Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Move One Step

Manjack Cay, Abacos, Bahamas
26 49.29 N 077 22.06 W

Treasure Cay was seductive. We were a little reluctant to leave, but the weather sounded better today than the next few days. We left at noon on the high tide. Before leaving we fueled up. The price of diesel here today is the same as we last paid in Marathon. Not bad.

It was a light wind day so we did most of it motoring. To get 8 miles to Manjack Cay, we had to go in a big circle traveling almost 25 miles. The reason is a big shoal that we had to avoid. We also went through The Whale. It was no problem today. Very mild. That's good because the other day when the condition of the Whale was reported as "medium" a sailboat got dismasted attempting it.

Our plan is to spend several days here. The weather should be mild, permitting us lots of opportunity to swim, snorkel, fish, hike and hunt for conchs. After that, we'll backtrack to Green Turtle Cay for some more days.

It is too early to return to Florida and head north. We would run the risk of sailing into COLD, if we did that.

Monday, March 30, 2009

A Gathering of Ws

Treasure Cay, Abacos

We talked to our daughter Jennifer on Skype yesterday. She said that we have turned into social butterflies. I guess it's true. We have been hanging out with and having supper with new found friends Russ & Pat on the W42 Consort, and Dave & Wendy on the W42 Elysium. In addition, we met Dave & Carol on New Horizon. The Pahls turn out to be from Pashley Road in Glenville, NY. That is just a few miles from our last house in West Charlton, NY.

In addition, Richard & Penny on the W42 and another the W32 Alice are nearby. That makes 5 Westsails. That's nearly enough to call it a Westsail Rendezvous which would be an excuse for further partying.

We were going to go to a beach party in Marsh Harbor tomorrow, but after heraing today's weather report I think we might change our minds. Tomorrow sounds like the best day to go through The Wale northward. When we do that, it will mark the beginning of our spring northward migration for 2009.

I just read that there will be big quadricennial celebrations in New York this year, all the way from NYC to Plattsburg. Uh Oh. That is the kind of thing we normally avoid. It could mean hoards of event boats and no place for regular cruisers.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Suppose You Were Walking Down The Street...

Treasure Cay

Suppose you were just walking down the street when you stumbled across something. What is it? An asteroid. AN ASTEROID!!!! Just sitting there??? OMG

Holy Mackerel. I could more easily imagine stumbling across The Holy Grail, or a winged Pegasus as I could an asteroid sitting there. No smoke, no crater. Just an asteroid sitting there.

I can't tell you how many science fiction stories I've read about astronauts exploring the asteroids. Now someone finds one just sitting there.

I read about it on APOD. The picture and the text from the story are below.

Almahata Sitta 15
Credit & Copyright: Peter Jenniskens (SETI Institute/NASA Ames)

Read the story here about how some students found it in just two hours.

Friday, March 27, 2009

How I Blew The Crossing

Treasure Cay, Abaco Bahamas

Above you see the record of our track (the blue line) sailing from Rodriguez Key Florida, USA to West End, Abacos, Bahamas. I really blew it on this crossing. I'll try to explain but to do so I'll have to get a little technical.

First the weather. All day long the wind was from the East, roughly from right to left on the picture above. It blew 15 knots in the morning, and dropped to 8 knots in the afternoon.

Look carefully at our track. You can see three segments. The first, and shortest segment was as we motored due East. The goal was to get far enough up wind to be able to sail the rest of the way.

Segment two curves to the left. Actually, we were in the middle of the Gulf Stream all that time, and our track follows that center line almost exactly. In the early part of this segment, we were able to sail with course 040. That pointed us directly at West End. It also pointed Tarwathie as close in to the wind as we could manage. That was good.

As the Gulf Stream turned to the left, it carried us with it. However it also moved the apparent wind vector more to the left. That means that holding Tarwathie as close to the wind as we could, our course shifted from 040, to 030, to 020. Finally, by sunset, the best we could do was 015 degrees. I thought this was fine because our course made good (the component of our velocity vector in the direction of West End) was more than 7 knots.

In the third segment, we left the gulf stream and headed for West End, but now we were so far North that our course was 060. We couldn't sail. We had to motor into the wind, which I hate. The last leg took 14 hours.

What I should have done was to maintain the 040 course the whole way, using the motor if necessary to avoid the swing left with the Gulf Stream. If we had done that, we would have broken free of the Gulf Stream well South of Miami and been able to sail the rest of the way to West End without the motor.

I must confess something. Even though we have been sailing for nearly 40 years, and full time for 4 years, I'm not a very good sailor. I've never raced, so I never learned how to get maximum speed out of a sail boat. I'm also poor at passage planning, as the above anecdote illustrates. I started sailing as an antidote to work -- to do something that was enjoyable without a lot of thinking. I guess that bad habit carried over. It is very noticeable to me that many other sailors with less experience than I have better sailing skills.

Do I care about not being an expert sailor? No. Will I resolve to do better in the future? No. I just enjoy the life style.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Treasure Cay

Treasure Cay, Abacos Bahamas
26 40.29 N 077 16.97 W

Happy birthday Sara! Our granddaughter Sara is 15 today.

We got frustrated waiting in Marsh Harbor, so we left for Treasure Cay (pronounced key) despite the weather report. It was stormier than expected and we had a rough ride over here, but we arrived OK. The entrance is shallow. We hit it at half tide. I would not try it at low tide.

Inside Treasure Cay is a small but private anchorage owned by a resort. They charge us $10/day just to anchor here. That's the first time we ever paid to anchor. But wait. Wait until you hear what we get for the $10. We get anchorage, free WIFI, dinghy dock, garbage disposal, use of the restaurant, bar, fresh water pool, showers, and a world-class beach. In short, all the facilities of the resort minus a room. What a deal! I think we'll like it here a lot.

In the picture, see the beach in the foreground and the anchorage where Tarwathie is in the background on the far right.

I mentioned to Libby that our friends Reg and Terri on Blue Topaz stay here at a slip all summer long. They even rode out two hurricanes here, and they and their boat came through fine. One can rent a slip here for the seasonal rate of only $400/month. What a deal! Imagine staying at a luxury tropical resort for $400/month.

This morning, I said to Libby, "You know, we could stay right here at a slip until next winter. The expenses for a trip north including fuel and stuff would pay for the slip rental." Libby turned white, thought a while, and then started thinking of reasons why that would be a bad idea. I had to laugh. The real reason she didn't like the idea is that we would not get to see family and friends this summer. I'm with her. We're not likely to remain here for the summer anytime soon. Still, one of these years, if we're just feeling too tired to make that 4,000 mile round trip, we might just do it. We could arrange for family and friends to fly down and visit, one or two at a time.

I'll bet that you blog readers would also vote against us staying. If we stayed in one place for 6-9 months, I'm certain that original thoughts for the blog would dry up and I'd have to stop posting. I'd wind up like the two gentlemen below.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Gotta Tell This Story

Marsh Harbor

I can't resist passing on to you the following story. I got it almost verbatim from The Abaconian, the local newspaper.

A boating accident occurred March 1 near Guana Cay. A man who arrived from the States a few days ago, was in his new 31 foot boat when he say one of his radio antennas out of position. He climbed up to fix it with engines idling, but he slipped, bumped his body on the throttle levers, and then fell overboard. The boat (powered by two 300 HP outboards)took off at high speed.

The boat ended up about 45 feet from the water in the yard of a house in Guana. The owner of the house started screaming on VHF 16 as she thought there might be somebody dead in the boat. A passerby in another boat picked up the man and took him to his boat on shore. When the owner reached his boat, he grabbed his jacket, cell phone, and briefcase, and said, "How do I get to Marsh Harbor Airport? I want out of here now." He flew out of Abaco that day. The boat (estimated value $175,000) remains with a gouged-out hole in the hull.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Basket Weaving

Marsh Harbor

Now I'll tell what Libby has been up to.

The first picture below shows Libby and her friends exploring the forest in search of special, very long, pine needles.

Next we see the ladies sitting and learning how to make baskets using the pine needles and raffia. Raffia is a grass that can be used like thread to sew.

The third picture shows a very beautiful basket that our friend Patty made using these methods. Patty is teaching her friends, including Libby how to do it.
Finally, we see Libby holding her work in progress. Her first practice basket. In her right hand she's holding a bundle of the pine needles.

Its' great fun. If we get good at it our kids can look forward to finding some of Libby's handiwork in their Christmas stockings.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Marooned In Paradise; Again

Marsh Harbor

When we came to Marsh Harbor last Monday, it was our intention to stay here only two days. Today it is one week, and it now looks like we won't leave until Thursday.

The problem is the weather. It's very windy. The Sea of Abaco is sheltered but not sheltered enough to make sailing comfortable here in these conditions. Beyond the reef seas are 9-15 feet. Between the islands The Rage is on. Every day we say, "Maybe tomorrow." Every morning as we listen to the weather report we say, "Not today."

By the way, last year we told the story on this blog about a 45 foot charter catamaran that tried to go through The Whale while the rage was on. We didn't see it, but we heard that the boat was trashed, and the 6 passengers were in the hospital. This morning we heard more details about it. We heard that a wave from the front smashed all the forward facing windows in the main cabin. Then water pouring in through the broken windows swept the cabin and took out the sliding glass doors that close of the back of the cabin. It must have been frightening.

It seems to me that I get to use the phrase, "marooned in paradise" pretty often. Its true. You'll smile to hear that we don't get much sympathy from friends when they hear about it.

Today, Libby takes her third day of a special course taught by our friend Patty. She's using those pine needles they searched for last week. I'm not ready yet to tell you what they're doing.

This afternoon we have a Balderdash tournament scheduled by the pool at the resort. Up here on land, sheltered from the wind, the weather is delightful. About 80F (27c), and mostly sunny; deligtful.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Make Your Mark On The World

Marsh Harbor

If you want to get recognized for something you do, then there is much less competition in Marsh Harbor, than in a place like New York. Here you don't have to win a Nobel Prize to become a local hero.

Below is one of the many plaques on the wall.

I just noticed that I inadvertenly made a self portrait as part of that shot.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Madoff Memorial

Marsh Harbor

Yesterday Libby and I went our separate ways. Libby went off with Pat and other lady friends on an expedition in search of very special pine needles that are found here in the Bahamas. (More on that in a future blog)

Ray and I had a different kind of adventure. We set off to explore in Ray's dinghy. It was a perfect day for it, sunny, warm, light breezes and waves. We followed the "back route" to Marsh Harbor up through a very protected cove that it bordered on one side by a very thin isthmus of land. It seemed that as we went along, that we progressed from the high rent district to higher and highest. Certainly many of the houses were beaufiful, especially the last house which also had two Hinkley boats
tied up at their dock.

We kept going beyond to Matt Lowes Cay. Ray said that the cay was private, heavily posted, and uninhabited, with only a caretaker's house. That turned out to be false. We circled around the island and found a big breakwater, we circled the breakwater and entered the channel that it protected. What we found inside was a deep water canal blasted out of the limestone and lined with massive high steel and concrete walls. Lining the canal were slots and docks for boats. Big boats. Each slip
was about 30 feet wide. There were places for about 50 yachts and megayachts, each with a dock, a manicured lawn, but no house. We saw only two houses in there out of 50 places. We saw only one boat, and no people. It appeared that the whole development was abandoned half-finished.

Actually, there seems to be a long tradition of half-finished abandoned projects in the Bahamas. Perhaps this one was only the latest. My imagination can hardly imagine how much it must have cost just to build that canal and those walls. Millions. Tens of millions. All of it, or almost all of it, sitting idle and unused. Anyhow, if a surprise hurricane shows up here in the next couple of weeks (that would be a very big surprise indeed) I now now an excellent hurricane hole to take Tarwathie

I don't know what the name of the development is, but I think Bernie Madoff Memorial Estates appropriate.

p.s. When Libby returned she said they saw a man walking around in the pine forest wearing a red tee shirt with big letters on it saying AIG. Aha, now we know where those guys are hiding.

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Jib Room

Marsh Harbor

We don't go to restaurants very often, but when Pat and Ray invited us to join them at the Jib Room we said, "sure." It was rib night there, and both Libby and I love ribs. (Pity the millions of people who don't eat pork. It is so good.)

Anyhow, we had a great time. The clientele is almost entirely cruisers, and the atmosphere is very friendly. After dinner they have a great Limbo show. See the pictures.

Also below is a video of the limbo and the band. Before you watch it be warned; my video taking skills suck.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Rain Rain Water Water

Marsh Harbor, Abacos, Bahamas

We had planned on leaving here today but a chilly rain has changed our minds. It has been raining for the past 10 hours. I've been working on scrubbing the decks and on collecting water. Water is important out here on the islands. Buying water can cost as much as 50 cents per gallon. Around here it is 20 cents per gallon.

We don't have any plastic tarps or other rigs specifically designed for gathering rain water. Nevertheless, we have been able to capture about 2 gallons per hour by letting it drip from our canvas covers in to buckets. We used the first 2 gallons to make hot baths for Libby and me. Now we're collecting more to help refill our water tanks. I think I'll get a plastic tarp. With that we could collect water 2-3 times faster.

We used 15 gallons of fresh water since leaving Marathon on March 7. That's 1.25 gallons per day for the two of us. Excellent. All the cruising guides say 3 gallons per person per day minimum. Our low consumption is due primarily to two things. First, we have no pressurized water, and no hot water heater. We use foot pumps to get fresh water to the sinks. I'm 100% sure that merely having pressurized water would result in doubling our consumption simply due to wast

Second, we don't have a built in shower on the boat. We use a so-called sun shower like campers do. It is a plastic bag that one fills with water, then allows it to sit 30 minutes in the sun to warm up. When on the mainland we use fresh water in the sun shower. Out here in the islands we use salt water.

By the way, I heard that a regular house here with a tin roof, gutters and downspouts, can gather 4000 gallons of water for the cistern per inch of rain received. That's pretty good. 4000 gallons can last a long time; especially if you're as stingy with it as we are.

FLASH FLASH: As I sat here bragging about collecting water, the wind kicked up a little bit. The wind blew the canvas tarp and knocked off the weight I had in it to make a low spot near the edge for water to run off. The weight fell in to the glass bottom bucket I was using to catch the water and it broke the glass bottom. Now I'm out $13 that I paid for the materials to make the glass bottom bucket. That's enough money to buy 65 gallons of water. Darn, outsmarted myself yet again.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Lo and Behold

Marsh Harbor, Abacos Bahamas
26 32.83 N 077 03.47 W

The other day we were passing through The Whale (that infamous danger spot). Conditions were mild with winds 10 knots or less. We were getting bounced around a bit but nothing bad. Right in the middle of the passages I looked out. Lo and behold I thought I was looking in a mirror. Passing near by going the opposite way was a Westsail 32, white with blue trim. It looked identical to Tarwathie. I hailed the captain on the radio and learned that the boat was called Alice out of Freeport Maine. There's a good chance that we might encounter Alice again sometime this month.

(I never used the word lo before. I'm not sure what it means but it goes witht the phrase "lo and behold". I looked it up: Simplified spelling variant of low; Look, see, behold (in an imperative sense); A shortened form of "hello" ('lo; see hallo))

In the harbor yesterday we met Russ and Pat aboard Consort, a Westsail 42. That makes three W42s, and two W32 in the locality that we know about so far.

Yesterday, we met up with our friends Ray and Pat on Reflection and Andrew and Vanessa on Tally Ho. They are also long time cruising friends. We last saw them in Vero a few months ago. While we went to Marathon and the Florida West Coast and Marathon again, they elected to stay here. They joined the Royal Marsh Harbor Yacht Club. That entitles them to steeply discounted rates at the Boat Haven marina. Doing it that way makes it affordable. With a slip rented for three months, they were free to use it as a base and to explore the Abacos on day trips, by boat and by rented cars. We saw the marina facilities yesterday and it looked very nice.

Tonight we'll join Vanessa, Andrew, Pat and Ray at The Jib Room for dinner. Tonight is rib night at that restaurant. Ray said that they have a really good limbo show after dinner. It should be fun.

Libby and I went to buy groceries this morning at Maxwell's. Maxwell's was a supermarket that greatly impressed us last year with the variety of foods offered. I say was, past tense. When we got there this morning, it was gone. Nothing remains of Maxwell's other than a concrete slab. Perhaps it burned down. I'll try to find out the story while we're here.

Last night, a weak cold front came through causing the wind to shift almost 180 degrees. Predictably in a big harbor like this, the radio soon came alive with reports of boats dragging their anchors and of dinghies that blew away from the docks. Oh well, it provides a source of entertainment. In reality it is a source of anxiety causing me to sit at anchor watch until fully satisfied that our anchor is not dragging also. You see the problem with wind reversals is that it causes the anchor to trip (i.e. get pulled out of the sand on the bottom), and then it must reset itself pointing in the opposite direction. Usually that works OK but a few percent of the time it doesn't work. In a harbor with a hundred boats anchored, a few percent drag every reversal. In places like this we use our CQR anchor. A feature of the CQR is that the arm is pivoted on a hinge. (See the picture.) That usually allows the anchor to turn around and pull from the opposite direction without tripping and resetting. That reduces the chances of us dragging when using the CQR, but the chance is never reduced to zero.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Rest Of The Story: Bahamas Banks

Marsh Harbor, Abacos, Bahamas

Surprise! When we got to Manjack Cay we found the last thing in the world I expected, a WIFI Internet connection. Who would have thought? Anyhow, I did as I promised. I used the net to look up information about the geology of the Bahamas Banks. It turns out that my speculation that there must be some feedback mechanism that keeps the banks just below the surface of the water is correct, and also my speculation that they must have been high and dry when sea levels werer low was also correct. Read on. I'll paraphrase the stuff I found on Wikipedia.

The Bahama Banks are the submerged carbonate platforms that make up much of the Bahama Archipelago. The limestone that comprises the Banks has been accumulating since at least the Cretaceous period, and perhaps as early as the Jurassic; today the total thickness under the Great Bahama Bank is over 4500 meters.[1] As its limestones were deposited in shallow water, the only way to explain this massive column is to estimate that the entire platform has subsided under its own weight at a rate of roughly 3.6 centimeters per 1,000 years. The weight of the platform has pushed down the earth's crust in the nearby region. Ergo the deep ocean trenches that surround the banks.

The waters of the Bahama Banks are very shallow; on the Great Bahama Bank they are generally no deeper than 25 meters.[2] The slopes around them however, such as the border of the Tongue of the Ocean in the Great Bahama Bank, are very steep. The Banks were dry land during past ice ages, when sea level was as much as 120 meters lower than at present; the area of the Bahamas today thus represents only a small fraction of their prehistoric extent. When they were exposed to the atmosphere, their limestones were subjected to chemical weathering that created the caves and sinkholes common to karst terrain, resulting in structures like blue holes.

A carbonate platform is a sedimentary body which possesses topographic relief, and is composed of autochthonous calcareous deposits. Platform growth is mediated by sessile organisms whose skeletons build up the reef or by organisms (usually microbes) which induce carbonate precipitation through their metabolism.

Tropical factory: In these platforms precipitation is biotically controlled, mostly by autotrophic organisms. Organisms that build this kind of platform are mostly corals, green algae, foraminifers and molluscs. These platforms are found only in warm (more than 20°C) and sunlit waters, high in oxygen and low in nutrients. This means that they are found between 30° north and 30° south of the equator.

The reef is that part of a carbonate platform created by essentially in-place, sessile organisms. Today’s reefs are built by hermatypic organisms. The reef is the rigid structure of carbonate platforms and is located between the internal lagoon and the slope. Survival of the platform depends on the existence of the reef, because only this part of the platform can build a rigid, wave-resistant structure.

p.s. We're in Marsh Harbor for a couple of days, riding out some rainy weather.

Monday, March 16, 2009

In The Rocket's Red Glare

At Sea, Abacos, Bahamas
26 44.30 N 077 20.19 W

It worked. We watched to the east last night in the growing twilight. We also listened to the countdown on CNN. Then, about 30 seconds after time zero, we spotted Space Shuttle Discovery rising. I snapped a picture, and caught an image of the rocket leaving a long red trail and silhouetted by the mast and rigging of Viking Rose. We had just left from a visit to Viking Rose minutes before. Unfortunately, in the dim light, the camera shutter stayed open a long time and the image was blurry.
I emailed a copy to Viking Rose anyhow.

As the rocked rose higher, our view of it was cut off by a big cloud that was hanging over our heads. Too bad. We didn't get to see the booster separation. Still, it was very impressive to see how well the rocket could be viewed from 224 miles (320 km) away.

We decided to bypass Green Turtle Cay today. Last year we spent a lot of time there; nearly two weeks. Tomorrow there is a cold front coming through and after that it might be a long time before it is safe to cross The Whale again. Don't know what The Whale is? It is a narrow passage that we must pass through to get from the Northern Abacos to the Southern Abacos. If the weather is not right, waves in The Whale can become very big and very dangerous. Read our stories about The Wale on this
blog's archives. See the post Bahamas Follow Up from March 30, 2008.

After passing through The Whale I'm a bit undecided what to do next. Treasure Cay is nearby and we've never been there. On the other hand, there may be 2-3 days of windy rainy weather coming up. Perhaps it might be better to sit indoors in Marsh Harbor playing Balderdash or Banangrams on those days. I've written before about Balderdash. Banangrams is a Scrabble-like game taught to us by friends Pat and Walt aboard Wings of Eagles. Coincidentally, we met them at Green Turtle Cay which lies
just abaft of our beam right now. Anyhow, Banangrams is more fun than real Scrabble.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Launch Tonight

Manjack Cay, Bahamas
26 49.09 N 077 21.93 W

My, what a busy day. After sleeping in late, and a lazy breakfast, we stopped by to see Richard and Penny on Viking Rose.

Then we hiked on the trails across the island to the ocean side beach. What a treat! When we got there we found three miles of white sand, turquoise water, gentle waves and views of the barrier reef and the Atlantic Ocean beyond. Best of all, we had the whole beach to ourselves. What did we do? Skinny dipping of course. What else would one do in those circumstances?

We ate a picnic lunch at the beach, then headed back. Before returning to the boat, we followed another trail. Soon we found another beach, this one on the bay side of the island. I went swimming again. The water was warmer on that side.

This afternoon I set out in the dinghy to find conch for supper. I went to a place where we found a colony of conch last year. Too bad. When I got there I found a colony of starfish but no conchs. Star fish are the predators of conchs. Anyhow, I picked up a nice starfish the size of a dinner plate. See below.

Last we used our sun shower to take warm showers. We use a gadget called a sun shower with salt water for showers on board. It sits in the sun on deck for a half hour or so and makes the water deliciously warm. Then we hang it high in the rigging and let gravity feed the shower head. It feels great. We used a bar of Swedish salt water soap that David gave us for Christmas. It worked great. I have no idea where David found Swedish salt water soap for sale in Fairbank Alaska, but I'm glad he did.

Tonight we're off for cocktail hour aboard Viking Rose. Then we hopefully get to see the space shuttle go overhead around 19:45.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Finally, Arrived at Paradise

Manjack Cay, Bahamas
25 04.96 N 077 21.04 W

We finally made it. It seemed like a very long time to get here because we had to fight the wind most of the way. When we were sailing East, the wind was from the East. When it came time for us to turn South, the wind swung around to the South.

We usually cruise under power at 1800 RPM. The other day I got bored and cranked it up to 2200 RPM. That wasn't good. The engine temperature went from 180 degrees up to 210. I backed off to 2100 RPM and the temperature held at 200F. That made us go 20% faster than at 1800 RPM. However, after a day and a half of that, I found that our fuel consumption doubled. 20% faster travel for 100% more fuel is not a good bargain.

Having said all that, we're at the right place. Manjack Cay is beautiful. A short dinghy ride from here is a lovely beach that we can enjoy while having it all to ourselves. We can also go snorkeling, and I know where there are some colonies of conchs that we can pick up. Its about time for us to learn to clean and eat conch. We'll also have 2-3 days of mild weather to relax and enjoy it. Relax and enjoy is exactly our plan.

We also have the treat of having our friends Penny and Richard nearby on their Westsail 42 Viking Rose. We last saw Richard and Penny in Marathon, and we last saw their boat in Ocracoke, NC last fall.

Friday, March 13, 2009

The Banks

At Sea, Bahamas Banks
27 00.84 N 078 00.72 W

The Bahamas Banks are fascinating. I wish I knew more about their geology and history. I promise, the next time I get to the net I'll bone up. For the benefit of readers who don't know, I'll explain what I know.

You have seen pictures of the wonderful buttes in the American West. A butte rises out of a flat desert floor. The walls rise almost vertically. The top is like a flat table. That is what the Bahamas banks are like, but the scale is huge. The walls of the banks rise almost vertically 2000 feet.
The table-like top is a hundred or more miles across. The remarkable thing is that the level of the table top is about 10 feet below sea level. In a few places, the level is a bit higher or lower, resulting in islands and holes, but the vast majority lies just below the surface.

I'm skeptical that it is mere coincidence that the top of the banks lies just below sea level. I wonder if there isn't some feedback mechanism that keeps it that way. I also wonder about the past, when sea levels were higher and lower. Were the banks high and dry at times, and deeply submerged others? I'd like to know.

The shallow flat top also contributes to the fantastic clarity of the water here. The daily tides surge and ebb bringing fresh cool waters from the deep and flushing away soiled and warmed water. I would also like to know how quickly the water turns over on the banks due to tides.

We can anchor almost anywhere on the banks in mild weather. In heavy weather on the banks one is completely exposed to wind and to the wind driven choppy waves, but the huge ocean swells are stopped at the barrier reefs.

Out on the banks the bottom is almost all white sand. We can see clumps of grass and the occasional sponge but there's not much life. I don't think there are many fish either. Predator fish prey on herbivore fish, and there's not much plant life to feed the herbivores.

We're headed for the Sea of Abaco on the northeast corner of the Bahamas. There, a ring of barrier islands protects us from the sea. The sea is deeper than the banks, perhaps 20-25 feet deep in many places. This protected inland sea is perfect for day sailing. Numerous protected anchorages are available if the weather turns bad. There is also more life of all kinds here than on the banks. Just outside the barrier islands are barrier coral reefs. Alas, most of the coral is dead. The few remaining
live spots will be our destinations for snorkeling. Just beyond the barrier reefs is a huge trench, 1500 feet deep.

The Gulf Stream flows northward both east and west of the Bahamas. That helps to make the climate very pleasant. It is warm in the winter. In the summer it is 10-15 degrees F cooler than Florida. They say that it is extremely pleasant to spend the summer in the Bahamas, as long as the occasional hurricane doesn't bother you.

There is very little rain here except in September, I'm told. Almost all houses have downspouts and to catch the rain and cisterns to store a year's water needs. In some of the biggger places, they now have reverse osmosis desalinization plants to make fresh water. Cruisers like us who don't have on board water makers are forced to pay 20 cents up to 50 cents per gallon for (poor quality) fresh water. We use fresh water very sparingly.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Up and Up Again

Great Sale Cay, Abacos, Bahamas
27.00.96 N 078 12.01 W

We were really zonked last night so we went to bed early.

Tired as I was, that didn't stop me from waking at midnight to check the glow of the banks in moonlight. Midnight was the zenith of the full moon. I woke and went out on deck naked. Lack of clothes was no problem. There were no other people within 20 miles, and the temperature was a balmy 72. However, I was disappointed -- no glow. Instead of the glow of moonlight reflected off the sand bottom, the moonlight reflected off the surface. Perhaps one has to have a full moon, at zenith, and with
still air. Oh well.

That wasn't the end. Around 3 AM we were wakened by a sudden and loud crash. It sounded like a tree crashing on the roof of the house. I jumped out and once again ran naked on the deck. What I found was our radar reflector. We have a big 12 inch spherical-shaped aluminum radar reflector that we hoist up to the height of the spreaders. The line holding it up had frayed and broken. I had replaced that line with a new one less than a year ago. Worse, inspection of the reflector showed that
it was missing a part. The missing part must have fallen overboard. Oh well, I'll have to improvise a replacement for the lost part until we return to the States.

Despite the disturbances we slept well and didn't get up until after 8AM. How decadent. Here in the Bahamas I'm supposed to be up and ready to listen to the weather report at 6:30.

Today, we were able to sail until noon. Then we had to change course, directly into the wind, and we motored the afternoon to our anchorage here. We also practiced taking a noon sighting of the sun with our sextant. The results were pretty dismal. More practice is needed, much more. I'll post a blog about that when we have Internet and I can show pictures.

Two more days of transit and we'll be at Manjack Cay and ready to enjoy the beaches and the snorkeling.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Ready, Set, Rest

The Little Banks, Abacos, Bahamas
25 46.64 N 078 50.81 W

Well, we made it. Sometimes this year it seemed that we would never get to the Bahamas. Even last night as I looked at the wind and the current I realized that we could be back in Vero Beach as quickly as we could The Bahamas.

I managed the winds and the currents very poorly yesterday. The consequence is that the second half of this trip we had to motor sail instead of sailing the whole way. I know how to sail very well. I can plot currents and drifts. However in my mind I tend to think of the two as independent. They're not. In particular, if the winds are blowing at 10 knots, and the boat speed without current is 4, and the speed with current is 7, then the direction of apparent wind shifts a whole lot. If
that's too technical for you, the point is simply that I blew it.

Oh well, motoring or not, we got here and the trip was calm and pleasant. We never encountered any waves bigger than 2 feet, an no winds more than 15. Only one container ship tried to run us over (grrrrr, I'll write more about that some other time.)

We cleared customs, and we're now 20 miles into the banks. We dropped the anchor early, at 3 PM to relax and catch up on sleep a little. There is no land visible, no other vessels, and no waves. Nothing but white sand under green water as far as the eye can see in all directions. We'll just sit here and enjoy. Later tonight we'll see the full moon and hopefully a rocket launch.

Anchoring on the banks is kind of alien. There is no such thing as picking the right place. All places within sight are equal. One merely takes down the sail, stops the motor and wait for motion to stop and then drop anchor. We don't even need to let out much chain to prevent us from dragging. Who cares if we did drag a mile or ten? It would make no difference.

Sometimes, the things one sees and hears at night at sea are a mystery. Last night it looked like a big fishing boat was stalking us. The only other thing visible was some brilliantly lit thing to the East that seemed to be on land. The boat stayed about 2 miles away from us, but it came no closer. Hour after hour as we moved on, that boat kept it's relative position to us the same. Once, I got a good look at it broadside and I realized that it was a big ship, not a fishing boat. I thought
it was a mother ship for fishermen. Then, I began hearing Russian spoken on the VHF radio. I couldn't understand but I'm certain it was Russian. Finally, I heard a comment in English that said, "The power plant is 20 miles away." Sounds like a prelude to a Tom Clancy novel, doesn't it?

After dawn, the ship was revealed to be a super tanker. It was riding high, meaning that most of it's oil was gone. Then I put two and two together. It was a Russian tanker with a load of bunker C fuel oil to deliver to a Bahamian power plant (the brilliantly lit thing on shore). Since they couldn't dock at night, the tanker was just killing time waiting for the right hour of the morning. That it appeared to be following us was just a coincidence. It could not anchor to wait, because the
bottom was more than 2,500 feet (760 m) deep. Nothing mysterious after all.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Out of touch

While we're in the Bahamas we have no cell phone service and no Internet.

However, I can still write and post blog articles via our SSB radio. That's how this message is sent.

I'll try to find an Internet Cafe and check our gmail account twice per month. If you post comments to this blog, they won't get approved by me and posted until one of those times.

A few of you have our winlink address. We can use that to receive short text-only emails with no attachments. However, winlink works with a white list. It will not pass on to me any email unless they come from addresses to which I sent email via Winlink in the past. I apologize in advance if you try to send me email by Winlink but I never get it.

Blue Blue Blue

At Sea
25 19.30 N 080 03.25

The plan is working. After a good night's sleep at Rodriguez Key, we left this morning. We motored East 10 miles right into the wind. That took us out past Mosquito Reef and in to the Gulf Stream. At that point we turned left, raised the sails, and stopped the motor. Winds are light, less than 10 knots, but thanks to the Gulf Stream we're doing 6-7 knots. The sky is mostly blue, the temperature 86F (30C) everything is very very nice. We're dragging a squid lure and we hope to hook a fish.

We also got far enough east, but just barely. We are close hauled. That means we are sailing as close into the wind as possible. Our course is 040. That will takes us to West End Bahamas. We had wanted to go to Bimini and from there to the Exumas. We abandoned that plan. Instead, we'll go to West End and to the Abacos; the same place we were last year. (Look on your map. The Bahamas are divided into two major areas; North is Freeport and the Abacos, South is Nassau and the Exumas.

Its like our friend Greg said this weekend. He said, "When I sail, I put up the sail then go where the wind takes me." Now that's the strategy of a true sailor and that's what we're doing today.

We should arrive at West End midday tomorrow. We'll check in at customs, then continue on to the banks. Tomorrow is full moon. We have heard that it is beautiful, almost mystical to be out on the Grand Banks at night in a full moon. The water is extremely transparent. The sand bottom is white and only 10 feet down. The moonlight reflected off the bottom comes back up and makes the whole sea glow. We're looking forward to it. Thursday night we may have the additional entertainment treat of
seeing the space shuttle Discovery lift off and fly overhead.

The nice weather will continue all through this week.

What did we do to deserve all this good fortune?

Monday, March 09, 2009

Green Blue Green

At Sea
24 46.27 N 080 49.57 W

We're on the move again. Hooray!

The weather report this morning was disappointing. The easterly winds will continue all week. Next weekend might bring a nice window to sail to Exumas, but the forecast could change before then. We decided enough was enough. We are motoring eastward against the wind. Once we get enough easting, we'll turn NE and be able to put up our sails. Not optimum but what the heck.

We left Boot Key Harbor around 10 and headed out past the reef. We hoped to catch the Gulf Stream to pick up a couple of knots. Our friend Tom who gives the weather reports in Boot Key Harbor has been saying for the past few days that the Gulf Stream was unusually close -- only 1 mile outside the reef. We went 7 miles out, and we still didn't find it. Tom must have been wrong. The ever present clouds that mark the Gulf Stream weren't present this morning. I think that we would have had to
go 15 miles out of our way to catch it, then ride the stream for only 30 miles, then work our way 15 miles back in to our anchorage for tonight. No gain there. Therefore, we changed plans and headed back in to Hawk Channel so we could motor against the wind but without waves.

If we just stayed out and sailed all night, we would arrive on the Bahamian Banks in the middle of the night. We'll anchor in Florida tonight, leave tomorrow at first light,and hope to make landfall in the Bahamas early Wednesday morning. We have also changed our target. Instead of Bimimi and the Exumas, we'll head for West End and the Abacos. That's because of the wind direction.

Poor Libby. She (and I) lusted after blue water once again. It has been so long that we deserve to lose our self identities as blue water sailors. We left in bright sunshine and the typical aqua colored water of the keys. When we passed outside the reef, there it was -- blue water. As I said, we went 7 miles out in that blue water, and then back in again. Soon we returned to the aqua green. We'll have to be patient. Tomorrow we should meet the Gulf Stream and enjoy it's impossibly deep
blue colors.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

My Philosophy In Life

Marathon, FL

I just came across a photograph that perfectly expresses my philosophy in life.

Friday, March 06, 2009


Marathon, FL

It looks like a weather window might open starting next Monday. If so, we'll be departing for the Bahamas on Monday. Don't worry; the blogs will still keep coming.

I also just learned today that they have a webcam at Marathon City Marina. Thus for the next couple of days, you can see us coming and going once in a while.

Pan Pan, Boat Missing

Marathon, FL

Two days ago I wrote a post about the dangers of crossing the Gulf Stream in the wrong weather. Yesterday and today on our VHF radio we can hear repeated calls from the US Coast Guard "PAN PAN. PAN PAN. PAN PAN. [meaning emergency] a 27 foot sailboat enroute from Marathon to Bimini is missing ..."

Oh dear. I have no idea if the missing boat is the same one I discussed on the blog. It is also true, that a boat reported missing is not necessarily in any trouble at all. Sometimes, people just forget to call their mother to say, "I got here fine." Nevertheless, calls like that make the blood run cold and the imagination run wild.

We sure hope the people on that boat are OK.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Fourth Anniversery

Marathon, FL

Four years ago today (and 1114 posts ago) I posted the first contemporaneous post to this blog. By my reckoning, that was the day Libby and I began our cruising life.

March 2005, Fort Lauderdale

The time since then has been absolutely wonderful. We bounce from one happy enjoyable experience to the next. On rare occasions, moments of terror, doubt, or disaster interrupt, but they are soon forgotten. We can both say confidently, that our decision to retire and to cruise was the best possible choice for us. We have no regrets.

Appropriately for this anniversary, Libby and I asked the big question. Are we tired of this life style? Are we ready for something else? The answer is no; heck no. The idea of living a retired life in an apartment somewhere sounds so dull. Besides, we are now confirmed wanderers by habit. More than a month in one place, and we itch to be somewhere else.

Even if we did want to change, I don't think we could. I don't think that we could afford to move back onto the hard. We would have to get a place to live, furniture, a car, appliances, and then pay all those bills and all those taxes. I estimate that it would cost about twice as much to live on the hard as it does to continue cruising. Can you believe that; all this luxury cruising life and it only costs half what conventional retirement does?

On the other hand, are we ready to range further, to explore other countries or to sail across the Atlantic or the Pacific? The answer to that is yes and no. We do yearn to sail to places we've never been before. However, I'm convinced that we can't do ocean crossings without at least one more person on board, and we're nervous about taking on a crewman without being certain that we would get along.

Another factor is the lesson we learned during our first year of cruising. Namely, that we don't have to circumnavigate to have fun. The East Coast waters that we have been traversing are wonderful -- a paradise for sailors and cruisers. After four years, we've visited perhaps only one third of it. That takes the shine off the lust to explore afar. It leads to a nagging doubt that if we did go to those far places, we may find them less appealing than the East Coast of North America. Nevertheless, we would like to sail to Sweden to visit our friends. Not this year though.

So, hang around and see what we will have to say in our eighth anniversary blog.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Risk of Ignorance

Marathon, FL

This morning we heard a shocking conversation on the local cruiser's net. A voice on the net asked, "The winds are 20-25 from the Northeast. Where is the best place to cross the Gulf Stream in this weather." There was a long pause, most of the other skippers must have been as shocked as we were. Then, several other skippers came back and gave the correct answer. Namely, "Don't go! Don't even think about going."

I'll explain. The Gulf Stream is certainly the world's most famous ocean current. It is also one of the most powerful ones. When strong winds blow opposite the current, huge steep breaking waves appear. They are called elephant waves. In extreme cases, these waves have sunk vessels that believed themselves sea worthy. The most common hazard seems to be the windows on the boat. If a wave breaks the windows, then the following waves start filling the boat with water. In less extreme cases, the waves are not life threatening, but they subject the occupants of the boats to the most uncomfortable ride of their lives.

I don't mean to disparage the skipper who called with the question. He did the right thing to ask. Ignorance does not mean dumb, it means uninformed. The shocking thing is that this man came to Marathon so uninformed, that he thought he could continue with his sail plan regardless of the weather and the Gulf Stream. If he hadn't asked, he might have subjected himself and his crew to a very regrettable experience.

If one sets out to circumnavigate, or to cross a big ocean, then one must be prepared for some very bad weather and bad waves. On the other hand, cruisers like Libby and I who do coastal sailing and shorter passages of 5 days or less, can and do avoid the worst sea conditions indefinitely.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

The Pig Race

Marathon, Fl

Part of our entertainment last weekend was at the pig races. The races were held at the Stuffed Pig restaurant right across the street from the dinghy dock. The restaurant was celebrating it's 25 anniversary.

The pig races were great fun for the very young and the very old. Libby and I loved it,s and so did the numerous kids. For adults they had betting on the races with proceeds going to charity.

Roasarie's Royal Racers puts on the pig race show and they do a good job.

How does one motivate pigs to race? Not by chasing them. Not by whips. Not by a mechanical rabbit. One puts chocolate cream-filled cookies on the ground just past the finish line. The first pig there gets to eat them.

It was great fun.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Laplacian Sailing

Marathon, FL

Last night almost all of the US East Coast was hit by a winter storm. From Montgomery Alabama to Belfast Maine it resulted in up to a foot of snow. Down here it didn't result in snow, thank goodness, but we did get hit.

Big massive dark clouds passed over mid-afternoon, followed by a thin line of intense rain, and that followed by a night of uncomfortable winds. The winds kept me awake half the night.

Of course, over the years we spent many nights at anchor in winds much stronger than last nights. Most of those nights we slept sounder and felt more secure than last night. Why is that? The answer lies in what we engineers call power spectral density, and acceleration threshold. Non engineers are stuck with plain English.

blustering: blowing in violent and abrupt bursts;
gusty: blowing in puffs or short intermittent blasts;
breezy: abounding in or exposed to the wind or breezes

The adjectives that describe wind, all sound alike so they're not much help. I can describe it best by what we feel inside the boat.

If the wind blows just right, the mast and the wire stays that hold up the mast shudder. The shuddering can be felt throughout the boat. Also, if a gust of wind blows just right, the boad can abruptly change direction enough that we feel it in the seat of our pants. It is not the speed of the wind that causes this, but rather it's unsteadiness. In exreme cases, the boat heels over.

Three weeks ago, when anchored out, a cold front passed. Without warning came a single, abrupt and violent gust that I clocked at 65 knots (75 mph, or 33 m/s, or 120 kph) It heeled us over 45 degrees, but even before we finished saying WOW, it was past and the wind was calm again. We heeled so much because Tarwathie had no time to swing her nose in to the wind.

Almost always while at anchor, the boat is rocking from side to side, up and down, and the stern swings one way or the other. However, these actions are so gentle that you can't sense them at all through "the seat of your pants" If you can't see outside the windows, one could believe that there's no motion at all. During the day, it is the constantly moving beams of sunlight coming through the port holes that remind one of the boat's motion.

If you're not an engineer, stop reading right now.

A boat is a band pass filter for wind induced perturbations. The boat's interia filters out the high frequencies. The boat's ability to swing it's nose into the wind filters out the low frequencies. The transfer function is : s/(1+T1s)(1+T2s) where T1<1/(1+T3s) where T3<
Do the schools still teach Laplace Transforms in today's digital world?

Sunday, March 01, 2009

Very Very Big

Marathon, FL

The other day I got a complete surprise from an article in Wired magazine. It said that all the leading bloggers have already abandoned the blog format and have moved over to facebook.com and twitter.com. What! Are they kidding? I've always been a proponent of change, but I've only been blogging for 4 years. I'm not ready for a change. Besides, I'm very satisfied with blogging as a means of communication, and I suspect that my readers are too.

Still, I feel that something very important and very profound is happening with the younger generation and twitter. Twitter is the service that allows you to post short text messages to the twitter service. Each message is called a tweet. Friends and other readers can subscribe to your tweets. All the subscribers will get your message in 1-2 seconds. If you ask a question, and if you have a lot of subscribers, you'll start getting answers in 5-10 seconds. Some people call it microblogging or real-time blogging. You in turn, can subscribe to the tweet feeds of others who interest you. Most tweeters are very young.

The amazing thing about communities of tweeters is that they achieve a collective awareness of what each other are doing and thinking at any particular time. They collaborate on life's problems. Some even collaborate on work assignments. A community of tweeters may take on a consulting assignment or a programming assignment. They contribute collectively to the solution, and somehow share the compensation.

So what's new? When we share company with other people in a room or in an office, we are constantly sharing experiences, and have some idea of what the others are feeling and thinking. The new thing about tweeting is that the sharing can be extended to affinity groups regardless of proximity. Geography doesn't count, therefore the diversity of the circle of participants is much enhanced.

Every time I hear of tweeters I think of ant colonies or bee hives. The tweeters may find entirely new ways to exploit the ingenuity of the human mind. The up side potential is huge.

I think those young people may be on the verge of making a change so overwhelming in importance that it sounds like a new species; a successor to homo sapiens. Let me be the first to suggest a name for the new species: homo aviaries.

Someone else, not me, will no doubt compare tweeters with The Borg. I am also reminded of a influential novel that I enjoyed as a boy; namely Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke. Childhood's End deals with the theme of a new generation of children abruptly (not gradually) evolving into something unimaginable. I am further reminded of Kurzweil's singularity.

By nature, I am a person who resists hyperbole. I've had a long standing policy of editing my own writing and deleting 2 out of every 3 superlatives I find when reviewing my text. Therefore, I'm embarrassed by the sweeping scope of what I just said. Nevertheless, I stand by the point -- we stand on the threshold of a very profound change. Twitter itself will probably not last but the idea of remote-real-time-microblogging-messaging perhaps will.

Once, I think that I experienced a very slight taste of the collective consciousness a few years back. The company I worked for had its employees split across 4 locations across a big city. I was conducting a negotiation with a vendor in a conference room in a hotel. The negotiation dragged on for months. Other members of my team, couldn't be there the whole time. To remedy that, I kept a conference call on my cell phone open all the time. Others on my team also dialed into this conference call all day long as they went about their regular duties. An bud in one ear listened to the call, while the other ear listened to the conversation in the room. Over time all of us became intimately aware of what the others were doing, where they were, and sometimes what they were thinking on several subjects. Sometimes, a participant would break in with news of current events or daily life. I remember that it did give me a sort of bizarre feeling of heightened situational awareness.

Eager as I am to taste new technology, I don't plan to start tweeting. I am nearly 3 generations removed from those who stand to benefit most. The gap is too big to bridge. Besides, on board Tarwathie we have no cell phone service so often that it wouldn't work well. If you think I'm wrong please let me know.