Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Back to the Island!

We enjoyed a great week stateside with Ally and some of Ron's family, boating on the ICW with family and friends in Tingum, sharing Thanksgiving festivities and enjoying family recipes. We ate enough turkey to last a lifetime (at least it wasn't ground turkey!) and accomplished most of the necessary errands, tasks and correspondence to exhaust ourselves. Now though, we are back aboard Equinox, and are back to the island once again!

Monday was an early-to-rise travel day, so we didn't do much after our arrival but stow our things, tidy up the boat a bit and reconnect our replacement Bose media center unit. Since we had carefully labeled all the wires when disconnecting the old unit, it was fairly easy to reconnect everything, but...the color on the TV was off when we tested the system. Everything was blue tinged with magenta! Fearing we'd received a faulty unit, we called Bose customer service (with more than a bit of trepidation) but thankfully, the tech walked us though a few simple setting checks to return the color to normal. Whew!! We now have TV and music in the salon again!! Yay!

Ron getting our scuba gear assembled for diving
Tuesday morning was bright and sunny, albeit breezy, so Ron and I took Eclipse out to West Caicos for a lovely morning dive. We anchored in the sand near the edge of the reef, and enjoyed meandering our way along the coral wall with its gorgeous vertical vista in the depths. Lots of bushy black coral, barrel sponges and different rope sponges, and again, the huge schools of reef fish of all sizes and color, along with a single reef shark that cruised by to check us out. Great dive! I spied a spotted moray hanging out under a ledge on our return loop back to the boat too; it's the first one I've seen since we've been diving here this trip. 

View of Split Rock as we headed out to dive
After the dive we enjoyed a beach picnic in the sunshine, reveling in the warmth. We both were rather chilled after the dive, so opted not to do a second dive. It took us a bit of time to slog our way back to the marina; winds were whipping out of the east at 20 knots or so, and the waves on the bank kept slamming us on the nose. (I'm glad I brought one of my rain jackets for the ride back, because the spray from the waves had us soaked!) We took a break from the thumping the waves were giving us and tucked in at Pirates Cove on the west end of Providenciales to walk the beach for a bit. It was a smart decision: a gorgeous, deserted bit of beach, with all sorts of tumbled stones, driftwood, the occasional shells and broken bits of coral, although nary a piece of sea glass. So many beaches to beachcomb, so little time!

The stretch of beach at Pirates Cove

Monday, November 22, 2010

Holiday happenings

Our friends Paul and Muriel and their two girls arrived this weekend! While the weather has turned a bit windy, we still had a great time together aboard Equinox. It's been a long time since we've seen the girls, so it's a treat to have them aboard! (It's unfortunate that Ally couldn't be here as well, but she is still away at college.) Nevertheless, the sun was out and the views spectacular, and we had a great time catching up on things!

Their visit aboard is actually two-fold: happily, to spend a couple days with us, and then, to be caretakers for Equinox while we are back in Florida for a few days over Thanksgiving. We're delighted they could come; not only is it a chance for them to enjoy a relaxed family vacation in the warm sunshine, but having them aboard also gives us great peace of mind that the boat is being well-cared for while we are absent. Everyone benefits! 

While Paul and Muriel have been aboard countless times before, including making a crossing to the Bahamas with us this past summer, they weren't that familiar with the workings of all her systems. So, we spent a lot of time going over the care and feeding of the boat systems, from AC breakers and power needs to water-making, to monitoring the holding tank, to using the tender. It wasn't all work and no play, for the guys also went out diving early Saturday morning, out to West Caicos in Eclipse, while we women relaxed back aboard Equinox. The men returned quite excited, as the dives were quite good; Paul was delighted as both a turtle and a shark decided to escort them along the top of the reef on their second dive. Turks and Caicos diving is really quite fabulous! 

Ron showing Paul, Muriel and Alexia some of his underwater
footage from our dives at French Cay
After all the dinners aboard of the past month, it felt decadent to actually go out to dinner ashore. The six of us dined at Bella Luna, the island landmark restaurant in "the glass house" on Grace Bay Road that dates back to the 1980s. We went out to celebrate the McDonnells' arrival in the Turks and Caicos, and to celebrate being together! We all heartily enjoyed Chef Cosimos' caribbean-flair Italian dishes; Ron indulged in a spicy conch dish, Paul had past with stuffed snapper, Muriel and I enjoyed a fabulous seafood tuttomare and the girls also had pastas. (You can rest assured that none of us ordered ground turkey!!) It was a lovely dinner in a great setting and we all enjoyed it thoroughly. 

On Sunday, Ron and I flew back to the States, arriving late in the evening. We're eager to see Ally; she will be home for the week, and later on, we will have more family coming in to join us for Thanksgiving festivities. It won't be the same fun crowd as at last year's West End Bahamas Extravaganza (which was so, so fun!) but it will be a good time here nevertheless! Enjoy the holidays and stay tuned for further events upon our return aboard next week!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Busy week in paradise

Equinox in her slip at South Side Marina

I have to admit the days are blurring together. What day is it, anyway?? You would think the day clock that we have in the salon would help, but I haven't even checked that lately either! Hmmm...so where did last few days of the week go and what did we do?? Wednesday and Thursday we did a few needed boat chores and odd jobs in preparation for our friends Paul and Muriel and their girls to arrive on the weekend. While we were waiting on Customs to arrive with our long-term cruising permit, I touched up the registration letters on Eclipse, did some much-needed cleaning aboard. I am amazed at the amount of sea dust that comes in on the breezes...but the breezes are lovely and worth the vacuuming and dusting, in my book! A small price for paradise, eh?  I also indulged in a few loads of laundry and galley cleaning to fill my time. Nothing too arduous, but necessary.

Ron stayed busy troubleshooting to find out why the satellite phone suddenly stopped working a day or so ago. We ascertained it was a power issue, and after some Skype phone support help from the installers, we traced the power supply lines under the helm station, and checked the voltage at all the electrical connections. Success! Ron tightened a loose connection and power was restored, so the sat phone is once again available for use when we are offshore. It's always something with a boat, so we are awaiting to discover the next pressing project!

I also spent some time in the kitchen, trying to find creative uses for the last of the ground beef and ground turkey we have in the refrigerator. With the demise of the flybridge freezer, we had to choose what to keep frozen and what to defrost, since freezer space was obviously more limited with just the one freezer in the gallery. So, we rearranged items, and took over one of the icemakers for use as a small freezer, and put a lot of ground beef and ground turkey in the refrigerator for use as it thawed. Items were all vacuum-sealed, so that helped, and my new favorite website became one titled "25 Ground Turkey Recipes to Tempt You"! Thankfully...after turkey chili, turkey meatloaf, spaghetti with ground turkey meat sauce, we are down to the last few pounds. Ready for turkey shepherd's pie and gourmet turkey and wild rice burgers for Friday's dinner!

Even though we spent a lot of time on chores, we also found time to relax and have fun. We bicycled about the island for a bit, including a stop at the IGA grocery store for a few needed items. Later, after returning to the boat, we joined all the other cruisers currently at the marina for the customary get-together for 5 o'clock sundowners under the marina cabana! It's always fun to chat and talk with everyone over the obligatory glass of wine or two...hear their boat histories, cruising stories, and just learn more about one another. We had to laugh when discussing the necessity of the second drink, for as one fellow sailor said, "Certainly no more, but for darn sure no less!"  :)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Dive, dive, dive!

Ron and I awoke to a glorious blue sky and a bit more wind today...but had spent a lovely night on anchor in the lee of French Cay. We were up early, able to enjoy our coffee with the sunrise, then moved to secure a mooring on the reef and were in the water before 8:00 a.m! Ron took down his new underwater camera today, so he played with that, getting a feel for the various features of the camera in its underwater housing. I poked along, just enjoying the scenery and letting Ron photograph as we went, finding different subjects to shoot. On every dive, right after we entered the water, this one very young nurse shark would come swimming up to us quite cheerfully, practically wagging its tail as it did so. The way it acted reminded me of a puppy! It would follow us around the entire dive, just checking out the different coral heads nearby and seemingly happy to hang out with us. It made me smile!

A Nassau Grouper posing for the camera
The visibility wasn't the best to be doing great photography, but Ron had fun following a good-sized grouper around and taking different shots, from still to video. The resident reef shark made its customary passes past us out of curiosity, and we also found a southern ray buried in the sand, glowering at us from his little hiding point. Always something to see! After the dive, Ron wasn't very happy with his photography results; he's a perfectionist in that way, and said he needs to practice a bit more with the camera to get the crisp photos he wants. He's using iMovie to download his videos, and since he hasn't used that software before, there's a learning curve there too.

The southern ray, tucked into the sand
We made three dives during the day, then returned to SouthSide Marina in the late afternoon riding on the high tide. We would have loved to have stayed out an extra day, but we remembered that we needed to get our permanent cruising permit from Customs; we'd only received the initial temporary 7-day permit upon entry, and that was about to expire. Not wanting to have any issue with Customs, we returned to make sure we received the 3-month permit while the temporary was still valid. (I admit, it was really difficult to leave the diving when the weather is so nice, but, better safe than sorry!!) So...one of tomorrow's task will include waiting on Customs to come to the boat to provide us with the permit. 

Boat Chores and Boat Drinks

Sunday afternoon we returned to Southside Marina, (somewhat reluctantly, since it was SO gorgeous out) riding the high tide into port so that we could join our new friends, Connie and Randy at their beautiful bed & breakfast home, Starfish Villa. They had invited us to dinner a few days ago, and we had settled on Sunday as the date, thus the reason for our return. They put on quite a spread: surf and turf with local lobster, steaks, and a great salad, with red wine....delicious! Who could ask for anything more?? It was a fun night; again, cruising is the coolest as you meet so many folks from all walks of life. Better yet, it’s all relaxed, as you have time to talk and spend time with the different folks you meet, learning their histories and stories. Fascinating!

Monday morning we handled a few boat chores: doing a 12 kW genset oil and impeller change, cleaning the shower sump pump, doing a few loads of laundry, handling mail duty and bill pay on-line, making calls to family (and including one to thank Connie and Randy for last night’s dinner), to name a few things we accomplished. We also pulled out the folding bikes and took a ride across island to Turtle Cove to get our fishing permits and check out the marina there. Due to the extensive fringing reef and breaking wave action in Sellar’s Cut, the marina is hard to get into when winds are out of the north -- which is typical in the winter months. We’re not sure if we’ll take Equinox around to Turtle Cove or not, although it is closer to more restaurants and nightlife at the Grace Bay resorts.

Now, some of the roads on the map are marked as “improved roads” vs the main highway (Leeward Highway) which is paved, and supposedly better than the smaller roads apparently not "improved". Well, some parts of the improved roads are, um....more improved in some areas than in others...but for the most part, they aren’t improved much! We were bumping along on rutted limestone and rocks that made up the barely grated roads, skidding out in the sandy bits and generally trying to hang on and make forward progress in parts! Interesting. (We’re definitely not in Kansas anymore, Toto...we’re not even the Bahamas! And, we could tell!)
Ron heading down the "improved road"
We made our way to Turtle Cove and the north side of Provo; once the fishing licenses were secured, we explored a bit, biking along the part of Leeward Highway that follows Grace Bay to the eastern edge of Provo. The road overlooks a breathtaking view of Grace Bay and the aquamarine waters inside the fringing reef to the north, meandering through a hodge-podge of gorgeous luxury resorts sitting behind high privet hedges, cheek-by-jowl with chain-link fenced-off properties in various states of construction or abandonment, mixed in with scrubby brush, foliage and bits of assorted roadside trash. Clearly the downturn in the world economy has hit here...things are at a standstill. Yet, the area clearly has undergone a lot of development, albeit it haphazard with no central plan involved. We were happy to see some good things too, like the many signs marking the free beach access areas all along Grace Bay and the new Bight Park area on the beach that is beautiful! After a good two hours of bicycling and sightseeing, we headed back to Southside for lunch aboard Equinox.
New signs and a great park pavilion area for Bight Park
Grace Bay awaits!! The beach is phenonomenal here!
Once high tide arrived in mid-afternoon, we headed out aboard Equinox again. The weather forecast was for a couple more days of good weather before the winds kick up, so we wanted to get back out to the reef to dive. We rode the high tide out to French Cay, racing the clock a bit to arrive before sunset...which we did, anchoring in the marked anchorage west of the cay in the lee of the easterly winds. We had just enough light to ensure that we had a clear sandy spot in which to drop anchor, then set the hook and kicked back to watch the sunset! Which we did, with pleasure, enjoying a boat drink for our efforts! The Aggressor and the Explorer are out on the moorings; we will join them again tomorrow and dive our fill while we can!

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Living the Dream!

We took Equinox out of the marina for a couple of days for a little live-aboard dive fun. We left SouthSide Marina with the high tide Friday afternoon, and decided to head west to stay on one of the moorings off West Caicos Island. The reef wall there is steep, forming a nearly vertical drop off that descends to some 6000' feet below. The reef runs the length of West Caicos' west side, some six miles long, and approximately 100-150 yards from shore at spots. There are several dive sites, some with moorings, some not.

Dive site map from the Turks & Caicos Aggressor II website

Unfortunately, our choice of West Caicos didn’t take into account that the winds had shifted during our voyage to the north-northwest so the west side was no longer completely in the lee. The reefs to the north near Providenciales tempered the northerly swells a little, but as it was too late in the day to make it to the southeastern end anchorage by nightfall, we opted to stay on the mooring we’d chosen. We made a great late afternoon dive, which was a bit spooky since the reef sharks seemed more than a bit interested in us...circling ever closer throughout the dive until we decided it was getting too close to their dinner time for comfort!  We opted for no night dive, and endured a bit of a rocky night in the swells. 
Early Saturday, we went around to French Cay where we met up with the fleet of local dive day-boats. All the moorings were taken, but our timing was good as there was a boat finishing up with their dives just as we arrived, so we were able to take the mooring they vacated. We made a couple of dives at different moorings, moving as new ones opened up. And, as more and more boats headed back in to their docks, we reveled in the solitude of being the only boat left on the moorings, watching the sunset!
The dive sites here are fabulous. Every dive I am more excited than the last; we have seen sharks on every dive, turtles, coral in sublime profusion on the vertical walls, and so much fish life it makes one dizzy. Our last dive here, we were hanging on the edge of the wall, just checking out the fish in the current, when a couple of eagle rays came swooping by, just a few feet from us. I was reluctant to exhale, for fear that my bubbles would send them fleeing...I could tell Ron was feeling the same way. We were quiet enough that they approached quite closely -- one actually came face to face with Ron as it came over the top of the reef, and then, the duo sailed away. COOL! 

The Turks & Caicos Aggressor II to the mooring to the west
Sunday morning, we found we had been joined on the reef moorings by the Turks and Caicos Aggressor II and Turks and Caicos Explorer II, both live-aboard dive boats out of Provo. We’ve been on each of them in the past, during pre-Equinox days, so it was pretty cool to be living aboard and diving on our own boat alongside them. We’re actually "living the dream" we envisioned so many years ago! Ron and I kept pinching ourselves: here we were, enjoying pristine diving off the stern of Equinox (not just the tender!), secure on a well-kept mooring, relaxing post-dive on the aft cockpit and reveling in the sunset on the water. It doesn't get any better than this!!
Watching the sunset, getting ready for our night dive on
French Cay. (I'm already in my wet suit...couldn't wait!)

Friday, November 12, 2010

Enjoying the weather!

En route to diving, looking across the Caicos Bank at West Caicos

Ahhh, at long last....now that we’ve made landfall and washed off the salt, we’re delighted to be to able to enjoy the weather rather than wait on the weather! Having been here before on two of the live-aboard dive boats, Ron and I are familiar with the fabulous diving here in the Turks and Caicos...one of the main reasons we wanted to be cruising here this season! Dive profiles range from spur and groove coral formations to sloping terrain with a profusion of sponges, sea fans, and sea whips amid the coral heads, to fascinating coral undercuts, to perfectly vertical walls flourishing with life. The variety and number of reef fish, large and small, are staggering here. A word of caution though, as there can be strong currents flowing here depending on the fluctuations of the tide. You need to be aware of this on every dive and dive accordingly, or wait until the current ebbs a bit to dive safely.
The first two days we dove off Eclipse, running across the Caicos Bank out to West Caicos and then French Cay, to different dive moorings installed by the National Parks Committee in their designated Marine National Park areas. We dove at sites called The Gullies, Rock Garden Interlude and Double D. The park mooring system here is fabulous, as the mooring balls are for the use of all (although dive boats get priority) and the moorings protect the fragile reefs as they keep wayward anchors off the delicate coral. You aren’t allowed to anchor in any of the marine preserves, so must use the moorings, although you can anchor in clear sandy areas when out of the marked marine parks.
Ron and I have thoroughly enjoyed the diving.! As I said before, gorgeous reefs, steep wall drop offs, and the fish life....amazing. The first thing we’ve seen on every dive has been .... a shark! Or two...or three! On one dive at The Gullies, we had a two-shark escort the entire time. We both found that a bit odd -- normally sharks don’t care for noisy divers and tend to beat feet. Or fins, as the case may be...but normally they don’t hang around very long, much less swim alongside you as if you were walking your dog! Nevertheless, it was very cool, but we were also rather wary, keeping an eye on the sharks as we proceeded along the wall. It was a bit disconcerting since they liked to cruise up from behind us, pass and then loop around and do it again. 
We’ve seen turtles, rays, and lobster on nearly every dive, too. The first turtle showed up with the sharks at The Gullies, and like the sharks, it hung around us for the entire dive. It just was swimming along, stopping to feed, totally unconcerned about our presence! It was a fabulous dive, quietly swimming along the wall or pausing to watch the sealife carry on with their usual routine, and not feel like your presence is annoying or affecting them. Even if the sharks’ watchful patrol was affecting us a little bit! Ron has GOT to get out his underwater camera and get some of this on film! 

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Landfall in the Turks And Caicos!

Wow, what a difference a day makes!! We made landfall at Providenciales, Turks and Caicos, and once we did, we decided to be a bit decadent, and took a slip in a marina. This was not a decision made lightly, since we loved our good three weeks of anchoring out in the Abacos and Exumas and enjoying the beauty and solitude found there. But, after our lumpy 28-hour crossing from the Exumas and consequent lack of sleep (neither of us found our usual passage-making mode of "sleep fast, sleep deep" unfortunately) a quiet marina was beckoning!

Conditions on the north side of Provo were unfortunately too rough to get into Sellar's Cut and onward to Turtle Cove, so we opted to head onto the Caicos Bank at the Sandbore Channel entrance. We initially thought we'd anchor out in Sapodilla Bay, but were too tired to even contemplate the efforts needed for the dinghy ride in to shore and walk through town for Customs and Immigration clearance. So, we continued on past Sapodilla Bay towards Cooper Jack Bight, where we stopped at small and tidy South Side Marina. We are SO glad we did! We had high tide and plenty of clearance into the marina (dodging a couple of ubiquitous coral heads here and there en route on the bank) to find a quaint, quiet marina much to our liking. The owner, Bob Pratt, was out on the docks to greet us as we entered the fairway, and helped us tie up neatly at his largest slip. Not only that, Bob had called ahead to Customs to let them know we were arriving, so within an hour, Customs was aboard Equinox clearing us in! So nice!!

With necessary paperwork done and completed, we arranged for Equinox to get a much-needed wash-down (she was beyond crusted with salt) so that all we needed to do was make a few phone calls and e-mails to family and friends to let them know we'd arrived safely, then eat an early dinner and SLEEP! Which we did, unabashedly, and it felt absolutely decadent: no currents to contemplate, no anchor set to agonize over, no winds to worry about. Sweet dreams!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Thorny Path, sort of...

We were up with first light and moving across the last bit of the Great Bahama Bank Tuesday morning, heading out from our anchorage in the lee of Little Exuma Island to the Nuevitas Rocks Cut out into the Atlantic. It was a glorious morning; the front had passed and the winds had eased a bit, and we knew we had a good weather window to make our way east through the southern Bahamas to the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Heading across to the southern tip of Long Island was smooth; we had an easy, somewhat-following sea, with waves 4'-6', although definitely larger when the underlying N swells would swoop beneath us. So, rather easy sleigh-ride conditions for Equinox across the Crooked Islands Passage since we had to go south-southwest and the winds/waves were from the north-northeast. Ron had the lines out fishing as soon as we came off the bank, of course! There's a small seamount about 6 miles long and 3 miles in between Long Island and the Crooked Islands called the Diana Bank that draws in a lot of migratory fish such as wahoo, tuna, dolphin and marlin, so Ron was hoping we'd get a strike while we were near there. Its steep sides and shallower bank makes for some rougher swells and larger waves as the current pushes up over it, and yes, it was definitely rougher as we passed it on the north side, but despite our hopes, nary a nibble while we were there! Next time, perhaps?

The Atlantic was such a gorgeous cobalt color after 
we left the Great Bahama Bank, I had to take a photo!
We came around the southern point of Acklins Island just after sunset, although we could only see the light on Castle Rock as we made our way through the Mira Por Vos Passage. The Mira Por Vos Passage -- which supposedly means "Watch Out For Yourself Passage" -- refers to the group of small cays and reefs off the southern end of Acklins Island which are unmarked and have been the site of many a shipwreck. Currents commonly set southwest across the passage and onto the cays, which is I suppose why they are named as they are! It's too bad we couldn't see anything in the dark, as the Mira Por Vos Cays are one of the most important seabird nesting sites in the entire Bahamas and I'd been told that one of the cays is probably the most northerly colony of Brown Booby tropical gannets. (What do they look like?)

After we came through the passage between Castle Rock and the Mira Por Vos Cays, we turned to the east and were nosing into the current ... thus, had the wind and waves coming sort of on the nose/at our port bow. Not exactly a comfortable combination! At that point, there was no lee from any island (as we weren't passing that close to Mayaguana to the north) so we simply just resigned ourselves to hobby-horsing/lumping along for the duration. 

The crossing between the Bahamas and the Turks is called the Caicos Passage, and is traditionally known as the beginning of "The Thorny Path". From this point south, sailors on eastbound/southbound yachts face 300 miles of relentlessly contrary winds, waves, and current, and almost no attractive refueling options, so getting to the lower Caribbean isn't an easy task. For us, aboard a trawler, at least we can travel in a straight line! While conditions weren't exactly comfortable, we've certainly been in worse seas so it wasn't unbearable, knowing it was only a 12 hour crossing. We took our usual turns with the watches; I took the first watch 8 to midnight, then Ron took the witching hours of midnight to 4 am, before I got the choice slot to watch the dawn arrive! The slow breaking of light over the rolling waters was incredible to see; a peaceful interlude on a jolting, rolling ride just prior to our arrival at the Turks and Caicos. A low cloudy morn, but serenely beautiful to watch nevertheless...  nothing better than that!

Dawn trying to make its break through the clouds

Monday, November 8, 2010

Moving South on the...INSIDE

Well, the winds were still whipping along today at 20-25 knots, and there was no going out in Exuma Sound with waves of 7-11’ or more. So, Ron and I decided we would take the inside path, the Bahamian mailboat route down the bankside to the south side of Great Exuma. We radioed our intent to Kalista, and Bill, who had never heard of it before, asked if he could follow us. Certainly! We both are heading in the same direction, and they have even farther to go than we do, as they are heading for the island of Culebra in the Spanish Virgin Islands. 
Ron had researched the different route options along the Exumas before we left, and noted that while there are times when strong winds prohibit heading out on Exuma Sound, you really don’t have to be stuck since you can go “on the inside”. The bankside route is lesser-known (some snowbird cruisers will insist it’s too shallow to even go there) and so it’s certainly less-traveled as a result, but there are several routes charted, depending on the draft of one’s vessel. Conditions were sloppy as we made our way west out past the Galliot Bank, but when we turned south to follow along the Brigantines, the ride smoothed out with the following seas. We opted to go from East Barracouta Rocks, bypassing the Rocky Point waypoint to head directly to Duck Cays, where we came around to the south side of Great Exuma Island. High tide was extremely high, so that helped with putting plenty of water beneath our hull, although it wasn’t really necessary, as we pretty much had 10+ feet of water or more beneath us most of the way. There were a couple shallower areas, and we kept a sharp eye out for any random coral heads that we needed to avoid. 

Heading south on the Exuma Bank on the inside -- the water is so
stirred up by the winds it looks  milky blue!
It really was a great cruise! We had lowering skies and a few rainclouds as we came in to anchor near the point off McPhee’s Creek on Little Exuma, but it didn’t even rain enough to give us a decent washdown! The bottom was mostly sand and a few small isolated bits of coral,  and holding was good, and our lee protection there on the eastern part of the Great Bahama Bank quite nice, considering the winds were still 20-25 knots.
Ron had spent a good part of the afternoon in the galley, making barbeque ribs and turkey chili (the latter for our crossing tomorrow) so we hosted dinner aboard Equinox for both crews. Grilled chicken, BBQ ribs, mushroom and asparagus risotto, salad, wine....a veritable feast! Again, good conversation, laughter and fun stories abounded to the merriment of all. Tomorrows plans were set out, and as it will be another early departure, none of us stayed up very late. 

Moving to Big Farmer's Cay....Again!

We were up bright and early this morning, since we went to bed so early. Not only that, but the clocks were set back this morning, so we were up even earlier than we first realized! The winds have settled down a little; not piping along at 25 knots, but more consistently in the 15-20 knot range. We listened to the forecast, and it sounds as though sea conditions might be better in a day or two, so we are going to plot our course options later so as to be ready for heading out. Being Sunday, we also thought we’d find a better anchorage for Sat TV reception, so we can watch the football game this afternoon!
However, after using the high tide again to meander down to Cave Cay and around Galliot Cay, no other anchorage provided as much lee as the first spot, where we had protection from the winds that are still whipping along. So, we ended back up along Big Farmer’s Cay, where we tried anchoring a tad farther west, but all we succeeded in in doing was finding a steep sandy slope, which the anchor slid down until it hit a rock and jammed there briefly as we tried to set it, which pulled so hard it actually bent the windlass lock. This we know courtesy of Ron snorkeling on the anchor to see what the anchor snagged on, and found it wasn’t set at all. SO...we ended up anchoring back near our original site and while the grassy/sandy area isn’t great for the anchor digging in, we are at least holding rather well here. 
A few hours later, Kalista, a Selene 53’ with a hailing port of Telluride CO, came along and anchored near us along Big Farmer’s Cay. Bill, Michael and Bailey are aboard; they are aiming to head farther south to Culebra in the Spanish Virgin Islands, so were interested in our routing to the Turks and Caicos.  We’d spoken to them briefly a few days ago when they came by in their dinghy; they were in the marina at Samson Cay while were on anchor in Staniel. We had a great dinner aboard Kalista that evening; we brought the shrimp cocktail appetizers and the pork roast as we now have a few items defrosting in the refrigerator -- whatever we couldn’t fit into our freezer inside, after emptying the flybridge freezer yesterday. (McKenzie was unable to get it charged properly, so the better part of valor was to shut it down and not keep running it constantly.) In any event, we had lots of fun conversation with the wine flowing as we commiserated about the windy weather! Again, what is so nice about cruising, is meeting such neat folks and enjoying their companionship in a beautiful setting such as the Exumas!
Kalista on anchor at Big Farmer's Cay

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Moving to Big Farmer's Cay

We spent a fun evening last night with a trio of sailors off EscapA, a 46’ sailboat that came and took a mooring along the south side of Big Major’s Spot. The three were simply in transit, hired to move the boat to Tortola for the owner, and while they had wanted to get a slip at Staniel Cay, the Yacht Club wasn't taking reservations because of the impending rough weather. Greg, Pete, and Chance were the three sailors; we had a great time chatting with all of them, and since we had made a big stew for dinner that evening, we invited them to join us. It was a nice bit of camaraderie, since the anchorage was pretty much deserted as everyone was battening down for the blow. (We had extra chain out and were well-prepared ourselves!)
This morning, after a rocking and rolling night on anchor off Thunderball Cave in 30 knot winds and ripping tidal currents, we’d both had enough of this anchorage! After a look at the forecast for more of the same through the next three days, we moved out from Staniel Cay on the high tide. Heading out around Harvey’s Cay was a bit rough, as 3’ choppy waves were hitting us squarely on the beam, but once we aimed south, we had a following sea and it was a smooth ride. Still, it was a bit startling to see such large waves on the bank here! We cruised a few hours south, covering about 30 miles, to Big Farmer’s Cay, near Galliot Cut. We anchored in the lee between Big Farmer’s and Big Galliot Cay, where it was an infinitely quieter lee than the anchorage at Staniel! From our anchorage vantage point, we can see out  to Exuma Sound, and it looks nasty: 6'-10’ waves, easily....and scarily enough, we saw a sailboat out there, heading south. (We wondered if it was EscapA; they had made some comments about moving farther south, but...in these conditions? I couldn’t believe my eyes!) 
We had a quiet day here...we played Scrabble and despite my opening play of using all my letters and gaining a 50-point lead, Ron still beat me soundly. We generally relaxed and read, then together we baked a spinach/bacon and onion quiche for dinner. Making the pie crust was the challenge, since neither of us are great pastry chefs, but with the two of us working in concert with the cookbook, it went well. It proved to be quite tasty as well!!

                              Ron ready to roll out the dough. Note our improvised rolling pin!                                                              

The finished quiche, about to be served!

It was an early bedtime, as we both were exhausted after the loud, rough night of fitful sleep last night at Staniel. While the tidal current is moving us a bit here, it’s much more secure, with more water under the hull and we aren’t rolling with the surge as we were before. By 830, our eyes were rolling up in our heads, and we both crashed early. 

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Waiting on the Weather


This was the 5 p.m. National Weather Service forecast for the Bahamas, showing us that the tropical storm season isn't over yet. We are a good ways north and west of the Tropical Storm Warning area, tucked in the lee anchorage between Staniel Cay, Big Major's Spot, and three smaller islands, of which Thunderball Grotto is one. We have 150' of chain out, and are using our storm bridle as well, just to be prepared if the winds pick up as they are forecast to do. For most of the day, we've had winds of 10-15 knots, although when the cold front from FL comes through winds could pipe up to 25-30 knots tomorrow. Oddly though, the winds are very light at the moment -- 4.4 knots as I look at the wind indicator, and it isn't predicted to increase until tomorrow. Ok, we will wait!

As if we haven't had enough on our plates, what with continually checking the most recent weather updates and comparing forecasts and predictions of the various sources, earlier this evening we had McKenzie aboard, doing us a huge favor after a full day of work, getting our freezer coolant gas recharged. We confirmed with the manufacturer what gases would work, (R12 413a, 401a, among others) although it took a a bit more scrambling and several phone calls to locate a canister of compatible gas for the system. (The promised canister of 401 never did make the mail boat yesterday, apparently...!) 

Clearing out the compressor system before changing the gas
So tonight, McKenzie did his best, cleaning out the compressor system of the old gas, changing out the dryer and getting the new gas charged up. There was an issue with one of the valves leaking when he'd try to check the high pressure side, but he changed that out and charged up the system as best he could. We determined we would wait and see how well the freezer is working by the morning...hopefully it will be fine! Not precisely the definitive way we hoped it would turn out, but we are keeping an eye on the freezer temps, and hope it will continue to cool down into the single digits tonight.  

Impending rain...no real wind to speak of,  just rain!
Of course, by the time the freezer was operational again, it was raining a bit. In the time it took us to clear the tools and things off the flybridge and stow them back into the dinghy, it was an utter downpour! Ron ended up taking McKenzie back ashore in the deluge, while I scrambled around, prepping an easy and quick dinner. Gratefully, we had a break in the weather so that after Ron returned, we used the dry moment to haul Eclipse up into her chocks and secure her should we want to move in the morning. As always, we will continue to monitor the weather!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A Lot Like Work

We've had a couple of days here on anchor devoted to the apparently default endeavor when cruising:  fixing your boat in exotic locations! Actually, Equinox is fine, but we have a couple of minor issues that we worked to resolve on Monday and Tuesday. The first is that our Bose media center control unit in the salon appears to have an issue. We keep losing audio and then the unit gives us the error message "Failed 802 - call Bose." After we called through, unfortunately, it's not a re-programming issue, but rather, a dead hard drive. Bose is very good about their customer service, so all we have to do is simply send the unit in for repairs, and they will fix it and return it for a flat rate fee within two weeks. We had to laugh at that, which rather confused the poor technician at Bose, until we explained that we're aboard a boat in the Bahamas. Yes, cruising does spice things up a bit! :) 

Entrance to the SCYC Bar and Restaurant
Thus, to "simply send in the unit for repairs", we went on island to the Isles General Store, where we were lucky enough to find a box suitable for packing up the unit. We then went back to the Staniel Cay Yacht Club to fill out the requisite form to fly the unit via Watermakers Air to Fort Lauderdale, where it  will then be shipped by UPS to Bose. I had to run back to the boat in the dinghy to make the requisite  copies of our cruising permit, (needed for some reason even though we aren't shipping anything back to us here, we were only shipping it out! Once repaired, we will have Bose send the unit back to our Florida address.) To accomplish the shipment off-island though, required a bit of a leap of faith, since we had to sign our lives away  -- or at least our cc information -- so that the unknown amount of appropriate shipping charges, weight tares, etc can be paid, once they are determined. Hopefully, the charges won't be too exorbitant, but with paperwork completed, we had done all we could do to arrange for shipment and left the package at the bar so it could be taken to the airstrip.

Ron at the entrance to Isles General Store, where we bought
a new jerry can for Eclipse and found the needed box for
shipping the dead Bose unit back to the States
With that endeavor completed (hopefully!) we then made arrangements to deal with our deck freezer. We've noticed it having to run more than usual to keep things frozen, and suspected it needs a charge of refrigerant. Ron had gotten the name of a local AC/Refrigeration guy by the name of McKenzie, and we called to coordinate getting him aboard Equinox to take a peek at it. This involved running our dinghy over to a nearby island, Fowl Cay, where he works, and bringing him back to the boat. The good news was that indeed, the freezer does need a charge of refrigerant, although McKenzie didn't have the right refrigerant for the unit with him. (Apparently there are several types; he had a tank of 404 with him, and we need 401...) But, no worries!! McKenzie was going to track down his canister of 401 by checking with a buddy of his who may have borrowed it. If his buddy didn't have it, McKenzie was going to arrange to have the appropriate stuff sent along on the next mail boat from Nassau. As they say, "soon come"... ! McKenzie assured us he will get back to us and things will be fine with the freezer, so we will be patient and wait.

It's not as if we're going anywhere in the meantime anyway, with the weather forecasts predicting Tropical Storm/Depression/Hurricane Tomas to make landfall to the south, across Haiti and the Dominican Republic. There is also a cold front coming down from the States that will bring in some rainy, blustery weather as well, so we plan to remain tucked in here at Staniel Cay. Our little anchorage here is pretty well situated with protection from several directions, between Staniel Cay to our east, the little islands to our west, and Big Major's Spot to the northwest, so hopefully we'll still be in a fairly good lee when the winds swing around the compass from east to south to the north again as the cold front moves through. We'll just keep an eye on things while we are hunkering down, and are hoping for better weather next week!

Despite all our errands, calls and dinghy runs, we did manage to get out to do some fun lobstering in the late afternoon yesterday, so that was good. Although, by evening's end, I had to agree with Ron, who commented that all our running around the past couple of days felt a lot like... work! :)

Monday, November 1, 2010

Staniel Cay, for a few more days

Yes, plans are subject to change! As always, the weather dictates, and thus we've been keeping tabs on Hurricane Tomas to the south. Looking at the National Hurricane Center forecasts, predictions were for Tomas to turn and cross over the Turks and Caicos by week's end. Since we really didn't want to be running south, only to be in Tomas's path, we opted to stay put at Staniel for a few days and see what the weather brings. Not exactly a hardship, we realize!

So, Sunday being bright and sunny, we did a lot of different things, from snorkeling a couple of times in Thunderball Cave to cruising in Eclipse around Big Majors, to walking about on Staniel Cay and lunching at the SCYC. As I said earlier, it's quiet here....nary a boat at the Yacht Club, and the anchorage at Big Major's was utterly empty of boats as well. It was lovely and very isolated, so much so that when we cruised up to Pig Beach, only one lone swimming pig came out to see us!! 
The lone pig on Pig Beach, barreling down across the sand to the water
She was swimming her heart out, but no food for her efforts
We had a lovely walk around Staniel Cay later in the mid-morning sunshine. It seems like many places have been spruced up for the coming season, and it was a beautiful day for a walk. We just went over to Happy People, passing the old library and down to the public dock, didn't even walk up to the Blue Store or the Pink Store. 
Ron in front of the Happy People Restaurant & Bar

Sign for the entrance to the old library
The Library on the hill
From there, it was lunch at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club and watching a few football games. (The Ravens had a bye week, so no cardiac football for us this Sunday....that will have to wait until Thursday!) After lunch on the way back to the boat, we saw the familiar nurse sharks hanging about the docks at the Yacht Club, as well as a pair of rays swimming in the shallows. More snorkeling and swimming at Thunderball in the late afternoon (the currents at the cave can be challenging but also a lot of fun!) before a bit of camaraderie at the SYCY bar with a few folks costumed and ready to celebrate Halloween! We also saw the AquaCat, the live-aboard dive boat that cruises through the Exumas, pull in for the night to  take a berth at the SYCY. (We've actually cruised aboard her back in 2002 when Ally was first certified at the age of 10. She was their youngest diver to date at that point!) So...while it wasn't a late night, it was fun!