Monday, February 28, 2011

On the Wind to Karakorum. Or Not.

February 28, 2011
Clarencetown, Long Island, Bahamas

Today we sit aboard Meredith pinned down at Clarencetown.  Wind blows 145 degrees at 15 to 20 knots.  We have had two squalls in the past hour with wind significantly higher.  The sky is full of rising cumulous cloud and the Short Wave Radio is full of static of the sort generated by distant lightning strikes.  It is 10:00 am and neither of us has moved save form making coffee and putting on the sail cover we were too exhausted to install last evening.  It would be nice if the lightning remains suitably distant.

Wind has  been blowing from this unfortunate direction for 4 days now.  Twenty knots out out of 140 degrees give or take.  Waves are from roughly the same direction and have been in the six to eight foot range on a short frequency, under six seconds.  Our target destinations have courses of 90 degrees for Samana or 180 degrees for Crooked and Aklins Islands. 

Our boat really hates to sail within 45 degrees of the wind and even if it was handy to windward the incessant six to eight foot waves would set her back a step and a half for every step forward.  And of course a wind that is 140 degrees when you are standing still has a different angle when you are under sail and moving.  As boat speed increases the apparent wind angle moves forward.  If we set off on a course of 95 degrees with the wind out of 140 degrees we would quickly find ourselves with the wind, not 45 degrees off the nose of our boat but maybe 40 or even 35 degrees.

Needless to say it has been rough.  The Budget Committee and I are sore from three days of fighting, inappropriately I might add,  to move our boat south and east.  Leaving Emerald Bay we sought to reach our way to Conception Island, a protected nature area.  Instead we fought a close reach to New Bight on Cat Island. 

Waking at Cat Island we knew further progress would only be gained at great cost.  Our course to Conception was 134 degrees magnetic, wind was 140 degrees at 15 to 20 knots. 

We set off smartly from the protected anchorage in New Bight, sailing off our anchor and working our way east and then south.  Rounding Hawk's Nest point we ran smack into the fresh South East breeze and then it was game on. 

Meredith is not a good tacker and we, her crew, do little to enhance her already troubled performance in that area.  That day however was different.  Fit for the America's Cup.  We tacked and tacked and tacked only missing one tack on the whole day - and that of course with disastrous consequences for both course and velocity made good.  Back and forth across the wind and increasingly significant waves we pounded our way to Conception Island, only 22 miles off.  Having departed New Bight at 6:30 am we limped into Conception and dropped the hook just as sun set (6:00 pm).  This anchoring at the outbreak of dusk is getting to be all too common aboard our vessel and we need to pay closer attention to our timing.  That day however it was all we could do to make good twenty one nautical miles in near twelve hours under sail.

Maybe we were just tired and worn from the voyage from Cat to Conception but the next day was worse.  We might have stayed at Conception to await better conditions however our fellow anchoring vessels were all of the "happy happy joy joy" set.  The radio was abuzz all evening with beach parties and bonfires and plans for tomorrow's group lobstering foray - all this in a protected, "pack it in, pack it out" venue.  One night amidst the suburbanites was one night more than enough.

Trying to sail off our anchor we found ourselves stymied for a bit.  The anchor would not lift its rode which turned out to be wrapped under a large rock.  One nice thing about the water here is that you can see everything, even thirty feet down, with crystal clarity.  A quarter hour was spent maneouevering under power to unwrap the chain before we could bend on sail and make for Clarencetown.

Wind continued at 140 degrees and 15 to 20 knots.  Our course, straightline would have  been 178 degrees, right at the edge of the travelable sector for Meredith.  In a perfect world.  In a world where the six and eight foot waves didn't change our angle on the wind with six second predictability and push us backwards with a firm parental grip.

We were forced into sailing about 210 degrees to make any way against the seas.  This carried us, slowly, to the coast of Long Island where we were forced to tack after about five hours of progress.  The tack failed.  Utterly.  We did not have sufficient way on to press the bow of poor Meredith through the waves and across the wind.  Sheepishly, although alone and with no witnesses, we gybed.  At that the waves rejoined their assault on our poor hull and the hope that we could sail a course of 90 degrees was shown to be the inept dreams of hopelessly inadequate sailors.

The waves  kicked us back and around and back again.  With help from the diesel we were able to complete an extended leg eastward, with only a modest amount of north in it, and finally, two hours later, turn again south to Clarencetown.  This time we kept the diesel dieseling.  We gained propulsion from the diesel and propulsion and stability from the press of sail, attaining a steady speed of five and a half knots.  Our velocity made good was a myth while underway.  Our poor hull was changing direction in a continuous flowing process interrupted only by the jarring crash as every third or fourth wave, significantly larger than its brothers, ran headlong into Meredith.  Only when the trip was over and we could see how far we had come in the measured timespan could the speed made good be calculated.

Anchorage was gained at sundown, again far too close a margin of error for comfort. 

It seems to us that since we have been in Bahamas the wind has been out of the South East about 75 to 85% of the time.  Even the cold fronts are not producing shifts to the north at our current latitude. 

Just now, with another three days of SE wind in the forecast followed by two days of light and variable, Puerto Rico does  not seem attainable.  We will not beat our way there. 

Another time we will not spend time in Bahamas if making for ports south.  Just now the I65 route or Connie's Heat Seeking Missile Course seem superior to the Gentleman's Route.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Communication at Sea - A Men's Companion Reader

2011 02 24
Emerald Bay Marina just north of Georgetown

One of the critical functions aboard a blue water sailing boat is the maintaining of good communications.  A great deal of time and attention is devoted by skipper and crew to ensuring clear easily understood exchange of vital information.

Take our friends Gord and Lorrie on Mystic for example.  Anchored behind the Statue of Liberty this fall in unpleasant conditions their Hunter 42 faced an unpleasant forecast with increasing winds and rain and nasty stuff.  All was well or so thought the skipper.  Then the nasties started to move in.

"GORDON, MOMMA AIN'T HAPPY" was all that was required for Gord, a careful man with a buck (as are we all), to understand exactly where he stood.  For the next two days Gord and Lorrie enjoyed the marina at Liberty Landing for a mere $4 a foot.  "Best birthday present I ever bought her" says Gord. 

Hearing this story from Gord brought to mind our own dilemma aboard Meredith as were surfing down waves enroute from Little Harbour to Royal Island.  As I have said it was a stellar sail.  Everything was shiny. 

The BC had only to murmur "BENNER, YOU TOLD ME YOU WOULD KEEP THE HEEL TO 15 DEGREES.  IT HAS BEEN OVER 20 FOR THE PAST TWO HOURS AND NOW IT'S 30".  Being a sensitive sort of guy I immediately realized something needed to be done and that I should probably refrain from asking the BC for suggestions.  It appeared she was ready of her own volition to make some. 

Another couple with whom we are friends have a different but equally effective system.  Explained by the husband it works like this "I always know when I need to put in a reef.  My wife calmly leans over the side of the boat and retches".  This is a great example of the kind of rapport that exists between couples on a boat.  The parties are of a single mind.  Nothing need be said.

The final example comes from Okemah Rose who are completing their first cruise to the Bahamas just now.  As Joe explains it "It is really easy.  She just says 'Joe, you have to sleep sometime'.  Somehow from the glint in her eye I know she is not concerned with my getting more rest".

Clear communication.  A useful device in the orderly operation of a sailboat.

A Lesson in the Economics of Sailing

2011 02 24
Emerald Bay Marina, Emerald Bay, Grand Bahamas

 The Poolside Bar & Grill attached to Emerald Bay Marina

This is day two for Meredith at Emerald Bay Marina.  This is one day longer than planned but the decision to stay is a perfectly rational economic one.  It has nothing to do with the air conditioning, large screen satellite TV, free laundry, endless showers or fast internet.  Here is how the logic plays out:

The Decision to Come

This was easy.  The only fuel available in Georgetown is of very poor quality and must be lugged from pump to boat in jerry cans.  Fuel at Emerald Bay is available at the dock. It is clean sweet good diesel.  

Laundry is free at Emerald Bay.  The typical day at the laundromat in the Bahamas runs the Budget Committee a good $25.

Internet is sold for $2 for 80 minutes or usually $10 a day but the connections are not terribly reliable.

Emerald Bay costs $40 for a night.  Deduct the $25 for laundry and $10 for internet that we would have paid in Georgetown and our total cost is $5 for the marina.  The showers, washrooms, restauarant, airconditioning and TV are free.

It also turns out that the grocery at Emerald Bay is better stocked at lower prices than Exuma Market in Georgetown and the liquor store here is a good 20 to 30 % lower priced.  Bacardi "8" here is $20 for a litre.

How Can You Justify A Second Day?

Today the wind is out of the east.  Naturally this is our desired course.  We want to hop to Long Island or Conception today.  Tomorrow winds shift to the south.

If we leave today we will be motoring for 6 to 8 hours.  At a gallon per hour this will cost us $30 to $40.  

A second night of endless showers, airconditioning and good chairs in which to read will cost the usual $40 here at Emerald Bay.

We leave tomorrow and we can sail.  So really the second day is free.

Now, about day three.....

No Place for Old Men

2011 02 23
Emerald Bay Marina, Great Exuma Island

Night before last  we dropped anchor off monument beach in Chicken Harbour,  the not entirely approving nickname of Georgetown, terminus of the sailing aspirations of most of the North American - Caribbean sailing crew.  

Only a small percentage of the boats in Bahamas ever get beyond what they perceive to be the "end of the earth".  Georgetown is safe, comfortable and full of boats.  (Three hundred and sixty five boats on the day we arrived.  We know this because some idiot dinghies around the anchorage every day and counts the boats.   This gives you some measure of the place in more ways than one.)

In Georgetown there is a tolerable grocery, a laundromat, free water and total control of your social life.  It is amazing how many people seem to want the latter. 

Each year the cruisers here stage a "Regadda". It takes place next week.  Tension is building amongst the group of sailors who organize its events.  Frequent emergency meetings are being called on the VHF net.  

This is gripping stuff.  I mean, if an event fails it could signify the end of someone's years long climb up the local social ladder. Stakes are high.  The "suburbanites on boats" circle one another seeking advantage in the evidently Darwinian battle for social dominance. 

Chickentown is also a good place to meet old friends.  Most cruisers who are proceeding beyond the ends of the earth make it to Georgetown to await favourable winds to make further southing.  Until we found Emerald Bay this was our intent in coming here.  At $1 a foot, free laundry, good internet  and floating docks we are hooked here.  

It will be a couple of days before winds turn in our favour which means we will be leaving the area just as regadda begins.  Oh dear.  That means we will miss the regadda. 

We have hooked up with Suncast, Sea Sharp, Star of the Sea and Oz for a good deal of healthful healing talk.  New and hopefully recurrent friends include the crews aboard Endorphins and Sheet Music.

However this is supposed to be about the trip to Chickentown.

After a delightful dinner and evening with Gord and Lorrie on Mystic anchored just off Big Majors Cay outside of Staniel we were up and off at the crack of dawn.  By 6:30 am winds were substantial and just far enough off the bow to grant us a day of heady sailing.  We flew to Gtown and made the 60 mile trip by sundown, dropping our anchor off the monument just as the upper limb of the sun dropped below the horizon.

Enroute we were entertained by the antics surrounding the rescue of At Ease, a Bahamian fising boat, 28 feet in length bearing five men.  Its diesel had quit the night before and they had been drifting for hours.  By noon they were calling their distress on channel 16. 

It is a good lesson to learn vicariously but in Bahamas there is no one listening.  No Bahamian anyway whether official or individual will respond to any call for assistance or at least they did not do so that day.

When the first call came in we were about 28 miles away from the stricken boat.  For us to rendezvous with the rub a dub dubs meant a long unpleasant beat into lively wind and choppy seas.  We turned none the less but our boat speed fell to under four knots and then only if we sailed well off the rhum line to their position.  It would mean an 8 hour ordeal and if we got to them we could offer no tow.  Conditions were not threatening and it did not seem necessary to provide an escort.

We reported our aborted attempt to the Bahamians aboard At Ease and turned back on course. 

By midafternoon the unending calls for help were having their effect.  Several cruisers took information from the vessel in need and everyone pledged immediate action in aid of the fisherguys.  Several cruisers.  Not a single Bahamian despite the fishing boat being physically no more than 8 miles from one prominent marina.

For our part we located a phone number for BASRA, the Bahamian Search and Rescue network, a volunteer organization providing assistance to boaters in need.  It being Sunday no one answered the BASRA phone.

In a stroke of brilliance we contacted the Bahamian Defence Force, which I think is their navy.  The phone was answered immediately by a professional voice.  Hearing the information the voice informed me that there was no BASRA office in the Exumas.  We pressed upon him the case for the drifting quintet, pointing out that five of his citizens were at risk.  The deep resonant voice promised to do something.   

Any motion on the part of the Defence Force leapt it must have been  Brownian in nature. 

Meanwhile Adrenaline 1, a monohull boat out of Quebec passing within a few miles of the five men in a tub did divert and offered assistance - water, food, escort.  Short of a tow, which Adenaline 1 was unable to provide there was nothing the Bahamians needed and in the end the Quebecois set course for their original destination. 

Several other boats made substantial efforts trying to raise someone at a marina local to the fishermen who could provide assistance.  It was amazing.  Marinas that would be on the air one minute would be mysteriously unavailable as soon as Minis or the stricken vessel tried to raise them.

By day's end BASRA had found someone in the area to provide assistance. 

Or so we think.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Little Harbour to Royal Island to Nassau to Allen's Cay to Staniel to Chickentown

2011 02 23
Emerald Bay Marina, South Great Exuma Island
The Entrance to Royal Island Harbour and Refuge

The title says it all.  I had a nice GoogleEarth show of the trip but I cannot load it with the current internet service so nothing to be done.

Little Harbour to Royal Island was a stellar trip.  Winds 25 knots plus off the stern quarter, waves 8 foot.  Arrived at Egg Island and Little Egg Island just at sunset, ran the narrow pass and hightailed it for the "Eye of the Needle" entrance to Royal Island.  Ten minutes later and we would have been too late which meant anchoring outside.  Not fatal by any means.

To the left is the entrance to Royal Island.

Next morning I rose, put on the sail cover and went back to bed.  Too much fun the day before.  Joe and Gina on Okemah Rose, traveling with us through the Abacos felt the same way  and nobody moved until cockpit party time.

 After a full day of 25 knotters and 8 to 10 footers the prospect of sailing way the next day was just too much for Joe.  You can see him here just looking at the anchor - getting it up was just more than he could manage.
 However after a day of rest Okemah Rose was full of zip.  Here you see Joe giving handsignals to his precious travelling companion Gina.

You cannot see it very clearly in the picture below but Gina, at the wheel, is giving Joe some hand signals back.  What was that Gina? "You're number 1, TEN times.

 Leaving was easy, daylight, no wind, no waves.

 Then it was on to Nassau, pictured below.

 We found our favourite anchorage just off the Atlantis hotel.  Boring by now but safe.  A quick tip here - for a safe anchorage in Nassau harbour do not follow the other boats who are all trying to get as close to shore as possible.  Bad idea as the bottom there is just 8 inches of sand over hard table rock.

Stay outside in 25 feet of water, almost in the channel.  We have endured big storms here and never had  a moment's concern.

 Here is our anchorage off the starboard beam - pictured is the Green Parrot Grill.  They have a dinghy dock for cruisers, garbage and the best burgers for 100 miles.  Also they provide free internet so even if you don't want a burger buy something to pay for the service cheapskate.

At Allens we played with the iguanas,

The little black blobs on the beach in the photo left are iguanas.  Found only on Allens and very protected.  To the right is a closeup.

 walked the beaches and stone outcroppings,

 and hunted for conch.

The conch in my hand is still home.  He is a juvenile, easily told by the absence of a lip on the shell.  This guy was left quite happy as you can see on the right.

At Allens we said goodbye to Okemah Rose and Joe and Gina.  We do not do farewells and far prefer the usual cruisers' remedy to maudlin sappy goodbyes - one of you gets up first and leaves.  There are no difficult goodbye's and you are always glad to see the other guy.

We set sail for Little Farmer's Cay ready for a long day.  This did not pan out for as we approached Staniel Cay our very old and good friends Gord and Lorrie aboard Mystic called on the radio and asked us to dinner.  It was bizarre.  We had not seen this indefatigable pair since November.  Gord heard us on SSB in the morning and sussed out when we would be in his VHF range.  It was an easy divert for a wonderful night shared with good friends.

Next morning Meredith was off at the crack of dawn, out the cut at Staniel Cay and sailing full out for Georgetown which we entered late in the day  setting our anchor just at the moment of sunset.  We slept well. 

The trip was interesting but I will bore you with those details another time.

Emerald of the Exumas

2011 02 23
Emerald Bay Marina
Georgetown, Grand Exuma Island, Bahamas

The View from the Upper Level Bar
Emerald Bay Marina

This is written while we sit at the nicest marina Meredith and crew have EVER had the good fortune to attend.  Floating docks, free laundry, new facilities and friendly staff. 

My computer is set up in the   upper floor reading room shown on the left.  On the right is the lower level reading room.  Internet is fast by this country's standards (it is nice to find at least one country in the world where internet service is more expensive and slower than that of Canada) the rooms are all airconditioned and far too classy for this scribe.

All this for $1 per foot, 40 foot minimum.

What makes this so unbelievable is that the marina is in the Exuma chain of islands in Bahamas.  

Even the Laundry is fun to do.

Fuel is $4.80 a gallon which is the government set price and it is clean sweet No. 2 diesel unlike the only surviving fuel station in Georgetown.  There you must lug your diesel in jerry cans from town to dinghy to boat to deck.  Repeat as necessary.  In Gtown the word is out - they are selling a large quantity of water, slime, dirt  and sand along with their diesel.   No one is buying anymore. 

Water which is free in chickentown and must be paid for here at $0.40 per gallon.  However you use a hose to transport it to your boat whereas the free water requires 10 dinghy trips at 10 gallons per trip plus carrying, liftying and gas to move you.  Here the water is first class sweet RO water.  I'll pay the $40 a tank.

A grocery is in walking distance as is a liquor store and atm.

Friendly staff is something that is rarely found in this island nation yet abounds here.

Floating docks are found nowhere else in this desert of the Atlantic.  Simple tie up, no tide to allow for and worry about.

Located 10 miles north of Georgetown it should be a stop on everyone's itinerary both in and out.  We will not likely waste any more time in the tired and overcrowded anchorages of Chickentown.  A stop here enroute is all that is needed.

I am in heaven.  Time for a second shower.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Pete's Bar

2011 02 10
Anchored rockily in the Bight of Old Robinson, 
off Little Harbour, South tip of Great Abaco Island

Yesterday we escaped the Senior Citizen Interment Centre known officially as "Marsh Harbour".  Marsh Harbour is an assisted living centre for delusional sailors.  Here reside the "retireds", people who bring their boats here year after year, take the same slip beside the same other boats year after year.  And they never ever leave, other than to return home come summer or "sail" the 10 miles it is to Hopetown or Treasure Cay for a day at another marina or mooring ball. 

 One day in Marsh Harbour and we had been to the "Florida quality" grocery store and the "Florida quality" hardware store and the pretty "just like the tropics" bar and we had had our fill and then some.  We took off like Randle Patrick McMurphy running from  Nurse Ratched.

Looking for something unfound and unspoiled we found what we were looking for in Pete's Pub in Little Harbour.

I would not want to suggest that our escape went unnoticed, nothing escapes the all seeing eye of US Homeland Security and its thrice daily overflights of Bahamas airspace.

Of course Homeland Security is so cleverly disguised no one ever suspects it is them - I mean the only unmarked military transport flying overhead in continuous sequence gives nothing away.

Last time the "secret" photographers flew overhead the Budget Committee yelled "Ze Plane, Boss, Ze Plane" (it is understood that the BC was being artistic in her use of the term "Boss".)  Her cry was a beat to quarters.  

We both dropped everything and got on deck.  Then we undressed all the better to give the twisted priggish homeland security peeping toms something to look at.  Assholes.  We danced and waved and carried on something fierce.  When the plane passed we laughed like hyenas, dressed and returned to our duties.

As you can see from the chart excerpt travelling the Sea of Abaco is no dream.  By the time Meredith had sailed, in 20 knot winds gusting 28 I might add, from point 1 to point 4 on the chart we had been underway for near two hours.  Measured from the black circle which was our position at anchor we had made exactly one half nautical mile distance made good.

Having made good the first half mile we then had to backtrack so as not to run aground on this big bejeezeling sandbank.  The fun continued as we came upon the Tilloo bank:

Depths are in metres and even at half tide it was a challenge.  The pass from point 1 to 2 is little more than a keel width in width.  Going past the North Bar Channel is deep but similarly narrow and has the added fun of agitation from the Atlantic Ocean beating its way into the Sea of Abaco through the inlet.  There are no markers lighted or unlighted at the North Bar Channel or any other inlet to the Sea of Abaco.  Sailors don't need them.

The point to the whole exercise is to get to Little Harbour at the southern tip of Great Abaco Island.  We cannot actually enter the harbour - the harbour is too shallow even at high tide.  As you see here the depth at low water is 1.1 metres. 

So why would anyone bother.  Little Harbour certainly lives up to its name.  Tiny and inassessible.  What gives?

Pete's Bar is what.  Pete's Bar is comprised of the prow of an old ship, or two wooden benches placed in the sand to look like the prow of an old ship.  The floor is sand the way god made it.  For cover from the elements Pete erected some poles, wood, aluminum, steel, whatever was at hand, and hung some plastic tarp.  Sides are open.  

The ceiling, beneath the tarps, is covered by hundreds and hundreds of teeshirts, each signed by its owner and tacked, tied or taped in place.  No surface is uncovered and the result is a ceiling of fruit salad colours. 

From the prow of the ship, two counters about 12 feet each in length Pete's woman serves powerful drinks called "Blasters" and cooks great food. Pete's woman is jaded, her demeanour worn.  Meltschmerz.   Her face shows an interesting life lived. One imagines, sneaking a glance into the deep emotionless black of her eyes that there is little she has not seen. She returns the look with all the emotion of a piece of obsidian.  

Pete's woman does not display the trivial gaiety so common in the tourist joints.  As she cooks she smokes.  Continuously.  Never is her mouth without a faggot smoldering away.  She does not even remove it to talk.  Never is there any ash.  Never do you see the dear actually tap the ash from her nicotine crutch.  Chewing my unbelievably good cheeseburger I never once stopped to thing about that ash.  Well, maybe once.

Meeting Pete's woman was a moving experience, the woman herself a wonder. 

The cool thing about Pete's Bar is that we came upon it by accident.  After a day beating into brutal wind and attendant chop we very nearly did not drop the dinghy into the water and head to shore.  We were tired.

How lucky for us we found the energy to explore.  No one remembers the day when the ending is so fantastic.

Travelling in the Sea of Abaco is bizarre, as you can see from our course plan shown in blue on the chart above.  After two hours of sailing all we had accomplished was to move the boat one half mile from our original anchorage.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Keith the Thief and Helen the Felon

2011 02 08
Marsh Harbour, Abacos

This is a somewhat boring tale of our trip from West End Bahamas to Great Sail Cay.  Normally we would make West End about 8 a.m., clear customs and then head for the Barracuda Shoal.  The careful route is to make for Memory Rock a few miles north of West End and then turn East for a comfortable passage all the way to Great Sail.  For the brave there is a shortcut over the Barracuda Shoal, a narrow winding goatfish path: three nautical miles of shallow water that is easily traversed at high water.  Who can resist a shortcut.

Unfortunately we were delayed in West End when a fellow boat suffered starter problems.  The problems were resolved but the time it took to troubleshoot things lost us the tide.  In fact we approached the Shoal just after low water.  It was a crap shoot whether either of the two boats travelling north could pass.

No it was a fish shoot, fish in a barrel and we were the fish.  There was no depth at all.  Meredith was barely 100 metres into the channel  when we met the first obstacle, or rather our keel did.  Instantly we were aground and immobilized.  The depth sounder gave lie to the charted depths but as reassuring as this was we were still pinned.  

Slowly we fed in rudder maintaining no more than one quarter forward speed.  Slowly we turned, inch by inch, millimetre by millimetre.  Meredith's bow was the minute hand of a giant clock, our stern was the pivot.  Like the minute hand we rotated but we remained fixed at the pivot.  As we turned we eventually arrived at an hour on the clock which suggested we had a spare foot of water on the bow.  Our depth sounder is on the bow.  It is not unusual, but always frustrating, for the instruments to tell us we have lots of depth but to find ourselves butt down  in the mud or worse.

Seeing water at the bow we perceived an opportunity.  The Budget Committee took the wheel and I ran with all due haste to the bow, carrying with me as much mass as I could comfortably handle.  It is, as those who know me are aware, a not inconsiderable avoir dupois.  Once on the bow sprit I began to jump for and aft to get the boat rocking as much as was possible hoping to untether the stern from its perch. 

This proved a depressingly effective technique, testimony yet again of the need for someone aboard Meredith to reduce their calorie intake.  A few short hops and the Budget Committee had us moving ahead slow.  Turning about in the insanely narrow channel we kept clear of further impediments to our forward way as we crept, tail between our legs, back to deep water. 

Unfortunately Okemah Rose, a companion boat which was following close on our stern, carried a bit more keel than did we.  Rather a lot of time was consumed as they extricated themselves from the thousand points, not of light but of hard Bahamian Bank without incurring any damage to their keel.  We could hear Joe the skipper talking to himself "Handsomely now, handsomely" reminding himself that this was a case where gentle probing and persuasion would win the day.

A litigator from Missouri Joe was well acquainted with the careful repartee needed in cross examining an unknown witness, gently nibbling at the edge of the issue while to trying to assess the answer he could expect the all important big question.  Lawyers are loath to ask questions unless they are pretty darn sure they already know the answer.  Sussing out an unknown witness is remarkably similar to the skills needed in extricating yourself from the shallows.  Joe was well prepared.

Gina, Okemah Rose's counterpart to the Budget Committee, was right on the bow giving instructions to the helm attempting to guide the helmsman to safe water.  Alas there was none.  Extrication for Okemah Rose was purchased at the cost of a few heart stopping bumps as keel met hard bottom each strike a minute deducted from their life span.

This being their first sailing visit to Bahamas there was risk of their introduction to this sailing mecca being a bit of a downer.  Not possible with Gina on board.  There is no situation she does not endure with a refreshing sense of wonder and immense humour.

Although new to us we found their company enjoyable to a rare degree.

Once deep water was regained the two boats decided to take the long route to Great Sail Cay which would carry us North to Memory Rock and then eastward to Great Sale.  This added about 14 nautical miles and two and a half hours to our trip.  It was clear we were not going to make Great Sale Cay by end of day.

Approaching Memory Rock, from which we would find clear passage to Great Sail we also approached a largish blue hulled sailboat apparently motoring to the same point as we. 

As the vessel came into better resolution it also deflected its course away from us.  Actually it did far more than this as it entered what appeared to be a large swooping turn.  The turn developed into a full blown circle on whose circumference  the newfound vessel continued like a long distance runner with one foot nailed to the floor. 

You see some odd things on the water and we had distance to make good.  We proceeded on course and concentrated on our entry to the Bahamas Banks. 

"Sailing vessel approaching Memory Rock from the South, this is Excalibur" erupted from the radio.  The statement, simple enough on its face, was delivered with an unusual strength. 

"This is Meredith" we rejoined "Go up one".  As we were speaking on channel 16 this simple instruction set channel 17 as our frequency for discussion.  Among its other virtues channel 17 is a low power channel limiting the number of eavesdroppers to what is otherwise a very public discussion.  Dialing in 17 we were just in time to hear Excalibur's transmission.

"You may be wondering what we are doing" came the call. 

"No, not actually" was my reply.  Hoping for similar favour from others I make it a rule to disregard both abberant and abhorrent behaviour in others.  "Do you require assistance"" I continued honestly hoping not to be delayed further.

"I thought you might wonder what we were doing out here" retorted Excalibur.  His comment met with silence from Meredith so he finished "Our depth sounder will not reset.  We just came in off the ocean and we cannot get it to give us a reading".

Now this was a serious problem.  Entering the Bahamas Banks at Memory Rock a boat faces 60 miles or more of movement through water that often is no more than 8 feet in depth or less.  Without a depth sounder a boat out here will quickly find itself in shallow water and deep trouble.

Excalibur had approached Memory Rock from the Straits of Florida.  Depths in the Straits run to four and five thousand feet and then instantly shallow to thirty.  Sometimes a boat's equipment is overwhelmed: one moment it is getting no return from its sonar burst and then it is hit with an instant and strong response.  

It was recognized at once that there was an opportunity to give aid to the stricken vessel without our having to slow down.  Always alert to self interest we leapt.

"Excalibur, both Meredith and Okemah Rose are making for Great Sail Cay from Memory Rock.  We carry five foot three and six foot keels respectively.  We will be lined up like a parade of elephants and you are welcome to follow us".  You might as well be generous in these situations.  How exactly would I stop the skipper of Excalibur from following me even if that repugnant thought had occurred to me?  Contrary to the view of some of the skippers out here, aboard Meredith we understand that it is not our ocean.

At that moment Excalibur's depth sounder responded to the skipper's efforts to rescusitate it and they were away.

By sundown Meredith and Okemah Rose found themselves well off their destination.  Aboard Meredith we decided to pull off the marked route to Great Sail Cay and drop anchor on the Bahamas Banks.  Okemah Rose joined us.  Excalibur had exited an hour before.

Despite a very trying day aboard Okemah Rose, what with diesel issues and grounding issues and shallow water issues, Gina invited us to dinner aboard their boat.  Politely we declined recognizing that as tired as we felt it was nothing compared to the exhaustion that must reign aboard Okemah Rose.  Not that a little exhaustion would slow Gina down.  .

As dark ascended and enveloped our world we sat in the cockpit.  The breeze was warm, we were surrounded as far as we could see by water and blanketed in stars.  Our only connection to the firmament was found in our imaginations.  We were inspired.

Next day the three boats met at Great Sail Cay where all had anchored.  Invited to drinks aboard Excalibur we met the crew.  "Hi, I'm Keith the Thief" began our host by way of introduction.  "And this is my wife, Helen the Felon."  When the laughter subsided the skipper explained " We left without boat cards but we figured you might remember us this way"

Our three boats enjoyed four days of the most beautiful weather we have experienced in the Bahamas.  We sailed to Allans Pensicola and Green Turtle together sharing much food, drink and good times. 

Excalibur and Okemah Rose are two boats we will enjoy meeting up with if our paths cross again.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Failing the Electric Kool Aid Acid Test

2011 02 05
Green Turtle Cay, Abacos

Here is the current status of four boats, ours and three friends.

Meredith: The start battery will not start the diesel.  It has lots of juice but when called upon to deliver same to the starting motor it cannot.  We are starting on the house bank which is, at least, ironic.

Friend No. 1 (on my port side): As reported his Honda generator is reversing the polarity of charge creating a dangerous situation rendering the Honda unusable. 

Friend No. 2 (on my starboard side): His 90 amp internally regulated alternator is running hot.  It puts out a proper 14.4 volts but after 12 hours motoring he found his shore power  charger was delivering 150 amps to the seemingly starved batteries.  They should have been full.

Friend No. 3: With 900 amp hours of battery, 650 watts of solar panel and a wind generator this boat suffers a near catastrophic voltage drop each time the skipper applies a load to the DC circuit.  

All four of us have been working on these issues for weeks.  One of us is an electrical engineer.  

When you set off be prepared for failure.  

And if your electrical has to fail Bahamas is the place for it.  You can't fix anything but the beer is cold, the air is warm and the beaches deserted. 

The four of us are all doing something right.

Happy and Well Fed at the Green Turtle Club, White Sound, Green Turtle Cay

2011 02 05
Green Turtle Cay, Abacos

The first time we came through the Abacos we found ourselves "stuck" in the anchorage in White Sound in Green Turtle Cay for a couple of weeks.  Weather was foul and strong winds and poorly directed swell closed the passage at the "Whale" to small boat traffic.  To pass from the Northern Abacos to the Southern it is necessary to exit the Sea of Abaco into the Atlantic Ocean and traverse a short, 2 nm passage before reinserting your boat into the tranquil waters of the shallow but protected Sea.

The Whale is a narrowish openinbg between two Cays, one of them Whale Cay, which sadly shallows as it narrows.  Waves driven out of the East approach the inlet from deep water and crash into the very shallow waters of the inlet with predictable results: a wall of intraversible white water.

That year conditions were truly abominable and seeking creature comfort and security of anchorage the decision was made aboard Meredith to take a slip at the Green Turtle Club.  We were forever altered.

The Club, a winter resort for those who are elderly and wealthy (that year we shared beachside drinks with a couple who told us all about "Little Conrad" referring to Conrad Black who would wander into their yard as a small boy) maintains what is probably the best kitchen in Bahamas.  

Even better during the off season the Club deducts your restaurant tab and bar bill from your dockage fees.  So you eat for free or dock for free.  Not too shabby.

This year the weather is splendid.  The food is even better.  Last night the maitre d' gave, a substantial woman, after some light banter gave me a table side massage. 

I mean, come on.

How Many Lawyers Does It Take to Start a Diesel

2011 02 04
Green Turtle Cay, Abacos, Bahamas

How Many Lawyers Does It Take to Start a Diesel

Anyone who has tried to rent the services of those who prostitute themselves in service to Justice will know that the title of this post is irrelevent.  What matters is not how many lawyers but how many billable hours.  By either measure there was a certain lack of cost effectiveness in evidence that particular morning.

Crossing the Gulf Stream from Lake Worth Inlet to West End Bahamas was what our friends Victor and Marilyn call "a motor job".  There was no wind.  The sea, although the Atlantic, was enjoyably pacific.  Weighing anchor at a timely 8 pm we steamed into West End Bahamas about 8 am on the morning following.  It was a stellar trip.

Most gratifying, the more so since we travelled in company with friends who had never before crossed the stream, was the accuracy of our navigation.  Our desired course was 100 magnetic.  To compensate for the northward push of the Gulf Stream we had to dial in an offset to that course.  The result was a beautiful if lopsided S curve if you tracked Meredith's track on a chart.  Leaving our anchorage we were carrying 25 degrees too much south in our course. 

At the outset this carried us well below the GPS or Rhum line track.  However as Meredith pressed her course eastward and entered the Gulf Stream we were carried Northward by that river of warm water and our track became a miles wide parabola sweeping northward from the rhum line to an elegant apogee then returning, just as gracefully to the home mark.  In the end result we found ourselves, after twelve hours of forward progress, positioned right at the inlet to West End.  It was a tremendous victory for good luck.

Power boaters and sailors lacking competence do not use traditional navigation techniques.  They plot a straight line into their GPS and keep their boat right on that line.  This costs money and time.  It also just looks so darn bad. 

Our navigation rarely ends up as accurate as it did that night but when it does it can make beautiful the most pathetic of voyages.  And we had friends watching.  Sweet.

Fate too was watching and it took little time for her to ensure an even score on the day.   The peaceful banner under which we made our way across the Straits of Florida was about to be lowered.   As we should have expected.  

Clearing in at West End was a joy.  This tiny outpost on the northern tip of Grand Bahamas Island  is our favourite place to clear into Bahamas.  (Governor's Harbour on Eleuthera is a close second. )  Facilities here are first rate: the marina is well maintained and well staffed, the customs and immigration officials are professional and businesslike and the fuel is well priced.  Clearing in was efficient.  Our passports were scanned, documents vetted, monies paid and receipted  and we sent on our way in twenty minutes.   


As we pulled away from the fuel dock we could not but notice the lack of movement on the part of our friends' boat.  Turning about in the generous slipway we made our way back to the fuel dock to lie off the beam of our friends.  Their diesel would not start.  Their engine panel was dead.  Dead and cold and dark.

Being sailors our friends remained silent as to their dilemma while they watched us depart.  They would have stood on deck as we passed out of their field of vision without once mentioning their dilemma.  The problem that faced them was theirs and the responsibility of no other.  Not for them to impede the progress of any other boat just because they found themselves impeded.

Now this was an interesting situation.  There is nothing a sailor likes more than a problem on someone else's boat.  This problem seemed simple.  The diesel lacked vitality in any measureable quantity.

Here we had a sick diesel and two lawyers.  This was not a fair fight.  I mean between us we had 70 years of experience in the practice of law.  The diesel, I was assured, was a mere neophyte at not starting properly.

Our friend opened up engine compartments and checked his battery for vital signs.  Everything was fine. 

Meredith having once had a Westerbeke diesel - we named it Beelezebub, it painted devilishly red.  My memory produced a record of our diesel being similarly stayed while we were at the fuel docks in Oswego.  A totally hidden and well disguised circuit breaker was the cause.  Seemd a good place to start.  We located the circuit breaker, determining in the process that years of practice in the dark arts had led Westerbeke to much better cloaking procedures.  We located the circuit breaker, even more cunningly misplaced on my friend's boat than on mine.  It was blown!  We reset it and prayed.    Apparently to the wrong god.

Turning the ignition key produced signs of nascient life.  The panel lit up, the fuel pump started pumping.  But when my friend pressed the "start" button the circuit breaker blew again.  Darkness reigned once more.

It was time for the lawyers to get to work.

We approached the problem as lawyers do.  We rolled up our sleeves, cleared space at the table and sat down opposite one another with a stack of documents between us.  Engine manuals, parts lists, exploded diagrams showing skeletal secrets of engine parts whose function we could only imagine.

We set about an orderly investigation.  Terms were defined: What is exactly a solenoid and to what points do all those red wires feed?  What is a fuel delivery rail?  A return rail?  Why does engine current run from positive to negative when the entire sane world knows that electrons move from negative to positive. 

Outside texts were consulted and commentaries noted and remarked.  We negotiated.  Negotiation was critical in this process as I suggested lots of mildly destructive tests which were resisted by the owner of the diesel.  Delicacy was required.

Finally our 70 years of skill in advocacy and deductive reasoning led us to question the veracity of the solenoid on the starting motor. 

My friend had a screwdriver and we shorted out the heavy power leads after first determining the function of each of the other three wires attached to the solenoid.  Lawyers hate surprises, especially while engaged in combat.  We were as prepared as we could be. 

As the screwdriver shaft closed on the two large brass contacts sparks flew.  But by God the motor turned over.  Just a little.  The short period of rotation on the initial go was due to my dropping the screwdriver when the sparks started to fly.  It scared the bejesus out of me. 

Examining the screwdriver blade disclosed a blackened tip with a big chunk out of it.  That justified my dropping the thing dignity was saved.

Well, things went smoothly after that.  Turning on the ignition key we rammed the screwdriver across the solenoid points and that old red devil Westerbeke caught. 

We motored out of West End heading for our first anchorage in paradise.  Mechanics being in short supply our friends are now cruising the Abacos every morning starting their Westerbeke with a screwdriver.  We might wire in a simple switch to make the job easier but the skipper seems quite pleased with the current solution.

By my calculation had we been billing some hapless soul for our expertise our fee for service would have topped $2,000.  Depending on how honest we were in charging out the beer drinking time.

Plague Ships

2011 02 01
Great Sale Cay, Bahamas
26 59N 78 13 30 W

Every act of conscious learning requires the willingness to suffer an injury to one's self esteem.  That is why young children before they are aware of their own self importance, learn so easily and why older persons, especially if vain or important, cannot learn at all.
Thomas Szasz American psychologist reported in the Feb 3 issue of the Globe and Mail.

The old Canadian Cunard canard holds that the journey is at least as important as the destination.  Getting there is half the fun goes the advert.  Old man Cunard got the proportions a bit wrong.  In life the journey is all of the fun.  It is all there is.  When the journey's over there's time enough for sleep. (apologies to ae houseman)

But before you can take the journey you must embark.

Several of our friends have chosen this year to ply the waters of Eastern Florida, the Florida Keys and the dry Tortugas.  Their reasons for doing so are varied: lack of time, parents are ill, business worries, haven't seen it yet.  This is not about them.  There are other boats however...

A few nights ago we entered North Lake Worth.  Already at anchor, we found two boats which quickly identified themselves as "Bahamas Bound".   This was hardly a surprise.  Boats anchored in North Lake Woprth are either waiting for  a weather window to cross the gulf stream or anchoring for the night while they make their way south along the ICW to a point from which they will make a crossing.

The first of the two boats bore an enthusiastic older couple which we had encountered previously.  Although we had never broken bread together or even shared a bottle of cheap plonk we had passed each other often on the small craft shipping routes and had shared anchorages.  Friendliness governed our relations in preference to aloofness.   The occupants of the boat were met by us at the dinghy landing in Lake Worth. 

Asking our plans and being duly informed as to the nature thereof our dinghy dock buddies expressed interest in crossing to Bahamas with us.   They had been waiting for ten days for the weather to be suitable and as this was their first time going to the Bahamas they would like the comfort of fellow boats  on the passage. 

Absolutely was our reply.  We explained that a beautiful 3 day window was opening wide the very next day and we were poised to defenestrate (jump out the window).  In a habit we acquired from Peter and Heather Loveridge we have come to prefer crossing the Gulf Stream at night arriving in the Bahamas as day breaks.  In this way we have full daylight available to cruise the shallow water of the Bahamas Banks.

The window coming on the morrow was lovely we continued.  Three days long it began with slackening winds, slated to reduce to below 10 knots that very night.  Deprived of wind the seas  would ameliorate to two feet or less.  We anticipated a smooth if windless crossing.  Nicer by far to sail but crossing is the goal.

Immediately our newly met comrades were uneasy.  They explained that to their knowledge this was a bad idea.  The winds may be mellowing but they would still be out of the North.  They had taken a course, you see, and their teacher had given them all the rules for crossing the stream.  You could not cross in any wind out of the north, no matter how benign.  You could not cross at night.  These rules were written in stone along with a host of others.  All the rules were prohibitory:  rules that said do not do this and rules against doing that and more rules against never ever ever even thinking about doing anything else.  It struck us as we listened that that was one teacher who had no class or rather should not have had.

As they set out the rules and our violations thereof our dinghy mates greww increasingly strident. 

We listened politely, after all they were nice people.  When the rules had been asserted to us we explained that we sailed only our boat.  We did not sail their boat and that the duties arising from that office were set on their slate. 

Our experience and the available forecasts suggested the crossing would be very nice on the eve of the morrow.  That was what we would do.  But what would we do if we found conditions to be unsatisfactory, as we most surely would, inquired the skipper of the stayed boat.  Well then, we replied, our boat would sail in a different direction, probably south if he was correct in his prognostication.

"Ahhh" came the knowing retort.  "You have no plan.  That is no way to sail".

By now I was taking umbrage and it required all the self control in my meager store thereof to limit my response to a nod and a terse "good day to you".

Next day, the day of our anticipated departure, the Budget Committee wanted to buy some fresh veggies, she having learned that in Florida no produce lasts more than a day or two once home from the store.  While the BC restocked I internetted at Starbucks.  BC joined me at 1000 hrs. for scones and coffee.

While we were enjoying our midmorning repast a lanky fellow in his mid thirties approached our table.  "Are you Benner?"  he blurted by way of introduction.  This being a reasonable interpretation of the facts I averred that indeed I was he.  "The one who is crossing tomorrow?" he asked seeking clarification, as if there could possibly be more than one Benner in any coffee shop anywhere outside of Fort Erie.  I confessed to the sin of being that Benner too.  I declined to mention that I was probably tne most significant Benner he would ever encounter in such circumstances.

My newly met young friend, as I then thought of him, sat himself down.  Without invitation you will note.  He wanted to discuss the crossing with us.  He and his wife occupied the second boat alluded to at the outset.  Heretofore we had met only the wife.  They had, he informed me, been waiting in Lake Worth for two and a half weeks waiting for a window and tending to some electrical issues that were plaguing his Volvo diesel.  I sympathised with his having an ailing Volvo for we all  know how it costs to repair anything on a Volvo engine.  I also commiserated with his having missed two fabulous opportunities to cross, presumably while his European power plant did what European power plants do best.

There then issued an interrogation from from the chair beside me; a series of questions delivered at machine gun pace.  There was an inquiry into when we would leave.  A flotilla would be a great idea in his opinion and never having crossed themselves he and his wife would like to join with other boats.  Our theory on when to leave and our anticipated route were returned to our interrogator in the same forthright manner as the questions were asked.   My coffee was cooling and my scone was going uneaten.  You can imagine how my mood alters as I am required out of politeness to sit and NOT eat what appears to be a perfectly delightful scone while my coffee cools to the temperature of visschychois.

"But..." began our uninvited intrusion.  Sadly the introduction was filled with another discussion of the many reasons why departing that evening was a terrible error in judgement.  The stridency and directness of the man who had just suggested he would like to join us on a crossing was putting me off.    As he continued my attention diverted full time to my scone.   The Budget Committee has required that I exercise restraint in my dealings with other citizens and concentrating on inanimate objects seems to help.  As the man continued his learned dissertation I examined my scone with increasing attention to detail.  For five minutes this person explained why we should not go when we intended.  Five minutes of intense scrutiny of every crumb, crevice and fissure in my breakfast scone.

Finishing his lecture our instructor, for that was how he was conducting himself, informed my wife and I that we should not cross tomorrow but should wait another week for a proper weather window.   With a masterful stroke he finally concluded with the observation that his dogs could not stomach rough seas and it would render impossible his crossing the gulf stream that evening.

The BC and I looked at each other, not for the first time since sitting down.  After the mandatory ten count imposed on a "no exceptions basis" by the Budget Committee I thanked the fly in my morning repast for all of his helpful suggestions and wished him a safe crossing.

Returning to our boat the Budget Committee and I hauled the outboard and stowed the dinghy.  Anchor was weighed and Meredith was moved, or transited as people seem to say now, to a temporary anchorage at the Lake Worth inlet.  Friends met in Vero Beach who had never crossed before moved with us.

At 8 pm two boats slid silently through the water of the inlet at West Palm  Beach and eastward into the ocean.  Twelve hours later those boats arrived at West End Bahamas having enjoyed silence calm stillness and warmth during the most pacific crossing of the gulf stream we have ever enjoyed.

Two other boats remained at anchor  and likely will continue to do so until spring or until they motor down the coast. 

Preparing to post this note, sitting drink in hand at Green Turtle Club in Green Turtle Cay, Abacos I can tell you neither of of the two boats mentioned here have crossed my mind since that night.  Reading it over I wonder about the minds on those boats.