Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Benners Drifted Into Cuba

March 31, 2010
Holguin City, Cuba

OK.  We are here.  Detailed posts will follow.  We are delighted and may never leave.  รงรง

Every bad thing you have heard about Cuba and clearing customs and prices and travel control is false.  Everything.

The only blight is the internet service.  We can live with it.

I will get the HF radio tuned up this evening and maybe some posts will follow.  If I can stop having fun long enough to be bothered.

Capt Curmudgeon

Monday, March 29, 2010

Enroute to The Island Whose Name May Not Be Spoken

March 28, 2010 17.38 utc
Somewhere off the Northeast coast of Cuba

If I have things working this report will get to the blogsite sometime tonight. It is being sent via shortwave radio to my son in law in Toronto who will post it for me on the blog.

The installation of 3 more radials through Meredith has improved the SSB/shortwave radio transmission reliability. As a result we should be able to file position reports via Winlink 2000. Anyone interested can go to the Winlink 2000 website and find Meredith's position on a world map. You need to know that the call sign assigned to me is VA3LJE.

At 0700 this morning local time (1100 UTC) Meredith departed Long Cay, Crooked Island, Bahamas headed for Puerto de Vita, Cuba. Straightline distance is 127 nm but, anticipating a wind shift to the south we are sailing off the rhum line to take advantage of late day winds. Hopefully we will make landfall just after 8 a.m. in Cuba.

Wind is highly variable, shifting through 40 degrees or so off our port quarter and ranging in speed from 8 to 16 knots apparent (14 to 22 true). Sail for the highest wind from the worst angle. This provides a more stable ride at the cost of forward motion. Build for comfort not for speed this suits us just fine..

Waves have become a bit of a pain smashing hard on the beam with 5 to 7 foot arrogance.

Such exhilerating sailing conditions should persist through the night although as we close on Cuba the "land effect" will concentrate the wind and redirect it westward along the coast. This in mind we have planned for a landing somewhat east of our actual destination. That way when we run into Cuba I will have a clue as to which way to turn. (a left turn in this case). Hopefully of course the turn will be completed somewhat prior to the running into Cuba part.

For the past week and a half we have travelled with friends from Bayfield, Tony and Linda, and friends from Kingston, Wade and Diane. Tony and Linda are not joining us for the Cuba leg of this trip, more's the pity. Wade and Diane, sailing a monster 53 foot steel boat are so much faster than our tiny little 38 footer that we never see them on a passage. On a typical day sail we leave an hour earlier and arrive an hour later than Wade and Diane. On an overnighter it is like we are on different oceans.

There are a few reports due covering Georgetown to Long Cay but we have superb weather and have largely spent our time exploring and meeting the locals. More on this later.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Chickentown Regadda

Clarence Town, Long Island, Bahamas
March 23, 2010(no, no no.  We have not been in Clarencetown for a week.  But sometimes the days I start a blog and the day I correct some of the spelling is different.  Depends how I feel.  Ya know.)

Georgetown has for decades been labelled "Chickentown" by cruisers. It is here that the Go/No Go decision is made by most aqueous adventurers. Those boats with the gumption to brave and cross the Gulf Stream are treated to favourable sailing conditions throughout the Exuma chain of islands: usually good wind, short hauls and safe anchorages with good views.

Once in Georgetown the safe option ends. Distances are greater between the anchorages, the anchorages themselves are less protected, settlements are further apart and the number of cruisers are fewer and further between.

Cruising changes after Georgetown. Which is why most people turn about after a stay in Victoria Harbour and head back north and to the USA to return to Canada or to a yard for haulout. Next year these cruisers will return, float their hulls and once again brave the known waters of Exuma Sound all the way to Georgetown.

Georgetown is very ..... nice. It really is. Really.

Allens Cay has its iguanas, Norman's Cay has its bullet holes and history with drug lord Carlos Lehder, Staniel Cay has "Thunderball Grotto" from James Bond movie fame, Pipe Creek has great scenery and protection and pretty good lobstering, Black Creek has Lorraine's and the laundromat with the best view in the western hemisphere.
Georgetown has "Regadda". At least that is how its American organizers pronounce it.

Early in March of each year some 300 to 400 boats begin amassing in Victoria Harbour. There are several distinct anchorages in the harbour each separated by miles of sea from the others: Hamburger Beach, Monument Beach, Volleyball Beach, Sanddollar Beach, Redshanks, Kidde's Cove (yup, that Kidde).

A few boats, the "organizers" arrive in early December so they can begin organizing. Organizing Regadda is a difficult and socially prominent job. It takes years of preparation and training. People begin helping in various "regadda committees" 5 or 6 years before working their way up the social ladder to the point where they will be tasked with running the daily VHF radio net, or planning the trivial pursuit night or the Texas Hold 'em Poker night. The Regadda Committee chooses its members with great care.

Once esconced in a position of organizing authority cruisers find themselves in an IBM dog eat dog world: There's only one man at the top of Regadda and everyone wants his job.

Many cruisers this year were heard to pooh pooh the regadda. Comments such as "300 boats, no way" or "all that radio chatter - drive you nuts". These people delayed or deferred their trip to Chickentown this year.

Their logic was flawed in my view. The radio chatter is annoying as each "organizer boat" attempts to elevate its social status and importance by having more radio calls than the others. In the process these boats just confirm their incompetence. But you can turn your radio off. This is what Meredith does.

400 boats does not even begin to challenge the ability of Victoria Harbour to provide any anchoring experience you want: isolation is much in evidence at Red Shanks, volubility at Volleyball, simple camaderaderie at Monument. Meredith chose Monument Beach and found 6 boats with whom we socialized for a very pleasant two weeks.

The events are well organized and a lot of fun: bridge on the beach, bocce ball, volleyball tournament, build it yourself sailboat race, trivial pursuit, dressup competition, pet competition, no talent show, Texas Hold'em Poker.

If you do not want to participate you just don't. For those who do the rewards are a lot of fun coupled with new friends made.

Meredith enjoyed a night of trivial pursuit and made it to both ARG meetings (Alcohol Research Group) but for the rest spent time with cruisers in our area. No harm, no foul.

Oh: somewhere in there the organizers hold a sailboat race. No one keeps track of who wins and extra points are awarded for catching a fish enroute. This year one boatR lost its mast when a chainplate failed on the ocean leg of the race.

We found out two days later.

If you miss it too bad for you.

French Women and the Missionary Position

Clarence Town, Long Island, Bahamas
March 15, 2010

Warderick Wells to Georgetown

Arrival at Warderick Wells was intended to provide us with some respite from the weather. Not everything in the world comes to those who hope.

Warderick Wells is the main office for the Exuma Land and Sea Park, a national Bahamian preserve of several thousand square miles. At first glance you would wonder what is being preserved. The Park is a medium sized sand strewn desert rock surrounded by ocean.  The Exumas are a long chain of sand strewn desert rocks surrounded by ocean.

In 2005 the Park had a few mooring balls and a nice anchorage. This year the anchorage has been replaced with mooring fields to be rented at $20 a night. Why, one wonders, would anyone pay $20 to moor off a sand strewn desert rock when there are so many similar rocks offering free anchorages? Good question. No answers from us.

With another BIG cold front forecast many cruising boats wanted a protected mooring ball. Not everyone was destined to get one but the allocation process was a hoot.

Boaters wait on the radio until 9 a.m. when the park officer opens the radio booking frequency. The park officer might be described by some as a prissy little bitch. Those describing her in this way share neither the erudition nor empathy with the human psyche which resides in your humble scribe. They would also be quite correct. Let us just say Ms Prissy had a keen sense of her importance in God's universe.  If I were God I might be worried.

As the radio crackled with a multitude of requests it was let slip that some boats already on a ball were cleverly reserving empty mooring balls for their friends who were due to arrive later in the day: like those morons who let their friends break into line ahead of you at the movies. We found out later that not all reservations were honoured and some mooring balls were empty even as the storm began.

In the end there was a mooring ball for Meredith but the Budget Committee and I decided we did not like the environment one little bit so we declined the offer. You could sense the bewilderment on the part of Ms. Prissy when we declined which soon morphed into burgeoning resentment. And I was so polite in my declination. Almost cloying.  Almost.

So it was off to the next sand strewn rock for us to seek protection. Chris Parker the weather guy was very insistent about both the depth and breadth of the oncoming met event.

There are so many sand strewn rocks in the Exumas. Course was set for Pipe Creek some 15 miles south. First of course I had to dive on the boat to cut the prop loose from the pall of errant nylon line which had wrapped itself boa constrictor like around our shaft the night before.

Enroute to Pipe we listened to an increasing volume of increasingly strident calls from boaters seeking safe harbour at Compass Cay Marina. Tension grew and voices rose as the storm approached.

Pipe Creek is the Venice of the Bahamas. Not a creek at all it is a series of tiny cays and shifting sandbanks divided by a series of waterways connecting Exuma Sound with the Atlantic Ocean. Amongst these tiny cays can be found any number of anchorages with fabulous protection from waves. Most anchorages will not accommodate more than one or two boats. Most anchorages are not in exactly the same place this year as last.

Entry to Pipe Creek is interesting and is gained by following a narrow circuitous path through shifting sand banks, each path detectable only by the fact that 10 foot water is deeper in hue than is 5 foot water. A GPS, with an average HDOP (horizontal difference of position) of 75 feet is useless. The channels can be only 10 feet wide and run for 3 or 4 or 5 miles.

In this environment a chartpotter is about as useful as a lead weight on a long string - but only if you first tie the chartplotter to the string.

The Budget Committee took the bow and guided Meredith by sight through the circuitous channel above Little Pipe Cay.

Finding the channel is a very religious experience: like God it does not reveal itself to mere mortals. A good deal of faith is involved.

Ultimately the BC won out and in doing so gained Meredith an empty anchorage. The hook set and backed down on at 1800 RPM it was time for a drink. We were all alone in one of the two most spectacular anchorages we have ever experienced - rock islands, sand bars, myriad streams running with strong current.

As we settled in a nameless French woman, a gaunt and seemingly in her mid 70s, paddled out to us in an orange kayak.

As always we engaged our newly met fellow boater in conversation. Quickly the conversation became more of an inquisition on the part of our diminutive female friend. As we were about to ask the woman what she was about she offered it up to us:

"So - you are not Missionaries?" It was not a question but a determination on her part, a statement of fact. We readily acquiesced with her assessment of our character.

"Good. Then I bring you this". With this the French woman handed the Budget Committee a grocery bag full of fresh picked lettuce - two kinds along with fresh basil, thyme and mint. (And tomatoes the BC says I must say)

She also had a mooring ball in front of her cottage, she explained and she offered it to us to wait out the "big storm coming". As you can imagine we accepted her generous offer.

Her mission accomplished, her guests having been properly vetted, our erudite friend took her leave. With not so much as "bye" she pushed off Meredith's side and paddled home. We did not learn her name and ascertain her nationality only through her accent.

We quickly weighed anchor and navigated into the protected pond containing the mooring ball. Diving on the ball and its pendant I judged it to be more than adequate to hold Meredith during a hurricane let alone 3 days of 35 knot wind.

We put the boat away, securing any loose items and went below for dinner.

It would be 4 days before we emerged for any purpose other than checking the pendant to the mooring for chafe.

Previous to this encounter the Missionary Position had always seemed a touch pedestrian aboard Meredith. No longer.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Idling in Georgetown - Fixing Someone Else's SSB - Sometimes More than the Waves Come Up Short

March 9, 2010
Georgetown, Exumas, Bahamas

Frankie Five Fingers was pretty sure his short wave radio was out of order. The clues were that he could neither receive or transmit anything from or to anyone. Seemed obvious to Frankie that something was amiss.

Luckily Frankie knew a guy.

With a moniker like his you can imagine that Frankie knew a lot of "guys". Frankie's talent in life was getting things done. Not doing things. Getting things done. The difference between these two concepts is as broad as the chasm between fishing and catching.

As it turned out the "guy" that Frankie Five Fingers knew, Wanker Wade, was a guy quite familiar to and well liked by the Budget Committee and me. His life partner, Princess Diane, was also known to, and probably better liked by us. The Princess you see cooks a mean meal in short order.  She is also quite a bit better looking.

Wade acquired his name from "Babykiller Randy" in an email war conducted between them over my Chartplottter escapade.  Wade called me a powerboater for ever even trying to connect my chartplotter up the autopilot.  Randy, a powerboater, took umbrage.  It was all in good fun and the best part was twofold: I got two decent nicknames with which to taunt friends and these guys have yet to meet.

Wanker and the Princess are our connection to this short tale. Meredith first met this indomitable pair for a couple of days in May of 2009 at Bock Marine in Beaufort NC. They sail a 53 foot steel hulled Roberts hull which they built themselves. Quite literally. First they formed the steel and welded the plates. Then they proceeded to outfit their new home. With a Jenn Aire grill and Miele washer and dryer and a few other basic amenities. After our initial meeting we did not see them again until 3 days ago.  You can tell that Babykiller and Wanker are similarly directed in life.

Wade is the guy you want to know if you have a technical problem. Military training and an engineering degree combined with a full machine shop on board leave Wade uniquely equipped to solve almost any problem. All the tools, all the parts, all the hardware you could ever want can be found somewhere on the 53 feet of this unique vessel. Wade has the personality to share all he has with anyone who needs it.

Wade and Diane suggested we stop by Frankie's trawler in the afternoon. It sounded good to us.

Frankie Five Fingers is actually named Larry. You would never guess this by looking at the guy. He has Frank written all over his face. He owns an immaculate trawler of uncertain vintage. Frankie's boat is so spotless you doubt he has ever left dockside. Except of course the trawler is tied up to the dock in Georgetown, Exumas.

I call him Five Fingers because he pretends to have no opposable thumbs. His play is to express total helplessness in matters technical and stand back while his techie friends get to work "helping" him sort out boat issues. A former hospital administrator Frankie is about as helpless as a black widow spider. He recognizes that the techies are happier having free reign of his vessel and with his impeccable management skills he stands back and makes it available.

Often this works.

While Wade tended to the "work" aboard the trawler Frankie made the women drinks. Tall cool pineapple drinks with little umbrellas in really cool glasses. The Princess and Budget Committee cooed their appreciation of Frankie's bartending skills and settled in for an afternoon of lounging in the full length deck chairs on the upper aft deck of Frankie's trawler.

The men tended to the work. Well, Wade did. Frankie managed and I theorized. My contributions to most projects tend to the theoretical rather than the practical. Not to say I am lazy exactly but then, not to say I am not either. Wade did not necessarily appreciate all of my theories.

Troubleshooting the radio required we trace the full connection path from radio to antenna and then from radio to counterpoise. The job included removing panels, cushions, floor plates and resulted in a huge pile of stuff in the middle of the formerly spotless control room (notice that I do not suggest Frankie had a pilot house, on his boat it was a control room). Wade checked continuity, removed corrosion and he and I theorized at length. Wisely I limited my contribution to theorizing.

At one point in the sorting out of the HF radio the three of us: Frankie Five Fingers, Wanker Wade and Capt. Curmudgeon decided we needed to inspect the antenna installation on a neighbouring boat. You can tell from this how the troubleshooting was progressing. (Apparently I am not the only guy whose best ideas come not from inspiration but from other people. )

As we walked down the Boarding Ladder, (I am not kidding - a six tranche boarding ladder leads from dockside to the upper deck on Frankie's trawler) I had cause to turn and observe the scene. It hit me like the cold smack at the end of a long fist. I was looking at a perfectly staged movie scene: two vivacious women lounging on the aft deck, fruity drinks in hand, three guys working on a manly project in the upper control room. Frankie was so slick we could not even tell he was working.

As the sun started to lower Frankie terminated the work party by asking if we would like a beer. There is only one answer to such question, even if you don't want a beer. Personally I am not sure what it feels like to not want a beer but I hear there are some people out there...

Standing in Frankie's control room we were struck by two things: we were adrift in a sargasso sea of cushions, panels, wires and other materials of indeterminate description and the radio was not receiving anything from anybody.

All I can say is the Budget Committee and I had a great afternoon. Oh, yes, and none of it was my fault. Wade did all the work. I have a theory about what he should do next

Rock Sound to Warderick Wells - The Log

written in Georgetown, Exumas
March 15, 2010

Rock Sound Eleuthera to Warderick Wells, Exuma looked like a nice short hop. Following the second cold front to hit Rock Sound in three days the wind we knew well would shift from West to North West and pick up speed. The forecast, both NOAA and Chris Parker, confirmed this near universal progression.

Off we set at dawn, or close thereto, intent on making 45 nm with wind and waves at our back.

Certainly the exit from Rock Sound was a bit tricky. Shallows abound in and around the sound and passages are narrow. Unfortunately to escape the sound required a lengthy leg taking us directly into the wind and waves. On a calm day this should have lasted an hour. This day it took closer to 2.

Waves were 3 to 5 feet off our port bow. Forward progress was reduced to little better than 2 knots at times as Meredith shouldered hit after hit from the lumpy seas. Following a cold front the wind is, not surprisingly, cold.

Meredith carried us safely if not comfortably to the first waypoint and we turned away from the wind. The waves however seemed to track us. As we turned so did the swell. Not so much as did we but turn it did. When we finally cleared Point Eleuthera, an isolated bit of nothingness developed by the Amway family, and established Meredith on her course we had 3 to 5 foot waves off the Starboard beam. This was at 8 a.m.

By noon the "swell" was breaking and no longer 3 feet. Often 8 foot was a better adjective. We  shared other adjectives between us as Meredith would from time to time ship green water over the toerail.

But the sailing was exhilerating. Meredith flew under reduced sail. At one point, at the top of a wave, we recorded 9.6 knots!  On the ground of course.  Speed in the water remained at a little over 6.5.

By 4:30 p.m. we were approaching the cut at Warderick Wells. The cut would allow us to pass between islands and get ourselves off of the ocean and into the somewhat protected Exuma Sound. Exuma Sound is an extensive body of water dividing Andros Island on the west and the Exuma Chain of Islands on its east limit. Crossing any of the islands in the Exuma chain from one side to the other is a short walk, often you can see the Atlantic Ocean while standing on a beach on the Exuma Sound side of an island.

In the Exumas the cuts are narrow, deep and fast running.  Warderick was no different. Once again we recorded over 9.5 knots on the knotmeter.  Beta, our trusty diesel, was at half throttle. This was the slowest I was prepared to move to maintain steerage.

Through the cut in no time we then kept close attention to the charts as we kept Meredith in the middle of a charted route shown. on the Explorer Charts which would take us from Warderick Wells thence West some 7 miles then south 3 miles and then East 6 miles. This was the only way to get to the anchorage at Emerald Rock just off Warderick Wells.

In Exuma Sound mariners learn quickly to treat the sand bores with great respect. That or they will learn very slowly the same lesson. Down here sand bores are living things moving under their own power not steadily or inexorably in any particular direction but seemingly at random as their whim determines. Tides are limited through much of the area infested with these rodents of the sea and if you get hung up on a sand bore it can take a long long time to free yourself.

Visual Piloting Rules apply. Even with charted routes Meredith keeps one person on bow when transiting an area of sand bores. We travel these areas only in daylight and only when light is good. Cloudy days are not good days to see the bottom.

Our approach to Emerald Rock was uneventful and we approached the anchorage, which was now a mooring field, about 20 minutes before sundown. The loss of this anchorage to a mooring field was not welcomed aboard Meredith but, it being a fait accompli, there was nothing for it but to enter the field and take up a ball. We were too tired and sore and bruised to care.

As it turned out there was something else for it. Ten minutes from the mooring field the diesel stopped with a jerk. It restarted easily enough. Pushing the shift lever into reverse poor Beta jerked to a stall once again.

Trying it once again in forward produced only repetition of results.

The Budget Committee, already on the bow to pick up a mooring ball, instead readied the anchor. With Meredith at at dead stop she payed out rode and slowly the wind backed us onto the anchor. We backed the main a bit to get as much velocity out of the wind as we could.

The anchor grabbed, we went below and found some sleep.

Next morning I dove on the propeller, hoping to find a line wrapped around the prop shaft. Thank goodness this was the problem. Getting out the very sharp and oh so useful Witchard rigging knife I dove repeatedly on the fouled prop shaft until all of the 1/2 inch nylon line wrapped around it was cut off and put placed on deck for disposal.

Roundly did I criticise the lack of seamanship that would allow some errant fool to not only lose such a length of line overboard but to compound such incompetence with the lack of regard for others required to have him leave such line in the ocean, to be found by me.

The Beta started readily once again and this time, when the transmission was engaged, the prop turned smoothly and Meredith started ahead to help the Budget Committee take up the anchor rode.

While the Budget Committee tended to her duties on the bow I busied myself ensuring that the dinghy, which was towed by a bridle on two 1/2 inch lines was set properly for the day's journey.

Then it dawned on me. Not only had inconsiderate slob left a significant length of 1/2 inch nylon line floating loose in travelled waters. No not only that. Some other deceitful slug had stolen about 50 feet of nylon rode from my very poop deck. One towing line was nowhere to be found.

If I ever find the guy who stole my line, let me tell you....

Weather Service in the Far Dockominiums

The alarm intruded on my peaceful half sleep injecting its tinny but insistent rudeness into a very pleasant not quite daydream. 0615 and someone had to tune the SSB into the Caribbean Weather Centre. We live by the weather on Meredith as does every other sailing couple.

Chris Parker operates a semiformal weather briefing service, broadcasting weather reports and vessel specific weather briefings six days a week on a series of SSB frequencies. For the Bahamas and Caribbean we tune to his 0630 broadcast on 4045 mhz.

Usually Chris comes on air about 0645. Following his synopsis of the weather we tune in the Universal Navtex frequency of 518 khz andn grab the NOAA Navtex broadcast out of Miami at 0700.

Just as soon as we have grabbed the Navtex we get back on 4045. The fun on the Caribbean Weather Centre starts when Chris finishes his synopsis.

Chris makes his living, or at least part of it, by providing specific weather briefings for various sailboats making their way around the Caribbean. For the very reasonable fee of $200 per season Chris will give your vessel a series of briefings in which he predicts wind and sea state, recommends good days for embarking and attempts gently to dissuade the overly optimistic or downright stupid from setting off when it is ill advised.

Having sailed the Caribbean extensively and the Bahamas intensively Chris knows all of the place names, geo specific quirks of weather and ocean current. A very knowledgeable and helpful guy. Everyone catches his broadcast.

But not just for the weather.

Having paid their $200 most boaters never call Chris for a briefing. They listen carefully to the synopsis, look at their charts and plan their passage. However. There are the Others. I will let Vic the Newf describe one of the classic situations:

Caller 1: "Good morning Chris. We are on Dumbass 1. I want to move from North Bimini to South Bimini this afternoon. Can you give me the winds and sea state for the passage?". [now it measures about 10 nm between these two spots. What can the skipper of this vessel possibly need to know that cannot be observed from the cockpit? Why the hell does he need a weather briefing?]

Caller 2 (following immediately after): "Good morning Chris. This is Dumbass 2. We want to take our boat from South Bimini to North Bimini sometime about 2 p.m. What kind of wind can we expect?"

Caller 8 ( this guy overslept and missed not only the synopsis but also the answers to Dumbass 1 and 2 which were broadcast 5 minutes earlier):"Chris. This is the Big Dumbass. We have guests flying into Bimini this afternoon and wanted to take them on a pleasure cruise when they arrive. What can we expect by way of weather?"

At this point I am throwing pens at the bulkheads in pent up frustration. I want to hit some of these clueless twits just to release the pent up tensions. Over on Joana, Princess Diane turns her SSB off. She gets so angry she sometimes refuses to listen to the weather and makes husband Wanker Wade listen on headphones.

Marilyn the Right, who is married to Vic the Newf and resembles no person you have known better than Marg Delahantey on This Hour Has Twenty Minutes fumes and hisses while Vic mutters away at the "idjots of the airwaves".

The Budget Committee loves it. To her this is Divine Comedy. She tells me it is like the old days when people would crowd around the radio listening to the Happy Gang on CBC or Jack Benny in the USA.

However it does have serious overtones. Here what we actually heard about 2 weeks ago while enroute to Royal Island:

The synopsis from Chris: "a strong cold front will move across the Bahama Banks late this afternoon. Winds will be 25 to 30 knots with gusts to 40 and maybe higher.. The front is expected to move east onto the banks just after dark and will be very strong. Conditions will be rough."

The Call: "Good Morning Chris. This is Deathwish IV. We are leaving Bimini late this morning and want to anchor on the Banks this evening. We will carry on to Nassau tomorrow. What can we expect with respect to wind and seastate tomorrow morning."

Now most of you will know the Little Bahama Banks is an enormous stone bank which carries depths from 5 to 15 feet. On the Banks you appear to be in mid ocean - no land in sight - just thousands of hectares of salt water. But the banks are shallow.

So - no protection from wind or wave. Solid rock bottom. Shallow. Huge fetch so the wind will generate enormous waves in no time at all.

This halfwit intends to anchor on the banks.

We know a boat that did this in these conditions. With is his wife and two subteen daughters. About 3 a.m. the anchor windlass was torn from his deck in furious waves. It left a big hole in the foredeck and the boat barely made it to Nassau in one piece.

The skipper of Deathwish IV is too stupid to sail. Someone needs to stop him. Fast. Of course in doing this the dumbass will survive to pollute the gene pool. The job falls to Chris Parker.

Chris Parker is always calm and polite. The fifth request for the same routing information is met with the same calm, polite informative response. But he has a tell. When Chris Parker is really fed up he begins his radio reply with "Sure......".

When Chris Parker is driven to use the word "sure" I am vindicated. Like Catholic expiation of sin Chris Parker has taken from me the accumulated frustration of aural stupidity. He bears it himself and in the process has released a knot of tension from my psyche.

I know Dumbass IV has really gone too far. Chris not only uses the word "sure" he stumbles in the delivery of his advice.

Even the politest man in the universe has had enough.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Wall Street Skipper

March 8, 2010
Elizabeth Harbour, Georgetown, Exumas

The voice on the radio, as clear as it was, had an edge to it.  We knew that voice.

"Yeah, Ken" it transmitted "I have an item for the net but I don't where it fits".  Ken, who moderates the morning radio network in Georgetown, quickly assigned the voice a spot on the Boaters General segment of the morning net cast and carried on to other calls.  Obviously Ken was unaffected by the call.  Just another boater looking to buy or sell.

On Meredith recognition of the voice had an immediate and unusual effect.  Bob and Alice were in Georgetown.  How in the name of whatever deity whose name you invoke in those dark moments did these two get here?

Memory of our first meeting with the catamaran captained by Bob and Alice was still fresh, like a wound. 

Meredith had just extricated herself from the mud after spending a night in the mud at the Deep Creek Lock, Dismal Swamp.  Most of the night we were heeled over at 15 to 20 degree, our full length keel deeply embedded in Virginia mud.  Overnight our poor boat had drifted into some shallows and when the tide went out found herself in inadequate depth.   We had missed the first opening of the lock waiting for more flood tide to finish floating our vessel.  Mood on board was brittle and at times darker than the mud in which we had found ourselves.

The process had however left us first in line for the second opening of the Deep Creek Lock, gateway to the Dismal Swamp which would carry us from Norfolk VA to the Pasquotank River and on to Elizabeth City.

By lock opening a good number of vessels, about 12, found themselves lined up to get a spot in the lock.  It was looking like there might not be enough room in the lock to accommodate all the waiting boats.  Someone, it seemed, was going to have to wait 4 hours for the 3rd locking.  The boats waiting found themselves dancing in strong winds blowing against a combination of tide and river current.  Some boats were having difficulty holding themselves in place waiting for the lock to open.  Tension settled on our little fleet.

It was active duty keeping Meredith pointed forward against cross wind and backed off the lock gates, big ugly steel doors, against the tide pushing us into them.  Our concentration was suddenly broken with the discordant  blat of an air horn followed in short order with some equally discordant yelling.  One almost made out curse words.

Behind us, two vessels back, a large power vessel could be seen turned sideways in the narrow creek.  The skipper had lost the edge of the wind and his bow was being blown the wrong way.  Quick appraisal confirmed the noise was emanating from the control deck of the sidewise trawler.  Normally the skipper would only have to apply some forward power and regain control of his vessel.  It a few short feet he could turn his boat back towards the lock gates.

The trawler captain had obviously tried to do exactly this when his path was filled with the hull of another boat.  The poor trawler guy had no room to manoeuver.  He could not apply forward power without hitting the boat that had intruded into his path.  That second boat, a catamaran, was only 3 or 4 feet from the bow of the trawler. 

The trawler found itself being turned in the wind and roaring towards the boat behind him.    The skipper of the trawler was extremely irritated and maybe a little tense but, on Meredith, we .agreed with both emotions and the tenor of the diatribe issuing from the trawler.

"Sorry" yelled a voice from the catamaran "I am just trying to join up with the next boat.  We are travelling together."

The next boat, being the boat immediately behind us, answered this claim almost instantly.  "The hell you are" was the crisp assertion from the wheel of the boat behind us.  Admittedly, even if the catamaran had been travelling with us and was crewed by our best friends, at that point we might have denied all knowledge of their existence.  However it was clear that there was no affiliation between the two boats. 

Sadly, the catamaran captain was just breaking into line to make sure his boat would get through on the 2nd locking. 
Between ourselves we decried this latest demonstration of what the Americans call "entrepreneurial spirit".  It is much admired here in the 48 states.  Canadians call it unbridled greed and self interest.  We dubbed the captain the "Wall Street Skipper" in keeping with his typically American "I got mine, screw you" mentality.

Once in the lock we gave close scrutiny to the cat.  It was a short cat, obvously old.  Its gelcoat was faded, actually, not only faded but filthy.  Its canvas was gray with age and accumulated filth and runnels of black goo ran down  the sides of the coachhouse and topsides from myriad sources.  The engine on this beast was an old Honda outboard.  It was the loudest outboard I had heard in a long long time.  It sounded out of tune; it ran rough; it had the tenor of a coffee grinder working on old beans.  The control lines for the outboard were frayed and dirty.

When Meredith was three quarters of the way along the Dismal Swamp we decided to tie up at the Visitor Centre.  High winds and unpleasant conditions for anchoring were forecast.  Arriving at the docks at the Centre we neatly docked into the last spot available on the dock and prepared to be rafted to by the boats coming in the line behind.

The Budget Committee set fenders out along our outboard side while I doubled up our spring lines ashore and set spring lines on the outboard cleats.  If a boat was going to raft up to Meredith I would control the positioning and tehe tieing up. 

As the boats came upon the Visitor Centre they made a beeline for the vessels already tied.  One at a time they moved into place and were secured.  As the last boat at the dock ours was the last boat rafted to.  What boat was in line for our rafting.  What else.  The filthy catamaran with the Wall Street Skipper.

Once alongside the skipper tried to tie up using his lines - 1/4 inch nylon laid line.  He was much disconcerted when we refused his lines and forced him to use our 5/8 nylon lines.  His disconcertation grew as we snugged the boats up tight with springs lines as well as bow and stern lines to prevent his hull from moving back and forward against that of Meredith.  The Wall Street Skipper was a shortish middle aged man, semi balding with a sharp beakish nose.  His clothes matched his vessel.  Wall Street was everything we imagined.

We introduced ourselves.  "Hi" said Wall Street, "I'm Bob".  With that Bob hopped over the lifelines carrying his dog and got the little beast to shore so it could take care of business.

"And I'm Alice" came a voice from the salon of the cat.  Following the voice came a dishevelled woman wearing a tee shirt two sized too large.  It was gray with age and inadequate laundering and was covered in stains.  It looked pretty much like my favourite boat shirt.  "I have to get off this boat right NOW" continued this woman.

Alice was a large woman but not apparently very strong.  Her skeleton wore its meat loosely; the flesh more hung on its frame that part of the whole.

"Can you help me?"  asked Alice.  "I have a little trouble with placing my feet".

Closer observation at this remark showed she was shaking, well more oscillating in place than shaking really.  Meredith has some experience with Parkinson's Disease and we suspected this as a cause.

Moving to help the woman Bob yells from shore "Be careful she's blind". 

Getting Alice to shore was a treat.  She talked easily about herself and carried a conversation with ease.  To move her we had to take down our lifelines and then physically lift each foot and place it in a secure landing.  Alice would then move herself with the Budget Committee and I hovering about her to catch if something slipped.  Our concern was excessive.  Alice explained that she was not blind, not very blind anyway. She eschewed help moving across our deck and onto shore except for foot placement.

"I like to do for myself whenever I can" said Alice at one point.  "It slows down the deterioration".  "Well that's what I think anyway, so I do it.  Besides, who wants to be a cripple."

As she came up on shore she thanked us and informed us firmly that she knew the way back and would do just fine on her own.  Bob took her arm and escorted her to the Visitors' Centre so she could take care of the necessary.

Once she was deposited there Bob returned to the boats we had a chance to talk.  He was taking his wife to Florida he told us or maybe the islands.  She loves being on the boat Bob told us about Alice and we have done this trip together in better times.  He loved sailing and so did Alice.  This was their first time motoring down the ICW.  Sailing had become too draining.

As sailors do we got to talking about hazards and good places to anchor and such.  We told them about Factory Creek in Beaufort and about our favourite anchorage in Charleston.  Bob and Alice told us about their island haunts.  We shared a comfortable evening.

Other than that Bob and Alice were private people and kept to themselves.  They did not like to impose on others and did not seek assistance or  comfort from anyone else.  They made their own way. 

We saw them twice more on the Eastern seaboard.  Walking down the street in Beaufort SC with a load of groceries we came on Bob and Alice walking the other way to the laundromat.  They loved Beaufort and Factory Creek. Each day of the 10 days we were in Beaufort we managed to meet this interesting pair on the streets of Beaufort.

Anchored at Charleston who came into the anchorage behind us but Bob and Alice.  It was bad weather when they came in and we waited to visit with them until next morning.  We waited too long. They were up at dawn and gone before we hit the deck.

That was the last we saw of that dirty little catamaran with its noisy little outboard. 

Until Georgetown, Bahamas. 

And we thought we had had a tough time getting here. 

Oh, Bob called the Georgetown radio net to see if anyone had any spare diving weights or even a weight belt. 

He and Alice thought they would like to try diving.

That was yesterday, Sunday.  Today we listened as Bob and Alice announced their departure from Georgetown to tnet at alarge.  We watched them leave regretting we had not had an opportunity to dinghy over for a gam.

Snubbed in Rock Sound

March 8, 2010
Georgetown Exumas

A week ago Meredith hauled its tired abused hull and battered crew out of Rock Sound, Eleuthera.  We had run into Rock Sound from Governor's Harbour seeking refuge from a forecast succession of two forecast cold fronts thought to be spaced roughly two days apart.  It had been interesting.

Rock Sound offered near all round protection from waves.  Like most of the Bahamas the island of Eleuthera lacks sufficient elevation to offer protection of any significance from wind.  Usually this is not an issue.  When anchoring you need protection from the waves and tidal current.  Wind may knock you about a bit and rock you to sleep but at the velocities we face, ie 20 to 30 knots, the wind is not a hazard.

If anyone is interested it is our observation on Meredith that 1 knot of current is the equal of 30 knots of wind, ie. if you have wind of 25 knots pushing from one direction and 1 knot of current from the other our boat will follow the current.  Having been in exactly this situation I can assure you that taking 25 knots of wind right in the cockpit is not as much fun as it might sound.

Unfortunately  wind drives waves.

Great care was demonstrated as we set our hook.  We attached our nylon snubber, which we keep on the foredeck with a handy stainless hook designed to be quickly attached to the chain.  The purpose of the snubber is to act as a shock absorber.  Being stretchy it absorbs the impact of waves and wind and saves the deck fittings from being subjected to repeated sharp tugs of several thousand pounds each.

Boat secure we dropped the outboard and went exploring.  Rock Sound is one of the finest communities in the Bahamas.  It is equalled only by the settlement of Black Point for friendliness and charm.  This was our first opportunity to set up our cell phone and to share internet. We had a ball.  Generally this is our opinion of the whole of Eleuthera Island.  It is a real gem for cruisers, the more so as it tends to be ignored by most of the sailing public.

A few hours after our return the wind began to pick up and rain started.  The cold front was knocking on our door..  No big deal.  We rocked a bit at anchor.

The cold front passed without incident in the early evening.  We had been invited for drinks on Dream Odyssey where the captain was celebrating his 60th birthday.  By 8 p.m. the rain was still driving hard down and we radioed our apologies.

For those not familiar with the process the cold front, full of short duration fury with high winds of uncertain direction and often with thunderstorms, is not usually much of a threat.  What concerns sailors is the sustained high winds that follow the passage of a cold front.  Up north in the Great Lakes the winds may be a day or two behind the front.  Not in the islands.  Usually only hours and sometimes only minutes separate storm from wind.

A half hour cold front introduces 24 or 48 hours of serious wind out of the West/North West and then North as the associated low pressure, located somewhere in North Carolina or Illinois, moves slowly on its eastward path.

This particular night as expected the wind rocked us, gently for the most part, to sleep.

Sailors are all just students in the perpetual school of seamanship.  Our knowledge is imperfect and sometimes we fail the test.  We are foreced to admit that we misjudged the fetch over which the wind was blowing.  By 3 a.m. we had wind at 35 knots without surcease and short choppy 3 to 4 foot waves on the bow.

Meredith was getting hammered.

Need I add what was happening to the cargo?

What do you do when the butter is being churned on your deck in a near gale in the total dark in an unknown  anchorage with charted depths of 5 feet or less?  Ride it out, that's what you do.  There are no options that do not increase your risk of damage or loss.  You ride it out and check the snubber line early and check it often for chafe.

Unusually the Budget Committee even found sleep, a rare event in these conditions.  She did express concern on a couple of occasions for the snubber line and the forces it was being asked to bear.  I assured her both that the snubber had a breaking strength of several thousand pounds and that if the snubber broke she would know instantly.  We would be lucky in such an event, I pointed out, not to have the anchor windlass torn from the deck.

We travelled with a boat in 2004 that suffered exactly this fate.

About 10 a.m.. our snubber line parted.  As I had assured her the Budget Committee knew instantly when it happened.

We were needed on the foredeck and we rose to the call.

The Budget Committee pulled out two new lines and I quickly affixed each to the anchor rode with a running hitch.  We payed out more chain and took up the slack, balancing the tension on the two new snubbers as best we could.

Examining the old snubber line for evidence of what went wrong we discovered that the line had not chafed through, as we expected.  It had separated near the point where it affixed to the hook.  There was enough force on the boat from the wind and the waves it generated to pull apart a 5/8 inch nylon line.

The line, when it snapped, flew back towards the boat.  It lay, the entire 19 feet of what was left of it on the deck.  Like an elastic band when the line was pulled to the breaking point it had released all of the energy it had stored up in being stretched by that final fatal wave.  It spent that stored energy in a final desperate slingshot back onto the deck.  Luckily neither of us was on the bow when the line gave.  That kind of force on a line can break bones.

That night the wind abated and we again emerged into the broader world.  We again lowered the outboard, having put it up before the cold front to prevent it damaging Meredith, and set off to check in with our neighbours.

The birthday boat, whose cocktail party we declined at the last minute, on hearing our our experience showed us their foredeck.  The cleat to which their snubber line had been connected was torn from the boat.  Cleat and s'ronubber flew God only knows where.  Only broken fiberglass and holes in the deck were left.

Guess we were lucky.

Friday, March 5, 2010

El Ninio and Fun are Not Compatible

March 5, 2010
Black Point, Bahamas

Meredith made 10 nm today moving out of our hidey hole after the last 4 day cold front assaulted the boating public in the Bahamas.

Meredith had a good time of it.  Unable to contract a mooring ball at Warderick Wells, except one totally open to forecast 35 knot winds and 8 foot seas we hightailed it to Pipe Creek, a salt water meander amongst dozens of tiny little Cays and sand flats.  It promised wonderful protection.  It delivered.

Entering the anchorage was interesting - you throw out the GPS for this and just watch the water and the depth meter.  Or you run aground.  The channel is a meandering path through live sand bores,  pulsing living bodies of sand that never sti still.  You use a bow watch and you pray a lot.

We needed protection from waves from the west and north.  Meredith can ride out any wind, waves give us the concern.  We found a marvellous protected area never before entered by us.  It took us an hour and a half to make 1 nus m.

As we set the anchor a lively (we later discovered) French lady kayaked out to us and began in interrogation.  On determining we were Canadian and NOT Christian missionaries she presented us with a grocery bag of lettuce just picked from her garden and mixed with fresh Basil, mint and Thyme.  She then offered us a mooring ball in front of her Cay.

We accepted as fast as decorum restrained our self interest.  It was a godsend.  A 3,000# concrete lump set in the sand on a 1 1/2 inch hauser.

There we sat out a 4 day storm in which, for 36 hours the wind never went below 30 knots and often exceeded same.  Bujt there were no waves.  We usually bore the wind off our beam as the 3 knot East West current through the Creek carried more authority than the 30 knot winds.  (We figure 1 knot of current equals about 30 knots of wind).

For 4 days we sat comfortably and at perfect ease.

Now, what about El Ninio?  Well the staccato delivery of cold fronts is widely hlamed on this weather aberration.  Other years boaters blame La Ninia.  Does not matter does it.

We had a 36 hour window from Ft. Lauderdale to Royal Island where we sat out a 2 day storm.  Then we ran to Rock Sound Eleuthera in 1 1/2 days to wait out the next storm which was followed, before the waves settled, by the next cold front.  We then ran to Warderick Wells and, unable to get a mooring ball that was anything but wide open to the last storm we ended up in Pipe Creek for a 4 day storm.

Luckily it is warm here.  We are safe and happy.  And not alone.

No schedule remains unchanged in the Bahamas this year.  No one is complaining.  Except as an icebreaker.

Meredith is happy.

Position Report from Meredith March 5, 2010

March 5, 2010
Black Point, Bahamas

That is it.