Thursday, December 31, 2009

Well, the winds weren't too bad today, but the seas are still rocking and rolling on the reefs, so land-based attractions were the stars of the day. Ron and I took a good hour bike ride this morning while the girls enjoyed the sunshine at the Abaco Beach Resort pool. We biked out to Dundas Town, west of Marsh Harbour, along the main road. There were lots of pastel-colored homes, small businesses and take-away food stands, one of which I especially loved: the "God Bless Church Chicken: Sanctified and Fried" stand, which clearly must have the monopoly for fried chicken around here. Sure wish it had been open, but it was too early for chicken!

After we returned, we took the tender, Tingum, over to Hope Town to have lunch and explore a bit there. We'd heard about Elbow Cay's beauty, and were not disappointed!! The red & white striped Elbow Reef Lighthouse stands sentry at the entrance to Hope Town Harbour, a fixed (non-rotating) light of the first-order (of brightness) that warns ships away from the treacherous reef that extends quite a ways to seaward from Elbow Cay. For a bit of history about the lighthouse, it was built in 1863, and at the time, the idea of a lighthouse was not popular with many of the Hope Town locals, since many Abaconians made a good living from salvaging (locally known as "wracking") any ships that wrecked upon the dangerous shoals of this low archipelago of reefs, rocks, cays and white beaches. Aids to navigation weren't exactly welcome, since it would impact the wrackers' livelihood.

According to a history of the lighthouse by Hannah Solo and Neil Aberle :

"Merchant sail flourished between 1820 and 1880 and the Bahama Islands lay spread-out along its way. The Bahamian wracking fleet stood ready to help, with almost 300 vessels licensed to cruise the reefs in search of luckless ships to salvage, employing half of the able-bodied men in the country and accounting for about half of this British colony's revenue. The records for 1860 show an amazing average of one wreck per month at Abaco alone."

View of the Elbow Reef Lighthouse from the Dinghy dock

We tied up the tender at the Reef Bar & Grill at the Hopetown Lodge, and enjoyed delicious grilled grouper sandwiches and Caesar shrimp salad at the edge of the water. Good food, warm sunshine, beautiful scenery...fabulous! After lunch, we walked up the "Queen's Highway" and made our way through town, with its charming pastel cottages and white picket fences. Ally and Kayleigh have decided they want to live here some day, it enchanted them no end!!

Walking about town together

Ally and Kayleigh captivated with the Angel Trumpet tree

The girls running up the hill to the ocean overlook

Absolutely breathtaking ocean views on Elbow Cay

After our exploratory walk about town, we took the tender out to the edge of the reef, as close as we could get without being tossed in the waves. We still were rocking and rolling quite a bit at times, but it didn't deter Ron and the girls from snorkeling and looking for lobster. Ron was impressed with the health of the reef here...but, oh, to have smooth water for a decent dive!! Not to be!
On the way to the reef to lobster -- turquoise waters indeed!

At the moment, everyone is napping, except for Karyn, in preparation for tonight's celebration. We'll be heading over to Snappa's for a late dinner and join in their New Year's Eve celebration. There's going to lots of fireworks, a "junkanoo rush", along with a band and dancing... Happy New Year to All! Hold fast to the good memories of 2009 and know that we wish you ALL THE BEST in the coming year.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Marsh Harbour

We were up at dawn this morning and after taking a moment to enjoy it over our coffee, we made an early departure to catch the tide before it started falling too much for us to exit the channel from Treasure Cay. Despite the stiff easterly winds, we had an easy and uneventful cruise south to Marsh Harbour, and after a couple of hours were pulling into slip 226 at The Abaco Beach Resort and Boat Harbour Marina. Recommended to us by many, we are delighted to be here -- our furthest point south in the Bahamas aboard Equinox! We were greeted with a lovely welcome card and freshly baked banana bread from the dock staff here -- so very nice! We are looking forward to spending some time here, especially New Year's Eve!!

Equinox ensconced in her slip and the girls washing down
the tender Tingum

Funnily enough, as Karyn hooked up the electric at the dock, there was a Miles Aweigh sticker on the electric stanchion!! Such a small world...we knew the Miles Aweigh was here this summer, but what are the odds that we would be put in the same slip, six months later? Clearly good karma in this slip, I think!!

The electric stanchion at slip 226

After we were secure in the slip, Ron and Karyn rode the folding bikes into town, to reprovision and restock our groceries. Marsh Harbour is the Bahamas' third largest settlement, with approximately 6,000 residents. It's the largest community here in the Abacos, with amazing shopping and dining opportunities, including a large, very well-stocked grocery store. After weeks of being in the out-islands and scrounging for vegetables at times, it was fairly decadent to go into the Price Right here and have so much variety from which to chose!

Ron biking back to the boat with some of our groceries

View of Marsh Harbour from the main road

The girls hit the pool while we were getting the groceries, then upon our return, they took the bikes and headed off for a shopping expedition of their own to Iggy Biggy's, the Conch Pearl and some other little boutique shops. The winds are still brisk and chilly (thanks to yet another cold front coming through) but as always, the sun is warm and we are loving the Abacos!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Boat Maintenance in Exotic Locations...

...continue. The 12kw generator is fine; we checked it out thoroughly from raw water intake to impeller (just changed in August, and changed again last night just in case) to coolant to belt tension: it is running normally this morning. It's possible we cleared something away from the intake when we revved the engines last night, (we checked everything!) but it's at normal temps and has been just fine today. Since the weather has been so cool and lovely (no humidity) Ron took a couple hours in the late morning to replace the leaking AC pump. It was fairly straightforward, and strangely enough there were no gremlins or secondary problems with the getting the replacement in place. Ron definitely felt very mechanical for himself when finished-- always a good feeling!

Karyn used the windy day to do a much needed cleaning/vacuuming/dusting of the boat's interior. While the ocean air is a treat, the thin film of slightly salty dust that comes in on the breeze is a pain, and it gets everywhere!! So...swish and swipe, scrub and swab...Equinox is looking lovely once again.

Equinox at anchor in the Treasure Cay basin

The girls had a beach/pool/beach day...after they got up, that is! Before our respective chores, we adults were up early, and took the tender in for a lovely breakfast on the veranda at The Spinnaker Restaurant at Treasure Cay before a good 50-minute walk, out to the far eastern point of Treasure Cay then back along the beach. The winds were rocking, blowing up surf and waves across the shallows of Treasure Cay, but the water was amazing shades of blue, nevertheless! The homes along the waterfront are spectacular, and somewhat reminiscent of Bermuda, since the homes all have names on their entry gates/drives. From "Sun Spot" to "Tranquility" to "Top Of The Rock", each was fitting and well-cared for. Surprisingly enough, there was a fair bit of construction going on; at least three homes were active with workers, roofers and the like. Nice to see in this economy!
Waves licking the white sand at low tide

Other than that....we heard through Brent at the dive shop that our acquaintances Sammy and Barbie were "on island". (We'd met them a couple of times before when we've been here on Treasure Cay; Sammy is an avid fisherman and scuba-diver, and makes a killer smoked fish dip!) They have a place here on Treasure Cay and come over from their Florida house quite a bit, and happened to be here for the holidays with Sam's mom. We kept hailing them on the VHF (the local party line here) until we finally found one another to say hello!

At the moment, (just before 5:00) when one is in the sunshine, it's gloriously warm and lovely, but when in the northerly wind, it's chilly. Going to be a cold night, I need for A/C, just open the hatches and listen to the palm trees rustle. Oh...there's a conch shell wailing, hailing the sunset! Cocktail hour and sundowners to begin!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Treasure Cay Interlude

We had another leisurely morning, enjoying the blazing sunshine and doing some internet chores (banking, phone calls) while the girls slept in .... again! They have logged some serious sleep time on this vacation!! Of course, I think all the dancing at Nipper's wore them right out it did all of us! We were going to try to dive, but the conditions were so rough outside the reef that we opted for a beach-side lunch and a tender tour of Baker's Bay Marina with the girls instead. Later we found out that even the dive boat from Treasure Divers didn't even try to get outside the reef either, so apparently it was a smart decision on our part.

We’re anchored in the marina basin at Treasure Cay early this afternoon, ducking in to get out of the brisk W-NW winds, which are forecast to be 20-25kts tonight. There aren’t many Abacos anchorages that provide good shelter when the winds are from the west; most are quite exposed. When we came in, there were only 4 other boats anchored here. We tucked in amongst them, keeping a good 50-75 yards away from all others for swing room. (We have a digital laser range finder, so we can verify how far away we are from other boats....peace of mind, since Karyn can’t judge distances over water very well.) Not to mention that the anchor alarm is set on the radar/ chartplotter overlay, so we’ll know for certain if we should drag anchor.

But...clearly we have “The Sign” out again. You know, the sign on our boat that is invisible to us, but one that all other boats can see, which says: "Please anchor as close to us as possible." Since we set anchor, several other boats have come in as well, and one charter boat has moored practically right along side of us. Not what you want to see in a crowded anchorage....and we’re not certain how the tides and currents affect the basin here. Sure hope we all don’t swing into one another in the evening hours! It's a little dicey with the charter boats; you never know exactly how experienced -- or inexperienced -- the crew may be, but it kind of shows in how they anchor/where they anchor/how they handle the boat. Here all we wanted a peaceful night’s anchorage without worries....! I’ll be grateful when the holiday rush of charter boats are gone and away from the anchorages.

After checking in the marina office, we stopped and said hello to Brent at Treasure Divers -- we went out with him last year when conditions were rough, and ended up at Nippers for lunch instead -- which is what he said they did today! He remembered Ron right off the bat, too. He's such a nice guy; so cheerful and friendly! We got Ally a new Scubapro mask while we were there, as she's been needing one, and were happy to give Brent the business. Afterwards, we walked around the resort here at Treasure Cay and took the girls to the beach on the east side of the cay...gorgeous, white, incredibly soft sand and beautiful blue waters, even if the surf on the Sea of Abaco was rough! We spent a few minutes on the beach enjoying the view, watching the kite boarders and the lone sailboat that was motoring north, lumping unhappily into the winds. Not something I'd enjoy, to be honest, and it looked as if they were taking the inside passage past Don't Rock, where it can get rather shallow. Hope they made it!!

Tonight we will grill some lobster tails, steam some broccoli and make some twice-baked potatoes for dinner, then possibly watch a movie (perhaps watch Captain Ron as Kayleigh hasn't seen it yet) and enjoy our anchorage. And keep an eye on the charter boats in the vicinity, as well!! Of course, while Karyn is fixing dinner, Ron will be fixing the 12kw generator, as it suddenly died. Impeller issue? Hmmmm...we'll find out. The zen of cruising is learning to take these problems in stride, right? Just fixing one's boat in exotic places, as we know! Always an adventure!!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Whale Cay Channel to Great Guana Cay

Equinox left the Green Turtle Club early in the pre-dawn hours, about 6:15 am...White Sound was an absolute mirror of still water, gorgeously reflecting all the boats moored there. We were up early to make sure we had enough water beneath the hull as we exited White Sound channel, as it can get rather thin there. Low tide was approaching at 10:10 am, so we were already on a falling tide, but there was plenty of water for us to exit. Ally and Kayleigh crawled out of bed to handle the tender, taking it out of the sound, while Ron and Karyn were aboardEquinox. Once outside New Plymouth, we rigged the towing bridle, retrieved the girls from the tender and set out!
Looking east towards Whale Cay during passage

Whale Cay Channel was rolling with good 4'-6' swells, with the occasional breaking chop along either side, but passage through was perfectly doable. Actually, today's conditions were better than what we've transited through before! Nevertheless, we kept a close eye on the tender, especially when we'd ride over one of the larger swells. We were already in Loggerhead Channel on the south side of Whale Cay by the time the Cruisers' Net came on at 08:30 with the morning weather report and passage reports through the Abacos cuts. I was a bit relieved that the transit around the Whale was so benign. Neither one of us sleeps all that well the night before a passage, and I usually wake up stressing unnecessarily about tides, water levels, seas conditions, and all the other variables that we've tried to take into consideration.

Equinox at anchor off Great Guana Cay

After some discussion, we were soon anchored securely in Cooper's Bay just south of Big Joe's Point. While Settlement Harbor is closer to the docks and Orchid Bay Marina, this anchorage is wider and definitely prettier; we didn't want to be hemmed in without room to swing. Ron and Karyn took a tender tour around the new luxury marina, Bakers Bay, while the girls slept in (naturally). When we returned, we cranked the girls out of bed and headed over to Settlement Harbor and... Nipper's!

Sunday afternoon is famous for the weekly pig roast at Nipper's on the Beach, a candy-colored carnival-like bar/playground for grown-ups! Between the spectacular views of the Atlantic on a long stretch of dramatic beach-front, and the multi-levels of seats and tables around the main pool, there's a lot to see and watch. The drinks are cold (the Frozen Nipper's rum punch is probably the strongest on the planet, so beware!!) and the sunshine hot. Everyone starts dancing mid-afternoon, and soon the dance floor (and tables) are in full swing! Fun!! We ended up talking with a pair of fun families Texas and Colorado, respectively, whom we'd met last Wednesday while dancing with the Gully Roosters. They own a house on Green Turtle Cay and came over to Nippers for the afternoon, so we had quite the crowd to talk and dance with! It was a great time -- as always!!

Sign at Nipper's dock in Settlement Harbor

The pool at Nipper's

Stairs leading to the beach

Ron teaching Ally how it's done -- dancing up a storm

Just part of the dancing scene at Nipper's

We stayed until 4:00 p.m., when we left hot, sweaty and full of smiles after all the dancing and good times. We wanted to get back to the boat, as we never feel totally comfortable about leaving the boat on anchor unattended for long stretches of time. (No matter how benign the conditions or well you set the anchor!!) We watched the sunset before a light dinner, and an early bedtime!

Sunset from our anchorage, back aboard Equinox for the night

Saturday, December 26, 2009

A Quiet Day

It was an overcast, gray start to the day today, so we just relaxed and didn't rush around this morning. Ron and I had a leisurely time; he made omelets for the two of us and we just lounged a bit, watching the news and savoring our coffee before we tried the pry the girls out of bed. It's pretty amazing how much time teens can spend asleep! But then again, it is vacation!

Ron treated the girls to omelets once they were up, before inspecting the A/C seawater pump again...and found that there is still a bit of a trickle seeping out of the face plate, probably from where the bolt hole needs to be re-tapped. After some debate about the efficacy of replacing the pump, we decided to hold off, as we might be smarter to do it when we have additional assistance at the boat yard in Marsh Harbor. Since we already plan to get the tender hauled out there for its 20-hour service, one more item can be added to the punch list without any angst.

In the early afternoon, we loaded up the tender and headed out for a dive. Conditions were definitely calmer than they have been of late; light northerly winds and seas only 2' - 3' at most inside the reef. Nice! It was too bad that it was still so cloudy and overcast, for a bit of sunshine would have been welcome.

Nevertheless, we had a great dive! We anchored neatly in the sand by the reef, having replaced the cheap, broken anchor with the better Fortress anchor from our dinghy, and we all descended along the anchor line to check its hold, which was good. Off we went, through the cut in the reef and down to the deeper section at 45'. Kayleigh did fabulously, especially since there was a lot going on! There were a couple of large grouper that followed us about, clearly begging for food, almost like puppies, and came quite close to all of us, clearly unafraid. Plus there were sharks about as soon as we descended, there was one, and then as we came through the reef, there were a pair of sharks that slipped off to the south, and out of our range of visibility. It's always neat to see sharks, even if you only see them for a moment before they swim away!

Kayleigh had a tiny bit of trouble equalizing her ears initially, so we just swam along the reef at a shallower depth until she felt she could descend without issue. No rush, no fuss...and she did fine thereafter. The grouper followed us throughout the dive, and under one prominent ledge, Ally also spotted a large nurse shark amidst the ledges at the bottom. It too slipped away, unhappy with our clattering bubbles and noise. Unfortunately, the current was beginning to pick up, so we stayed behind a long section of reef where we could maneuver without too much difficulty, before retracing our way back to the boat. As we came back into the shallower waters, we spotted yet another shark! Fun!!

After cleaning the tender and refilling the tanks, we had a quiet night aboard with no real dinner; we all just nibbled on all the plentiful leftovers from the holiday meal yesterday. We spent part of the evening plotting courses, checking tide charts and discussing the timing for departure tomorrow, as we hope to head around Whale Cay and south to Great Guana Cay for the Sunday pig roast at Nipper's. This section of the Abacos is fairly tricky; there is a shallow sand bank that extends across the Sea of Abaco from Treasure Cay towards Whale Cay, and depths are only 3'-4'. Equinox draws nearly 6', so we must pass outside Whale Cay to proceed south from Green Turtle. The other tricky thing is that Whale Cay Channel is is fairly shallow (~12') and when ocean swells come in from the northeast, there can be breaking waves across the channel. This condition is known as a rage sea condition, and can be present during days of light winds in the Abacos, due to storms in the far east Atlantic. Thus, it's always necessary to approach this passage with extreme caution! We will see if conditions are appropriate for going around Whale Cay, and if they to Great Guana Cay we will go! Not sure where we'll drop anchor (Baker's Bay or farther south along Great Guana) or if there will be internet access where we'll be, so it might be a day or two before the next post! Nevertheless....always an adventure!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas in the Caribbean!

Or, at least, in the Bahamas! Merry Christmas, one and all!! It was a rainy, windy, rock-n-rolling in the slip kind of night, with strong gusts out of the south. You could hear the wind moaning in the rigging of the nearby sailboats, and when we awoke in the early morning hours, it was just pouring like crazy. Thankfully though, the day cleared up somewhat by 1:00, when the Cruisers' Christmas Potluck started. Ron made a killer batch of chili, along with some hot crescent rolls, and more than one person ran up to Karyn and asked if she was the "chili woman who made that great chili"? She corrected everyone, giving all the kudos to Ron, as he has the "Art of Chili" down pat!! Despite some spitting, brief rain showers, the potluck was a great success. Sid's Groceries donated lots of paper goods, cups, plastic spoons, forks, and knives, Brendal supplied a couple jugs of his signature Rum punch (as well as the yard behind the dive shop), there was wine from one of the liquor stores in New Plymouth, and everyone pitched in with amazing dishes from turkey, ham, lobster stew, gumbo, deviled eggs, salads, mac-n-cheese to all sorts of desserts. Everyone ate until they were totally sated -- a good time was had by all, and as always, it was great fun to meet new kindred spirits from various and different ports of call!
Getting set up for the Cruisers' Potluck

There was a showing of Captain Ron in the lounge of the Green Turtle Club, just prior to Happy Hour (courtesy of Equinox, as we had the DVD) but while that was going on, the real Captain Ron was in Equinox's amidship bilge, repairing the A/C pump to keep it from leaking around the face plate seal. One of the screws was clearly stripped and after a thorough search of the various and sundry machine screws we had onboard, we found one that fit well. Along with a new seal of silicone gasket material and a new coat of silicone on the o-ring, the repair seems to have done the trick. Otherwise...the replacement pump is waiting in the wings, but we wanted to actually try the simpler fix first. (A first for us, actually!)

The replacement A/C pump waiting front and center amongst tools and the bin of assorted machine screws while Ron was in the bilge re-sealing the leaking face plate on the old A/C pump

Afterwards, our crew gathered aboard the boat for a late Christmas dinner of roast turkey, Daphne's sweet potatoes, steamed broccoli, stuffing, maple-glazed salmon, giblet gravy and cranberry sauce, (courtesy of Karyn, who prepared it all while Capt. Ron was deep in the bilge). But, also indirectly courtesy of Ron, who repaired the stove last week! :) Regardless, we had a lovely dinner, and we are happy to be together!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

A quiet day....

....spent recovering from our dancing antics of last night! We all had such a great time, though, we agreed it was quite worth all the "sore muscles", to quote Nathan. While the girls slept in, Ron and I took a 45-minute walk over to the east side of the Cay, and watched the waves breaking rather fiercely on the beach in the high winds. There would be no diving today, unfortunately, but that is the way it goes with December weather in the northern Bahamas. Although, if you look at the weather map of the US, we're actually in good shape, so no complaining here!

Waves breaking on the east side of Green Turtle Cay

Nathan had to head back to Old Bahama Bay today, so we braved the windy conditions in the tender and ran him over to the Treasure Cay ferry dock where he caught a cab to the airport, and from there, a flight from Treasure Cay to Freeport, Grand Bahama. It was hard to say goodbye as he was a great guest aboard and we enjoyed his company immensely. He will definitely be missed, but hopefully we will see him again in the spring!

On our return to Green Turtle, we stopped at New Plymouth to replenish our fresh vegetable supply at Sid's Grocery; we'd tried to do it yesterday, but the supply boat had engine trouble and didn't arrive, so they had no fresh vegetables to offer at that time. Today however, we'd arrived right after the store was restocked, and got a nice cache of apples, lettuce, broccoli and other assorted veggies. Its stunning to think how the grocery stores in the States are taken for granted, but here in the "out islands", being off the beaten track, many basic foodstuffs need to be imported and aren't always available. And, when they are available, they can be rather expensive as a result! A loaf of whole wheat bread was $5.95, for instance, and the fruit even more precious: four small nectarines were $5.50. Again, one learns to adapt, and to consider what is really a necessity, and what is a luxury aboard! We also found out that you have to plan in advance for "bank day" since New Plymouth's little bank is only open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m on Thursdays. Kind of gives a new meaning to the term "bankers' hours"!

Ally and Kayleigh took an afternoon walk to the beach and came back with a small spring of sea pine for a make-shift Christmas tree for Kayleigh, as this is her first Christmas away from home. We only have one ornament, acquired when the owners of one of the other boats in the marina came around today handing out beautiful home-made ornaments: sand dollars with ribbons printed with their names, and their boat name, Solimar. So now we have sort of a Charlie Brown Christmas's small and kinda pathetic, but very meaningful!

Merry Christmas, Kayleigh Brown!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Rocking with the Gully Roosters!!

We've had a couple of fun days!! Tuesday evening, we took the tender over to New Plymouth, and introduced Nathan and Kayleigh to Miss Emily's Blue Bee Bar. Originally, we stopped in to sample the bar's signature Goombay Smash, but were all so ravenous after diving and being out on the water all afternoon, we stayed for dinner. We were served by none other than Miss Violet -- Miss Emily's daughter, who now owns and runs the place -- and we enjoyed a fabulous feast in their rear dining room. Conch bits, grilled grouper, Goombay Lobster, Caesar salad with shrimp, BBQ was absolutely delicious and a lovely time.

And, Wednesday, the sun came out to play, which we all enjoyed!! The girls walked to the beach, then sunned aboard the boat while Ron and Nathan replaced the toggle switch for the macerator in the tender's head. It was all corroded; most likely from electrolysis as it didn't appear to be grounded. Kind of odd, since the boat is brand new!! The winds out of the east were a bit brisk and the waves were breaking pretty good, so we opted not to go out diving, but instead we went out over to the pool for a bit. While the water was icy, the chaise lounges were in the sun and out of the wind, so it was great! Kayleigh was happy to get a little color, as she was feeling a bit pale for herself after being north.

Later in the afternoon, we took the tender out to the reefs south of Green Turtle Cay to try our hand at some snapper fishing. Nathan showed us how to hand-line while we tossed and bounced in the waves, and while a few snappers nibbled at the lines, our more immediate worry became the anchor because after one particularly rough wave, it was evident the anchor wasn't holding. When we pulled it up, we found that one of the flukes had failed; its weld was broken and was wrenched away from the shaft. Clearly not a quality product!!

Ron using the spinner rod

Nathan and the girls before dinner

Then, following a delicious dinner at the Green Turtle Club, we all rocked out to the music of the Gully Roosters!! Knowing that the band plays just about every Wednesday night here at GTC was part of the impetus for us to arrive here by the 23rd, and we couldn't wait to hear them again. Needless to say, a good time was had by Bahamian music, a big crowd, lots of dancing: FUN!! We ran into Brendal, the dive shop owner/operator here on Green Turtle Cay, and had a good time reminiscing about our time with him last winter, and dancing the night away. We were the last to leave the dance floor, as it was just so much fun! The night was clear and gorgeous, so we all did a bit of star-gazing before heading back to the boat. A perfect night!
The Gully Roosters setting up shop under the tree

Some of the crowd, dancing

Nathan and Karyn on the dance floor

After dancing the night away

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Green Turtle Cay!!

Leaving West End in the early hours

While at the helm, I used the rear camera to watch Ron and Nathan
checking out the tender under tow with the new towing bridle

We cruised all day yesterday from West End, with our friend Nathan aboard (getting him "off-island" for a few days for the holidays). He and the girls brought the Sea Fox tender on the inside route from Indian Cay onto the Little Bahama Bank, while Ron and I ran Equinox up to the Memory Rock to enter onto the bank there in deeper water. Once they caught up with us, we towed the Sea Fox with the new bridle (works great!!) and made our way to Green Turtle. It wasn't a fabulously warm day, so we put it to good use cruising across the Bank. We decided to go all the way to GTC in one day, rather than anchoring at Great Sale Cay or one of the other smaller out islands and make a bit better use of our time. . Nathan made us a gourmet dinner along the way, with fresh creek shrimp with cheese ravioli, and venison tenderloins that were absolutely delicious!! The benefits of having a good galley aboard, calm seas -- and a chef!!

We arrived at Green Turtle about 9:00 p.m., and Nathan and Ally piloted the tender through the entrance cut into White Sound. Being familiar with the entrance is a must, as it has a wicked dogleg to port as you enter, and the small floating buoys aren't lit at night. We also knew that that we would need mid-tide or higher to get past the entrance, and it was just a couple hours shy of high tide, which was a factor in favor of entering tonight. It was a bit tricky threading our way through sailboats in the mooring field at night, but Ron handled it with ease. We'd called ahead for a slip assignment, so knew all we had to do was just pull up to the fuel dock, and tie off for the night. Once tied up and secure, we hit the Tipsy Turtle at the Green Turtle Club to say hello to Debbie, and indulge in a couple of Bahamaian Sands beers to celebrate our arrival.

Ally and Ron at the helm heading out to the reef

Ally and Kayleigh in the tender and ready to head out diving

Today we moved the boat around the t-head to the interior slip, and got ourselves situated there before going out on the reef beyond Manjack Cay for a quick check-out dive with Kayleigh. We let the girls walk along the beach for a bit before diving, and then made our way out to the reef where we anchored in the sand just inside the reefs. We got Kayleigh suited up, and then off we went! She did very well, equalizing her ears right from the start and had good control of her buoyancy; she seemed very comfortable. We didn't go far, just along the inside of the reef until we found the cut into the deeper waters before returning to the boat, but that was fine with me as I was a tad bit cold. The waters are definitely colder here (75 degrees vs 79 degrees) than at West End, but that may be due to the nasty cold front that just went through. We're all waiting for it to warm up!!

Right now Captain Ron is filling our scuba tanks, and the girls are showering to warm up. When all the chores are done, we're heading over to New Plymouth for a bite to eat and some fun in town. Pineapple's, anyone?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

No snow, but...

...gale force winds and definitely chilly here! Still, while we had our bit of bad weather with mere rain yesterday, the entire mid-Atlantic got socked in with a LOT of snow last night... so we're grateful to be here in the islands and not there! It doesn't matter where you are in December, you can just never tell about the weather, which makes travel plans precarious at best!
The lovely weather on the eastern seaboard

As it was, Ally and Kayleigh very nearly missed their flight out of Baltimore because of the weather. Roads were nasty and most flights were cancelled, although USAir had flights that were getting out. Despite the snow, Kayleigh's folks managed to the girls to BWI, albeit at the very last minute...but they made it!! Unfortunately, USAir wouldn't let Kayleigh check her bag because the plane was about to pull away from the gate for de-icing. Kayleigh put what she could into her carry-on, but the other bag remained behind. So...despite a lot of confusion on our part (the internet here was down so we couldn't check the status of flights), it could have been a whole lot worse if the girls hadn't made the plane. We are just grateful and happy that they were aboard!!

Of course, a few phone calls and much discussion followed regarding Kayleigh's bag...I finally convinced Kayleigh's mom not to ship the luggage because 1) nothing is being shipped out of the Northeast until Monday or Tuesday because of the snow and 2) it most likely would take an unknown and lengthy amount of time for the bag to get here since delivery in the Bahamas is, um, rather unreliable! (Not to mention paying customs and duty on the shipment!) Actually, there is little that Kayleigh truly needs -- we have plenty of scuba gear for her to use, and Ally has a full wardrobe aboard that she can share. Plus, we have the ability to do laundry aboard Equinox, too. Besides, the girls will be in their bathing suits most of the time anyway, so....not a problem!!

I had visions of a replay of last year, of cousin Taylor's ordeal, getting shuttled from MKE to ORD, then finally flown to CLT before being stranded for the night. (I had e-mailed Jen to put Jodi on notice in case we needed another CLT rescue, but thankfully, that didn't happen!!) Again, very grateful to know that they are on their way -- actually, they should be arriving within the hour here at OBB. When they do... let the festivities begin!!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Viking Stove Repairman!

Brisk winds and grey skies kept us from diving and playing with the new tender today, but then again, we had more than enough boat chores to keep us busy! First and foremost was the Viking oven, which refused to light, and which created so much fun during Thanksgiving! It was a mystery, as everything else was working on it: all burners and the broiler, but not the oven, which didn't seem to be getting gas. SO...while in the states, Ron had purchased all the possible replacement parts that it could possibly be: the ignitor, the switch, and the gas valve assembly in the rear of the oven. He really kept thinking it was the latter, as that would be the reason gas wasn't going into the lower part of the oven, particularly since we could see the lower ignitor switch glowing and getting hot each time we turned on the oven. SO...with nothing but time on our hands with the winds picking up and being nasty, we tackled the stove.
Ron in full McGyver mode, wielding many tools

We carefully disassembled the stove and pulled the unit out from its cubby hole in the galley, and after some contortions on Ron's part, he got behind it and replaced the ignitor valve unit and...voila! Nothing happened. Nope, nada, it was still not working, although the ignitor switch glowed merrily away in the bottom of the oven. Hmmmm, maybe it's the switch?? SO...more disassembly, more contortions, then careful re-routing of the thermostat probe and reassembly of the new switch. A small setback occurred when the oven light indicator popped out of its assembly during our contortions to get the new switch into place, so that had to be tracked down, figured out and put back in place before we could proceed. But again, mission accomplished, so we tried the oven yet again. The ignitor switch again glowed merrily, and...voila!! Nothing happened.

Ron was irritated beyond all belief at this point...yet figured that since we were in for a dime, in for a dollar, may as well replace the apparently-working ignitor switch as a last resort. With all new parts installed, at least the repairman we would soon be calling would have a place to start all over again, right?? Karyn meanwhile took advantage of the fact that the stove was disassembled to get in and around the stove to clean all various parts, which also was very necessary, as some parts hadn't been accessible since delivery. And once the new ignitor switch was put in, we tried the oven yet one more time and....voila!! IT WORKED!!
The new ignitor in place

Oven back in place once again and about to be reassembled!

Ron was elated, and felt very mechanical for himself!! Although he immediately began second-guessing himself as to why the original ignitor was glowing yet the oven wasn't working. Was it because the original just needed to be adjusted closer to the gas line in the oven? Or was it truly not working right despite appearing to do so by glowing?? We thought it either worked, or it didn't....yet perhaps it only just needed adjustment. Not sure we'll ever know, but....right now, the oven is WORKING!! Hooray! of all, we only had three extra screws when we were finished reinstalling everything! Hmmm, wonder where they came from?

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Just another day in paradise.... last!! After the tumultous past couple of weeks, it felt absolutely glorious to have a day to do exactly what we pleased! We started out by taking a "coffee cruise" in the new tender, which was a real treat. Skies were blue, temps were warm (75 degrees) and it was a lovely morning! We cruised the canals behind Old Bahama Bay before taking the boat out on the ocean and letting her run for a bit!
Captain Ron at the helm

View of the canals during our coffee cruise

Once we returned to Equinox, we rigged up the tender to make it ready for diving. It's really set up quite nicely! Ron had tank racks added as part of the commissioning, and they're great, holding up to 4 tanks on each side. The aft baitwell is deep enough to hold all the fins, masks, dive lights and extra dive gear, keeping it all contained and out of the way. (Plus, it gets all the dive gear off the back deck of Equinox, so there's more room there, too!) The back seats fold down and lie flat, providing easy access in and out of the water, and there is storage under the seats forward. The small day head below the center console is a great place to store dry clothing and towels, and there is a cooler mounted under the center seat for water and Gatorade and beer post-dive. And, the high flared bow keeps everything dry underway. Great boat!!

The tender rigged and ready for diving

Ron and I made a dive north of West End, zipping up to the area we call Dog's Head Reef. We checked out the operation of the windlass -- dropped the anchor right where we wanted it to go, and afterwards.....what a treat not to have to haul up the anchor hand over hand!! We had an easy relaxed dive, although the visibility wasn't fabulous. Saw at least 6 lionfish of all sizes --- I so want to get rid of them, knowing that they are a non-native, invasive species that compete with lobster in the food chain!! I only saw 4 lobster in comparison, too. Otherwise, the reef there was filled with life: lots of juvenile fish of all kinds, amongst huge angelfish, (Queen and French), squirrelfish, blue tangs, groupers, hinds, grunts, butterflyfish and damselfish. Also saw a large southern ray --- one we've seen before, with a short, stubby tail.

After the dive, we rinsed off the gear using the fresh water system we have on board (a real luxury!), showered ourselves, and then relaxed on the boat in the sunshine. Ally is going to love the space for sunbathing post-dives, as well as the iPod hook-up for the stereo! It's a fabulous dive platform, truly! We are so lucky, and so appreciative!!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

"If anything's gonna happen, it's gonna happen out here!"

To quote from "Captain Ron"...and it's literally true, but that's another story! During the last 24 hours, we covered a lot of ground!! Last night, after a quick bite to eat at Wahoo's with our friends Kerry and Karen, we provisioned yet again, sorted through all the mail that had accumulated while we were in Maryland, set up mail forwarding for the islands, signed, filed and mailed off all paperwork that needed to be sent out from the States, and hoped we didn't forget anything important! It all seems to be falling into place, though. Whew!

In the morning, between the two of us, we managed to finish all the last-minute details (hooray!) although unfortunately under increasingly grey skies. Watching the weather deteriorate did little to raise our spirits, yet every time we checked with NOAA, the forecast was the same forecast: "SOUTH WINDS 9-11 KNOTS. SEAS 2 FEET OR LESS..."We weren't sure at all if the weather would hold or we would actually be able to leave; by the time we got to the boat dealers with Kerry and Karen, the skies were decidedly grey, and so were our spirits.
Yet....the boat was ready!! (Kudos to the dealer for coming through on that!) It was great ~ she was fueled up, detailed and ready for diving with 300' of rode in the anchor locker!! It actually looks like we could add more, too, so I don't know why they were worried about the amount of line that would fit. So...all good! We were delighted! We checked out the tow-eye and bridle arrangement, went over the operation of the boat with the dealer, and once the detailing was done, we loaded up the boat with our provisions, additional spares and oil, scuba tanks, clothing, necessary documents, random holiday items, said our goodbyes to Karen and Kerry and ... headed out to the Bahamas!!

Of course, they say that the good Lord looks after fools and children, and going out into the open ocean with a new boat that really hadn't been sea-trialed definitely put us in the category of fools. (Although Ron did say he felt like he qualified for both as we left the dock! Hmmm, yeah, possibly...right!) But, off we went, waiting for what was to happen...because with a new boat, there is ALWAYS something that goes wrong: connections jar loose, or connections aren't wired right, or there is construction debris in the fuel tank that gets stirred up from the bottom and clogs the fuel filters. There is just always something!! That being a given, we were waiting for it! We just didn't know yet what it was, or would be!

Onward we went...and as we head out the St. Lucie Inlet, clearly the timing is bad: there's a squall just offshore, the tide is opposing the waves so they come bunching unhappily into the narrow inlet, and there are good-sized rollers breaking as we nose our way through the outer rock jetties. One wave tried to bury the bow as the boat was crawling its way past the rocks, and Karyn turned to Ron just at that moment to paraphrase a line from Captain Ron: "If anything's gonna to go wrong, it's going to happen now!" AND....

An alarm started shrieking almost immediately!! Unbelievable! Squinting at the dashboard in the spray, we were frantically trying to figure out what the hell was alarming. Was it the engines?? No, they were both in the green, and churning us forward nicely. So, what was it?? (No hydraulics on this boat, so no worries there!) Oh, wait, it's the high water alarm in the bilge!!! (GREAT!! Are we taking on water???) Ron stayed at the helm to wrestle with the waves as Karyn scrambled back to open the hatches and check the deepest part of the bilge...and, there's barely a cup of water in the bilge. Nonetheless, the alarm continues to shriek relentlessly. We check the bilge pump itself: yes, it can and does run manually and appears fine. With no water in the bilge, we do a careful monitoring of the possible areas of ingress, but determine that it must be a stuck sensor or a shorted wire. Whew!! We shut off the alarm, and silence is golden!! All good, there is no water coming in after all.

Funnily enough, once past the inlet, the waters calmed down. We weren't making good time at all, but...then again, all we had was time. Ron was ready to turn the boat around, but Karyn surprised him by saying, "Let's just keep going for a bit, and see how it looks." It seemed as if the squalls were the cause of the lumpy waves, so if the forecast held true, the rough waters would calm once the storm moved north. A call was made to Karen and Kerry to let them know our slow transit speed (ETA said 8:00!! UGH!) and that if the conditions didn't improve, we'd return. However, as we moved into deeper water and away from the squalls, the seas smoothed out and while they weren't fabulous initially, there was sunshine to the south and east as the squalls broke up. Yes, hope was on the horizon!

We checked the bilge relentlessly the remainder of the trip, and varied the speed of the new engines continually (not hard in the lumpy conditions we had) until we reached the apex of the Gulf Stream. From then on, the seas laid down dramatically, the squalls moved north, and we had an easy cruise the rest of the way. We were actually feeling a bit sunburned from the sun on our shoulders as we zipped to West End! As it turned out, we arrived about 4:00 pm, in good daylight with plenty of light. What a joy to be at Old Bahama Bay again! Luther, Kyle, Nathan and the rest of the OBB crew were there to welcome us in, and congratulate us on the new tender. (So new, registration is pending -- Karyn looked a bit silly leaning over the gunwales looking for the numbers which aren't there yet. Oops!) And after we cleared customs, feeling salt-encrusted and more than a bit bedraggled for ourselves, Equinox gazed proudly at us as we pulled up next to her to dock! And here we are...home sweet home! Gratitude for another crossing completed!

Monday, December 14, 2009

Nothing is ever easy!

Ever!! Events today seemed to be a litany of Murphy's Law, as several important things that could go wrong to frustrate us, did!! But the reality is that some things actually went well and according to plan, so we really can't complain. We were up way too early in the dark & crisp winter chill this morning, and drove down to BMC to leave Ally's car in the garage there, as we will no longer be owners of 12 Ashgrown after this week. (Thus, can't keep Ally's car in the garage there any longer!) We'd booked with Freedom Services for a car to take us from the marina to BWI, and as usual, they were there early. SO very reliable, we love using them! Obviously, the flight south was fine, as we arrived safely, so all was good. Or, so we thought.

Ron called to check on the packages that arrived while we were gone, hoping to hear that the towing bridle was in, So, we called the company to find that despite their assurances that it would be shipped last Thursday, it was just being finished and hadn't even left the shop yet!! Argh!! SO...being halfway to Fort Lauderdale already, we just drove down and picked it up ourselves, since we'll need it tomorrow and couldn't wait for it to ship. Then...the biggest disappointment was that the boat wasn't ready as promised!!(Ron had told them in no uncertain terms at the time of purchase that we would be needing to take delivery today, Monday the 14th, and when he spoke with them last Friday, checking on progress, things were supposedly all on schedule with the tow-eye and other custom work we were getting done. Today though, we called to coordinate the delivery and they claimed "miscommunication" regarding the timing of delivery, as the windlass wasn't even installed!! Ron couldn't believe it, since he had made it quite clear as to when we needed the boat. What was most appalling was that there is a near perfect weather window for tomorrow, and we were so thrilled that we might be able to take advantage of it!

Anyway, Ron was most insistent and got the guys scurrying to install the windlass today as promised and finish the job properly. Then -- most unhappily -- they called back to say that the amount of line we'd requested probably wouldn't fit in the anchor locker!! NOT ACCEPTABLE!!! That was a big issue when Ron bought the boat; again, he had specified quite clearly that we would need at least 300' of rode with 25' of chain for anchoring while diving!! They even modified the anchor locker to accommodate it, and now they are claiming that barely 200' will fit, with only 12' of chain?? Murphy was laughing, certainly. Not that TC even has the line and chain, as we will be awaiting its arrival tomorrow morning from FLL while we are sea-trailing the boat. What don't they get??? Ron was amazed at the finger pointing and lame excuses, but what's done is done -- we will see how they resolve things, and whether it will all come together tomorrow. Let's hope so!!

The hardest thing was that this evening Karyn got news of more family health concerns in Wisconsin...not what anyone wanted to hear!! It's very troubling with Equinox about to head off to the out-islands of the Bahamas, knowing how limited things are regarding access to flights back to the States. Thus, worry resides in the back of one's mind and prayers in one's heart that things will improve. We'll just keep in close contact, as best we can, and see how things work out....but will be ready to hop on a plane if need be, too.

So, at this point, we're still hoping to head over to West End to reunite with Equinox once we get the Sea Fox IF the weather window holds and IF the boat checks out well during her sea trial. We are not being naive, as it would be VERY nice to sea trial her and get some time on her engines before taking her into the open ocean, because a new boat always has some glitches and snafus that need resolving. If we do head out after all is said and done, we will be heading out with several folks looking out for us on either end, believe me! EPIRB, anyone? Oh wait, they're both aboard Equinox. Hmmm.....!

Friday, December 11, 2009

Chilly Maryland

The weather has been a tad frosty for itself here in Maryland, but at least we escaped the big rains and winter storm that preceeded our arrival. Still, when the car reminds us that the temperature has fallen to 37 degrees, it just feels very cold! But enough's actually quite pretty here with the crisp blue skies and fresh winter sunshine, and it's a great contrast. Although, as Ron walks in and out of the house, moving things to the garage, he keeps muttering under his breath about how "freaking freezing" it is! (Um, yes, gloves would have been smart to bring, but we couldn't find them in the Florida place before we flew back to Maryland!)

Sorry again for the non-cruising news; all Ron and I did was run around and get more stuff accomplished for the upcoming settlement. We got a VIN number affidavit signed for the car, so this February we can get it registered and titled in Florida even though it's still here in Maryland, as Ally is using it for school. Just getting that piece of paper was a bit of a bureaucratic run around: Florida motor vehicles need a law enforcement officer to sign off on the VIN number of a car for registration purposes, so I went to the local police precinct where I was told rather brusquely that "they don't do it". No help whatsoever was offered as to where I might get it signed -- gee, thanks for the courtesy!! Finally another (nicer) officer politely explained that only state troopers could do it. So....I had to drive 15 miles out of my way to get it done. The trooper was very cheerful and nice, even joking about the weather as he stood out in the freezing evening wind without a coat (!) when checking the VIN. Quite professional, and answered all my questions. Thus, mission accomplished towards that of many on the list.

Other than that, we've just been emptying rooms, prepping for friends, neighbors and movers to pick up the furniture that they've chosen to take. It's amazing how much we're lightening the load here...we're feeling extravagantly light and unencumbered, to be honest. Today's task is to rent a truck to ferry the remaining unspoken-for items to Goodwill, and begin the final cleaning of the empty rooms. Lots of memories still flood the place; it's been a great home and wonderful neighborhood for the years we've been here and we'll cherish that. The echoing emptiness of the house makes you realize that the most important things aren't material: we're all healthy, in good spirits and and best of all, we'll be together with Ally this weekend! Life is good!