Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Whirlwind week and onward!

Just so you know, we haven't exactly sat still since we've returned to Jensen Beach, our home port, a mere week ago. It feels like a month, with all the ground we've covered! We're going to be land-based for a bit these next few months, so are beginning to coordinate all the projects, maintenance tasks, repairs and upgrades we have on the never-ending to-do list. (Yes, it's a boat!) So far this week we've done the easy things from the necessary phone calls and repair schedule groundwork, to the harder, just plain grunt work! In that regard, we've discovered that it's an utter luxury to have Equinox just a few steps away here at the marina at Outrigger Harbour: I've made countless trips off-loading boxes of extra/over-stocked provisions, clothing, and other items that I don't want sitting aboard Equinox while we get all the various jobs lined up from upgrades to repairs. SO...onward!

On the upgrade list, one of the first things we're researching is a back-up water-maker. Fresh water is so essential, especially in the heat of the islands, and since it's scarce in most places, it's expensive as well. Many marinas will charge $0.40-0.50 a gallon, which can get pricey, especially if you have a large water tank. If you are in remote areas and will be on the hook, access to water is even more difficult, for quite often you can only get it aboard via jerry cans which can mean a lot of work to get just a few gallons aboard. Water is life!

Both of the alternatives above only highlight how much it means to have a reliable water-maker. Especially so, since I'm a water-girl! (I'm a Cancer, so I come by it honestly.) But really, there is a reason sailors of old called fresh water "sweet water"....nothing tastes better when you are aboard a boat. It's definitely my beverage of choice, as I prefer it over any soda, although a ginger-ale on occasion isn't bad, especially if served along with some good Bermuda rum! And...while this will sound sacrilegious and clearly not show proper reverence to the Holy Water Tank, I admit we are water-hogs in general. We use copious quantities, from thoroughly rinsing our scuba gear after our dives and to washing down the boat after long salty passages. Not to mention showering, doing the daily galley cleaning, laundry, and odd topside cleaning tasks; even though we try to be water-aware and don't waste it, we still use a lot of water! Thus...a small back-up unit would be a valuable upgrade. We're looking into different ideas with the help of our water-maker guru, Dick Murray. Dick will be out next week to help us de-scale the membranes on our existing unit, (bringing the needed service kit!) and to check out where we can fit in a small back-up unit. Onward!

The alternator/centerfielder issue is our main repair priority; we had one of the battery cables to the port alternator start to overheat on one of our legs from the Turks and Caicos, and we ended up disconnecting the whole thing to prevent any further issue with it. But...as to why it was overheating? Not sure. We checked the obvious causes, but nothing seems to be the culprit. And while I've taken a course on boat electrical systems to familiarize myself with the general idea of amps and ohms, resistance and capacity, it's still not my strong point whatsoever, so I'm more than happy to get some true expertise on this. Even just reading the inverter manual is like attempting to read an unknown foreign language: I have no idea what it means, whatsoever. Try as I might...I'm not stupid...but apparently some minds are wired like electrical grids, others like prose and poetry. I think I am the latter! Onward!

Another item we have to troubleshoot is our port autopilot software; whenever we use that autopilot, it takes forever to find its track. Sometimes when we first engage it, it wants to make a wicked right hand turn right off the bat, which can be a bit disconcerting, shall we say? The wind indicator also has a mind of its own, sometimes working, sometimes not. We've tried to log the instances when its not working, but there really doesn't seem to be a pattern to its on-again, off-again, lackadaisical attitude. Hmmm....more phone calls and sea trials ahead to deal with these issues, I believe. Onward!

Beyond that, we've got the convenience items, the small things: a couple canvas pieces to replace (the ones over the forward hatch covers, for instance), a bit of wood-working to be done (the wooden forward hatch screens inserts are literally coming apart at the corner seams) and almost silly housekeeping odds and ends that I want to replace (get new canisters for the flour I use for baking bread, along with a meat thermometer). There are also the odd project or two that I want to do, like making some mosquito screen inserts for the upper half of the Dutch doors in the pilot house and galley. While it's lovely to have the breeze coming in, we have no way to keep the bugs out when the half-doors are open.

So, from essential to the non-essential to the downright trivial, we have things to accomplish! Onward!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Back in the Land of Plenty!

Wow...I'm sort of speechless....in culture shock. This wasn't expected, to be honest. After seven months aboard in the Caribbean, I am seeing parts of the United States from a new point of view now that we are back; I feel like I've just come out of a time warp in Star Trek or something! We do indeed live in the land of plenty, and it's quite startling in its contrast to the islands. 

While I was looking forward to being back with friends and family - and the ease of being in touch with them all - I admit I didn't expect to see common, everyday things in such a different light! Such a different perspective gives things a clarity that I'd not experienced before and I'm really appreciative of it. Take, for instance, the local grocery store. Here in the U.S. in your every day, average store, we have produce, foodstuffs and specialty items from all over the globe available in every aisle, in staggering quantities. What is more staggering though, is how much of that we take for granted! Ease of abundance, abundance, abundance...it becomes the norm. Really, just think about how one "goes shopping" here in the US: you get in your car, go to the store, pick out what you want, let someone else bag it, pop it in your car and then head home. A no-brainer -- and most of us don't even think twice about it! But I was speechless to see it again; the profusion of choices, the luxury of it all, was almost overwhelming.

You see, aboard a boat, as a visitor to the islands of the Bahamas or the Caribbean, the mere act of getting groceries can be an all-day affair. Location changes the entire equation. You take your dinghy ashore, and generally, there are no cars, so you walk or bike to the nearest -- or only -- grocery store or market. Once there, your choices are limited to what is either in season "on island" or what is newly available from being shipped in on the last mailboat. If your timing is bad, you arrive at the store to find nothing is left after everyone else on island has been there to shop. (Which means what is left is moldering and nasty, nothing what you would ever buy anyway.) Remember, everything you buy you have to carry back to the dinghy, too! No carts, no cars, just the bags in one's hands. 

Sometimes there is plenty to choose from, as at this
fruit stand/store on Harbor Island, which was well stocked.

There are some staples that are easily found in the islands. Onions, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, local root veggies like dasheen or taro or malaga lila; broccoli is a favorite since it ships well, along with apples and various peppers: green, red and hot. Fruit is usually plentiful, depending on what island you are on: what is available locally and what has been imported (think $$$). Want anything beyond those staples? If available, it will be canned, and canned items are generally limited to corn, beans, spam, canned chicken and tuna. Really, you quickly find out what you want versus what you need! And, then sometimes you settle for what you can get!

Pineapples, potatoes, squash, onions, bananas, plantains, fennel, breadfruit,
mangoes, taro, corn, radishes, tomatoes...the fresh items of the day, in good condition!
Inside the "Blue Store" on Staniel Cay. Note the "abundance" of onions
and potatoes in the bins in the front. Canned items are on the back wall.
But... that's it.
Then there were items I wasm't sure about...
...never heard of...
....don't really care for (pig tails, for your dining pleasure!)...
....and items I would not buy. I believe the man that we saw in this market in the
Dominican Republic was chopping the skin from some animal into strips.
Of course, it's all relative. Every island is different -- some islands are more remote and thus have fewer items available, and some islands are more cosmopolitan than others, so have better choices. When you are there, your choices are the same as everyone else's. It's humbling, and you....become grateful for the simple things. Grateful for the food you buy, for what you have, for what you have experienced....when was the last time anyone gave thought to that while in the grocery store here in the US?

I'm grateful for Equinox, for the opportunity to be out there cruising, to have shown me these things. The lifestyle is a deliberate choice and one I'll make again and again, if for no other reason than to experience the variety in the world. And now that we're back, I appreciate all the more the simple Pink Store and Blue Store in Staniel Cay, Bahamas, the Best Buy Grocery in Nevis, the Super Marche in St. Martin, the IGA in Provo, Turks and Caicos, and the open air market in Samana, DR. We found what we needed, and didn't want for anything! The world offers many oysters --- you just have to look to find your pearls!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Last leg for this journey...

...and we are now in our home port, once again. We are back in Jensen Beach, snug and safe after a fabulous cruise. We had a great night on anchor at Rose Island, happily having a quiet night in settled weather, even though we got a huge wash-down in a drenching downpour right after dinner. No wind, but the rain poured straight down and scrubbed us clean as could be! 

"Jimmy" checking out the heavy rain
We left in the morning, and toyed with delaying our return by a stop in West End, hoping to catch up with friends aboard Miles Aweigh, but found out they were in the Abacos...so, homeward we went. We had such a lovely weather window that we couldn't pass it up! We cruised from Rose Island, up through the Providence Channel, fishing as we went. And...lots of action!! We caught a large black tuna, and later, after seeing a flock of birds over the water, we had two simultaneous hits! One was huge...and Ron battled it until it snapped the line clean and disappeared. I had the other rod, and pulled in our first bluefin tuna! We felt it was just a bit small though, and quickly released it, despite our excitement at finally getting a bluefin! But...hopefully better karma going forward, you know? 

Our newly caught' blackfin on ice...almost 26", which is
a good-size for a blackfin. Fresh tuna for dinner!
We cruised on through the night, getting a huge push from the Gulf Stream to arrive at the St. Lucie Inlet around 8:00 a.m., just before high tide. Nice to have plenty of water coming in, since the inlet has shoaled a bit and the markers have shifted since we left last October! We pulled into Outrigger Harbour with literally no wind...just one more bit of the gorgeous weather we enjoyed over the past two weeks! Hard to believe this one journey is over...but, every landfall is appreciated and we're so very thankful and glad to have experienced such a marvelous seven months aboard. There will be more to come!

Back in our home slip, once again

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Seclusion in paradise!

Secluded, private and undisturbed...that is our island for the night! We cruised from Highborne Cay north through the shallows north of Ship Channel Cay through the Middle Grounds and decided that we would bypass Nassau. The anchorages in Nassau are marginal and the marinas expensive (in our opinion) so with the settled conditions, we thought we'd anchor off one of the smaller islands to the east, off Rose Island. The cruising guide noted that there are many good day anchorages on the north side "for boats that can pick their way through the coral reefs". We found paradise! (As opposed to Paradise Island.) Aside from a large steel fishing boat aground, perhaps washed ashore during a storm, and clearly abandoned, it looked like no one had ever been here. And...we reveled in it!

The abandoned trawler aground on the beach to the east
First order of business as always, was to dive on the anchor to make sure it was set. We were in a long sandy strip in about 25' of water, and the anchor was indeed set securely, although it looked as if the anchor dragged through some darker sand before setting. Upon inspection, it almost looked like burnt -- or shipwrecked and extremely waterlogged -- wood! Hmmm....perhaps we found an old sunken pirate ship? (Not telling you the coordinates, just in case!) We swam ashore from the boat, using our snorkels and fins, roving over reefs and coral heads, to land on our own piece of paradise: a long stretch of the most gorgeous sculpted white sand beach, abutted with layers of rocky shale, stones and sand sculptures that hung along and under the sheer cliffs of the rocky shoreline. I'm sorry I didn't bring my camera to capture its beauty....it was stunning. 

The sand was hard-packed but still soft beneath our feet as we walked the long length of the beach. Only huge rocks worn smooth from the waves, peppered with odd flotsam and jetsam washed up from the sea, were our company. Aside from assorted plastic bits (the sea glass of the 22nd century, unfortunately), all we found were a few plastic water bottles to a pair of bleached out rubber soles from running shoes, to thick lengths of boat line of all sizes, there wasn’t much that noted human intervention here. There were far more shells and sea grass at the high tide water mark; I found only 4 pieces of sand-softened dark green sea glass.
Blazing sun...glorious!
The sun was white hot, the water crisp blue and temperate on our toes. We held hands as we walked down the beach, wondering who might have settled here, and for what purpose. Who might live here now? No one that we could see, as there weren't signs of anyone anywhere – seems like most folk were at New Providence, just one island to the west, with its big city of Nassau! The sun reflecting off the sand was so bright it hurt my eyes…with my mask and fins, I hadn't thought to bring my sunglasses. But how gorgeous it was to be there, our own island, and how I soaked it in...and what a treasure to share with Ron! Ah....need I say it? Love cruising!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Landfall: Staniel Cay, Exumas

We spent two nights in Staniel Cay Yacht Club, at the marina, rather than anchored out by Big Major’s. We’re feeling a bit decadent for ourselves, being in another marina so soon after all our anchoring out, but we enjoyed it. We bypassed Georgetown and all its fun reluctantly, since the National Family Regatta is soon to come, but came to Staniel Cay to pick up some watermaker descaler (of course, not in our spares inventory) that we had shipped to us here. Once we got the descaler though, we realized that we didn’t have the “service kit” that went with the watermaker, so couldn’t use it anyway! Argh!! We could have cannibalized some of the parts from the water-maker hoses, but we thought the better of it. So, as is so often the case aboard, the best laid plans gone awry, once again! Yep, the cruising life indeed! SO, we’re now on water restriction, to conserve what we have, and will augment with shore water when available until we return home.

The usual gaggle of nurse sharks at SCYC,
beneath our slip
But anyway…what fun to be back in the Exumas again! We had an easy entrance from Exuma Sound in through the Staniel Cay cut, and Ron backed us into our slip beautifully (on the inside of the outer bulkhead pier, backing in so that we had our usual starboard tie-up). Lots of folks are here! We saw Betty from the KK 48’ Lili, whom we first met when our boats were being commissioned about the same time back in 2007. Betty was cruising this part of the Bahamas for the first time with Captain Jill; we find it's always a small world when it comes to Kadey-Krogens, and it's so fun to cross paths! We also ran into Laurie and Richard off Forever Young (formerly of BMC) and wound up spending a lot of time with them while we were there, from having drinks and dinner at the SCYC Monday night, to hosting them aboard Tuesday night for dinner and a movie (Bottleshock). Laurie brought the dessert, which was a homemade tiramisu, sending Ron into ecstasy…his favorite! 

We also had fun chatting with the pair of cruisers off Fennders, who had just returned from a successful fishing venture before coming into SYCY. Ron found out that they had plenty of fish to spare, so immediately set about finding out what they were lacking, and he worked out a trade: two chocolate bars (a Snickers and a Milky Way) for a large Ziploc full of mahi mahi fillets! A coup, in my book! Just what the doctor ordered: fresh mahi for dinner!

Ron and I also had some fun for ourselves during the day, making two dives from Eclipse at a site called Jake’s Drop. We were familiar with the site since we dove it last spring with Jake, the owner of Staniel Cay Divers. It’s a deep dive site with a stout mooring, and gorgeous topography! Both dives were quite deep as I said; I actually went down to 100’ and 105’, respectively, while Ron was down to 114’ and 125’...and we still weren’t really all that close to the tops of the reef areas at that depth, but were swimming up above it a good bit. Since it's so enchanting, you really have to keep an eye on your depths, because it just doesn’t feel that deep! We also had a fun interlude with “Crash”, the blind hawksbill turtle that lives around here. As we were returning to the mooring line, out of the blue came Crash, swimming along quite cheerfully, before almost running into us! He came swooping along right at me, literally within 5 feet, before he turned at the last second and swam right over Ron, who actually had to duck to get out of Crash's way! Too funny! He comes by his name honestly! We got to laughing, but it was great to see Crash again, and know he’s still alive and well!

We left Staniel Cay after two days, heading out to Highbourne Cay on the morning tide on Wednesday. We headed out into Exuma Sound to have a day of fishing, and fish we did! We were lucky in that when the mahi-mahi hit, they did so in doubles: both reels started zipping out, screaming to us! Yes! Fish On! While Ron was dealing with the rod with the bigger catch, I handled the helm, making sure we were clear of all other boats (none within miles) and then getting us on a safe but slow autopilot heading before I then went back to help him with the other rod. And...I pulled in the first mahi! Yum! Each one was nearly 3 feet long, although Ron’s was bigger, I admit! But…fish on ice and in the cooler was  a happy occasion. Ron got 16 good size fillets out of the two of them; he’s really getting quite good at this!

Just a start on filleting the smaller mahi
We pulled into Highbourne Cay just before the turn of the tide so there was a bit of current. As with all Exuma cuts, you need to be careful of the current! Thankfully, the channel at Highbourne is deep, and while you have to make a couple dogleg turns, it’s easier than most to navigate. There were a few other sailboats on anchor, we still had quite a bit of solitude. We swam to the beach, relaxed and enjoyed another calm and gorgeous evening sunset over a great fresh-off-the-grill mahi dinner! Cruising reason #471....!

A bit of current coming in through the cut at Highbourne
Glorious sunset!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Thoughts on Night Watches

Not my usual travelogue entry, but days blend into night aboard on long passages, and one gets to thinking...

Notes while on watch -- 0200 am, 11 April 2011

It’s truly the middle of the night…2 a.m. I’m on watch until dawn, just enjoying the solitude and quietly listening to Radio Margaritaville as the stars slip past, hearing the faint hiss of the sea as the Equinox slices through the waves. We’re now in the Exuma Sound, and have enjoyed a truly lovely weather window thus far. It’s a fair 2' gentle swell, and a following sea at that! We are rocketing along at 9 knots, so there is a current giving us a push too. The chart plotter is nearly a blank page --- merely blue but for a few straggly lines of depth contours – literally nothing but sky and sea around for miles. The radar is showing the same, although I have it dialed in closer for more detail. Yet it's showing no contacts anywhere, save that I can still discern the tip of Long Island, Bahamas behind us about 12 miles past.

I love this time of the watch; I have a cup of hot coffee, and it’s so smooth on the water tonight that I can’t quite detect much motion of the boat as it moves forward. It feels almost disembodied, like Equinox is floating along on air through the inky darkness, rather than pushing through the water. Only the steady underlying thrum of the engines anchors me to the boat, while the stars swirl about – above and alongside me. I could reach out and touch them, they are so crisp and clear tonight. The night breeze slides past my face as I sit at the Portuguese bridge rail. I wish I could smell the salty air – does salt have a smell? I can feel the air, cool and damp, breezing past my bare arms and face. There is only the now of the moment and I love this! The faint, white foaming of the water against the hull glistens as Equinox moves forward, and I lose myself listening to the sighing of the sea as we slide along. There is a calmness, a serenity that envelops me, as if the sea is enjoying this quiet night as much as I am.

There is a touch of sadness here too, for I realize this moment is so fleeting, so transient. Being here, at this moment in time, is ... ethereal. This beauty is so rare – so few get to see it, this solitude and immensity of the ocean, the beauty and the clarity of the stars. The sea and stars feel both constant and yet ever-changing: constant, filling my entire view throughout my watch, always there and substantial. Ever-changing, as the waters move, flow and swirl past, while the stars slide through their rotation through the sky. 

Again, this is why we cruise...boats bring you out into the elements, and put you in touch with the physical world in a magical way. The wine-dark sea, brilliant array of stars, dolphins sighing as they surface near the hull...Did I mention I love being on watch at this time of night? I do!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

En route to the Exumas!

The cruising life lends itself to its own rhthyms. No alarm clocks but the sun, and we were up at a leisurely 7:00. It feels so good to let the body dictate when to awake! After our usual pre-cruise engine room checks and other preparations to batten things down, we were underway at 8:30…with a GLORIOUS weather forecast for the next three days!! Passage-making just doesn’t get any better than this! 

Blue, blue, beautiful blue everywhere!
For some reason, we tend to make our meals a bit celebratory when we are underway. Perhaps it's being outside with the ocean and the elements making us hungry, but food does have a bit of the stage! Ron started off the passage in master chef mode, making us a fabulous lobster omelet to share, complete with crispy bacon and toast from my just-baked bread on the side. I think we found the bacon in St. Martin; it was quite a find, thick-cut and delicious. (Very sure we didn't get it at the market in DR!!) But what a great start to a smooth passage!

From there, we just enjoyed the day thoroughly. We fished as we went (alas, again no luck), I read a bit and wrote some more, and we did crosswords or other puzzles in between small tasks when not taking our turns at the helm. Ron repaired our long mooring bridle, splicing on a better length of line for the shackle piece. Food again: I prepped dinner, which was a pot roast in the crock pot, strategically adding vegetables throughout the day as we went, and making a killer gravy at the end. Yum!! Served over wild rice with steamed asparagus, it was a perfect complement to watching the sun set from the fly-bridge, where we dined. Life is good!
Calm seas and gorgeous weather! Love it!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Mayaguana - full of surprises!

Ron and I were up early on this gorgeous day, and by 8:30, were in the water diving. We dove on the reef that encircles the island, just to the east of the eastern entrance to Abraham’s Bay. We used the sonar on Eclipse to follow the bottom profile to find the edge of the reef, and anchored in a sandy patch nearby. It's always a bit of a surprise, a hit-or-miss proposition, because not all dive sites are as interesting as the sonar sometimes indicates.

But...what a SPECTACULAR wall!! Ron and I were in awe…it was truly amazing underwater topography. The reef wall was sheer, almost completely vertical but for the profusion of fringing, delicate, intricate and overlapping decorations of brightly colored sponge, coral, sea fans and sea life. I felt dwarfed by the huge size of the coral formations, the thick coils of rope sponge trailing off the wall face and the absolutely gigantic barrel sponges protruding out from the wall. There were deep crevices filled with shy reef fish like squirrelfish and red hinds, as well as enticing swim-throughs and arches along the top area, tempting us, although we refrained from exploring them too thoroughly, since some were deep and we didn’t have the time to explore each ravine. It was just stunning to be cruising along the wall. LOTS of reef fish, too, although no sharks, rays or pelagics. (Darn!) Schools of blue chromis were streaming across the reef tops, and a large barracuda came bolting over indignantly to patrol his territory while we were there. I saw a twinset of tiny spotted drums with their tail ribbons a-flutter, and Ron found a spotted moray tucked into a hole. It was a truly great dive site, and the time flew by altogether too fast!  A fabulous surprise!

Troubling though, was that in the shallows on the top of the reef there was this same mossy green, slimy lettuce leaf algae over all the coral, sort of smothering it. We've seen it before, farther north, on the reefs off West End, Grand Bahamas, in the Exumas and in Bimini, but it's here off Mayaguana too. We were more than surprised to see it; we’d always associated the leafy algae with areas that have coastal development, but this is totally different, since Mayaguana is so remote. Sorry to see the coral in such a spectacular place struggling, overcome by this stuff. It's like kudzu of the deep!

We debated whether to stay on anchor and dive more along the southern wall or move the boat to Betsy Bay, to the western end of Mayaguana. Scully had said there was good diving there (everywhere, really) as the wall encircles the island, and since the weather was so settled, we decided to go ahead and move, and stage our next passage from Betsy Bay. 

Our remote anchorage off Betsy Bay, Mayaguana
I’m sorry we did!! While in the lee of the current easterly winds, the anchorage off Betsy Bay has a snarly, ragged rocky bottom of rocks and coral heads. We attempted to anchor three times near the settlement itself (or what few buildings we saw) but had no luck…each time, the anchor simply bounced, rattled and rolled across hard, rocky scree on the bottom. Ugly!! No holding whatsoever. We had read conflicting reports about the anchorage here between the two cruising guides we had, so I guess we should have known better! (Surprise!!) We were sorry we even moved from the good sandy anchorage of Abraham’s Bay, especially since the diving there was so stellar. Oh well, gotta go with the flow, and take what comes! 

We finally found a good stretch of sand along the north shore, about halfway between Betsy Bay and Northwest Point, where we managed to drop the anchor and get it set well. Ron snorkeled on the anchor to be sure it was dug in, and then we took Eclipse and followed along the reef wall in search of a good portion to dive. We were conservative, going round and round relentlessly to scope out the orientation of the wall and reef structure in relation to the shallower sandy spot where we decided to anchor. The area is known for strong currents, so we were even more cautious; we used the anchor line to descend, for if the current was too strong, we could abort the dive immediately and return to the boat easily. 

Thankfully though, the current wasn't an issue, and the wall here was quite lovely! As we followed the rode down and double-checked the anchor, we both spotted a large southern ray and an even larger Hawksbill turtle feeding in the shallower waters atop the reef. The portion of the reef wall here wasn’t as steep as at Abrahams Bay, but it still had a majesty all its own. Lots of healthy coral, with more reef fish than you could shake a stick at, including a trio of juvenile spotted drums, and some absolutely huge conch! Unfortunately, I also saw four rather large black-and-white lionfish as well. Those pesky invaders are everywhere!! And alas, more of the same leafy green algae here too! Ugh!

After a day of diving, we enjoyed dinner on the back deck, marveling at the solitude here. It is so remote, and starkly beautiful. Afterwards, just before sunset, I went to rinse out one of our cooking pots  -- a small dutch stewpot with two handles – in the water off the back deck.  I flipped out the few fragments of leftovers, and watched as the boat swung away from the small bait fish eagerly nibbling them up. I lay down on the transom, looking down through the clear water to the sand below, leisurely swishing the pot through the water at the surface as I held it by one handle....then I got quite a scare! A big barracuda came up shooting up from beneath the boat and bit the pot handle on the opposite side, slamming into it with an amazing amount of force -- it nearly knocked the pot out of my grip!! The teeth marks on the pot are what freaked me out the most….right by the shiny silver handle, which must have caught its attention. Good thing I didn't have my other hand on the other handle as well….ouch!! Sheesh!! What was I thinking? 

Teeth marks left by the barracuda! 
Yes, life sure throws you surprises! But that's what cruising does: puts you out in the world, out in the wild. Needless to say, I shall be more mindful --- and use the galley sink next time! 

Friday, April 8, 2011


Up before first light and away we went, so that we would arrive at Mayaguana in plenty of good light. The weather was glorious for cruising, sunshine and light easterly winds, and the seas were only just a bit beamy. Nothing the stabilizers couldn't handle! Unfortunately, fishing proved to be a bust once again, much to Ron’s dismay. We’d both love to have some fresh fish for dinner, but so far, none have come to play.

We entered the western end of Abraham’s Bay, Mayaguana about 11:30 am, picking our way through the various coral heads and rocky obstructions in plenty of water even on the high low tide. We found we actually could have come in the eastern entrance too, yet the charts showed it being somewhat narrow and not as deep. But, we had good water all the way in, as  we came right to the marked anchorage near the dinghy dock at the eastern head of the bay. There we found we had plenty of water under the hull (5 feet or so) even at low tide.

To say Mayaguana is an Out Island is an understatement. It is so far out, it is nearly desolate...not much here. Yet, the few locals are incredibly cheerful and friendly – what a treat and how nice it is to be back in the Bahamas again!! We took the dinghy in through the very shallow channel, clearly delineated by the stripe of white sand, kept clear of any grasses by the outboards that scoot through there. At the dock, we were greeted by Scully, a local captain and island guide, who helped us secure Eclipse in a rather unorthodox fashion.

Steven Pavlidis’ section on Abraham Bay in his A Cruising Guide to: the Southern Bahamas, outlines it completely, and later, when I re-read it, I had to laugh! Clearly, the dock hasn’t changed since Pavlidis was last here, since the method of tying off the dinghy is the same: “Pull out your dinghy anchor and wedge it into a crack on the dock as there are no cleats and nothing to lie to”. Still true, as that is exactly how Scully helped us “tie up”, wedging our anchor chain into the crack, and tucking the anchor around the cement corner of the steps!!

We walked down the desolate sandy road and easily found the Government compound and Batelco Office. The first building on the left is the Customs and Immigration Office, which is shared by the Commissioner’s Office and the Post Office. (It’s painted yellow now, rather than pink.) The woman was cheery and helpful as could be and delighted that we had all the forms filled out already. 

The Customs Office/Post Office on the left
After the formalities were concluded, (complete with a compliment from the commissioner on my neat handwriting!), we asked about directions to the local restaurant for some lunch, since we were ravenous. The woman hesitated, then asked if we could wait while she made a phone call. (??) After a bit of a wait, she then informed us that “Debby” would be happy to make us lunch and would be delivering it shortly, so we should just sit and wait! Startled, we agreed, although we were a bit mystified as to why. Turns out that the owner of the sole restaurant in Abraham’s Bay – just down the road -- was off-island, so the restaurant was closed, and the Customs lady didn’t want us to be disappointed!! True Bahamian hospitality in action! And, no, we weren’t disappointed, for when the delivery guy showed up, paper bag in hand, we found that Debby had made us the best hamburgers ever, with just the right amount of fixins’: tomato, lettuce, ketchup, mustard and a bit of something spicy. Yum! We paid her modest fee and walked back to the boat happy…so generous of her to take the time to do that for us! It's so nice to be in the Bahamas!

We returned to the boat and did some boat chores: Ron changed out the 12kW gen set oil, oil filter and fuel filter; I changed out the holding tank vent filter. A fair exchange, really, especially since I can’t smell! We also filled the scuba tanks and did a little reconnaissance of the reef outside the Bay; it drops precipitously, and should make for spectacular diving! We enjoyed dinner seaside with a lovely sunset slipping over the horizon of the western end of Abraham’s Bay. Just prior to sunset, another sailboat, Ulysses Blue, made its way in from the west and anchored off our portside. What a quiet, remote place…!! I’d love to explore the island, but Ron is anxious to keep moving, and use the glorious weather we’ve been granted for passagemaking. Another time, I hope!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

A Whale of A Day!

After a raucous night at the Tiki Hut (rib night!) and a much-appreciated viewing of "After the Sunset" aboard Equinox (with huge thanks and kudos to Scott off Rasmus, since he did the download and persevered to accomplish the DVD burning into the right format for viewing!) we all crawled off to bed. Earthling is already out of the marina, currently on anchor in the spartan but protected confines of the unfinished Cooper Jack marina basin, and we are due to leave tomorrow.  It seems our little moment of shared space and time is coming to an end, as all things must. Bittersweet!

Cam and Ron blowing the conch shells to signal Happy Hour at the SSM Cabana
We left South Side Marina at the high tide, which was at noon today. As always, it’s hard to say goodbye to the new friends we’ve made here: Brittany and Scott, Kelly and George, Sharon and Andy, Bob, Cam and his wife Judy. In cruising, it truly is a constant case of “ships that pass in the night”! I take comfort in knowing that some day, the song-lines of our lives might very well intersect and harmonize once more, and we shall meet again. Actually, in cruising, it’s inevitable!

Ron and I went out to West Caicos to stage our next passage from there. We anchored in the sand in about 40’ of water between a couple of the dive moorings; one was occupied and the other too far from the edge of the wall for a good dive site. As we prepared to dive after anchoring, a WHALE surfaced next to the boat!! It was a good 50’ long, and it leisurely circled us, surfacing a few times before heading out over the wall and away to the deep. How cool was that? Very!!

Not a great photo, but this fellow was just surfacing off the aft end of Equinox!
Our dive was somewhat anticlimactic after the whale sighting. We had only one shark escort, who didn’t stay long (do whales scare away sharks?) although we did see a turtle and the usual plethora of reef fish on this magnificent wall. It was a nice farewell to Turks and Caicos nevertheless. We enjoyed a quiet evening on anchor, although the night was less quiet, being somewhat rolly as the current changed with the changing tide. Ah well, we could have ducked into the unfinished West Caicos marina but opted not to do so. Our choice!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Watching the Wind Blow..

"Through woods and mountain passes

The winds, like anthems, roll."
-  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The weather has taken front stage the past few days for the wind has been howling! Even here, in this marina that has good protection from nearly all sides, the wind has been whistling down the hillsides and rocking the boats. I awoke the other night hearing a cacaphony of noise: halyards clanging and banging frantically against the masts of the sailboats in the nearby slips, the deep creaks and groans of the floating wooden piers as they surged about, being tugged and pulled by the boats, canvas pieces snapping irritably with the gusts, the low thumping of our dinghy as she squeezed up against the fenders against Equinox's hull, the long squeal of the lines as they stretched and flexed, restraining the various vessels...it was a symphony that only the wind can conduct! 

And with the wind blowing and the seas kicking up, no one is leaving any time soon. Each of us has plans/hopes/dreams to move on in our journeys; some south, some north, but all in different directions! As is always the case with cruising, plans are written in sand at low tide, and always subject to change at the whims of the weather. So...we wait! Happily though, this group is an optimistic one, and no one is complaining too much. We're all using the time to our advantage, repairing things, doing maintenance, route planning, etc. It's nice to have a sense of accomplishment from getting things done, be it more cleaning or whathave you! My galley stove is gleaming, and I used the wind to my advantage, doing some thorough carpet cleaning by pulling out a few pieces of carpeting onto the pier to air them out while I did more in-depth cleaning aboard. So, everyone's been quite productive.

On top of all that, we've all been busy cooking!! Our happy hour sundowner sessions have slowly  burgeoned into fabulous feasts, with treats and eats of all kinds! From simple cheese plates and pretzels, we've moved on to conch fritters, homemade hummus, lentil dip, onion and cheese dip casseroles, crackers layered with egg, cucumber and Swedish caviar, as well as red-pepper and feta cheese dip with toasted pita chips: Delicious!! (Or, as Cam would say, quoting the old Latin: "Maximus Num Num!") Ron indulged in a bit of nostaglic cooking, making Maryland-style crab balls for Monday's feast, and last night we had smoky grilled barbequed chicken wings, along with dishes from every vessel. 

It's actually turned into "dinner and a movie" the past two nights; we've all brought so much food to the waterfront cabana each evening that it became dinner! Stuffed from the feasting then reluctant to end the camaraderie, we've followed it with a movie. We've all crowded aboard Equinox's salon, reclining on couch, seats, pillows and floor to watch, complete with popcorn! We've tried to find movies that not everyone has seen, so we've indulged in Fool's Gold and Overboard, and have had so much fun just hanging out. Did I mention we are all social??

Meanwhile, the winds are forecast to diminish a bit, so folks are discussing moving on in various directions tomorrow. So, we'll have one last "movie night" this evening, and relish being together while we can. Tonight's marquee movie: After the Sunset

New Friends!

We've had a great time here the past couple of days at South Side Marina. Aside from the joy of seeing old friends, we've made some new ones as well, so we are enjoying ourselves immensely! Bob has a long-time friend from Canada visiting, Cam, who has joined us all at the cruisers' evening sundowner sessions under the marina cabana. His jokes and unparalleled acting ability have sent us all into gales of laughter, and it's been such fun! We met a trio of friends, Andy, Skip and Eric, off Ark Angel out of Key West, who regaled us with stories and great humor while they were in port with us for a day or so, and we've had a wonderful time getting to know Brittany and Scott off Rasmus. Ron and Cam have been in charge of blowing the conch shells at sunset, and everyone has been pitching in, bringing various and sundry appetizers to complement the libations.

We went out to dinner Saturday night, taking Skip, Eric, Brittany and Scott to Da Conch Shack. If you ever visit Providenciales, eating at Da Conch Shack is a definite must! The atmosphere is fun, the scenery breathtaking, and the food is just so good! Not to mention Atoll's fabulous rum punch! After sharing a pitcher or two of punch, and feasting our hearts out on the various conch dishes there, we make a short hop over to Turtle Cove, and stopped in at the Shark Bite to see Simone and the folks there. And who should we see as we walked in? Another friend from on-island, Roots! So fun, the serendipity of life! 

Conch and more conch!
Sunday was a low-key, hang-on-the-boat type of day and we each accomplished various odd jobs. Ron helped Scott and went in search of some material with which to fix a broken part on Rasmus' dinghy engine, (Somewhat successful, their biking adventure also included a flat tire for Ron, after he ran over a screw and it punctured the tire in numerous places. A rescue mission ensued to get him and the bike back to the marina.) Ron also completed a run to the IGA for veggies and other provisions while I handled my usual tasks, among them, cleaning out the flybridge refrigerator, doing laundry, and baking bread. While nothing new, revisiting the familiar is just as enjoyable, and it felt great to get a lot done!! 

The weather has changed from being mild-mannered and calm to being windy and capricious. The winds have picked up as the fronts moved in, and more boats have pulled in to the marina to escape the choppy seas of the bank. Andy and Sharon off Finally Fun and Kelly and George off Earthling have joined our group as a result, so we have quite a fun crowd here at South Side! As I've said before, it's the people you meet while cruising that make this life so very special; we are so fortunate!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Welcome Back!

It's funny the twists and turns that life brings. Here Ron and I were letting the weather dictate our course, which was taking us back to the Turks and Caicos. Admittedly though, we both were somewhat reluctant to retrace our steps, as the lure of the unknown and new is always so strong, and we worried that the familiar might feel stale. But in retracing our route, we received ample rewards which were not expected! Life is like that, filled with unexpected surprises.

We had a fabulous cruise back to the Turks and Caicos. The weather was phenomenal: smooth, glassy seas, crystal clear water, warm sunshine with just a hint of a breeze -- just joy to be relished in the moment! The cold front and high winds that we were fearing held off, stalling somewhere to the north, so that glorious conditions reigned this far south, which was a delight! 

If French Cay weren't in the middle, you couldn't tell where
the sky stopped and the sea began...
As we approached the Caicos Bank, the colors were luminescent, bright and crisp. The clarity of the water was startling; Ron noted that it looked like we were cruising in water just two feet deep, yet it was nearly 15'-20' deep. Our wake astern was trailing these reflected ribbons of light, almost the opposite of shadows, which streamed and twisted in brilliant shades like an aquatic aurora borealis. They were incredibly beautiful and delicate, shimmering and moving, enchanting the eyes! 

The play of light from our wake 
Ribbons of reflected light
You can also see starfish on the sand in this photo
Once we were within range, Ron radioed South Side Marina and Bob, the owner, delightedly greeted us and told us that "our" slip was available, ready and waiting. We also had the luck that McKeever, the Customs officer, was already at the marina and he was willing to wait for us so that we could clear in, even though it would be after the end of his shift. The tide was still too low for us to enter the channel to the marina, so we dropped anchor for the night not far from the marina channel markers, and discovered we had a welcoming committee: our boat-builder/restorer buddy Pinder whom we knew from the marina came zipping by on a jet ski, circling us and waving! And even as we were dropping the dinghy  in the water to head to shore, who else should come jet-skiing out but McKeever himself! How often do you get a reception from Customs like thatWelcome back to the Turks and Caicos! 

Once ashore, hugs and happy greetings abounded from our friends there. Even the marina dogs, Effie and Gemma, recognized us and insisted on a warm welcome! A huge wave of affection enveloped me; it's so nice to be back! Thus, a cruising lesson reiterated: while the unknown always beckons, there can be enormous rewards in retracing one's steps! And what better reward than reuniting with old friends?