Sunday, April 13, 2014

Picking up the pen

  I've been told repeatedly now that the blog needs an update and I know it does, but the ambition to write kept failing me. I guess today is the day it will hold.
   I believe last we left off Tine and I were in Green Turtle Cay, newly checked in and sated with expensive ice cream as a treat.
  From Green Turtle we sailed to Great Guana Cay, stopping along the way in a bay of sea grass. Why would we stop in sea grass you ask? Simple, Conch live there. We spent about 15 minutes diving and pulled up 6 conch, then continued on to anchor in Settlement Harbor. The winds picked up that night and swung our buddy-boat Hermes into shallower water. He had to get into his dinghy at about 3AM to reset his anchors and in doing so lost his wallet overboard. That night we ate out first Conch salads. We took to the dinghies the next morning when the winds died off and managed to get the wallet back minus a credit card or two that floated away.
  From Guana we headed to Marsh harbor, Tine's last stop on the trip. She'd done what she set out to do, she had enough adventure for a while and had seen me across the gulf stream and Marsh Harbor was the nearest airport with service to the US. Tine could tell the story better than I, but I will do what I can.
 On the night we got to Marsh Harbor Tine packed up everything she'd brought onto the boat and a couple of the souvenirs. We left the boat at 4AM and walked to the airport, a lady heading the same way gave us a ride the last half mile or so. There was some trouble finding a ticket agent who could actually sell a ticket for the flights leaving that day, but finally Tine was able to get onto a flight to Nassau, eventually taking her to Rochester where Mom and Dad got her and brought her home.
  I was sad to see my sister go, but I could tell she wasn't enjoying herself as much as she could have. Over the following weeks Don and I were able to have numerous conversations and dinners without me feeling like I should be entertaining my sister. It was a little lonelier without her, and dinners were less exciting (I only made curry for myself once). Don and I spent about a week in Marsh harbor before hopping over to Man-O-War. That, I think is going to be a different post. My pen is starting to run out of ink here.
 Till next time.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Bahamian Towns

Today's post will involve an in-depth description of a typical Bahamian town, hence the brevity of this entry.

Bahamian towns are small.  Comically so.  If you find yourself in the mood to wander for awhile, you best prepare yourself to walk the same block half a dozen times.  If you're lucky, there's a road.  More than likely this road will resemble a wide sidewalk.  It's okay though, because not too many people own cars.  It seems frivolous when it takes longer for us to get to the mailbox than it does for them to get to the grocery store.  This doesn't stop them from owning golf carts though; no siree.  I guess it makes sense for toting groceries and the occassional home appliance, but Brian and I both found it amusing when someone drove by on a golf cart and we passed them in town five minutes later.  I mean, if you can see your destination from your vehicle, you probably don't need to use it.   

Oh, and once you get into town, just walk into a garage somewhere, because more than likely it's a grocery store.  If not, then it may be the customs office, or perhaps the local restaurant.  Because, seriously, they all look the same.  It brings new meaning to "working from home".  This probably explains why they are only open about four hours a day.     

I suppose the Bahamians know no other lifestyle, and I suppose there are tons of people who like the laid-back island vibe.  Not me; sorry.  I like a nice big sign that will tell me exactly when I can come in and buy Spam and allow me to browse at my leisure without feeling like I need to make small talk.  Anonymity.  That's what I missed about America.  I can do whatever I want and people probably won't notice; but down in the Bahamas if you aren't a local you immediately draw attention.  And being a blatant tourist is, quite possibly, one of the most uncomfortable feelings (besides, perhaps, admitting to the locals at the checkout that you willingly would spend $6.50 on a can of Spam).

So anyway, next time you go to run errands, take time to appreciate your giant strip malls and road signs that remind you that you probably are not following the speed limit (since, by the way, there aren't any of those either).  Savor all the impulse buys at Target and find freedom in the endless aisles at Wegman's, because there certainly isn't any room for that in the Bahamas next to all the golf carts.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Checking Things Out and Checking Us In

So, last we left off, Brian and I had just reached the Bahama Bank.  While making it to the bank was a big accomplishment, we still had about 24 miles until we reached the anchorage for that night at Mangrove Cay (pronounced "key" for those not familiar with Bahama lingo).  After 12 hours of motoring, this was the last thing we wanted to do, but the promise of a full night's sleep was too good to pass up, so on we went.

To celebrate our big push across the Atlantic, we made a big batch of guacamole and some fresh limeade.  We also cut the motor to give our ears a break and tried sailing.  After two hours barely making two knots, we made the command decision to suck it up and motor the rest of the way (having a motor grinding away can really wear at you though, so it certainly was not our first choice). The only positive to motoring at that point was getting some sort of breeze because, FYI, it's warm in the Bahamas!  When sailing properly, there is usually enough of a breeze to keep things pleasant, but trying to sail with no wind in full afternoon sun and three hours of sleep...let's just say our victory buzz wore off pretty quickly.

Fast forward several more hours and the two of us finally spot a little spit of land in the distance.* 
Almost immediately after anchoring off Mangrove Cay we received a transmission from Brian's friend and former co-worker Don checking to see if we arrived safely.  Unfortunately, we were just far away enough that we could receive his call, but he couldn't hear our response.  After a couple of failed calls we turned our attention to our respective cans of vegetables for dinner and resolved to try again in the morning.  

After the same futile attempts the next morning, a larger boat offered to relay a message, counting on his higher mast to get a signal to us.  Success!  And with that we headed off towards Don.  Brian got to sail off his anchor for the first time that morning (much to his pleasure), but the winds starting waning again and we were forced to start the motor.  A little ways into the morning, Luna** started cutting out a bit.  Uh oh.  So we tried sailing as Brian pulled the motor apart.  After a bit of tinkering, Brian managed to get things working again.  He thinks it was probably some water in the gas line which seemed to pass through on it's own.  Now things were (and still are) running like a champ. 

By mid-afternoon we reached Great Sale Cay and Don came over to greet us in person.  After a visit to the beach to explore, the two of us went over to Don's boat ("Hermes") for some fresh snapper.  It was a vast improvement over our cans of vegetables the night before. 

Don's Pearson 33 "Hermes"
The next morning the four of us (Brian, Me, Don and his dog Pubu) headed down to Fox Town where we were to wait out a "cold" front for the next few days.  Brian rigged his Genoa for the journey and with the extra volume in the sail we cruised at about 6.5 knots which was quite the surprise for all of us.  Cassie is a fast little thing when she wants to be!  About five minutes into our morning Don caught another huge snapper which served us well for plenty of future dinners.

Don's snapper caught on the way to Fox Town
Cassandra with the Genoa up
Sunday morning Brian and I went for a swim.  It was nice to move around for awhile after all the sitting that past week.  Brian took advantage of the shallow water and played with his snorkel and fins and Cassandra and I had a bit of a bath; while the salt water doesn't make you feel clean, it beats being covered in sunscreen and sweat.  That evening one of the people in the anchorage invited everyone over to his boat to visit.  Here we met half a dozen people from Australia who had purchased two boats in the U.S. and were sailing them down the coast and then back home.  After exchanging sailing stories and some dinner with Don, we packed it in for the evening. 

The next morning Don and Brian went over to the rocks just offshore to look for lobsters.  About an hour later they returned with half a dozen crustaceans on which to sup that evening.  With that eventful morning behind us, we set off for Crab Cay.  We spent the night in a large bay which we had all to ourselves, and the next morning we started for Green Turtle Cay.  Another front was to come through in the next few days, and White Bay in Green Turtle Cay was a safe spot to wait it out.  Green Turtle is also home to one of the customs offices, so Brian and I took advantage of one of the days there to get ourselves checked in.  During the three mile trek from town back to the dinghy, the clouds started rolling in.  About half a mile from our destination someone with a golf cart took pity on us and drove us the rest of the way back.  We arrived not a moment too soon; almost as soon as we took shelter under a porch the clouds opened up and it poured rain.  I took advantage of the fresh water pouring off the roof and washed my hair as best I could.  Brian decided he would rather be dirty than wet and cold.  To each his own, I suppose. 

Once things started dying down we got a pint of celebratory ice cream to share (for $9 I might add); boy was it good!  Had it not been so expensive we could have easily had another one (calories are not a factor when you live on a boat). 

So there you have it.  After a week in the Bahamas we were finally legally in the country.  Keep checking back to hear more about Green Turtle Cay and beyond. 

*For those who don't know, the islands in the Bahamas are comprised of eroded coral and sand, so they are relatively flat; that means they don't show up on the horizon until you are almost on shore.  This is excellent for those who wander around and plunk their anchor down whenever they see fit, but for those who actually want to know where they are, it's best to have some fancy charts or a gps handy.

**The proposed name for Brian's new motor.  Since Jackson got him all the way to Jacksonville, we figured Luna will either get him to the moon or it will never die.  Either outcome seems favorable at this point.        

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Crossing Over

*Since WiFi hotspots are few and far between, rather than getting a post from Brian, the next few updates will be from his sister, Christine, who just returned home after living aboard for the past month.

So much has happened since last updating, so it will take a few posts to get everyone caught up.  Rest assured, we made it to The Bahamas and have been cruising around happily, but let's rewind a bit...

The last few days motoring down the intracoastal were the same as ever. Long, droning hours with a motor and multimillion dollar waterfront homes.  Eventually, after one final push we made it to Lake Worth- a common jumping-off point for The Bahamas, and our last stop in the U.S.  We got in Monday night, February 3rd, which gave us a full two days to prepare the boat (and ourselves) to cross.  Tuesday was spent in town traipsing around Palm Beach trying to find everything we needed.  By mid-afternoon we were both worn out enough that salads from Publix, a quart of chocolate milk and a bench in the shade were an oasis of relief.  By nightfall we had a dinghy full of provisions, and Brian had to make multiple trips in some pretty choppy water to get everything back to the boat.  It's a good thing I trust him, because sitting in the bottom of that dinghy seemed [as Mr. Samuel Arrow would say] "definitely unsafe."

The next day we moved from the anchorage in the northern part of Lake Worth, to one a bit further south, and within spitting distance from our exit point.  That night we had a pleasant surprise.  Our Dad just happened to be flying in to Palm Beach that evening, and we watched the sky until he flashed the lights on the wings.  It was the best way anyone could have seen us off that night.  After that, we managed to get a few hours sleep, and then at midnight we set off across the ocean.  As per our parents request we were armed with life jackets and harnesses, though it was hardly necessary.  The water that night was as calm as ever.  It was more treacherous navigating through weekend speed boat traffic than crossing the ocean that night. 

After several hours in the dark, Brian and I noticed that splashing through the waves made the disrupted water glow- a phenomenon, I believe, called "bio-luminescence."  I didn't even know such things were possible.  It made me feel like all the little plankton in there were saying hello and wishing us well, and it made watching the dark water a bit less frightening. Also around that time we entered the Gulf Stream and noticed a subtle change in the air.  Instead of smelling like dirty water and city, it was warmer and sweeter, and every few hours we would notice it getting fresher and fresher. 

Sunrise the morning of the crossing
Twelve hours after leaving Lake Worth, Brian and I reached The Bahama Bank.  All of a sudden the ultramarine blue turned to aqua blue, and instead of being in hundreds of feet of water we were in twelve feet.  It's hard to describe the feeling when you witness something so amazing, somehow it puts into perspective the sheer vastness of the world.  Being in such a small boat and floating around on such a huge ocean...it made the momentous moment seem almost inconsequential (though perhaps if you asked Brian he would disagree).


  
Arrival on The Bahama Bank
 
 So, that takes us up to The Bahamas- February 5th.  There's obviously more to come, but hopefully this will appease any anxious followers.

Until next time,
Your guest blogger, Tine
        


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Living Aboard Comes to a Head

    It has recently come to my attention that people (generally non-sailors) Don't entirely
understand what it means to live aboard a boat while cruising long distances. I shall attempt
to enlighten on the realities of my particular brand of cruising. As I'm going long distances
on little money I am afforded fewer conveniences than many other cruisers choose to enjoy.
    For starters, everything you bring aboard must be carried back off the boat when it's done.
Everything. Groceries? Yep, the wrappers get trashed, the rinds get trashed, the rest,
digested, and then guess what. It all has to go somewhere, you can't just dump it into the bay
you're anchored in, or the river you're motoring down. Some boats have holding tanks which you
can pump out every so often like an RV. I don't have that. I have a porta-potty. So when it
gets full you have to find a bathroom, dismantle the thing from it's mount on the boat, carry
the tank in feeling awfully self-conscious about the treasure you hold in your hand, and you
get to dump it into the toilet. All five gallons of putrid stank gets to flood past you as you
pour it in, and you hope to God it doesn't splash.
    I don't have much money, less than I thought even. So I don't get to stay in marinas very
often. $1.50 per foot of boat length, per day has been pretty standard for a slip going down
the Intracoastal. Ritzier places get more, I've seen up to $3/foot. For my little 25 foot
Cassandra that's on average $38 a night or $1140 for a month of travel. I obviously don't have
that kind of money. Because of this I anchor out. You study your chart to find a little section
of water, between 8 and 15 feet deep with land on whatever side the wind is/will be coming from
to block the waves. When you get there you verify that it actually is the size and depths the
chart said it would be, let out your anchor with the right ratio of rope to water depth, and
get to enjoy the results of your chart ponderings, hoping you chose well when the tide goes out
and the wind pipes up.
    If you need to stop at the grocery store, or grab some propane for your stove (no microwave
or oven folks) or anything on land that little anchorage needs to be near those amenities and
have someplace you can tie up or beach your dinghy. So, you get into your little, homemade 8
foot water-taxi, row yourself over to that beach and walk wherever you need to go. If you're
lucky you're in a city with buses, and if you're really lucky they had a free dock you could
tie up to for a night instead of anchoring. These are few and far between. Once you buy your
70pounds (10gal) of gasoline and two bags of canned goods (no refrigeration either, can't
afford to install it or the power generation to keep it running if there was even enough room
for it.)
    Then, once you've rowed all this out to the boat it has to find somewhere to live. Dried
beans under your bed (which is also the couch) shelf-stable milk, for a treat, is kept in the
wonky shaped cubby in the counter. Cans fill the space under the steps down into the cabin, and
pancake mix and powdered milk keep the beans company. Everything winds up everywhere. Fresh
foods need to be stored where they can breath so they don't go mouldy. Right now that means in
wicker baskets in the way on the counter. All water comes on in gallon jugs filled in a
bathroom or a potable water spigot somewhere. In the us this is free. In the Bahamas water is 
$.25 per gallon.
    Then there's hygiene. Since you have to bring all your water on by the gallon there is
little you would want to use for washing. Seawater is ok for dishes, but they need a freshwater
rinse so they don't stay wet and the pots don't rust. Salt holds dampness in just about
anywhere it goes, so if you go for a swim to get clean you'll want to rinse yourself too.
Mostly I take sponge baths, admittedly not often enough. Water is precious, and the weather has
been cold, not much fun to stand naked in what is essentially your living room, shivering as
you sponge away days worth of grime. Real showers only happen at marinas, fitness clubs, or
occasionally the sympathetic friend's house. Laundry likewise happens when you bite the bullet
and pull into a marina. Otherwise you head to a laundromat like everyone else, except your
clothes get to make a dinghy ride with you both ways; the clothes in the machine beside yours
are always jealous.
    Your bed is 2" of thirty year old foam topped with a summer sleeping bag and whatever
blankets you might need to keep some shivering. Did I mention there's only 5'8" of headroom and
I'm 6'2? No? Well, just throw some stiff spine into the calculations for living comfort while
you're at it.
    That's most of the day-to day that I deal with. Sailing is still sailing, motoring to make
miles is still just motoring. It takes a special kind of person to sail with nothing. 'Special'
sounds a bit like it means 'not too bright' sometimes, but I still enjoy it.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Update 01/21/2014

    Okay, so, here's the deal: Jackson, my 35 year old outboard given to me by my grandfather, has died. The splines on the driveshaft and the crank have both been stripped out. I have a new lower unit and crank coming in the mail, hopefully tomorrow. In the meantime I bought a '91 Nissan 8hp outboard which I, so far, love. It's quiet, beautifully maintained, lighter, and more powerful. So I'm stuck with the dilemma of which to keep when (if) I get Jackson the mighty Mercury up and running again.
    My sister, Christine, has joined me for at least the next month of this adventure. She and my mother came down from Baldwinsville for a few days and rented a car so we could run whatever errands there were, including the picking up of my new Nissan. Mom has since gone off to visit My brother in Atlanta and my grandfather, leaving Christine and myself here in Jacksonville killing time waiting for engine parts.
   Yesterday started off on a rather interesting note. After having both slept in late we were treated to the continued dronings of Sports-bikes revving their engines not far off in the city. Then there was the rap music, and marching bands. You may have figured out what it was by now, the MLK Day parade. So we abandoned the boat for the afternoon and went to the movies and saw Frozen and Hunger games: Catching Fire. We already had watched The Hobbit: Desolation of Smaug when Mom was here. Today we're killing time at the library since the wind has kicked up a rather uncomfortable chop through the marina where we're staying. It's looking like maybe Thursday or Friday we'll head out.
    'Tine has already got me eating fresh fruits and veggies and tonight is going to be a stew night. Yay for culinary ambition! Not sure what else to update y'all on. I suspect we'll be in Lake worth in about ten days and then make the hop to the Bahamas when we get a good weather window.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Jacksonville claims one of it's own.

    Bad news. Jackson, my '78 Mercury 7.5hp outboard bit it hard just 21 miles out of Jacksonville. I was just motoring out of my anchorage beside the Kingsley Plantation (which I toured in semi-period dress, just for fun) when suddenly the rpms shot up and I lost all propulsion. I was able to re-anchor safely and tore into the outboard. It seems the splines of the driveshaft where it goes into the powerhead stripped out leaving me with nothing. I called a towboat and managed to get a tow under my Boat US coverage, getting pulled along at up to 9kts into the free docks in Jacksonville. So now I have 72 hours to affect some sort of repair or get a new motor before they theoretically kick me off the docks. We'll see. I have a lower unit from a '75 Merc. 9.8 on order from ebay. If I'm correct about the models it will fit my engine. If I'm not, well, let's just hope I'm right. Meanwhile I'll be trying to find a machine shop or something which might be able to re-machine the splines for me. That might take too long though, as they'll have to weld new material in, machine the grooves, and then re-harden the shaft.
     And that's all assuming the socket on the crankshaft is still good. I have to tear into that tomorrow, maybe tonight though it's getting late. I'll try to keep everything updated. If I can't do full blog posts check the twiter feed in the right column.  ==>

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