Sunday, June 21, 2015

I'm With Stupid.


Poor Wilbur lies atop my foul weather gear. It was used far too often during this trip.

When we reached the end of our voyage and reversed our route to head home from the Bahamas, we suffered a disastrous re-crossing of the Exumas Banks from Nassau to Cat Cay, and 'I'm With Stupid' is what I truly feel our boat should be named. I'm not kidding when I say we experienced a text book Sail Magazine 'what we did wrong' with very little of 'what we did right' kind of experience.

We departed Palm Cay Marina (where we performed a successful surgery on Windy), anchored in West Bay for a night, and then crossed the Northwest Channel (with a touch of the Tongue of the Ocean) the next day. Along with a cruising couple who'd left us in Blackpoint in order to reach Georgetown and then actually caught back up with us, we dropped the hook together at the Northwest Shoal anchorage for the night. We were feeling pretty darn good about everything and early the next morning we both hoisted our mains at anchor and beat it for the long trek to Cat Cay just south of Bimini.

The wind was perfect, we put out the jib, shut the engines down and exalted in a beautiful day at full sail, until the wind died at noon. So we furled the jib and let the main do its thing.

At one point we noticed a line dangling in front of our dodger and were shocked to find it was the topping lift from our boom. Hans had tied it with a bowline knot and a couple of half-hitches several years ago and I guess after all the slamming and banging we endured over the last couple of months it finally gave way. The fully raised mast is what kept the boom from swinging around like a billy club (or smashing down on our on bimini). So while under sail Hans was able to tie it back to the boom.

Not long after that I remarked that I didn't like the look of the clouds way off to our port side and shouldn't we drop the main? Since we now had next to no wind and about seven hours to go (we'd already been underway for five) Hans agreed. Why I didn't say something, I don't know, but when we started furling the main into the boom I thought it sounded strange. Damn! The topping lift Hans had tied off earlier had too much slack in it and was now caught in the boom furling mechanism tight as a drum. And there was no releasing it. We had no choice but to drop the main onto the boom and try to secure it. Our main is new and crackly and stiff, so dropping it was a chore. We ended up with each of us standing on either side of the boat while we tossed a long dock line back and forth over and under the boom and cinched it tight. In that short amount of time we got pretty soaked because those pesky clouds I'd spotted earlier had moved in and it had started raining.

Our main lashed to the boom.

Whew! we said, aren't we glad that's out of the way and cranked up the engines just as the shit hit the fan. The non-existent wind kicked up and we were suddenly seeing 20 plus knots on the beam and it kept getting worse. Poseidon then pulled a filthy shower curtain around the Knotty Cat and let loose with all kinds of mayhem. The wind continued to build, and our boom, thanks to our lashed down yet billowing main sail, started swinging back and forth with a vengeance. We ended up utilizing yet one more dock line and this time we tied it around our main sheet and yanked it tight to a rail. I leaned out and ventured a peek at the main, shuddered, and staggered back to helm where I stood for the next five hours in the wind and rain. Wilbur, who normally stays with us in the cockpit, hustled his little pitty butt down below when the rain started slashing through the cockpit.

That black line tied to the main sheet kept the boom in place

We slalomed and slid up and down the waves that had built quickly and they were pretty sizable considering we were only in 12 feet of water. I'd hate to think what we would have experienced if we'd still been in the Tongue of the Ocean which is thousands of feet deep. The wind settled in at a steady 30+knots, the gray clouds continued to empty buckets of water on top of us, and while Hans sat in the captain's seat, I found I was most comfortable standing and grasping the handles of the helm and companion way with each hand (the next day I wondered why all my knuckles ached). I ventured down below in an attempt to use the head and even though I did my usual crab walk I still managed to get body slammed into a couple of walls.

Every time I slid the companion way door open to check on Wilbur, I was apprised of yet one more horror taking place down below. Stuff was falling all over the place, and when Wilbur expressed interest in coming up top, he immediately lost his footing and fell heavily on his side. He turned tail and shot back down below where he panted heavily even though he had plenty of water. At one point he stood with his front legs on the companion way steps and it wasn't until later that I figured out why. The settee where he would usually lie now contained along with various miscellany, our heavy road rocker, and our berth (I didn't get down there until we anchored) where he likes to nap, was covered with tons of books. These books reside on a shelf in the center-most part of the boat and I'm still amazed that they fell. I finally quit looking down below when I saw the garbage can had tipped over and my 'First Mate' Tervis Tumbler was in pieces on the floor.

And once again we forgot to roll up our portable solar panels but I'd tied them down pretty securely on top of our upside down dinghy stowed on the bow. Except; Dear God! I'd forgotten to secure the dinghy itself to the deck and a couple of hours into our little adventure I was horrified, when we fell hard to starboard, to see the dinghy slide in an alarming fashion across the deck and come to rest on the lifelines. Hans forbade me to go up front and try to fix the situation I'd put us into but I was afraid the dinghy would become airborne and take out our fore stay. This also put a huge strain on the solar panel connectors because they were now stretched to the limit and we'd already ripped those connections apart in Ft. Myers.

I guess there's something to be said for wishful thinking because for the next few hours (and I mean hours!) I stood there clutching the helm and willed that damn dinghy to stay in place. It did. Finally, the wind and rain started to ebb and at around 7PM we finally motored into Cat Cay and dropped the hook in surprisingly calm water. We stripped off our foul weather gear and after comparing our pruny fingers and toes we set about straightening up the boat. I was totally beat and after our friends expressed their intention to cross the Gulf Stream to the USA the next morning I told Hans no way was I up for that. We didn't have enough weather information and I also felt that after such a long strenuous day we shouldn't push ourselves.

Of course the next day turned out to be a perfect 'crossing' day and the Atlantic resembled a huge mirror; absolutely calm with zero waves. By the time we realized this, it was too late.

If this were that Sail Magazine article I'd list what we did wrong along with what we did right, but you can already see what we did wrong along with basically nothing done right.

Thank goodness for Lady Luck.


At the end of the day; our friends from Island Bound heeling nicely.


Sunday, June 7, 2015

Welcome back, Windy!


Windy, trying to appear humble, but actually looks quite smug


We found it slightly ironic that as soon as our wind generator died, we finally began to experience wonderful windy days. This of course, did us no good, and we discovered our solar panels really can't keep up with our refrigerator system. Each morning Hans would wake up to find our batteries seriously drained so he'd fire up the Honda for an hour, and then for another hour before bed. This, however, started to put a serious strain on our gasoline supply and Blackpoint doesn't sell fuel.

Each day we would go ashore and Hans would check the shipping status of the new generator. In the meantime he'd been in contact with Watermaker's Air in Ft. Lauderdale who had assured us it would indeed arrive in Blackpoint. Watermaker's flies into Blackpoint twice a day and our generator arrived promptly on a Tuesday morning. It was then immediately placed on a boat (that probably zipped right past us in the anchorage) and sent straight to Staniel Cay where Watermaker's Air is based. We found this out after walking all the way to the airstrip in the blistering sun. Of course this was at noon, everyone was at lunch, and we didn't see any packages sitting around the empty and unlocked, tiny airport building.

Just try communicating with businesses in the Bahamas. It's not like in the states, where even though you may get put on hold, at least someone answers the damn phone (or in this case the radio). Staniel Cay is an extremely busy and extremely understaffed place. No one ever answers the radio and when you get to the office and tell them this, they will point to their radio (which is squawking with some other poor sap desperately trying to get through), and with big innocent Bahamian eyes, assure you that your radio must not be working.

While still in Blackpoint we tried to radio Staniel Yacht Club in order to find out the status of our package because we really feared it may have been sent back to the states. No one answered so Hans called Ft. Lauderdale where we were assured it would be waiting for us in Staniel. This is when we parted company with our friends and headed back north.

Hans was just itching to get that wind generator up and working and had hatched one of his ingenious 'in theory that should have worked' plans he's talked me into far too many times over the years. Initially he'd wanted to lower the whole top heavy tower into a dinghy where surgery would then be performed. Did I mention he wanted to do this at anchor, with bouncing waves and wakes from passing boats? With visions of nuts and bolts flying overboard (and perhaps a huge scream fest on my part for the whole anchorage to witness), I firmly put the kibosh to that little plan. But, Hans is a manager and therefore likes to manage and so he came up with Plan B.

We approached the Staniel Cay Yacht Club with the desire to pick up our generator, top off our diesel, buy some gas, and get a slip for Hans' brilliant new plan. I don't know why we even bothered to try hailing them on the radio but we did and of course there was no answer. We noticed that the fuel dock is very small, and a little run-about boat was tied smack dab in the middle of it leaving no room for anyone else. We kept trying to radio the club in an effort to get a slip and with still no response we headed for a long dock with an open space. It wasn't easy, especially with little boats crossing right in our path, and the wind and current were pushing us off, but we finally got tied up to the dock.

A good while later Hans arrived back at the boat with our generator and was quite happy to report that the paperwork had been processed properly and we only had to pay for Watermaker's Air fare from the states plus a $10.00 stamp tax and *no duty fees since this was a warranty replacement!

Then he informed me that the slip we were assigned to was exactly on the other side of the dock were sitting at. This meant, in addition to all the bouncy wake we were experiencing in this very busy marina, instead of being pushed off the dock, we would now get pushed onto the dock. Staniel Cay Yacht Club is unprotected and when the wind blows from the west everyone gets kicked out. We were there in moderate east winds and I thought it was awful. Even Hans thought it was less than ideal and had asked if someone could please help us move. Help arrived in the form of an elderly man with one arm. This much I knew; it had taken all of the strength from both of my much younger arms to secure our dock lines. We asked if it were possible to please just stay where we were. No. Two huge yachts were due to arrive and we were in the way. In the meantime a young couple in a power boat sped into our allotted slip, tied up, and hied it to the bar.

The hell with it, Hans said, and decided now was the time to put his new plan into action. This involved waiting for low tide where Hans would then stand on the dock and with the boat sitting low in the water, the top of the wind generator would now be within easy reach. Except it wasn't. The current kept the boat too far off the dock, and the constant chop bounced it around like a cork. With every move Hans made I interjected with, "I don't like this," "I want the hell our of here," "This is crazy." Hans finally agreed that Plan B wasn't going to work and when I told him let's just walk our gas cans to the fuel dock he informed me that he'd been told by the little one armed man that they were out of gas and the fuel boat wouldn't arrive until Friday.

So we anchored out, used almost the last of our gas for the Honda and found out the next day they had plenty of gas and why did we think they didn't? We also noted that the long dock we'd been told we needed to vacate for the two huge yachts, remained empty until the next day.

We dinghied ashore the next morning, got that damned gas, walked to Isles' General Store for some provisions, and purchased a much needed bottle of vodka at the laundromat (the Bahamians definitely got something right, there).

Once again we headed north with Palm Cay Marina in Nassau as our next destination. We'd heard that diesel was cheap, water and laundry were free, and Hans still wanted to give Plan B a shot. We found diesel to be a little more reasonable and water was free but it's bad, and laundry involved walking to a condo and using the one washing machine available and then taking your wet laundry back to the marina to use the one dryer. Since we have no idea how much water we have (and I fear it's very little) Hans drove a courtesy car to the store (and you have to remember to drive on the left side) and bought 10 gallons. I took Wilbur for a walk where he almost had a heat stroke and kept collapsing in the shade.

We'd only intended to stay one day but since we needed a low tide for Hans' plan, we stayed for two. Finally, it was time for operation wind generator. After pulling the boat in as tightly as we could and argued over how this was going to work (I was accused of overthinking, and I asked Hans if he'd even bothered to look at the manual), we actually got the generator off the pole and then lowered the whole thing onto the dock. Hans cut old wires, crimped new wires, tested the unit to make sure it was good (and verified that the old one was indeed fried), and then we pushed it back up into place. After a minor discussion on exactly how the supporting struts were previously placed (I found a picture on my phone to prove I was right), we tightened all the screws and waited for some wind.

Finally after a month we were able to accomplish something

New generator ready to go

A huge shout of joy was heard from the Knotty Cat when we witnessed Windy point her delicate nose into the wind and purr like a kitten while in the nav station the gauge showed her putting juice into the batteries.

The only downside to this successful maneuver is the fact that one of Hans' many hairbrained schemes has finally paid off and I fear just what he may come up with in the future.



*If you need parts sent to you in the Bahamas; make sure you send the freight provider (whoever is getting this part from the USA to the Bahamas, in our case it was Watermaker's Air) a copy of your cruising permit. We also sent a copy to the company in Montreal and told them to staple it to our invoice with the notation 'Warranty Replacement'. There should be no duty charged to warranty parts.


Friday, June 5, 2015

Schedules, plans, and reality


I don't wanna go home yet!


Just as one should never work a New York Times crossword puzzle in ink (although we do. That Hans is a wild and crazy guy), one should never expect plans and schedules to go off without a hitch while cruising. We just call it 'writing our plans in the sand'.

When we set out on this journey it was with the intention of working our way down to Georgetown, staying there for a couple of weeks or more, and then on our way back up the Exumas chain we would visit the cays that we previously missed.

Thanks to the worst weather the Bahamas has experienced in the last 30 years and the fact that our wind generator blew out in a huge storm, we never did reach Georgetown. It was in Staniel Cay, on Cinco de Mayo Wednesday, that Windy screamed her final breath. We arrived in Blackpoint on Thursday, and were so excited to be there and take advantage off all the good things Blackpoint has to offer that it wasn't until Saturday that we realized we hadn't called the wind generator company for a replacement. Hans dinghied ashore bright and early (something like noon) on Monday, skyped the company and just like that a new generator was on its way to us at no charge since it was still under warranty.

The replacement would be sent to Ft. Lauderdale and then flown via Watermaker's straight to Blackpoint. Normally, Watermaker's flies into Staniel but their air strip was being repaired so this was perfect for us. It would take about a week to get there and Hans decided we'd go ahead and jump down to Georgetown and pick it up on our way back. We waved goodbye to our friends, weighed anchor, and set out into choppy seas.

An hour later we waved hello to these same, but very puzzled friends when we re-anchored in nearly the same spot we'd been in that morning. The seas had been choppy and we would've had to motor the whole way to the next stop which was Farmer's Cay but we decided we didn't have to go and we really did like Blackpoint anyway so why not just wait there for the generator to be delivered. (A week later the generator arrived as promised but since we weren't personally at the air strip to receive it, it was sent by boat to Staniel!). During our remaining time in Blackpoint we discovered that Wilbur Beach, at low tide, was an absolute Sand Dollar Extravaganza. Finding a whole sand dollar and not just a piece of one, to me, is like winning the lottery. Wilbur and I both spotted the first one at the same time and we actually fought over it. "It's mine!" I shouted as I rudely shoved him aside. "It's mine! It's mine!" Wilbur snorted as he frantically dug his big pit bull nails into the sand. I won and immediately hid my prize behind my back. Wilbur loves anything that reeks of fish. Hans found the second one, and I was hooked. We spent our last two days on the beach at low tide and found a total of 15 sand dollars and a star fish. I gave a few of them away to our cruising friends before we departed to head back to Staniel and hopefully find our wind generator waiting for us.



Blackpoint became the final stopping point before parting ways for all of us who'd traveled together from Florida. Most of us were turning back but one couple continued on as they have a three year plan to sail the Caribbean.

We could have squeezed Georgetown in if we'd really wanted to. Originally, we'd intended to spend up to a month there but as it was we would have only had a few days. If I'd really liked it I would have hated to leave it so soon.

I do believe I said I'll never sail back to the Bahamas again but if we do then we'll have to leave earlier in the year and I'll have Georgetown to look forward to.

Wilbur, our VPR guide

(Visual Pilot Rules)





Thursday, June 4, 2015

Entertainment at Sea.

Watching greedy pigs being fed on a beach. Very entertaining.

Back when Hans and I were land based in the good old U.S. of A., we were easily entertained thanks to things like; Direct-TV, internet, and cell phone service. But, since we have virtually none of those particular amenities in the pretty much off the beaten path of the Exumas, we've had to find other sources of entertainment.

When we were in Staniel Cay and Blackpoint Cay, we would dinghy ashore daily and meet our fellow cruising friends. When we're anchored near a sandy beach we can take Wilbur ashore and let him burn off some steam.

There are some areas in the Exuma Park Cays with mooring balls scattered in the anchorages. The nice thing about this is, the holding is pretty good so we choose to anchor instead of paying the $20.00 per day fee. However, not everyone wants to anchor and so they choose a mooring ball instead. And that's when things can get pretty entertaining.

A couple of days ago, I witnessed possibly the most bizarre mooring ever attempted, and also discovered that holding a pair of binoculars to your face for over an hour will give you a headache.

This particular crew, after hooking the mooring pennant with their boat hook several times and then dropping it because they had no idea what to do with it, finally figured out they needed lines on the bow of their boat with which to tie it to. But instead of tying a line to a cleat and threading it through the eye of the pennant, one of the men (Man #1) jumped into their dinghy, zoomed around to the bow, tied a line to the mooring and then attempted to toss it up to another man (Man #2) on the deck. For some reason Man #2 on the deck decided to forego using the boat hook and the line kept falling back into the water where it then managed to get wrapped around the propellor of their dinghy motor. Since the dinghy was now rendered useless it got tied to the mooring ball. "What are they doing now?" Hans asked. With my elbows propped on the coaming because my arms were getting tired from holding the binoculars up for so long, I commented that Man #2 was dropping a couple of items down to Man #1. "Oh, my god," I laughed. "He's throwing swim fins down to him." The big boat was still not secure, and now Man #1, who'd been in the dinghy was now in the water. "You won't believe this!" I told Hans, but since I refused to give up the binoculars I had to describe the situation. "The guy in the water is still trying to toss a line up to the guy on the boat, and the guy on the boat is just standing there." "Still no boat hook?" Hans asked. "No boat hook," I confirmed. Of course the big boat drifted away and my heart was in my throat when Man #2 charged back toward the mooring while Man #1 had to fend himself off the hull. Miraculously, Man #2 finally caught the tossed line and secured it to the bow. For awhile we were afraid they were only going to use one line but then Man #2 dropped another line down to Man #1 who then tied it to the mooring and once again went through the agonizing procedure of throwing the other end back up to Man #2.

It's hard to believe these guys were on a motor yacht that's probably worth close to a million dollars. Some people have more money than sense.

The next morning when we went for a dinghy ride I made Hans take us past their boat so I could see exactly what they'd done. They used lines that have a loop in one end. On each line they ran the loop through the eye of the pennant and then ran the line through the loop to the boat so no way in hell could they release it from the mooring without doing it from the water. And as the boat moved with the wind and the current, one line would bear the whole weight of the boat while the other line went slack. They did absolutely nothing right and I felt sorry for the people anchored directly behind them (and earlier those people had moved far away from the rest of us because they thought we were all too close), because if those lines had chafed through, that huge boat would have drifted right down on them.

On to other forms of entertainment.

Even though they may not admit it, all cruisers listen in on other peoples conversations on the VHF. Unfortunately the conversations aren't always interesting but sometimes you can pick up a weather forecast or some good local navigation information.

We used to play a lot of Scrabble but since our games usually tend to run into the wee hours (like 8 PM or so) we would just go to bed expecting to pick up the game the next day. Normally, this would be okay if we lived in a house that didn't move. So until we invest in an expensive 'boat safe' version (meaning it can withstand the resulting wakes from inconsiderate motor-heads), or we delight in figuring out the hieroglyphics of the previous night's game with our morning coffee, we've given that up for now. We did find a backgammon game at a cruiser's library (boat speak for 'the head') at a transient marina and we've played several games during lazy afternoons.

Back when we had TV, Hans and I occasionally enjoyed a movie night on the Knotty Cat. We'd settle down with our drinks and popcorn and spend the evening laughing until we cried while we watched free DVD's from our local library; Spinal Tap (the Stonehenge scene nearly did me in), Waiting for Guffman, Victor Borgia (believe it or not, our generation did not invent humor and Mr. Borgia was a comedic genius), and anything we could find that starred Ben Stiller. But we don't use our TV now and have accidentally rediscovered the ancient art of 'reading aloud'. It happened the other night in the cockpit when Hans felt the need to share a passage from Dave Barry's newest book. Once again we got to laughing and finally had to stop so we could blow our noses. I have a feeling we'll continue this pastime until we get back to the states.

And last but not least. If you find yourself at anchor and have no neighbors to spy upon, you can always take candid cheesecake photos of your dog or cat and then come up with what you believe are hysterically brilliant memes (your Facebook friends may think otherwise). This can be highly entertaining, for a little while anyway, although probably not so much for your pets who would actually prefer you go read to each other in the cockpit and leave them the hell alone.