Sunday, April 30, 2017

Exploring Eleuthera

Whew, it's only been 5 days since I last posted but we've done so much. I'll try to keep this to a reasonable length.

On Wednesday we showed up at the car rental place in Rock Sound at 7:45 and were presented with a 5-seat Toyota Raum. Nope, I hadn't heard of it either. This one was a right-seat-drive model imported from Japan...everything was in Japanese and every time we started the car we got a strident lecture in Japanese from the entertainment system! It was a cruiser's special at $65 for the day. Yup, that's what passes for cheap car rental in the out islands. Nevertheless it was a great way to explore Eleuthera. We started by driving to our northernmost visiting point, the Glass Window Bridge, which took about two hours. The Glass Window is the narrowest point on Eleuthera, only 30 feet across. I suppose in a few thousand years erosion will split the island into two. But for now it's a cool view from the Atlantic to the Bight of Eleuthera and vice versa. After that we went a mile south to the Queens Baths, which are several natural seaside pools that are refilled every high tide. When it's sunny out they are naturally warmed, but it wasn't sunny. In fact it was rather stormy, and we spied two waterspouts out on the Atlantic! We ignored them and enjoyed the dramatic view from the chilly baths.

Next we had lunch at Daddy Joe's bar & grill north of Gregory Town, then drove down to Hatchet Bay and Governor's Harbour. Hatchet Bay was originally our next cruising destination, but visiting by land we were struck by how run down the area was with rather few amenities for cruisers. Governor's Harbour, on the other hand, is a rather attractive seaside town with a beautiful bay. That bay is known to have poor holding but we've gained a lot of confidence in Windbird's 66-lb Spade, and it was settled easterly weather. So we changed our Thursday destination to Governor's Harbour. Next we checked out Ten Bay Beach near Palmetto Point, then bushwhacked a bit to find the alleged pink sand beach at Blue Window south of Rock Sound. I say alleged because I didn't think any of Eleuthera's beaches were all that pink, including the most famous of them all, Pink Sands at Harbour Island (which we visited with our plane two years ago).

We returned from our long day of driving to find that Piper had developed a split paw and bled all over the boat. We were having Totem's crew (minus Behan) over for dinner so Judy and I quickly stripped the covers off the cockpit cushions, scrubbed them, and set them to soak overnight in Oxy-Magic. Totem arrived shortly after 6:30 and we talked for a while in Windbird's cockpit before repairing to the salon. Totem's crew consists of former sailmaker Jaime, Behan (who flew to Annapolis early Wednesday to present a seminar at the boat show), and 17-year old Niall, 14-year old Mairen, and 12-year-old Siobhan. They're finishing up a 10-year circumnavigation in the next year; Dawn and I have sporadically followed their blog for a while now, so it was pretty neat to meet up. And they clearly enjoyed comparing notes with Judy. It turns out that Judy's blog was a frequent source of inspiration and advice for Behan as they were preparing for their own big trip. Pretty cool - Good Goes 'Round, as they say. The kids really enjoyed Dawn's Taco Pie - Niall quickly called dibs on seconds! - and afterwards the girls had fun building car houses on our salon table as Niall and I talked Papau New Guinea WW2 history.

Piper's split paw merits more mention. We think it's due to dryness caused by saltwater exposure without enough fresh-water rinses. The first few days we dressed it and wrapped it in an Ace bandage, but then the dressing seemed to cause more irritation so we've been removing it during the night and trying to keep him off his feet during the day. Easier said than done, I know. He loves exploring ashore, would prefer to run on beaches several times a day, and does frequent circuits of the deck while roaming all 42' of the boat. The paw seems to be healing more now so hopefully he'll be back to his beachside romps in no time.

Wednesday night brought several thunderstorms and Thursday morning dawned rather grey and squally. Chris Parker's SSB forecast confirmed the storms would hang around until midday, so we decided to delay our departure to Governor's Harbour and take care of a few chores in the meantime. The girls took our laundry as well as the cockpit cushion covers to the laundromat. I'm happy to report that the cushion covers are perfectly clean, though we've decided not to put them back on until Piper's paw is completely rehealed. Around noon we finally picked up the anchor and left the anchorage. It was a bit of a mixed bag sail with everything from light winds behind us to gusty wind foreward of the beam. At one point we went to set the spinnaker pole and the mast car broke...bummer! That left us with no way to deploy the spinnaker pole so we lashed it to the starboard toerail. And then once we unfurled the assymetrical spinnaker conditions faded too light to carry it...and then abruptly gusted to 17 knots while the wind backed 60 degrees! We fell off to the northwest at 7 knots and finally decided to douse the spinnaker to avoid some sandbars that were quickly looming, then set up for the close haul the rest of the way to Governor's Harbour.

Jaime from Totem told me that the holding in Governor's Harbour wasn't as bad as advertised, and he was correct. We dropped the anchor directly on a "poor holding" notation on our chartplotter - but in fact it was a small sandy patch that gave us great holding. Go figure. We arrived into town late enough that we didn't do much other than bring Piper into town for a walk, which only gave us a re-bloodied paw.  Poor guy. We planned for the following day's sail to Abaco and retired a little early. I was sad that we'd be missing the Friday night fish fry that was advertised on channel 16 right after we dropped anchor, but was eager to get up to Abaco to stage for the crossing back to the U.S. east coast.

In the next post, I'll talk about our rambunctious sail to Abaco and our explorations here.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Crossing to Eleuthera

We had yet another fantastic sail from Black Point up to Warderick Wells on Friday and ended up dropping the hook right next to Epiic in Emerald Bay. It was great to see Dan and Isabelle over two months after our last passing in Ft. Lauderdale. They took a little longer than us to cross and work their way down to the Exumas but are now headed to Georgetown and points south, hoping to arrive in Puerto Rico before the onset of hurricane season. With any luck we'll see them again in the Caribbean next season.

Shortly after our arrival we all went snorkeling at Emerald Rock and the Ranger's Garden site near park headquarters, both of which were fairly spectacular on Friday. Later we had Epiic over for sundowners and catching up, and then we invited them for breakfast on Saturday. I made my specialty, Mexican Breakfast, and then we listened to the 9am park net. Unfortunately we were unable to both procure moorings in the north mooring field, but we were able to get the last two moorings in the south anchorage / hog cay - which is our favorite in the area - so we prepared to convoy over there. Just as we were bringing up the anchor, Dawn called up to say something was wrong with the steering. I let the chain back out and went to investigate - yep, it was pretty buggered up. I took the bed apart and soon discovered why: the steering cables had loosened and slipped off of the rudder quadrant. Yikes, that could have been really bad if it had happened when we were in a tight spot! The cause was that one of the backing nuts on the cable tension adjustment bolts had backed completely off and allowed the adjustment nut to slacken. I dug through our hardware stores and found some locknuts of the same size, which should prevent that from happening again.

After we were moored in Hog Cay, Dawn and Judy and I picked up Isabelle (Dan was taking a nap) and we dinghied around the south side of Warderick Wells to snorkel the Malabar Cays. It was a really nice snorkel although it was rather rough with honking southeasterlies. We got fairly soaked on the ride home - but hey, we were wet already. We had dinner separately but then got together on Epiic afterwards for our last night together. Pretty early the next morning they took off on a rather rough bash to Staniel Cay to meet guests, while we hunkered down for a stormy Sunday in the anchorage. I wrote my column, Judy caught up on logs, Dawn played games, and Piper laid pretty low. Several squalls came through and at times the wind against current had Windbird lurching on her mooring rather uncomfortably. The highest wind we saw was 30 knots, though...the same night a severe thunderstorm hit Cape Eleuthera Marina with 80+ knot winds & gusts to 110!

Monday morning dawned much calmer, with southwesterlies of around 15 knots. We were off the mooring ball by 8am and headed out into Exuma Sound for our crossing to Eleuthera. The wind direction was just right to try flying our spinnaker for the first time but the strength was kinda at the upper end so we initially held off, instead rigging the pole and flying wing-on-wing and then gibing over to a broad reach as the wind veered WSW. Finally it died enough that we felt comfortable putting up the chute. What a pretty sail - and what fun to fly it! It was considerably easier to rig, launch and recover than I realized. I'm sure we'll do it a lot more in the future.

Six or seven miles short of Cape Eleuthera the winds had finally died enough that it was time to put away the sails and start the motor in the interest of getting to Rock Sound before dark. In fact we arrived at 4:45pm and got a nice spot to anchor in front of the government dock. We took Piper to shore and walked through town, and then stopped at a neighboring boat on the way back to Windbird. Totem is a family of five who is finishing up a ten year circumnavigation; they have a popular boat blog and have written a book about cruising with kids. We initially heard of them through Delos and have checked out their blog occasionally since. Super nice family. Behan actually flew out today to give a presentation at the Annapolis spring sailboat show, but we're having Jaime and the kids over for dinner tomorrow night.

This morning we were up bright & early to go rent a car at Dingle's Motors, which was closed last night but advertised car rental on their sign. Well, we got there only to be informed that Dingle was out of the car rental business. They called around for us but all the places with cars for rent in Rock Sound were either out of cars, not answering their phones, or unable to deliver a car until the afternoon. Dawn and I hoofed it north of town to the Rock Sound Market on what turned out to be a false tip about cars for rent there - but we did find another car rental place along the way. They didn't have cars for today but they do for tomorrow, so we decided to stay another day and drive the island tomorrow. That fits better with the weather anyways - if we'd gone to Hatchet Bay tomorrow we would've been motoring all the way, 42 nm.

On our way back to meet Judy at Government Dock we found a cool art/gift shop, Blue Seahorse, that is run by two friendly young Eleutheran ladies (one of whom lived in MN for a winter!). They welcome cruisers to hang out on their patio and use their wifi. Back on the boat Judy made lunch and I loaded Garmin software updates onto our chartplotter, autopilot, radar, etc. This was primarily an attempt to fix our autopilot, which has never worked quite right since we installed it in January. It's never been able to make it through the Sea Trial/Autotune process, which means we've been setting rudder gain & counter-gain settings manually with rather unsatisfactory results. In calm seas it wanders a bit, but while annoying is at least usable. In rough seas or higher winds it has to be watched like a hawk, which completely negates the point of having an autopilot. Dawn and I are considering doing a multiday passage from Abaco straight back to the Carolinas, but if that's going to happen we need to have a properly working autopilot.

After I loaded the updates I was feeling pretty tired - we've had several short nights this week - so I laid down for a nap while the ladies went back to Blue Seahorse to shop and use their wifi. After they got back we put the dinghy on the davits, hauled up the anchor, and headed out into Rock Sound to attempt an autopilot sea trial with the new software. This time it worked, and the autopilot now holds heading and course like an absolute champ! Well, that's under power in calm seas anyways; we'll be giving it much more of a workout over the next week and hope to have complete confidence in it by Marsh Harbour.

While the ladies were in town they ran into Markus, a cruiser with an Elan 444 who Dawn and I had met in Georgetown. He noted that some friends of his had highly recommended Nort'side Ocean Restaurant a few miles out of town; the proprietress, Rosie, will pick you up in her car. We decided to make a reservation and at 6:30 Rosie came to government dock to pick up Markus and us. Man, what a treat. Her restaurant & cottages are gorgeously situated on a bluff overlooking a pink sand beach and the Atlantic Ocean, and Rosie is quite a character in the best possible sense - a warm, friendly, vivacious, proud mother of six accomplished children scattered around the world. After a wonderful Bahamian dinner of smothered grouper (Dawn & I) & cracked conch (Markus & Judy) plus peas-n-rice, coleslaw, and fried plaintains, Rosie showed us an album from her life and those of her children and grandchildren, opined at length on the sources of happiness and success, and led us in a little song about "love is a ting, you gotta give it away, give it away, give it away...." It was really a nice evening. I should mention that the prices are super reasonable for such a good meal in the Bahamas ($42 bill including gratuity for Dawn & I, including a rum & coke each). So if you're in Rock Sound, give Rosie a call.

We're headed to bed soon as we have a rental car lined up for 7:30 tomorrow and we're hoping to see a decent bit of the island. On Thursday we plan to take the boat to Hatchet Bay and then Friday-Saturday it's looking pretty good to make the 130nm passage up to Abaco. This Bahamian adventure is approaching its end, which makes us a bit sad because we've had such a wonderful time here - but we'll be back next November.

Thursday, April 20, 2017


When we told fellow cruisers that we were having Windbird's last owner on board for two weeks of cruising from Georgetown to the Abacos, we got a lot of raised eyebrows. I'm sure all were imagining a domineering former owner from hell making life miserable. Clearly, they didn't know Judy Handley. In the eight months since we bought Windbird from Judy and Mark we've gotten to know each other over phone calls, emails, a few visits, and reading each others blogs, and Dawn and I have come to really like Judy and enjoy her company. And on the boat is no different, she's a wonderful guest...particularly since we were able to dispense with the boat briefing!

We did some more chores on Tuesday before Judy arrived, and afterward we moved the boat back over to our favorite anchorage between Monument and Honeymoon beaches. We then did a bit of a dinghy tour around Georgetown before dinner. Yesterday Dawn and I had to run back across to Georgetown with the dinghy for more groceries (the mailboat came late Tuesday) and to fill one of our propane cylinders. After we got back and had lunch the weather turned pretty ugly with a series of small squalls moving through the harbor followed by cold, steady drizzle. I was thinking of every excuse not to snorkel but Judy pointed out we'd be getting wet anyways. Touché. The overcast conditions made the underwater colors pretty drab but there were a ton of fish out, so it worked out. And in any case the weather improved steadily, so after snorkeling we had an early dinner at Chat-N-Chill, and then took Piper and some drinks to Honeymoon Beach where Jerome from Gamma Gamma had put together a small, weather-delayed beach party complete with campfire and strumming guitars. It was a really, really nice way to close out our time in Georgetown. Hard to believe we're northbound already, our time in the Bahamas has flown right by.

This morning we woke up at 5:45 to take Piper to the beach and then launched into our boat preparation routines. Judy volunteered to listen to Chris Parker while we got ready, which I really appreciated as this weekend and next week are shaping up to be fairly active, weather-wise, and potentially a bit challenging for northbound travel to Eleuthera and the Abacos. We had the anchor on the bow roller by 7:05 and were heading for Conch Cay Cut under full sail a few minutes after that. The cut itself wasn't terribly rough but Exuma Sound was a bit lumpy. The wind was mostly due east at 17-19 with gusts of 21-22 kts. We had one reef in and I considered putting in the second a few times but never did, and we made really good speed: it took us 8 hours to go 53 miles to Black Point. Both Dawn and I felt a little seasick a few times but helm time alleviated those symptoms...we were handsteering as the autopilot once again proved incapable of keeping up with conditions. It underscored that I really, really need to get the autopilot working well before we take off on any extended offshore passages - such as going straight from the Abacos to South Carolina. There is a software update I can try; I'm thinking I'll start there and then get some help from Garmin Support.

I really like Black Point, especially since the anchorage isn't rolly this time (there was NW wind when we were here with my parents one month ago). We took Piper for a walk soon after arrival and the same young Bahamian kid who asked to walk him last time again approached and asked us if he could walk Piper. Too cute. We ran into some cruisers from Spirit who invited us to Cruisers Happy Hour at Scorpios Bar & Grill, so we went back to Windbird to retrieve Judy and then headed back into town. It was a fun hour or two hanging out with Rich and Ruthie from Spirit and Jim and Chris from Radio Waves. Since we got back we've been planning our passage up to Warderick Wells for tomorrow and deciding where we're going to snorkel when we get there, we had a dinner of grilled jerk chicken, and Dawn renewed our BTC data package so Judy and I could catch up on blogging. Between the early getup and the long, fun day of sailing I'm pretty bushed, so I'm heading to bed...but really looking forward to our fourth visit to Warderick Wells tomorrow, during which we'll see our friends Dan and Isabelle on Epiic for the first time since Ft. Lauderdale!

Monday, April 17, 2017


It was my 36th birthday today, but it was mostly just another day on the boat. Dawn went to water aerobics this morning while I varnished and fixed the hawse pipe (yet again - drilled new holes and used oversized screws and washers, hopefully it holds this time). Once she got back we repositioned the boat over to Georgetown and I made a few water runs and attempted to get diesel for our jerry cans while Dawn did two loads of laundry at the laundromat. I say "attempted" because the Monday after Easter is a holiday here so most everything was either closed or had limited hours. I showed up at the Shell station 5 minutes after they closed, and there was nobody who could pump diesel around the Exuma Yacht Club docks. No biggie, I can do it tomorrow morning, and in any case we don't actually need it. I think we could get back to the States on the diesel we have now and I'm planning to top off in Marsh Harbour.

After laundry was done we had lunch and launched into a bit of boat-cleaning. We have to do that more often than the average boater thanks to our four-legged friend on board. I never thought he shed that much until we moved aboard. His fur gets absolutely everywhere, in amazingly large quantities. I shudder to think how much makes it into our engine (Yanmar 4JH's don't have an air filter). So we beat rugs and cleaned upholstery and swept and cleaned the heads and swept and wiped down the cockpit. Then I decided to clean our cockpit cushions which haven't been cleaned in forever and have some mildew spotting on them. They didn't come completely clean - maybe Judy will have some tips on what she used on them. By now I had an ever-so-rare cleaning bug up my butt so I attacked the dinghy with some inflatable cleaner. It worked well but still ended in frustration as it was way too rough out. There weren't too many boats on the Georgetown side when we moved so we were able to tuck way in - further than I thought our draft would permit - but during the day the wind backed so we no longer had the protection of the small cays just SE of us.

After putting away the cleaning supplies we showered and put on nice clothes, enjoyed an early sundowner, and then took the dinghy over to Peace & Plenty Hotel for a 6:30 dinner reservation. We were originally planning on eating at St. Francis Resort (where we attended open mic music night yesterday) but they're not open Mondays - and it's for the best as we would've got soaked on the mile-long dinghy ride across the harbor. The Peace & Plenty put on a really nice meal of blackened Mahi, veggies & potato topped off with a birthday piece of rum cake. We don't really eat out much these days, when we do it's usually with guests or an order of fresh conch salad or conch fritters at our favorite beachside watering holes. The dinner did make me just a little irked that I haven't caught a Mahi yet. I love Mahi. I have lures that Mahi supposedly love. But they've been ignoring my lures while practically jumping into friends boats. For not being much of a fisherman back home I've caught fish fever pretty hard this trip. I'm still not much of a fisherman but the desire is there!

Tomorrow we have a few more chores early and then Judy Handley arrives from Boston via Atlanta. Tomorrow night we're getting together with Rick and Robyn from Endangered Species. They knew Mark and Judy ten years ago when they were cruising the South Pacific at the same time. On Wednesday we'll probably do some snorkeling and hiking, and maybe get in one last game of volleyball at the Chat-N-Chill. We'll be leaving early Thursday and hope to make it up to Black Point, and then on to Warderick Wells on Friday. Our friends Dan and Isabelle on Epiic just crossed from Nassau to Norman's Cay today so it appears we'll be getting together in Warderick after all. We're super excited about that.

I got my work schedule for May yesterday. There is a nine-day international trip starting on May 17th that I'm thinking is going to be tough to drop, and maybe I don't want to (55 hrs of pay, layovers in London-New York-Amsterdam-New York-London). So we're going to try to get the boat somewhere in the US that's convenient by May 15. With a really good weather window it could be South Carolina. Otherwise it'll be somewhere in Florida, and in that case I'm pretty tempted to get our canvas done right there while I'm off flying. I'll bid for a bunch of days off in mid-late June, and that's when we'll plan on bringing the boat north to the Chesapeake for the summer.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Three Months In

We had another really nice sail over from Long Island to Georgetown on Thursday. The wind was NE to ENE at 17 knots for a really broad reach, but we only had to gybe twice, to enter the Three Fathom Channel into Elizabeth Harbour. There was a pretty decent ocean swell on our quarter, which made for active steering conditions - the autopilot couldn't keep up - but it was still fairly comfortable and we made the 25 miles in about 4.5 hours. The cut into Elizabeth Harbour had a few good rollers in it but nothing breaking. We remained under full sail right up to the Monument Beach anchorage, sailing through a good portion of the Georgetown fleet at 7 knots in the process. That was fun, and we got a few nice comments after the fact. From here on in, we'll be inexorably northbound - for this season, anyways.

We've now been out cruising for three months, two of those in the Bahamas. We're certainly not old hands, but neither are we total noobs anymore. We've learned a ton about our boat and how to best sail and maintain her, about navigation and weather and passagemaking, about docking and anchoring, about what duties and procedures work best for us, and what tasks each person is most suited for. There hasn't been a day that's gone by where we haven't learned something new. And yet, for all that, it's been surprisingly easy. At no time have I felt completely over my head. Dawn gained an enormous amount of confidence in herself and the boat (and hopefully me). Our preparation & self-sufficiency proved up to par; at no point did we have to lean on another boat for tools or spares or know-how. In part I think we've been lucky to not have been tested with anything beyond our skill level before we were up to speed - but we've also been pretty careful not to put ourselves in sticky situations before we were ready to handle them (with one notable exception, our night exit at Farmer's Cay Cut in heavy conditions).

Reflecting on our two months in the Bahamas in particular, here are a few things that have really struck me as a noob cruiser:

It's Not Rocket Science
Because it's the first foreign land we've visited, because there's so much shallow water and many reefs and fierce currents and a long history of shipwrecks, the Bahamas held a certain amount of intimidation factor for us. But you get out here and you run into a lot of really normal people, plus more than a few complete knuckleheads, who have been doing this for years and years and have managed to keep themselves out of trouble. Most of this isn't all that hard, it's just plain common sense. This is one area where I'm really lucky to have Dawn, because she definitely has the edge on me in that area and has proven over the course of the trip that she'll reel me in when I need it.

Navigation Is Actually Easier Here
Ok, lights and markings aren't up to U.S. standards and neither are the out-of-date government surveys or the charts (paper or electronic) based on them. But the privately produced Explorer Charts are fairly accurate, and there are a number of electronic charts for iPad and chartplotter based on them. Even where accuracy is wanting, you have the advantage of actually being able to see the bottom! Before arrival I was super nervous about learning to read the water. Within the first few days, I had it. Shallows, rock bars, reefs and stray coral heads are all pretty obvious. This assumes, of course, that you're only sailing during the day on the banks unless on a route known to be free of stray heads, with good over the shoulder light, and relatively flat water.

Go Where The Wind Takes You
The winter weather isn't exactly benign here, but it's pretty predictable. Listening to Chris Parker on our SSB each morning, we knew when major systems were on their way, usually four or five days in advance, and could change our plans accordingly. Thus were we able to freely move up and down the Exumas three times despite what old-timers described as a more-active-than-average winter. There are a limited number of times to move in any particular direction and these are further restricted by the limited number of anchorages with protection from west- and north-component wind. Get tied down to a schedule and you'll miss the available windows.

Tides and Currents Rule All
Maybe this comes more naturally to people who grew up on the ocean; I know I have to think about it, and typically do at least six or seven times a day. The tides aren't huge here (2.5 to 4 feet) but taking a six-foot draft through shallow approaches to desirable anchorages makes them pretty important, and then you consider the huge volume of water that flows through a limited number of cuts resulting in strong currents. A cut that's just fine when the current is flowing with the wind can turn into a dangerous mess after the tide reverses. Current more than anything determined the timing of our deep-water passages, while tide and the availability of light determined the timing of bank-side passages.

Good Ground Tackle Is Worth Its Weight in Gold
Mark and Judy Handley swore by their 66-lb Spade anchor on 5/16" G4 all-chain rode, and it wasn't just them trying to sell the boat. This anchor does a hell of a job of laying down on the seabed nicely, biting and digging in right away, and resetting itself immediately after each swing. And you will swing mightily, every six hours as the current reverses in the majority of anchorages. Trust in one's ground tackle does wonders for the skipper's ability to sleep soundly (diving on your anchor and a good drag-alarm program for your smartphone are the other key components). Last week we did our first Bahamian moor in Joe's Sound due to the narrowness of the anchorage. That's a rarity out here these days - it's mostly a relic of the CQR anchor, which did a poor job of resetting itself after a swing. In most anchorages good modern tackle makes the Bahamian moor unneccessary, which is nice because it's a lot of work to put down and pull up.

You'll Never, Ever Be Bored
Silly me, I thought I was going to get caught up on my pleasure reading out here. I haven't even got caught up with my boat reading! For that matter, I thought I would write more, and it's everything I can do to get my column out once a month and update this blog once a week! Just everyday living - meals, cleaning, bathing, taking the dog to shore - takes up more time than land living. Then there is watermaking/hauling, reprovisioning runs, trash disposal, dinghy refueling, boat maintenance, repairs, and occasional deep cleaning to do. Moving the boat takes up a lot of time, even on short passages, when you consider the time it takes to get the boat ready to go and putting it to bed when you're done. So it's not like there's unlimited spare time to begin with, and then there's so much great hiking, snorkeling, and dinghy exploring to do out here. And then there are the sundowners, and happy hours on your buddy's boat that just sailed into the anchorage, and impromptu potlucks and bonfires on the beach. I initially thought this busyness was simply because we're new, but now I'm not so sure. I do think it accounts for the appallingly shabby cosmetic condition of a lot of the cruisers' boats out here. We had to take nearly a week "off" just to get some varnishing and other mostly-cosmetic maintenance done. 

Guests Are Nice, But...
Most cruisers are ambivalent at best about guests, an attitude I never quite understood until now. Don't get me wrong, I love having guests on board, and Windbird is really nicely set up for it. But guests inevitably tie you into a schedule because there are a limited number of places they can meet and leave the boat. This has inevitably led us to moving the boat more than we need to and spending less time in some really spectacular anchorages than we'd like (and probably has contributed a lot to the "busy" syndrome I mention above). And it's meant spending less time with some really cool cruising friends we'd probably have buddy-boated with. Even when you share an anchorage with people you know, having guests aboard makes you less likely that you'll socialize outside your boat. None of which is to say that we intend to stop having guests onboard. But we're definitely going to emphasize the necessity of schedule/destination flexibility on their part (even if it means buying last-minute tickets), and we're going to take care to schedule time "just for us" between guests.

Bahamians Are Some of the Friendliest People on Earth
That's all. I just love 'em to death. Outside of Nassau I have yet to run into a Bahamian asshole, which is more than I can say of the cruising community (where they're still rarer than average). The further from Nassau you go, the nicer they get.

Georgetown is just Pretty Nice
Ok, I've spent some time here now. I see the appeal. It's a pretty harbour. There's a lot to do, and a lively cruiser social scene. Services are plentiful and convenient. There's an international airport for guests to fly in and out. And anybody who's been here for any length of time develops a network of friends here, often encompassing the neighboring boats in "their" anchorage. But yikes, I'm not sure I understand the folks who sail straight here, anchor in Elizabeth Harbour for all winter long, and then sail back to Florida. Georgetown is pretty nice, but gobsmackingly spectacular is right next door! The week in Joe's Sound made me realize how great it was to be out of Georgetown, and I wasn't particularly thrilled to come back. Of course then we met some cool folks at the Chat-n-Chill...and invited our friends from S/V Finally over for happy hour Thursday...and Friday night there was an awesome beach party & musical jam session on Honeymoon Beach....

That's it for now, though I'm sure I'll think of a few things later. Some of the above might sound like bitching, but far from it. This isn't vacation, it's a lifestyle - one that involves a certain amount of work and discomfort and uncertainty, but one that yields daily rewards that most working stiffs can only dream of for 51 weeks out of the year. I'm having a blast out here, and I'm happy to report that Dawn and Piper are both really enjoying it as well.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

At Home in Joe's Sound

It's hard to believe we've been here almost a week - the days just keep slipping away. We arrived here in Long Island last Thursday after an unbelievably perfect sail from Georgetown - a 12-13 knot beam reach with all three sails flying. It was Brad and Amber's only sail of their visit, and it was a doozy. The only negative was that once again, we didn't catch any fish despite trolling the whole way. We arrived earlier than planned, so we anchored just outside Joe's Sound while we launched the dinghy and used the hand sounder to check out the narrow, shallow entrance. At ninety minutes before high tide there was just enough depth across the sandy bar but the current was still running pretty strongly. An hour later it was down to a half knot and the entrance went quite smoothly. The inside anchorage was quite a bit narrower than the charts showed, so we belatedly decided to put down two anchors. In the middle of doing so I accidentally got the secondary anchor rode wrapped around our prop, and I had to don a mask and snorkel to go down and clear it. A half hour later the current reversed and we swinged right onto the shallow sandbar I was trying to avoid. Grr. I powered off it and considered repositioning the secondary anchor, but the sun was already down. This was our first time trying to set up a Bahamian moor and it didn't go so well. As a consequence I got to get up at 4am to power off of the sandbar a second time.

Our first task on Friday, therefore, was to reposition the secondary anchor and set up a really proper Bahamian moor. This time it went swimmingly: the secondary rode is lashed to our primary anchor chain and the connection point was then lowered about five feet below the surface so that both rode and chain clear our keel and rudder when we swing. We've been quite snugly positioned right in the middle of the channel ever since. Our anchoring job was tested shortly thereafter: we took the dinghy to the Cape Santa Maria Beach Resort just in time for an incredibly strong squall line to blow through. At the resort I would estimate that the winds were 60 knots, accompanied by torrential rain and an impressive lightning display including at least one hit on resort property. It hit a few hours earlier than forecast; I hadn't meant to be off Windbird. But our anchoring job held nicely. Our friends Dave and Leslie on Texas Two Step arrived just before the squall and barely had time to drop their primary before it hit.

On Saturday Brad, Amber, Dawn and I rented an SUV from the Cape Santa Maria resort and spent the day exploring Long Island. At nearly 80 miles long and with much of its coast too shallow to cruise in a boat of our draft, this is the best way to check out Long Island. We visited the Columbus Monument on Cape Santa Maria, hiked the Adderley Plantation Ruins near Stella Maris, had lunch at Max's Conch Bar in Deadman's Cay, snorkeled the incredible Dean's Blue Hole (670 feet deep, and a little eerie...and wayyy eerie once you get about 45 feet down, I will attest), visited the South Cape, checked out Father Jerome's churches in Clarence Town, and made a reprovisioning stop at Hillside Grocery in Salt Pond. It was a quite long day and we didn't do much once we got back to the boat.

On Sunday Brad and I went out spearfishing with Dave and Leslie while Dawn and Amber went hiking on Galliot Cay. Afterwards we got together for an early dinner on Texas Two Step, then went over to another small uninhabited cay with a couple of other cruisers for a full-moon bonfire on the beach. Brad and Amber went back to the boat a bit early with our dinghy to pack their bags and finalize travel arrangements, and Dave and Leslie dropped us off a bit later.

I took Brad and Amber to the docks on the north side of Galliot Cay via the shallow northern portion of Joe's Sound early Monday morning. Their cab was running on "island time" but nevertheless got them to the Stella Maris airport before their plane left. With our guests gone, Dawn and I cleaned the boat and then lapsed into a bit of an exhausted funk. I mostly read all day. Later Dave and Leslie invited us to T2S for dinner and some games.

Yesterday we had been planning to cross to Cat Island but the winds and seas were still too high so I went spearfishing with Dave instead, and finally managed some success of my own. The most productive reefs here tend to be in 30-35' of water and it's taken a bit to improve my bottom time to the point that I can get down, spend some time really hunting, and still have enough air to get back up. Dave was, as usual, fairly deadly. He gave me one of the Margates he speared, which together with several smaller ones I had made more than enough meat for a Fish Taco feast Dawn prepared for the four of us aboard Windbird last night. Again we played games fairly late into the night.

This morning we were hoping to cross to Cat Island but decided to stay put after all. The reason is that Judy Handley is flying into Georgetown on Tuesday, we want some time there before she flies in to take care of practical matters, but it's forecast to blow like crazy Friday through Sunday. So we extended our stay in Joe's Sound and went to "town" in our dinghy, which involves about three miles of fairly intricate, shallow channels that can only be traversed at high tide. Dave and Leslie were close behind, so we waited for them and did our errands together. We went to the grocery store, liquor store, and gas station. Shortly after we got back we all went spearfishing, though the girls soon tired of our hunting seemingly-nonexistent prey to peel off with one of the dinghies for shallower snorkeling. We were both productive today, and Dave speared an enormous hogfish that we'll be having for dinner tonight. Tomorrow we'll be sailing to Georgetown, and then sometime after the 18th we'll start working our way north. We just found out that there's an excellent chance that we'll be able to meet up with our friends Dan and Isabelle on Epiic as they work their way down the Exumas. We're really looking forward to that, as we last saw them in Ft. Lauderdale.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Weigel/Phillips Moto Mayhem

Brad & Amber Phillips have been close friends of ours for a good 15 years now, and we've had a lot of cool adventures with them. We've traveled to Amsterdam, Italy and Thailand together; we've sailed together in the BVI and now the Bahamas; we've flown small planes to Mexico; we've visited each other's homes regularly since Dawn and I moved back to Minnesota (we formerly lived near them in Washington state). But a disproportionate number of our adventures together have been on motorcycles and dirt bikes. The four of us spent our respective anniversaries (1 day apart) on a 3-day ride in the Pacific Northwest; later we all rode the full length of the Blue Ridge Parkway together. Brad, Dawn and I rode from Portland to Alaska in 2011, and Brad and I alone have done a lot of small rides and a couple big ones: up the East Coast in 2010 and down the length of Baja California (via dirt bike) in 2013.

So naturally enough, our present sailing adventure soon turned into a moto adventure, at least for half a day. Bret and Teresa on Elusive had rented scooters with the Mike and Blanche on Saltwater Taffy a few days ago; they told us where to rent them and some of the things to see around the island. The scooters turned out to be 125cc machines in pretty decent shape and at a pretty good price for the Bahamas ($35 for 4 hours). We were on the road and headed southeastward on Great Exuma Island by 10:30 this morning. We detoured down a dirt side road on Little Exuma to visit "Tropic of Cancer Beach," went all the way to the end of Queens Highway on the south end of Little Exuma, checked out an abandoned plantation in William's Town, had fantastic seafood for lunch at Santana's Grill, and picked up some rum cake for an after-supper dessert at Mom's Bakery ("Free Hugs!"). On our way back we checked out the Salt Pillar and then rode all the way to Steventon on the north side of Great Exuma before returning the bikes right on schedule.

After we got back Dawn and I reassembled our cockpit table, which we're happy to have back in place. I've applied five coats of Epiphanes Rapid Clear, top and bottom, followed by three coats of Epiphanes Clear Varnish to the bottom. Now that it's on place on its swinging mount I will apply five or six coats of varnish to the top and sides, the first of which I did this afternoon. We also took the masking tape off of the cockpit combing, as we applied our final/sixth "re-coat" this afternoon. It looks really nice, as does the engine control cover and compass trim that we just stripped and revarnished. Lots of cruisers hate varnishing, but I kinda enjoy it - there's instant visual gratification. Of course now that everything else in the cockpit looks decent, the companionway hatch that we revarnished in Charleston looks kinda crappy by comparison. And several of the dorade boxes are already flaking enough that they'll have to be completely stripped. Egh!

Brad and Amber crashed hard while we were varnishing, though I was able to rouse them afterwards to go hiking with us. We all piled in the dinghy with Piper and headed over to Sand Dollar Beach on Stocking Island, where we hiked a really nice sandy trail to the ocean side and then south to the Elizabeth Island Cut. From there we took the beach back west and north to the dinghy. It was a really pleasant 90 minute hike, and we got back to the boat just as the sun was setting. Before it got completely dark we were visited by four dolphins - I think the same four we saw with Mom and Dad on the day we arrived in Georgetown. They were being quite playful near our boat so I took off my shirt and jumped in. One of the juveniles swam close enough that I was able to touch him, but then they all moved off. Pretty cool anyways.

Tomorrow we'll be heading to Long Island, where we hope to get into Joe Sound (we'll scout our way with the dinghy and a handheld sounder first to make sure we can do it). If not we'll tuck into Calabash Bay. On Friday a mild cold front will be passing, on Saturday we hope to rent a car (or more scooters!) to explore the island, and on Sunday we'll move south to Salt Pond. On Monday Brad and Amber are flying from Stella Maris to Nassau, then Atlanta, and finally Portland. Tuesday or Wednesday Dawn and I are hoping for a break in the northeasterly trades to visit Conception Island, but if not maybe we'll do Cat Island or just explore Long Island some more before returning to Georgetown. We've been mostly stationary for over two weeks now, and I'm excited to get some wind in our sails again!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Projects in Paradise

"The definition of cruising is doing boatwork in exotic places," or so goes the oft-repeated saying. Well, we've been doing a little too little boatwork in exotic places lately so this week was catchup time. We didn't get the entire list completed but we made a dent. A lot of it was cosmetic: revarnishing brightwork, cleaning the teak deck, polishing all the stainless steel, washing and waxing the cabin top, and so forth. There were a few periodic tasks like lubing the steering cables, plus repairs like fixing the water maker, retuning the rig, and chasing down a battery charging issue. And of course the usual boat chores like reprovisioning, making/fetching water, and cleaning in preparation for our next guests. But since we are in Georgetown, we did have to take time to have fun, and so we quit around 3-4pm each day for snorkeling, hiking, visiting friends' boats, or dropping in for pickup volleyball at the Chat-N-Chill. There were a number of friends & acquaintances boats here: Elusive, Saltwater Taffy, Someday, Brown Eyed Girl, Aria, Crimson Katheryn, and Texas Two Step. And then we've gotten to know quite a few people who we just met here including Finally and Imagine. A few nights ago we had a beach party on Sand Dollar Beach that lasted long into the night; it was a really nice experience and we met a ton of cool cruisers. So life has been pretty good here in Georgetown.

That said, I have had a bit of an itch to get moving again and explore further south in the bit of the season that remains. For us, that will be practically limited to Long Island and perhaps Conception, at least this season. Our very good friends Brad & Amber flew in today; we'll rent scooters to explore Great and Little Exuma Islands tomorrow, then cruise over to Long Island on Thursday. Brad and Amber will fly out to Nassau from Stella Marris on Monday or Tuesday, then we'll have a bit of time to get to Conception and back if there's a weather window before Judy Handley flies into Georgetown on April 18th (which we're really looking forward to). I'm exhausted from a long couple of days here so I'm headed to bed now, but as always excited to see what the next day brings.