots. Then it started gusting to 30-35 knots and the trouble started. We heard on the radio a call from one of the other boats. Their anchor broke loose and dragged. Then, just as Libby and I were about to go to bed, a strong gust came along and we broke loose. I just happened
to be looking at the GPS when it happened so I noticed it immediately. Tarwathie was drifting leward at about 1 knot. There were several boats about 300 feet behind us.

We scrambled up on deck, started the engine and prepared to retrieve the anchors and try to reset them. However, when I got to the foredeck, I could see that both anchors were set and holding. I went back to the GPS to check, and yes indeed, our drift had stopped. At least the Danforth anchor had reset by itself. We stood down.

Then we heard another panic call on the radio. "All vessels in Great Sale, turn on your spreader lights. I dragged and I am adrift and I need the light to see where you are." That really woke up everyone, and soon all the vessels around had all their lights on. A half hour later he called again that now everything was OK. I sat up most of the rest of the night on anchor watch.

In the Bahamas, the bottom sand is tricky for anchoring. It is hard to get the anchor to bite. It tends to skip across the bottom. After it did bite, and you set it in, it doesn't go very deep. Therefore, in a strong gust, the anchor is likely to break loose abruptly, lifting all the sand on top of it, and start skipping across the bottom again. That means that whenever strong winds are blowing, someone needs to be on anchor watch.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Drowned Rats

Allen's Pensacola Cay
N 26 59.39 W 077 41.33

The timing was perfectly awful. We said that we would leave Green Turtle Cay today at 0930. At 0915 it started raining and is has been pouring ever since. Both Libby and I got soaked standing watch at the helm.

Anyhow, we are in a group of six boats, all headed back to the USA. Tarwathie, Ariel, Wind Chaser, Eagle's Wings, Just Because and Odyssey are the six. We'll head to Great Sale Cay tomorrow and cross the Gulf Stream Sometime in the Wednesday-Friday window.

A sad part of this is that as of today we are officially in the northward migration mode. I'm already feeling a little guilty about that. If I had done my research homework in a timely way, we might well have been heading south with our friends on Raven toward the Caribbean. Shame on me.

It's not completely impossible that we change our minds once again and head south, but that's not probable.

So what is our summer plan? I want to spend 2-3 weeks in Washington DC in June seeing the sights. After that, Libby said she would like to sail to Maine again. After that, who knows? We could head for Bermuda and from there sail for the Virgins.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

A Plan

White Sound, Green Turtle Cay
N 26 46.62 W 077 20.19

The weather is finally changing. Our friends David and Hilde on Raven finally made it here to Green Turtle Cay today about noon. They had been stuck at Great Sale Cay for the past 5 days because of weather. Great Sale is a boring place with nothing to do. They must have been very bored. Tonight, Hilde and Dave are coming over for dinner on Tarwathie so we can catch up.

They made it here just in time though because today we made plans to leave here tomorrow en route back to the USA. We will be in the company of four other boats -- Ariel with Norm and Linda, Eagles Wings with Walt and Pat, Odyssey with Victor and Wendy, and Wind Chaser with Brian and Jan on board.

We'll leave Green Turtle tomorrow with the high tide and sail as far north as we can tomorrow night, then anchor someplace with shelter from NE wind. On Monday, we'll sail the whole way to Great Sale Cay. Tuesday the forecast calls for N at 25 knots, so we'll sit that day out. On Tuesday night, or Wednesday night depending on weather, we'll leave Great Sale and heat over the banks at night. The goal will be to reach the edge of the banks at dawn the next day and continue across the Gulf Stream
to Fort Pierce arriving sometime before sunset. We'll see how those plans hold up.

I'm a little envious of Raven. I just heard that they're heading south from here to reach the Dominican Repuplic by June. We had vague plans for doing that but I abandoned those plans because I never made them concrete enough. First and foremost, we need know where we could spend hurricane season. It needs to be pleasant and affordable. Trinidad sounds good, but I don't know enough about it yet. Suffice it to say, that lack of research prevented those plans from becoming real. I'll work on
that this summer.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Aloha Friday

White Sound, Green Turtle Cay
N 26 46.62 W 077 20.19

Tuesday, I was out for a stroll on the island. I was walking around a resort named Bluff House. As I walked down the street I bumped into some acquaintances. Ted and Nancy from the power vessel Aloha Friday were walking up the street. What a coincidence. We first met them in Elizabeth City, two years ago. Then in 2006, we called Aloha Friday to rescue us when we ran aground in the Great Dismal swamp. After that, we encountered them in Norfolk, again in Solomons, and three times in two years
at Vero Beach. Last month, Libby and I were boarding a bus in Key West when Ted and Nancy happened to ride by on their bikes. Now we had another chance encounter.

Last evening, we invited Ted and Nancy over to Tarwathie for dinner and Balderdash. Nancy brought fish for the meat entree, since we were temporarily disadvantaged in the meat department. It was great fun. We'll join them tonight for a BBQ on shore.

I just checked the blog archive to find the article about our rescue by Aloha Friday. I see from the archive that was one of the periods when my computer was broken so there were no blog articles for several weeks. Well, I can tell the story now.

April or May 2006: Jenny had flown down to Norfolk to sail with us for a week. I met her at the airport and drove her to Elizabeth City. There, we met Ted and Nancy on Aloha Friday for the first time, and we hit it off right away. The next day we set out for the Great Dismal Swamp Canal. We left early in order to get the AM locking, and earlier than most boats because we were slower.

Just before reaching the south lock on the canal, there is a fork in the river. It appeared to me that the main branch of the river forked left, so I turned that way. As I approached the fork, I spotted a tiny little sign with an arrow pointing right. Oh no, wrong branch. I put the tiller hard over and turned to the right. Alas, I turned too close to the fork. Bang, Tarwathie's nose lifted out of the water and we came to an abrupt halt as we ran aground on a submerged tree.

Well, I started our normal grounding routine. We launched the dinghy and I took out a anchor to kedge off. I was in a big hurry because it was approaching the time for the morning locking at south lock. The kedge didn't work this time. Tarathie's weight was sitting on that log.

Just then, a parade of all the other boats heading to south lock came along, and Aloha Friday was in the lead. I called her on the VHF and asked for help. I tried a trick that Al Hatch taught me. I requested Aloha Friday to make a pass close to us at a speed that would create maximum wake. She passed us, turned around and came charging back at us about 15 knots. As she passed us, she created a huge 3-4 foot wave in her wake. It worked, the wave lifted Tarwathie up off the log for a second,
and the tension on the anchor rope that I had moved us back a couple of feet. We were free.

Jenny helped me to quickly put the dinghy back up on deck, and we moved as fast as possible. We made it to the lock just in time for the locking. Thank you Aloha Friday.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A Full Day

White Sound, Green Turtle Cay
N 26 46.62 W 077 20.19

I did yet another dumb stunt. Back in Marsh Harbor, our VHF antenna broke. In replacing the antenna and testing it, I managed to break the 12V DC wire feeding the VHF. I repaired it.

This week, I was calling on the VHF radio, and I heard back from someone nearby that my signal was weak and that it had a loud buzz sound. Uh Oh. I set out to diagnose the problem. I cleaned and reseated all connectors, no change. I swapped to a spare antenna, no change. I turned off all electrical equipment except the VHF, no change. Finally, the only thing left, by elimination was that which I had recently changed. Therefore, I cut out the 12V DC wiring that I repaired last week and re-did
it. That fixed it. Now my signal is loud and clear. However (for the stunt part) I forgot to turn the refrigerator/freezer back on when I was done.

Ay ay. 36 hours later, Libby discovered that the freezer had defrosted. We had it stocked with meats to avoid buying expensive food here in the Bahamas.

The mistake cost me big. Yesterday, we rented a golf cart ($45) to drive to the store in New Plymouth and replenish our meat supply. The groceries cost us $63 for a little hamburger, some ribs and 4 chicken breasts. Ouch. We rushed it back to the freezer on the boat.

In the past three years, we (I) have forgotten to turn the fridge on 3-4 times. That's too much. When we return to the states, I'm going to shop for a rocker switch with pilot light for the refrigerator. I'll wire it so that it glows red when the fridge is off. That should alert us.

For the rest of the day we explored the island a bit using the cart we paid for. There's not much to explore. We learned three things. First: for every house on this island, there appears to be one additional house under construction. Second: construction projects here seem to progress at a snail's pace. It may be a very long time until many of those new houses are finished. Third: even at 1 mph and using big low-pressure tires, the roads here are so bumpy that both Libby and I have sore kidneys
from our little ride.

We went to the beach hoping to swim, but it was too rough. Indeed, NE swells at 13 feet were coming in. We could see them breaking on the reefs one to two miles out. They rose to giant heights before breaking, and the strong southerly winds grabbed the spray from the breaking waves and carried it in a plume in the opposite direction of the wave travel. It was a spectacular and scary sight that made us very glad that Tarwathie was nowhere near scenes of such violence.

p.s. Yesterday on Cruiseheimer's Net, we heard that some cruisers in Nassau harbor had to fend off late night intruders. It appears that some robbers in the harbor had tried to board their boat. They repelled the boarders and called the police. Now there is a warning out to all cruisers. Watch out for Nassau. We're glad that we don't go to places like that.

p.p.s. Local gossip. Yesterday, a 45 foot long charter catamaran left Green Turtle Cay with a vacationing crew and a paid captain. It tried to go through The Whale. I wrote before about how dangerous the cuts between the islands can be here when there are big ocean swells. Yesterday, there were 13 foot swells out at sea and mariners were warned to stay away from the passages; the rage was on. A few hours after leaving, the catamaran returned to Green Turtle with "the boat trashed" according
to gossipers. Presumably, the crew was also very frightened. Never underestimate the dangers of the passages, and heed warnings.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Technology --- Ain't it Terrible

Green Turtle Cay
N 26 46.63 W 077 20.15

We carry a printer/copier/scanner on board. We don't use it often, but once in a while it proves useful. The other day, I set out to set up the printer to make a copy. We keep it in the original storage box up in the V berth. I retrieved the box, and set it down on the settee to take the printer out. When I picked it up again, I say a horrifying sight. The printer's black ink cartridge had leaked. There was ink all over the printer, and the inside of the box, and worst of all, on the
seat cushion and seat cover and on my shirt. OH NO!

I quickly soaked the stained spots in water, and got out the stain remover. The prompt action worked. The stains came out of the seat and the cover. The shirt was a loss, but that's only a small problem.

The whole thing was my fault. The previous time I used the printer, I refilled the black cartridge with ink using a syringe. I must have done something wrong.

Technology --- arrrrrrgh.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Marooned in Paradise

White Sound, Green Turtle Cay
N 26 46.62 W 077 20.19

Oh life is hard. The wind has been relentless for the past couple of days and it will continue to blow for another day or two. However, we're anchored in a cozy little protected harbor. There is nothing to do but swim, snorkel, explore the trails and roads of this tropical island. Oh yes one thing more, we invited the crew of Eagles Wings over to Tarwathie yesterday to play Balderdash.

I learned from Eagles Wings yesterday about a very different style of living the cruising life. Walt and Pat on Eagles Wings do mostly day sailing, and they make short hops. For example, from NYC to Cape May, they stopped in Barnnegat Bay and in Atlantic City. Libby and I never stopped in either of those places, preferring to sail through the night making longer passages. Eagles Wings is planning to leave the Bahamas next week and make a 20 hour passage to Fort Pierce. They said that it would
be their longest passage ever. Don't get me wrong, I'm not looking down my nose at Eagles Wings, I admire them for making it here to the Bahamas on their first year, all without long blue water passages. It took us three years to get here.

The point is that there are many styles of the cruising life, both stylistically and financially. They cover a very wide range, on the adventure scale and the luxury scale. However, two things seem to be nearly universal. First, the cruisers are very happy with their choice of life style. Second, the most treasured feature of the cruising life is freedom. One captain said to me the other day, "Every day we face the same choice. Stay here or move on?"

I apologize if I sometimes sound like a paid lobbyist for the cruising life association. Nobody is paying me. I'm just amazed at the new and varies stories we hear.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Technology -- Ain't It Wonderful

Green Turtle Cay
N 26 46.63 W 077 20.15

You'll be surprised to hear that I've been getting along without Internet or cell phone here in the Bahamas. As long as I can post blogs and receive a few emails plus my weather reports on the SSB radio, I'm happy. We also have a Sirius satellite radio so we keep up with the news.

The other day though I was overcome by curiosity. We heard all the news about Eliot Spitzer's fall from grace, and later all the chat about this girl Kristen. I couldn't stand being the only person on the planet who didn't see Kristen's picture. It seems that she must be something very extraordinary to be worth $4,500 per hour. Anyhow, we traveled to Marsh Harbor and I went ashore to the office of the ISP, and I paid $10 for 2 hours of internet access.

Now I've seen Kristen's picture, and I understand even less. She appears to rate no more than 300 millihelens*. If so then it had to be more than mere beauty that drove Spitzer crazy. She must have done something extraordinary. I admit to feeling holier-than-thou in rejecting the nation's obsession with stories about Anna Nichole Smith, but this time I'm hooked. I want to hear all the salacious details. What did she do?

We did get other benefits from our $10 investment in Internet access. Just before leaving Marathon, we received our Lowrance GPS back from the repair shop. It worked fine, but alas, when I plugged in our Nautic Path NP-USA chip with the chart database , it refused to boot. I just got a message saying "invalid loader" and then it would lock up. That was a big disappointment. I suspected that the repair shop had upgraded my software to a new rev, which could be incompatible with my chip.

We sailed here from Florida and sailed around the Bahamas without the chart functions of our GPS. On one hand, it was good practice using other skills to navigate. On the other hand, it made us nervous.

Anyhow, I'm happy to say that on the net I was able to get to and there I went to the FAQ and searched for the "Invalid Loader" error message. I found it. The answer advised me to delete all unneeded files from the memory chip, keeping only the big central files. After returning to the boat, I tried that and it worked. Hooray! Ain't technology wonderful.

Some day in the future, I'm going to write a blog article about the Nautic Path chip and why it is so much better than the competing products from Navitonics.

* Note: We know from the Iliad that Helen had the face that launched 1000 ships. Therefore, one millihelen may be defined as the amount of beauty to launch exactly one ship.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Culinary Delights

Green Turtle Cay
N 26 46.63 W 077 20.15

There are thousands of islands in the Bahamas that we haven't seen yet. It would be fun to explore them all. On the other hand, the reefs with coral and pretty tropical fish are only on the periphery, and most of the cays I suspect would just be endless repetition of the same sights we see elsewhere. All that is just in the way of an excuse for our command decision. We decided that Green Turtle Cay, and its next door neighbor Manjack Cay, are our favorite parts of the Abacos. Therefore,
we are going to spend the next week or so right here.

This place has lots to offer. White Sound where we are anchored, is well sheltered and very picturesque. New Plymouth, 3 miles away is as quaint and unspoiled as anyone could hope for. To us, that is much more charm than Marsh Harbor or Hope Town. There are also fantastic beaches. In fact, yesterday Libby and I went snorkeling from one of those beach coves and we had the whole beach to ourselves part of the time. We can also rent a golf cart to explore the island and it's nature trails.
We can also dinghy around the island to the bigger coral reefs for snorkeling. We can also visit Manjack Cay or No Name Cay both next door, which had abundant natural beauty and nearly uninhabited. It sure sounds optimum to us.

I have to apologize for one thing. When transferring pictures from our camera to the computer the other day I pushed the wrong button and erased 215 picture. Whoops.

Our friend Dave Hackett wrote so say that we should write more about all the culinary delights we enjoy hear; the conch fritters and lobsters and so on. Actually, we haven't bought conch meat or lobsters yet; they are both expensive. On the other hand, we did buy some excellent grouper and that fed us for two days. Grouper meat is most delicious.

At Maxwell's Market in Marsh Harbor we also found yellow split peas. We haven't seen yellow split peas since living in Sweden. In the USA, they seem to sell only the green ones. Last night, Libby made me the Swedish National dish- pea soup and pancakes. It was great. If you ever find yourself in Sweden on a Thursday, be sure to eat the pea soup and pancakes for lunch. You can garnish them with lingon berries or with applesauce. You should also know that each spoon full of pea soup is best
when you also put a small dab of mustard on the spoon. Mmmm mmmm good.

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Food Chain

The Whale Passage
N 26 42.300 W 077 12.230

This morning the sky is clear and the wind is totally calm. We left Marsh Harbor at 0730 en route for Green Turtle Cay. Motoring along at a lazy 4 knots with the autopilot steering gave the perfect opportunity to inspect the bottom.

The Sea of Abaco between Marsh Harbor and The Whale is 8 to 10 feet deep at low tide. Much of it is covered with white sand. The sandy parts are nearly featureless, no plants no anything. Every 60 seconds or so however, we could spot a big star fish. The star fish appear ochre red in color which contrasts greatly with the blue green reflections from the white sand. Some of those star fish were enormous, ranging from one foot to 1.5 feet in diameter. I think that the star fish live on shell
fish, mostly conch, so having well fed star fish implies a healthy conch population. I didn't spot any conch familys on the sandy bottom though. What do the conch eat?

After 5 miles of white bottom, we came upon a 2 mile stretch where the bottom is covered with sea grass. The sea grass appears black, reflecting no sunlight, and making it hard to see the bottom at all. However, there are breaks in the dark color. Rocks, creatures, and scars expose white spots every once in a while. I did spot a big conch in the grass. The color of their shells contrasts better with the grass than with the sand.

All this time, I was trolling with a fish line and a lure. We have been following all the advice we got from every source on catching fish in the Bahamas, so far with zero luck. On this passage though, I did catch a little 4 inch fish hardly bigger than the lure. I threw him back and he swam away. I think we have to catch more conch. One fishing tip we haven't tried yet is to collect the slime that surrounds a conch body. Conch slime smeared on a lure, is supposed to get the fish all excited
and biting.

How does the food chain work here? I would like to learn more. It appears that most of the shallows in the banks where the water is only 8 feet deep, are almost devoid of life. Perhaps that's true. On the other hand, not all food is visible to us. There are lots protozoan life forms that feed other life forms, yet are invisible to us.

We saw one pod of dolphins but no manatees so far in the Bahamas.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Hope Town

Marsh Harbor

Hope Town is the kind of place that many consider ideal. It is a very quaint little village with a kind of tropical Bohemian atmosphere. The streets are barely wide enough for a golf cart.

The houses are compact. Many of them are pastel in color and they date from the 19th century. I think most of the houses are rental units or second homes, although many belong to the locals.

The village is dotted with boutiques and restaurants catering to tourists.

On the ocean side, there is a spectacular white sand beach facing close in coral reefs where one can go snorkeling.

We came in to the harbor around noon and rented a mooring. There is no anchoring here. The harbor is extremely small and crowded. Even the moored boats are no more than 3 meters apart. There is also considerable ferry traffic and commercial traffic going by. All in all it makes for a busy place.

Libby and I walked around the village and the beach and became thoroughly charmed. Rather than blowing our money on an expensive restaurant dinner, Libby went to the fish market and bought a huge 2 pound piece of grouper for $15 (much cheaper than the US price for grouper). We ate half the fish for supper last night. It was absolutely delicious. We'll eat the second half tonight.

After dinner we watched the people come and go at the water side restaurants. Everybody, including families with kids, came and went by boat. The small boats can tie up right at the restaurant's deck. The passengers climb up the ladder then sit at their table right there.

We were remarking at how much our friends and family would love Hope Town. Our daughter Jennifer especially would love it. It's just her kind of place.

Unfortunately, the charm wore off later that night. Captain Jack's, a nearby bar and grill, was having a raucus party. The music was unbelievably loud and so were the drunken patrons. The revelers at the party screamed and hooted ever louder as the night progressed. Then, just to make things worse, the wind shifted to bring us the stench of a near by land fill on fire. I remember too well from my days working as an exterminator, what a burning dump smells like. I considered leaving the harbor even at midnight, but I decided against it. It was too dark to navigate.

I hope that our bad experience was an aberration on an otherwise spendid place to visit. Still, our tastes tend more toward quiet places with few people, or no people around.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

A Sight To Remember

Hope Town
N 26 32.275 W 076 57.514

Yesterday, snorkeling at Sandy Cay, and last night at anchor, we were protected from the sea by a series of barrier islands. One of those islands, in the Pelican Cay group, treated us to a most spectacular sight. I tried more than three dozen times to photograph it, but failed. A verbal description will have to do.

The past few days, the winds and the waves have been very light. Inside the reef, the waves have been almost flat. Outside the reef, the ocean swells were no more than 2-3 feet. The nearby islands have shores which are sometimes sandy beaches, but more often they are vertically sheer coral rock, forming cliffs no higher than the high water mark.

The island I have in mind is not big. It is about one half mile long and one eight mile wide. It's primary feature is a sand dune about 15 feet high. The top of the dune is covered with grass and by three trees (exactly three trees) also about 15 feet high.

As we watched this island looking out toward sea, every once in a while a wall of white water would shoot up from the ocean side shore to a height a little bit higher than the trees. Since there was no visual evidence of surf anywhere else, the sight was very startling. It was even more startling considering how calm the waters really seemed. Even at anchor this morning, more than 4 miles from the island, we could still see the white walls of surf surge behind those trees.

Anyhow, I tried and tried with my digital camera to photograph one of those surges. I tried still shots, and video shots, and high speed 7 shot per second modes, but none of the pictures captured the sight.

My God, I wonder how spectacular the sight must be when the seas are really rough? Perhaps not any more spectacular than now, because the vertical cliffs are only a meter or so high, extending roughly from the low tide to the high tide levels. Giant 20 foot waves would roll right over that stubby cliff right on to the shore.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Great Snorkeling

Wilson City Ruins
N 26 32.439 W 76 57.979

The cruising books gave us the straight story. We sailed down toward the North Bar Cut today. Our target was a place called Sandy Cay where there is an anchorage and there are dinghy moorings near the reef.

At first, we landed the dinghy on the beach and tried to walk around the island, hoping to find a beach on the reef side. No luck, there was just razor sharp coral on that side of the Cay, so we had to give that idea up. Instead, we took the dinghy around the Cay and out to the moorings. It was hard to avoid the coral on the way out. Finally we got there and tied up.

Our problem with snorkeling from the dinghy, is that it is exceedingly hard to get out of or back in to the dinghy from the water. It nearly tips over. For this use, inflatable rubber dinghys are much superior. We compromised by going one at a time.

As soon as I dove in the water and looked down, everything was suddenly worth the trouble. There was lots of live coral and wonderful tropical fish. I especially liked swimming among a school of angel fish; that was exhilarating. After I struggled back in to the dinghy, it was Libby's turn. She was equally enchanted. After about 15 minutes thought, she felt chilled and came back out. Next time we'll wear wet suits. Libby would be glad that I didn't photograph her climbing back in to the
dinghy. The only way to do that is to flop your body like a walrus. It is hardly a dignified action.

Our disposable underwater camera ran out of film, so I decided to try again with our digital underwater camera. The last time we tried it, the screen went black and I feared that it wasn't really waterproof. This time the same thing happened. The screen went black. However, there was no leakage around the doors, and after 5 minutes back above the surface the screen came back on. Could that be a feature? to turn off the LCD screen when under water?

We're anchored tonight, near by. If tomorrow is calm again, I want to go back and snorkel some more. Tonight I'm going to shave my mustache. It lets water leak in to my face mask when snorkeling. If beard but no mustache makes me look too ridiculous, I'll go clean shaven all the way.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Escape from Marsh Harbor

Near Hope Town, Bahamas
N 26 32.461 W 076 58.001

This morning I vacillated, unable to decide on our next destination. Libby didn't have anything to suggest either. We did an engine oil change, then we tanked off with diesel fuel ($4.95/gallon wow!). After lunch I decided that anything was better than indecision so I said, "Let's leave."

Part of the reason for indecision is that we have only good choices for the next few days. We'll have 3-4 days of nearly zero wind. That's perfect weather for snorkeling on the reefs.

We could return to Manjack and Green Turtle Cays. It is much less touristy up there. Down at this end of the Abacos, there are lots of resorts and vacation houses. Up at Manjack and Green Turtle is it less spoiled. Both ends offer excellent snorkeling.

On the other hand, we haven't been south to Sandy Cay and Little Harbor yet. Further, there is a national land and sea park down there where fishing is prohibited. We've heard that the fish are more plentiful on the reefs in this park. So that's where we're going.

On the way, we hoped to spend a day in Hope Town on Elbow Cay. We couldn't get in however. Hope Town harbor has only moorings, no anchorage. We called ahead, but all the moorings were booked. Too bad. We're anchored not too far away from Hope Town, but we won't be trying to dinghy in there tonight. Perhaps on the way back we can see Hope Town.

p.s. Last night we played Balderdash again with Leon and Kim and Ron and Jethro. Everyone we've tried that game on loves it.

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Snail Mail

Marsh Harbor

I often say that the cruising life is wonderful. There are only two things which don't work well at all for cruisers like us. The first is medical insurance (especially when you're living in 13 or more states and countries each year). The second is snail mail.

The post office hates it when we call their service snail mail. But the shoe really fits. When we lived in Sweden, we learned how spoiled one can be by good mail service. Despite the fact that Sweden is 1500 miles long, all mail send today, will be delivered the next morning. There is no need for express mail and no need for Fedex or UPS-like companies to deliver mail faster.

In the USA, it takes 5 or more working days to get priority mail. A simple first class letter takes who knows how long. When we are on the move all the time, we never know where to send our mail to. We don't know where we will be 5 days from now. We don't know for sure the future ports we will call in because we frequently change our mind about sailing plans. Therefore, we have our daughter Jennifer collect our mail. She takes care of anything urgent. Then, 3-4 times per year she sends
a package of back mail.

Its a luxury to be in one place for a long time, like Vero or Marathon, because we can have stuff mailed there directly to us. Sometimes though, even that doesn't work. I ordered a part for our radar when we arrived in Marathon, and three weeks later when we left, it still hadn't arrived. I wrote it off as lost. However, our friends on Albion noticed that it arrived several days after we left. They'll, very kindly, forward it to Jenny. Thanks Albion.

When we got to the Bahamas, I noticed that our Certificate of Documentation for Tarwathie expires 3/31/2008. Uh Oh. That might give us trouble if we tried to re-enter the USA without any valid certificate on board. Well, Jenny and technology came to our rescue. Jenny managed to get a new certificate for us in only one week (super fast!). The next problem was to get it too us. Using snail mail in the Bahamas is even more fraught with problems than US mail. Jenny had the solution. She scanned
the certificate, emailed it to us and just now I printed it on our on board color printer. Thanks Jenny.

To send outgoing mail from the Bahamas, there is another local solution. The cruiser's VHR radio net every day has a "mail call" agenda item. They look for volunteers who are returning to the states, and who are willing to carry mail with them to be posted there. If you merely drop it in a mail box here, it could be a week or more before it gets picked up.

I'll tell on more story about mail. In 2004, before my retirement, I was in the middle of a big IT project that spanned the years 2002-2005. We did everything electronically. One day, I had to send a document to our vendor for a signature. It occurred to me that I had not been to a post office in years, nor had I received any external mail since starting my job at NYISO, nor could I remember having seen a mail box in many years. Libby paid the bills at home, so I never saw snail mail there
either. I (foolishly) thought that perhaps they banned mail boxes or even abolished snail mail after the anthrax scare in 2001. Anyhow, I sent an email to the secretary of Mr. Jones (fictitious name) saying, "What is Mr. Jones' snail mail address?" She replied, "I'm sorry, but Mr. Jones does not have a snail mail account." Jeez.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

The Cold Front Passage

Marsh Harbor
N 26 32.845 W 077 03.485

For three days now, we have been hearing about a "very nasty" cold front that will pass over us at 1400 on Saturday. First it caused tornadoes in Tennessee, then again in Northern Florida. The forecaster said that the front passage may be accompanied by squalls with gale force wind. All that forewarning and waiting leads to anxiety. Well, today we were all prepared. Anchors set and things on deck secured. By 1300 we could hear thunder, by 1330 we could see the lighting, black sky and scud,
and the front passed over us at 1350 (pretty good 3 day forecast come to think of it)

I sat anchor watch up behind the dodger to watch what would happen. Our next door neighbor, a 40 foot ketch from Annapolis, had anchored too close to us, and sure enough, as the wind clocked from South to Northwest, he came within 10 feet of us. No collision though so it wasn't a big deal. Also, the gale-force squalls never hit us on this spot, so the event was less dramatic than feared.

Then looking around, I noticed that all 200 boats anchored in the harbor had swung around on their anchors to point NW except three of them that were still pointing South. Evidently, those three were aground. Low tide is at 1444 today, so they'll have to wait for the tide to come in to float again.

Funniest, was a trawler anchored near us. Two days ago, our friends Kim and Leon on Gypsy complained that that trawler had anchored right on their nose up at Manjack Cay, despite a square mile or so of other places he might have chosen to anchor. That made them nervous because if the trawler dragged, they would be the victims. Now, the same trawler came in to Marsh Harbor and anchored on their nose once again. However Leon said, "We are in the NW corner of the anchorage. When the wind clocks
around to NW, all those boats in front of me now, will be behind me. Then I'll feel secure." Guess what, after the wind did clock around, Gypsy was on the nose of the trawler. The trawler then took up his anchor, motored around Gypsy and re-anchored right on Gypsy's nose once again. I won't blog the name of the trawler, but I suggest that a good name would be Nemesis.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

A Social Whirl

Marsh Harbor OII Internet Cafe

We didn't plan on staying long in Marsh Harbor, but we're getting caught up in the social whirl and enjoying it.

Our first night here, we had dinner aboard A PLACE (a Westsail 42) with Ron and Jethro, plus Leon and Kim from GYPSY. The next night, we had the same four on board Tarwathie for dinner and Balderdash. Last night we went aboard ENGLISH ROSE to meet with Bob and Jan from Poughkeepsie. Tonight we'll have dinner aboard IDUNNO, and tomorrow night aboard GYPSY.

Yesterday morning I went on a day sail with Ron, skipper of A PLACE. Ron wanted to see how our Monitor self-steering vane worked, and to just pick up sailing technique from a fellow sailor.

Ron is a very experienced sailor. He has some chilling tales to tell about sailing Hobie Cat sized catamarans in the surf in New Jersey. He told of breaking the cats into pieces in the 8 foot waves, and of getting rescued by the Coast Guard several times, and of rescuing other people.

Ron and I left Marsh Harbor and set course for nearby Man O War Cay. We had a nice breeze, about 16 knots. With Ron watching and asking questions, I was self conscious. I explained how to set up the monitor, and I stressed how important it was to trim the sails so that not much steering was needed. Tarwathie loved it. She flew like a falcon. We zipped over to Man O War Cay and back at 6.5 knots and 30 degrees of heel. I can't remember when Tarwathie has ever sailed faster in those conditions. I should learn to follow my own advice and pay more attention to sail trim when I don't have guests.

Last night a thunderstorm passed over and the wind briefly reversed direction. A boat nearby had their anchor break loose and they scrambled to re-set it in the wind and rain as the man and woman aboard yelled at each other. That doesn't make for good on board relations. I, and most of the other skippers I could see, all sat in the cockpit standing anchor watch until the storm passed.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Bright Sky

Marsh Harbor
N 26 32.845 W 077 03.485

The other night we sat at anchor off the eastern shore of Grand Abaco Island. It was fairly calm and a warm night, so we stayed up on deck long after sunset. As we looked up that night the stars were brilliantly bright. It was such a pleasure to look upon them. We spotted all the major stars, constellations and planets that we know. Then I grabbed the binoculars and tried for the umpteenth time to see the Andromeda Galaxy. Even though I know exactly where to look in the sky, I never succeeded
in seeing it before. Well that night, I saw it. It was just a faint smudge but it had the right oval shape, so I'm certain. What a delight, after all those years, to actually see it. In a few billion years, Andromeda will start to collide with the Milky way, so it is a critically important object in the future history of our galaxy.

Only once before have I seen the stars so bright. The other time was in 1994 on a sailboat in the Stockholm Archipelago in Sweden. That night we were only 200 miles away from an intensely low pressure storm. We theorized that the thinning of the air above us near the low made the stars brighter. The morning after we woke to terrifying news on the radio. 200 miles away, the ferry Estonia had sunk in 100 foot waves with the loss of about 850 lives.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

First Experience

Marsh Harbor
N 26 32.845 W 077 03.485

We had our first exposure to Marsh Harbor on Monday. I can't really say what it reminds us of. Parts look very quaint, parts look modern, parts look like the haphazard kind of development we saw in Alaska. The Bahamians are polite and friendly, but the proprietors of most shops seem indistinguishable from their American counterparts. Probably, as we have more contact, we'll see beyond such superficial impressions.

There is a super market here. It is a really big store. They do offer things that we never see for sale in the USA. Things like burnt sugar, beef tails, New Zealand butter, and New Zealand lamb. That doesn't mean that we can buy all those things. The lamb was priced at $16 per pound. Anyhow, we have to go back on Tuesday to buy vegetables. The supply boat comes only once per week, yesterday was 6 days after the last boat and most vegetables were sold out, and the remaining ones were the rejects.
Today, there should be fresh vegetables again.

Our masthead VHF antenna appears to be broken. I noticed that we were picking up transmissions on the hand held VHF that the fixed VHF didn't hear. Looking up, I can't see the antenna at all. Perhaps it fell off. Tomorrow, I'll go up the mast to investigate.

Last night we had dinner on board a nearby Westsail 42 (not 32 but 42) with Leon and Kim and Ron and Jethro. Ron is the skipper of the 42, and Jethro is his son. Ron refitted the W42 himself and he single hands her most of time. His wife doesn't go cruising with him, but she does give permission for him to go away for months at a time. Ron's son Jethro, recently quit his job and he decided to join his dad as crew for this winter. I think Jethro is going to have a hard time going back to the
working drudgery after sampling the cruising life.

Our Olympus underwater digital camera is giving trouble. The very first time we used it in the water, it leaked. Now it seems to work on odd days and not work on even days. If it fails, we'll be without pictures for a long time. After returning to the states, and after going through the cycle of mailing it back for warranty and having it mailed back to us via Jennifer, it could take more than four months to get it fixed. In any case, Marsh Harbor is not very photogenic. I walked all around
the town today and I didn't see one single thing that I wanted to take a picture of.

First Experience

Marsh Harbor
N 26 32.845 W 077 03.485

We had our first exposure to Marsh Harbor on Monday. I can't really say what it reminds us of. Parts look very quaint, parts look modern, parts look like the haphazard kind of development we saw in Alaska. The Bahamians are polite and friendly, but the proprietors of most shops seem indistinguishable from their American counterparts. Probably, as we have more contact, we'll see beyond such superficial impressions.

There is a super market here. It is a really big store. They do offer things that we never see for sale in the USA. Things like burnt sugar, beef tails, New Zealand butter, and New Zealand lamb. That doesn't mean that we can buy all those things. The lamb was priced at $16 per pound. Anyhow, we have to go back on Tuesday to buy vegetables. The supply boat comes only once per week, yesterday was 6 days after the last boat and most vegetables were sold out, and the remaining ones were the rejects.
Today, there should be fresh vegetables again.

Our Olympus underwater digital camera is giving trouble. The very first time we used it in the water, it leaked. Now it seems to work on odd days and not work on even days. If it fails, we'll be without pictures for a long time. After returning to the states, and after going through the cycle of mailing it back for warranty and having it mailed back to us via Jennifer, it could take more than four months to get it fixed.

Our masthead VHF antenna appears to be broken. I noticed that we were picking up transmissions on the hand held VHF that the fixed VHF didn't hear. Looking up, I can't see the antenna at all. Perhaps it fell off. Tomorrow, I'll go up the mast to investigate.

Last night we had dinner on board a nearby Westsail 42 (not 32 but 42) with Leon and Kim and Ron and Jethro. Ron is the skipper of the 42, and Jethro is his son. Ron refitted the W42 himself and he single hands her most of time. His wife doesn't go cruising with him, but she does give permission for him to go away for months at a time. Ron's son Jethro, recently quit his job and he decided to join his dad as crew for this winter. I think Jethro is going to have a hard time going back to the
working drudgery after sampling the cruising life.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Hiding Out

Marsh Harbor
N 26 32.845 W 077 03.485

Marsh Harbor is the biggest town we're likely to encounter in the Bahamas. We were in no hurry to get here. However, there's a blow scheduled for Tuesday/Wednesday and Marsh Harbor is a secure place to sit for several days. Besides, we can go ashore and explore. There is also a slim chance that our friends Reggie and Terry may still be here. If so, we'd like to see them.

We had a great sail today. The winds were about 15 knots and the weather was warm and mostly sunny. Boy this is a nice place.

One tough part of today's passage was going through "The Whale" "The Whale" is a bit of complicated navigation that leads one around some shoal waters. Using a GPS, the navigation is not hard, but in the days before GPS, it would have been a real challenge in coastal piloting. For us, the hard part was a 2.2 mile leg that took us up in to the wind, and out toward the open sea. The seas were 4-5 feet hight and right on our nose. Tarwathie doesn't do well motoring in to a stiff wind on the
nose, especially against waves. She porpoises too much (meaning that she rocks forward and aft). As she rocks forward, the propeller lifts out of the water and cavitates. It took us a whole hour at full throttle to motor those 2.2 miles.

After that tough passage, the rest was easy. We rolled along doing 6.5 knots or better most of the time. A few places we crossed have pure white sand bottoms, which makes the water appear to be extra shallow. That was scary, but in reality, we never saw any depth less than 9 feet the whole passage.

We entered the harbor on Man O War Cay, but it was too crowded and we left. Our second choice was Marsh Harbor, and we arrived here just in time for sunset.

Saturday, March 01, 2008

Snorkel Adventure

Manjack Cay
N 26 49.202 W 077 22.068

This morning, the weather was fine, as forecast. We set out in the dinghy to go snorkeling on the reef. We packed, a dinghy anchor, fins, masks, snorkels, towels, fuel, camera, and a bottle of water, and off we went.

It wasn't easy finding a way out to the ocean side. The tide was low and many places were blocked by shallows less than 6" deep. We had to row. Along the way we were treated to the view of numerous starfish and colonies of conchs in the shallows.

Eventually we gained the sea, started the motor and set off for one of the two mooring bouys put out there for snorkelers. A volunteer organization puts out moorings so that visiting boats won't damage the reefs trying to anchor. We had the coordinates for two of the buoys programmed in to our hand held GPS.

The bad news is that we couldn't find either of two buoys we looked for. We went to the exact GPS coordinates and looked around, but there was nothing in sight. In any case, the waves were 2-3 feet high. We thought that was a little too rough for snorkeling in water less than 3 feet deep. One risks getting scraped on the coral.

We returned to shore, and we found a delightful beach. The beach had lovely white sand. Also, there were no people, no man made structures and no vessels in sight. We were totally alone. What a treat. We snorkeled from the beach, and a few hundred meters off shore, we found some coral and some very pretty fish. I'm sure it wasn't as colorful an spectacular as the big reefs, but it was enough to enchant Libby and me. We had a marvelous time.

After snorkeling, we combed the beach for treasures. We found some lovely shells, including two magnificent conchs. I also found 200 feet of 5/8" polypropylene line that I untangled and brought back. The line is too big to carry on Tarwathie. We have no place to store it. Perhaps I can give it away to a larger boat.

On the way back, we picked up a big, fully mature, conch. It had a beautiful red shell, and the resident conch was alive and kicking. We took it back to the boat with the intention of eating it. However, when it came time to kill it, we chickened out and threw it back in to the sea. Libby never forgave me for throwing two live lobsters in to boiling water on our honeymoon; the conch reminded us of that.