Monday, October 31, 2011

Familiar faces!

You might not guess it, but in some ways, cruising can feel rather isolated. When you are aboard and out cruising, often the goal is to explore new territory, experience new things and see new sights. It's delightful to share that with your beloved partner, but as you travel, unless you are cruising with a group of boats (not all that common in the Caribbean) you can find yourself longing for more company than just your significant other! (Ron and I joke about it: "I love you, honey, but I need to be with other people!") While it can be and often is romantic and amazingly beautiful to be at sea alone, you are also alone against the elements, so you had better be self-sufficient to some degree when problems crop up. And once you arrive at your new port of call, you will literally find yourself a stranger in a strange land! So yes, it can feel lonely at times!

Working aboard Equinox the other afternoon, we paused to watch a sailboat pull into Gallows Bay near us as they dropped their main sheet. We then saw the boat's name: Earthling!! Earthling's earthlings are none other than George and Kelly, whom we met at Southside Marina in the Turks and Caicos this past spring on our return north from the Leeward Islands! Familiar faces -- how fun!! We waved, hallooed and and happily greeted one another with unexpected delight and promised to come over in the dinghy once they were on their mooring. We have friends!!

And of course, as promised we did get together, quite happily!! We had them over to Equinox for dinner, which was a long, enjoyable, relaxing evening. It's always a treat sharing stories: catching up on the places we each visited (George spent some time in Iran this summer), sharing our experiences at different places in the islands (the Dominican Republic), comparing tales of boat work done over the summer and commiserating over woes of more work to be done (like diagnosing our davit issue). Dinner was a great event: surf and turf! Ron made his absolutely fabulous Maryland-style crab cakes (yes, we did provision a few cans of jumbo lump crab, ordered from J. M. Clayton in Cambridge, MD!), Karyn supplied her now-signature truffle mac-and-cheese, and the Earthlings brought a crisp and delicious tossed salad to supplement the turf -- filets mignons. Delicious wine, fabulous food, fun friends, great conversation -- now that's cruising!!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Good Eats!!

As we've said before, one of our favorite things to do on island is to sample the local fare. We always ask for recommendations before we walk about town, or simply just stop in at places that strike our fancy. You never know exactly what local foods are popular, or in what combinations -- Caribbean cuisine is always a fusion of influences, largely African, Amerindian, Spanish, French, Dutch, Indian and even British (although there are some who would dispute that the Brits have done much to influence cuisine in any way!). We've found that most traditional island fare is spicy and hearty, using fresh seafood and locally-available vegetables. Chicken and goat are main ingredients as is conch, lobster and local fish. Seasonings are important, and there is usually a choice of curry, coconut, spicy jerk, or a tomato-based sofrito. Often ceviche is on the menu as well, making use of local citrus juices, seafood, onions, peppers and tomatoes. There is nothing better than conch prepared this way --- yum!! 
Pot fish, fried, steamed or stewed - your choice!
Ron and I got a couple recommendations for different places, so off we went during our explorations of old-town Chrisitansted. At Kim's modest but charming restaurant, we seated ourselves outside in their garden area, and relaxed with a cold drink. I opted to try the mauby, a favorite Caribbean drink. Mauby drink is made from the bark, and sometimes fruit, of the mauby tree native to the northern Caribbean and south Florida. It's a type of buckthorn tree, and its bark is boiled with spices and brown sugar to sweeten the naturally bittersweet taste. I found it rather tasty, although Ron didn't care for it much! Supposedly, it's a good "cooling" drink, as well as good for calming the nerves and lowering blood pressure. Every island has its own take on Mauby, so I'll be sure to sample it elsewhere, too!

Food-wise, we both opted for the conch; Ron got the conch creole, and I sampled the curried conch. Sides included seasoned rice and beans, and a slice of sweet potato. (We did have to ask what it was -- caribbean potatoes, like dasheen or boniato, are not the typical orange yam "sweet potato" found in the States!) Our slices looked rather unappetizing, slabs of white with dark grayish edges...but indeed, tasted exactly like sweet potatoes! Each of our conch dishes were stewed, well-done, soft and delicious, Mine was with onions, peppers and curry, and Ron's in a tomato-based version. Thoroughly enjoyed by us both!
One of the many wild roosters coming into Kim's outdoor terrace
where we had our lunch. Definitely local color!
Yesterday afternoon, we had lunch at Zeny's, situated on the square near the Post Office in downtown. Zeny's was more Spanish in its choices; Ron had curried chicken and while I wanted the goat stew (a special on Tuesdays), it wasn't available. So, I went with the more generic "Stew Chicken", which was an assortment of bone-in chicken pieces, served in a sofrito-type sauce. A mountain of seasoned rice, along with extra beans, and a salad were the sides to the meal -- substantial and satisfying indeed! 
Zeny's is the place for good, inexpensive food!
We have yet to find a place with conch salad, but we are on the look-out! One thing is certain: no matter what is the menu, there will be something to tempt us! 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

History Lessons

Enough of being troubled by troubles, Ron and I had a productive and fun day! In the morning, we played around with our stern anchor. During our travels we've found that there are many island anchorages that have swells which cause Equinox to roll (sometimes uncomfortably so) while on anchor. Equinox, being a Kadey-Krogen, has a   well-designed hull with end-to-end symmetry and a "wineglass" transom, which gives it a fabulous ride in following seas. But, it also is very round, so in a swelly anchorage --- we roll! (Thank goodness for our Trac stabilizers while underway!!) We've noticed other smaller boats using stern anchors before, but we never had one aboard Equinox. This summer though, we made sure to put an extra Fortress anchor aboard, along with 20' of heavy chain and 100' of rode to serve as a stern anchor. 

Gallows Bay has a regular swell -- yachts get bounced and rolled even at the docks in the marina, so once on anchor in the rather crowded anchorage and mooring field,  we decided to play with our new stern anchor and see how it worked. The benefit of a stern anchor is that it keeps the boat facing into the swell, regardless of any current or changing direction of the wind. We were delighted with how well it worked! Using it also enabled us to keep the tender fendered off the port hip, rather than playing her painter off the stern. An extra bonus we've discovered is that it keeps us stern to the town, so we have a very picturesque view from the aft cockpit. 
Equinox with her stern anchor out. Christiansted is behind
her, with Fort Christiansv√¶rn in the background
Mid-day we went ashore and explored. It's what we love about cruising, being able to see the different islands on a more intimate level, learning their history and enjoying their charm. The town of Christiansted is a true blend of Caribbean, European and American cultures, being the one-time capital of the Danish West Indies. From the landing of Christopher Columbus in 1493 at Salt Bay, through years of Spanish fighting with Caribs and Arawaks, to settlement by the English and the Dutch in the 1600s, a brief Spanish rule in 1650, to purchase by the French in 1665, St. Croix underwent many changes. Under French rule, over 90 plantations were built, with crops of tobacco, cotton, sugar cane and indigo. The island was eventually purchased from the French government in 1733 by the Danish West India and Guinea Company, whereafter it was opened to immigrants of all nationalities. From Spanish Sephardic Jews, French Hugenots to English, St. Croix became a diverse and wealthy island due to its many sugar plantations. The island prospered until the early 1800s, when the sugar beet became a much cheaper source of sugar in Europe. The impact of this new method of sugar manufacturing meant the demise of Caribbean plantation life. The Danes sold the island to the United States in 1917.
The Alley Galley, a little deli in one of old stone buildings
of downtown Christiansted
Christiansted today reflects its historically diverse population, and the town is filled with  homes and businesses of amazing architectural quality and historic interest -- centuries old, well-built and still in use today. It's a pretty town. The National Park Service has seven acres set aside as a National Trust, centered on the Christiansted waterfront/wharf area. Ron and I walked through several of the historic structures, including Fort Christiansvaern built in 1738, and the Steeple Building, an old Lutheran church dating from 1753. We also saw the Danish Custom House (1844), and the Scale House (1856).
Cannons overlooking the bay (and Equinox)!
More of the beautiful fort
Fort Christiansv√¶rn or “Christian’s Defense”, is a Danish fort named in honor of King Christian IV of Denmark and Norway. Construction was finished around 1749 and was partially rebuilt in 1771 after hurricane damage, and is one of the best-preserved forts we've seen in the islands. The fort was originally for self-defense of the island's commerce against pirates and privateers, and none of the cannon were ever used in a battle. The Park's visitor center gives you a self-guided tour booklet which is very informative, so you are able to wander thoughout the fort as you wish. The small fort is very well-kept and fun to explore! It was a bit disturbing to see Equinox in the sights of the cannons, though, but thankfully, no shots were fired. That would have been one for the history books!
Equinox well within range! 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Landfall: St. Croix!

Christiansted, St. Croix above Gallows Bay
We are in St. Croix! And the crew is happy to be here! Equinox endured a long 12-hour crossing from Puerto Rico in rough, jolting conditions, encountering intense squalls with lightning, head-on steep swells of 5’ - 6’ with additional chop stirred up by winds of 20-25 kts. Definitely not the most pleasant of conditions! Nevertheless, we just plugged along at 6 knots, gritting our teeth, until we finally made landfall Christiansted, St. Croix at 0700 on the 26th. We pulled alongside the St. Croix Marina fuel dock, tied up and made the boat secure at 17 degrees 44.8 minutes, 64 41.9 minutes. First time off the boat and onto dry land in a week -- my shoes felt a bit wobbly! 

While we are delighted to be here, it appears that we picked up a stowaway: a bit of Trouble! Right after arrival, we've had a crop of things go awry and are now having problems with systems that were just serviced. Literally. Just. Serviced!! (NOOOOO!!!) For starters, the salinity probe on the water maker failed -- this AFTER Spectra guaranteed that our unit was “factory perfect” after its rebuild this summer!! When Ron called them yet again, they admitted that they’ve had recurring issues with this salinity probe design for the past 5 years. (If so….why wouldn’t they work to correct it?!?) In the mean time, we have spares which we will use until they fail, which ... they probably will. Grrrr!!

Then, we went to put the dinghy in the water, only to discover that the davit boom now refuses to move down. Again: the davit was freshly serviced, and supposedly operating well! All other functions work fine -- we can rotate and counter-rotate the boom, drop the winch line, raise the winch line, and raise the boom….but not lower the boom itself. We spent the day trouble-shooting it via the phone with Ray, the technician who serviced it, and are now dealing directly with the service experts at Nautical Structures themselves. It could be a bad DIN connector or the Vickers valve assembly -- neither are items that need routine maintenance, so it's just incredible timing that something with the davit should go bad now. The worst part is that the unit is so tightly fitted into the housing that access to the DIN connectors is impossible without disconnecting a few of the hydraulic hoses, then unbolting and pulling the entire manifold out of the crane box!! It's more than we can do ourselves, and spare Vickers valves we do not have. 
The manifold unit inside the davit. The blue things are the
Vickers valve assemblies, and the DIN connectors are on the right. is the case with cruising, we are re-writing our itinerary and will follow a compass heading to St. Maarten, where there is an authorized service dealer that can repair the davit problem. In the meantime, the boom is at an angle that allows us to lower and raise the dinghy. We'll have to use the manual override to get the boom down and secured when we head out to St. Maarten, though.

We also had to change out the A/C sump located in the engine room. We realized that the engine room A/C was indeed plumbed to the sump, but we found that its hose connection at the sump had cracked and broken. Unfortunately, there was no way to repair or re-attach the connector, so we put in the new unit. Again, spares to the rescue, and the condensation hoses now are all properly plumbed. No more mysterious fresh water washing into the bilge! 
New AC sump in and working like a champ!
So…life is certainly never as you hope or expect, but then again, that is what keeps things from being dull, isn't it? I'll admit that after this series of setbacks (all in one day!) we're ready to keel-haul our stowaway, and leave him behind! Trouble, begone!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tuesday, October 25, 2011, PM Post: Rough Seas

Oh, how quickly things one day!! And unfortunately, not in a good way. I only posted this morning, and tonight we rounded the Dominican Republic and went south through the Mona Passage. Even going through it, and not just across it, was unpleasant. For those who are unfamiliar, the Mona Passage is an 80-mile stretch of sea between Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, and is known as one of the most difficult passages in the Caribbean. Against the prevailing trade winds, variable tidal currents combine with the huge volume of water flowing from the Puerto Rican Trench up between the two countries to create waves that bunch up, shove, push and ram their way along that small sea opening. It felt like Equinox was in a washing machine, since waves were from slapping us from all directions, lumpy and confused. No fun at all! Ron and I each endured a jerky, uncomfortable watch; when Ron relieved me at dawn as we finally came south around the southwestern tip of Puerto Rico, I was grateful to see longer, sweeping swells from just one direction as I headed for bed. 

My relief was short-lived. As the day wore on, current, wind and waves combined again to take us on an ugly, upward-lurching, nose-diving ride as Equinox battled her way along. Winds piped up quickly, cracking along at 25 knots -- well above what was forecast -- churning up steep 6’+/- waves that were stacked up one after another at short intervals. Ugh!! We slowed the boat to the conditions as best we could, but it finally got too damn uncomfortable. When things started levitating off the shelves from behind the bars and fiddles, when we couldn’t keep our balance just standing next to the helm station, and when the bow started to bury into the waves a few times too many, we turned off our heading and took shelter behind a small grouping of islands near Bahia de Jobos, Puerto Rico. We'd been going non-stop until then, but if there was any time to take a break, this was it. We needed it! 

Now, one of our cruising guides specifically noted that Puerto Rico is "very strict" about its Customs and Immigration clearance procedures (especially post 9-11) and that some jurisdictions impose “substantial fines and penalties” for not clearing in properly. Unfortunately for us, the nearest port of entry was Ponce, some 20-odd miles back, and Capt. Ron was NOT going back (refuse to retreat in the face of big waves!). So, we dropped anchor in the scant bit of lee we found behind Cayo de Pajaros, put up the Q flag, and recovered a bit. While we waited for the waves to settle down and behave, we tidied up inside, clearing away small objects/projectiles that had gotten tossed about and worked outside as well, rinsing down Equinox in an attempt to get rid of some of the salt encrusting the poor girl. We looked at the tides and the best we could figure, we had a tidal current opposing the afternoon brisk winds and prevailing sea swells that tipped the equation towards unusually rough seas. 

We were hopeful that conditions would settle down in the evening as the tide changed, and we'd be underway within a few hours. We decided we’d have dinner and take another look at conditions thereafter…if things had improved, we’d then resume our journey. Being 90 miles from St. Croix, it meant another 12 hours or so of cruising before we would arrive, plus we also needed to time our departure to arrive in Christiansted in good light. That meant leaving just after dark, with a possible rough night to follow. Hmm...choices. Of course, right then in the midst of our discussion … visitors!

We were approached from afar by a small boat; Ron checked it out with binoculars, noting that it looked “official”….and, indeed it was. A marine Policia boat! Yikes!! They wanted to board, and after a few attempts to to come alongside as Equinox swung on anchor, one of the officers boarded by hopping onto the transom -- and into Ron’s waiting arms, who was there to assist. They both very nearly fell in the water, but somehow, thankfully, didn’t!! The officer laughed and thanked Ron for his help...smiles were at least an auspicious beginning!

After answering a few initial questions we explained our situation, admitting that we hadn’t cleared in, being in transit to St. Croix, and were only taking a short break in our journey from the U.S. due to the ugly and rough conditions. After getting all the USCG documentation, Local Boater Option cards and passports, the officer called Customs while Ron and I grimly sat on the saloon couch, both of us envisioning fines, penalties, or worse. (Visions of sugarplums, they were most decidedly not.)

Well, the officer must have known we were a bit freaked, as he then started reassuring us that we were fine, that there was no reason to worry. And once he got off the phone, he said we were good to go. What?? Really?? Why? How?? It turns out that since we were still in transit and hadn’t cleared in anywhere since leaving the U.S., we were considered “domestic” boaters in Puerto Rican waters as they are under U.S. jurisdiction. Going from one US port to another is considered domestic travel! I have to admit, that never occurred to us! Again, the officer was extremely nice and very professional about it, explaining that we didn’t need to do anything to clear in beyond making a phone call to Customs. Not only that, with his phone call, we were now cleared in, both in PR and in St. Croix!! Talk about relief...and kindness. It was most appreciated!! Whew!! 

Needless to say, we still weighed anchor and got underway as soon as we could; after our scare, worrying that we'd inadvertently done something wrong, everything else seemed smooth sailing. While conditions weren't great, the seas had mitigated somewhat, so away we went. But with happy hearts, and grateful that we were only traveling "domestically!" Sail on!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011 AM post: Where we belong!

Where the sky meets the water, 
where the wind is my song.
Where the sun is my brother,
That's where I belong.
~Alan Jackson

The seas and the wind are still being kind, can you believe it? We are making good time along the north coast of the Dominican Republic this morning, loping along at 8.5 knots. Sunny, somewhat hazy, the winds are out of the south, and long, somewhat choppy swells are out of the northeast; we are cutting through the middle as we heading southeast. It’s a fairly easy ride, although there is the occasional short, choppy wave popping up to break Equinox’s stride. We have music playing from one of our iPod playlists, and each song seems to keep time to the motion of the boat…how fun is that? Life is good! Even better is when the lyrics, like those of Alan Jackson, capture the moment so perfectly. Here we are, in the middle of ocean, and the lyrics speak truly about what is in our hearts. Thank you, Alan!!

We hope to continue to put miles under the hull, rather than pull in for the night anywhere. Make hay while the sun shines, so to speak, and reach new territory...and  enjoy the journey. While we’ve spent a lot of time in the Bahamas, as well as in the Turks and Caicos, it’s hard to be passing them by on this leg of the trip knowing that we are missing out on seeing old friends and familiar places. Yet we know we will stop there again on our return, which helps us appreciate the new! And right now, our aim is to see new places, and get as far as we can during this lovely weather window, hopefully to St. Croix, and meander south thereafter. It's been a magical time!

When the moonlight cracks the edge of night
And stars are everywhere,
I can taste the rum and coke
and I can smell that salty air

A light spray across my bow
Cools the evening sun
As it slowly melts into the sea
And tells me day is done

Where the sky meets the water, 
where the wind is my song.
Where the sun is my brother,
That's where I belong.
~Alan Jackson, That's Where I Belong

Monday, October 24, 2011

Good Day, Mate!

After my amazing night watch and the breath-taking breaking of the dawn across the seas to the east ahead...the remainder of our day was just as delightful! As I said, we’ve enjoyed conditions beyond our wildest hopes! (Actually, I did hope for them, but never expected them to materialize!) Ron’s been reading the weather patterns and winds perfectly, and because of that, we’ve been running with a favorable weather window ever since we left. It’s especially nice that the gloom of the first two days has since been replaced with warm sunshine, but more importantly, it’s fabulous that the seas have been so kind. We ran with following seas the first two days, and most recently, with comfortably long 3’-4’ swells quartering on the port bow. (Much better than taking them head-on!) Waves were shorter and choppier at times, but it’s been far and away much easier than we experienced the last time we came tripping down the Thorny Path!  Gratitude!!
Does it get any better than this? Don't think so!
It was so calm that we opened up the pilothouse doors and spent a good part of the day outside. What a treat! We read up on the flybridge in the shade, fished and sat on the aft cockpit, did a little sunbathing au naturelle on the new sun pad, goggled at the cobalt blue of the water sliding past, and generally ... just appreciated the cool breezes and great conditions!! The seas were even better than what was forecast, so Ron put his new fishing rod tree to use, dragging a few lines behind Equinox.

The Christmas tree rod holder getting ready for use!

And...yes!! Ron was rewarded with a decent-sized mahi-mahi that we landed mid-afternoon. Fresh fish for dinner! We had to giggle, for the old “Let’s-pull-some-salmon-out-of-the-freezer-for-dinner trick" worked like a charm. (It never fails; once we make the statement out loud on the back deck -- and actually pull some salmon out of the freezer -- the fish start to bite!!) The salmon was quickly put back into the freezer, having been only bait, after all -- and we savored a quiet dinner at  sunset, surrounded by sea and solitude. From dawn to dusk, it was definitely a lovely day! 

What day is it? Where are we, anyway?

One day is blurring into another here…night follows day, sleep follows watch, sea follows sky. The weather has been favorable, so we just keep on moving south! We've simply been in transit, and not stopped anywhere, so the only common denominator each day has been crystal blue water and the rhythm of the waves! We've been cruising non-stop 24/7 except for our brief dinner and nap rest-stop a day or so ago...and now, I'm actually not sure how long ago it was! At the moment, it’s 1:32 am, and I’m on the early/wee hours watch tonight. Day follows night, night follows day, and the scenery doesn't change...! We switched up the watches to be fair, since Ron’s been doing this early watch the past few nights.

What makes the wee hours watch hard is that you try to nap/sleep before your watch, and it’s hard to fall sleep at 7 pm! If you don't sleep, you pay for it later and must fight fatigue at the helm about 5 or 6 fun. I actually slept pretty well from 7 – 9 pm tonight, but then the seas picked up a bit causing the boat to hobby-horse into the waves just enough to toss me about in bed, disrupting my sleep for awhile. (I felt like a magician’s assistant: “See the girl levitate – look, no strings!”) Then suddenly my alarm was going off at 12:45am, so I knew I’d fallen back asleep, hard.

Night watches are a bit disorienting at first, like all shift work, but now I’m awake and at the helm as we pass by the city lights of Puerto Playa, Dominican Republic, 10 nm distant. Taking favorable seas as they came, we never stopped at Great Inagua, and are still underway. Coffee in hand, I gaze out the pilot house window into the inky darkness and can’t see a thing. Beyond the thin twinkling of lights on land to starboard, there is nothing. No moonlight glimmering on the waves, no stars; the only light outside is the faint reflection of the mast light on the forward bow rails. It’s a snug little cocoon inside the PH, warmed by the compass’ red light, and the dim glow of the radar and chart plotter. Equinox has settled into a steady rock and forward glide motion at 8 knots, and our journey continues comfortably. If not for the jolting of an occasional larger wave and spray off the bow, I could convince myself we aren’t moving at all. As time passes, I get a second wind, and am awestruck by the magnificent sunrise in front of me: sea meets sky, with sunlight peeking a shy good morning... how amazing that we are out there to see it! 

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Rest Stop

What a difference a day makes!! We passed through numerous squalls Friday as the front passed to the west; once through, we had nicely calming conditions, and a bit of sunshine for a change. We are transiting the Bahamas, and reached the Jumentos by the end of the day, where we anchored off Raccoon Cay in House Bay just before sunset. The Ragged Islands and the Jumentos are a very remote part of the southern Bahamas, and extremely isolated…there is only one settlement of about 100 souls along this archipelago. (Not that we saw anyone; Raccoon Cay is uninhabited and we didn't get off the boat.) As Ron said, it’s about “ten feet from the end of the world.”  

Since we needed to rest, renew, recharge a bit, doing so in the lee of such a pretty anchorage was perfect. We had no difficulties anchoring in the sand in a good 10’ of water, put up the "Q" flag, then immediately set to relaxing. We gave Ally a call on the satellite phone to let her know where we were, having “pulled over” for the night. 

Our "rest area" for the night
We had a leisurely dinner of Butcher Bobby’s utterly amazing rib veal chops,  steamed asparagus and garlic mashed red potatoes (complete with a goodly amount of butterrrr!) along with a couple cocktails to celebrate our passage so far.  The rib chops were indeed unbelievably good – grilled medium-rare after being rubbed with olive oil, crushed rosemary and just a suspicion of garlic – and were a perfect accompaniment to our happy mood. We barely made it through part of a movie before we crashed into bed, sleeping deeply, soundly and well in our protected anchorage.  Great rest stop!

The next morning the sun greeted us, as did light winds and calm seas. We had time to tidy up, do laundry, re-batten the saloon, and plot various courses to Great Inagua and thence to Porto Plata, DR. If the seas prevail as forecast, we should have a fairly good run: light winds with 5-7’ seas in a mostly easterly swell. I’ll take moderate swells any day over short, steep and choppy waves! SO…onward we press. The engines are running well, and the whole boat seems much quieter than it has in the past. We’re thinking that moving the hydraulic pump is the reason; placed where it was previously -- outboard near the hull  -- made it resonate noisily through the boat. What a pleasure to have it so quiet now! The port engine still has some minor issue on its coolant side of things, running a few degrees warmer than the stbd engine, but both are running well, and again, much quieter. Love it!!

Right now as I write, Ron is prepping the fishing gear, for if the conditions are good offshore, we’ll drag a few lines as we go. We have time to slow down and fish if need be, so that we don’t arrive anywhere in the middle of the night. May the seas and wind favor us, and good cruising conditions continue!

Friday, October 21, 2011

New waters!

Gray skies, gray waters...exploring new territory!
Exploration! We’re currently in new-to-us waters: on the Great Bahama Bank, running down the Blossom Channel towards the remote southern Bahamas islands of the Jumentos and Ragged Islands. Most folks don’t go this route, at least, not many snowbird cruisers who are heading to Georgetown, Exumas. Frankly, we haven’t seen a soul, which is just fine. We're still enjoying the following seas although still have the same dull weather….overcast, gray skies, with stronger winds: NNE 20-25 kts today. Not great VFR, as the sun is ahead of us and the skies are very dim -- the water is gun-metal gray and we can’t see a thing as far as coral heads go. Still, the depths of 30' or more are reassuring, and our charts and known waypoints have proven accurate, so we’re proceeding ahead, watching as best we can.

Equinox in the middle of the Great Bahama Bank. Not much out there! 
We had a minor crisis this morning, for we thought we had a fresh water leak in the engine room. (Nooooo!!!) Ron was very unhappy to discover a trickle of water coming into the bilge, flowing down the hull from outboard, under of the starboard fuel tank …which we thought it was from the water line to the refrigerator water tank/ice-maker. We shut off the sea cock for that water line, but water continued to flow...ugh! Ron then re-traced the ice-maker water line, and he realized that it didn’t run that far outboard. He then looked at every possible fresh water source he could think of before he realized he’d left the engine room A/C on. The compressor unit was all frozen, trying to cope with the heat in the engine room, so its condensation pan overflowing. As the pan isn’t plumbed into anything, it was overflowing into the bilge. Mystery solved – whew! Talk about new waters…these we can live without! 

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Underway At Last!!

At long last, Equinox is underway once again! Monday, the 17th, was a day full of snags; while we’d wanted to leave early, we couldn’t, as we needed to retrieve our new sun-shade from the canvas shop, then found it prudent to double-check the new hydraulic pumps to ensure both were running well. By the time that was done, the weather had deteriorated and we sat miserably, watching the wind and rains churning up the seas. Not the best morning! Nevertheless, the remainder of our day was a delight, for the evening found us with dear friends, Kim and Al, sharing dinner and a late night of laughter; we had a fabulous time together. Made the wait for a departure window much, much sweeter!

Tuesday morning brought improving weather: by late afternoon, the winds had dropped and seas were forecast to improve. We used the weather delay to run a few last-minute errands, before we finally cast off the mooring lines and got ourselves the hell out of Dodge! Finally!! We took advantage of the afternoon high tide, easing out the St. Lucie Inlet (with a good 2.5’ of water under the hull at the tricky shoaling spot by the jetty breakers -- whew!) And from there….easy cruising down the coast. We thought we’d stay near shore in the lee of the westerly winds and see how things progressed as we went south. If conditions were snotty, we could always duck back inside near Miami and wait for better crossing weather. 

But…we needn’t have worried! The southeasterly swells didn’t provide a particularly smooth ride, but it wasn’t unbearable, either. We’d never taken this southern route before; we’d discussed various possibilities from going directly east via the Abacos and then south through the Exumas (like we did last year) so as to stay in shallower, more protected waters, but this time, we just went with what made sense in light of the winds and weather. It just felt SOOO good to be underway again!

Ron and I decided to lengthen our watches, stretching them from 4 hours to 6, so that the off-watch person would get a longer, more solid stretch of sleep. (Yay!) I took the first night watch, 6pm-midnight; happily, as we came down the coast, the seas got smoother and the ride more comfortable. Just north of the Hillsboro inlet, I started our crossing of the Gulf Stream, angling southeast towards the north side of Bimini, Bahamas. The westerly winds then provided us with a great following sea across the Gulf Stream – Equinox loves a following sea -- and we made good time. Ron took over until dawn; by then we were coming onto the Great Bahamas Bank and more protected waters. Wednesday progressed with soft following seas of 1’-3’, and the clocking W-NW winds continued to push us along nicely! By 5 pm, we were already off the east side of Andros and making our way south through the Tongue of the Ocean.

Any concerns? Well…yes. Even though the engines were just tuned, flushed, checked and tweaked in dutiful maintenance, our port engine is now running a tad warmer than previously, by about 5 degrees. The John Deere technicians had noted this during our sea trial, but they thought the coolant just might be a bit low, so burped the tank and added some more. Still, the 5 degree difference persists. We aren’t sure of any cause: the thru-hulls are freshly cleaned and scoured with good water-flow, the impeller looks fine (with only 50 hours on it), the coolant level looks good, and the engine is purring along nicely. Since it’s well within normal operating parameters, we’re probably being a bit over-protective, but we are keeping an eye on it anyway!

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Sisyphean Task...

...will we ever get to depart?? Ron and I are beginning to wonder, as we're beginning to feel like Sisyphus! For those weak on Greek mythology, Sisyphus was a rather arrogant and nasty king who was punished for his misdeeds by Zeus, who compelled him to roll an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down again; Sisyphus was forced to repeat this exercise in frustration and futility for all eternity. Kind of like preparing to go cruising, actually!

Our past few days have felt similarly frustrating, to say the least! Just as things were moving forward, and work was wrapping up, setbacks occurred. We overcame one obstacle, another cropped up; we fixed one thing, then discovered yet another task that needed attention as well. And, truth be told, when we're down to the last few days of preparation, our biggest obstacle is ourselves, and our desire to just go. Because then, even the simplest of things begin to feel like a setback: waiting on workmen, waiting on parts, waiting for deliveries that never arrive...delays and frustration. Stressful, and Sisyphean, to say the least!! 

The last straw came this morning, for we had hoped to depart early and scoot across the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas while the seas were still relatively calm, and the winds southerly, but a recalcitrant impeller in the new hydraulic cooling pump dashed our hopes. While the impeller was re-lubricated, re-seated, and soon back in action, the marginal weather window we had hoped to use was rapidly dissipating with severe squalls and gusty winds forecast to move in from the southwest. But rather than rush and try to fling ourselves through that rapidly closing window...we didn't. Instead, we paused, took a deep breath, and ... relaxed! Yes, it is yet one more delay, but we're dealing with it! 

The radar picture is bright and pretty, but not in a good way!
While the desire to be back out cruising is strong, (really strong!) you just can't dismiss common sense. Weather trumps all, and with the boat heavy, loaded with fuel, spares and provisions, rushing out into rough seas would be an invitation for more things to go wrong. Once, we would have been unable to resist temptation, but now, having a few thousand miles under the hull, we're a bit more saavy. We'll get back out there soon enough, and hopefully, with much better weather in which to enjoy it! As Jimmy Buffett would say: "Breathe in, breathe out, move on!"

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Windows open and windows close

Clearly, I spoke too soon in my last post! The weather gods got their laugh after all! After the ugly storms and wind of last weekend, this past week was .... well, gorgeous! Calm seas, blue skies, just a perfect weather window for passage-making -- and we weren't out there. Ugh! Alas, timing is everything!

Nevertheless, while the weather window was teasing us, we stayed focused and kept steady at our work after all our delays. Equinox was a beehive of activity! The water-maker was re-installed, the A/C units inspected with a spare unit brought on board, the engines had their needed 2000-hour maintenance (quite a long list of items done), George got our new freezer installed, and many other assorted bits of work completed. We got the new tender delivered and got her set up with anchor line, life jackets and assorted safety items. And we continued to clean, organize, stash and stow more items from clothing to dive gear to spare parts to pantry items. A never ending list! We also had the entire interior detailed after the majority of the mechanics were done.

Gleaming new solenoids on the engines, one of many projects  that
George has been tackling for us in the engine room.
One of the things we got done this week was get the davit checked -- again. Turns out the Marquipt guys did nothing for us; while they did a cursory check on the davit and said it was in good shape, they didn't do anything else we'd requested, like change the oil and replace the cable if it needed it. SO...we checked with Nautical Structures, and they referred us to a great local company, Florida Rigging and Hydraulics, that services hydraulic and marine rigging components. They were very responsive, and happily we arranged for one of their service technicians, Ray, to come aboard all Friday morning. 

As it turned out, I became Ray's shadow for the day, due to the fact that I was the only one who could reach the davit's hydraulic reservoir tank! We know it's in a fairly inaccessible spot, being inconveniently located behind the 20kw genset on the port side of the boat, and we had warned Ray about it beforehand. (To get to the tank, one has to be a bit of a contortionist, because the only way to reach it is to carefully slip between the port engine and the port-side fuel tank, then shimmy headfirst and sideways over the exhaust manifold.  It's a tight squeeze at that juncture -- I know, as I've done it before, like when the old cap cracked and the unit started leaking oil a couple years ago.) While Ray tried, he wasn't able to get past the manifold to reach the tank, so instead, he talked me through the very simple procedure to change out oil. (Gotta love learning new maintenance things!) 

Ray starting to tackle the windlass 
Ray was very accommodating; after he was done inspecting the davit, he walked me through the procedures to maintain our windlass as well! I am a bit embarrassed to admit this, but the internal workings of the windlass have always been a mystery to me, and I certainly didn't want to screw it up by taking it apart without knowing what I was doing! While it's been working like a champ, I had no idea how to do the suggested cleaning and lubricating, so it was nagging at me that we'd not done anything with it before. I'm relieved that I asked, since it was pretty grubby inside, rather crusted with salt and dirt -- clearly in need of attention! I'm happy to report that it isn't rocket science, but the windlass is a well-designed unit that needs care and feeding  -- like every other system aboard a boat! I was soon at work beside Ray, scrubbing the gypsies and lubricating parts, as I learned how to disassemble/reassemble each part of the top unit for cleaning. Fabulous!

Ray lubricating the port-side gypsy after I cleaned it
So now, a few days later, we're almost ready to go! A couple more things remain to be done (getting new port hole gaskets in, for one) and then, the biggest obstacle remains: awaiting another good weather window! 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Well, for once the weather gods are not laughing at at us. Usually, when we are provisioning and preparing within the last month before leaving, it's glorious weather and perfect for cruising! Which drives Ron absolutely bonkers, since he gets to champing at the bit to leave towards the end, especially when the weather is lovely. But right now, oddly, as we're still working and getting required maintenance finished up, the weather has been lousy! Wind, torrential rain, thunderstorms...not exactly nice weather, nor is it nice offshore either, as the National Weather Service is reporting:

Hazardous marine condition(s):



Seas to 15 feet?? NO thanks! (While the boat can handle it, the crew doesn't want to do so.) Besides, we're still finishing up work -- Ron didn't like the look of one of our A/C compressor units, so that is getting replaced, and in the course of an inspection of the mains by the John Deere technician, we found a leak in the starboard raw water pump, so that is getting replaced this next week. (While we do the routine stuff, we like to make sure we're not overlooking anything so get a certified technician in to check as well.) We also need to replace the valve cover gaskets, and do a few other, more-involved required maintenance items. Thus -- we're not going anywhere just yet. Our departure date is always tentative, depending on our being boat-ready and the weather favorable, but we're thinking that perhaps next weekend we can cast off the lines. We shall see! In the meantime, there's plenty to do to keep us busy as we prepare! 

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Moving forward... I hope!

Well, another high speed day, with many things getting done aboard Equinox! Ron changed out the transmission oil on both transmissions while George finished wiring in our new freezer and replacing the aft bilge pump. They did other things as well, but I wasn't there to see it since I was, well...scattered! I had a list a mile long of odds and ends that we needed to get for the boat, so that was my task. Onerous indeed, as it was a fractured and bizarre list of assorted things.   

I spent the day today running errands to a multitude of places:

- Bed, Bath and Beyond, for coffee maker de-scaler, vacuum cleaner filters, and a new pair of long-handled tongs; 
- Total Wine, in an attempt to get a case of Rombauer cabernet for Ron as a treat --- and I failed miserably, as they only had one bottle; 
- Target, for deep plastic bins for storage and plastic hangers;
- Office Max, for printer paper, page protectors, binders, and a dozen packages of crayons and coloring books for Toys for Tots gifts this coming holiday season;
- Assorted auto stores and finally Napa, for hydraulic oil ISO 32 for topping off the main tank for the hydraulic stabilizers and windlass;
- Lowes, for six 5-gallon buckets to do coolant flushes on the main engines and generators;
- Publix, to the pharmacy to get our prophilactic Rx meds for cruising -- antibiotics and EpiPen -- along laundry detergent, dish soap and assorted canned goods. (Looking ahead, I realized I needed cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving. Which I got. Because if I didn't get it now, I'll not find it easily in the Caribbean!);
- West Marine to replace a broken shackle (Pelican clip) which is used to secure the dinghy up top while underway. After being in the boat yard, it's mysteriously missing its inner spring....hmmm? (So fun...I love having to pay $52 for the entire shackle unit when all I need is the .75 cent inner spring....which West Marine doesn't sell, of course);
- Some place else, which I don't remember. I was burnt out and frazzled after all the above stops. 

I  did make it back to the boat to unload all this stuff, and to admire all that Ron had gotten accomplished. Afterwards, we walked over to the Dolphin Bar, had a bite for dinner and are now heading to bed. At 9:00 p.m! But then again, as the joke goes, 9:00 p.m. is the cruiser's midnight!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Progress, progress, everywhere!

Whew!! Hours of labor later (and not only our own), Equinox is showing signs that things are progressing. Hooray!! Of course, I find satisfaction in the little things as well as the large, so perhaps I'm overly optimistic? Nevertheless, things are moving forward! Here’s what we’ve gotten accomplished: Monday we had our canvas guys from G & G Canvas aboard, installing our custom-made items: the fly-bridge sun-shade and our new sun pads for the pilothouse roof. Both are great additions and look fabulous! (So excited!) The sun-shade will enable us to use the flybridge seating and outdoor area more often, and hopefully it will keep the salon below it a shade cooler as well. The sun pads are spectacular; Ron and I are already anticipating many gorgeous nights sleeping under the stars!
Visitng sun-bunnies rejoice, as the sun-
 pads are in place! (Muriel, this is for you!)
Monday also saw Ron and George, our knowledgeable mechanical guru, get a lot of big-ticket, essential items rolling. Using the davit, they removed the old cranky freezer and got the new Sun Danzer freezer loaded up onto the flybridge. That in itself was an undertaking, but happily, it went smoothly with no hitches. While they were busy with that, we also had Dick Murray aboard, re-installing our water-maker. Our ill-fated unit had been sent back to the factory earlier this summer for an entire re-build, and they swear it will work this time. (Please, oh please let it work...Come on, man!  Really the technology is not that difficult!) So, we shall see how that goes!

Our new freezer being loaded aboard Equinox. Notice the aft
sun-shade over the flybridge deck!
We also had the dinghy davit inspected and checked – and as it turned out, it was in great shape. The Marquipt technicians complimented us on how well-maintained it was, and said there was really no reason why we even bothered to call them. (Ok, overkill, but we just wanted to be sure!) You need your dingy!!

As always, after running errands to pick up some of the never-ending list of needed items, I spent the remainder of Tuesday in the galley. (Getting monotonous, aren’t I?) But this time, it wasn’t just unpack and stow – I was on a mission! As I rocked out to my usual tunes supplied by Radio Margaritaville, I was busy vacuum-sealing all the specialty meats we ordered from The Butcher Shoppe here in Stuart. Bob, the butcher/owner is very customer-oriented and cuts everything to your specifications. Everything we ordered is of amazing quality, so it’s exciting to have it in our provisions, as opposed to the bulk stuff we could get at Sam's Club. Why bother, you ask?

The truth is that many grocery stores in the islands do not have the variety and abundance of inspected meats that we’ve become accustomed to here stateside. People take our abundance for granted! When cruising and living locally, food options are much more limited, for just about every item is imported, shipped or flown in, and is more expensive. Meats are a case in point. We love to eat the local cuisine (as you know!) and have found that good chicken is ubiquitous in the islands, with other treats fairly easy to come by – conch, lobster and goat, for example. All delicious! But beyond that, the choices become much more limited... 

There is usually frozen ground beef to be found in the larger supermarkets, with a variety of stew meats (usually goat, lamb or ox-tail) but often bony. And...what often remains are items we choose to bypass: pig snouts, pig tails, and pork belly -- which I’m not at all sure I’d like to cook even if I knew how to! (They are probably delicious, but I admit, I have yet to be brave enough to find out.) Plus there is always saltfish, along with local fresh seafood --both of which are delicious -- but when it comes to beef, it can be of dubious quality, or sometimes you can’t find it at all! Thus, for those special evenings on anchor in a quiet cove, we're excited have aboard hard-to-find items like good steaks and pot roasts, and even rack of lamb or veal chops. (Variety is the spice of life, isn't it?)

So…I put the vacu-sealer through its paces, separating our larger order of meats into packets of 2, 3 or 4 servings and tucked them right in the freezer. We will have our delicious local cuisine of jerk chicken, fish or conch...AND our beef too!

Rib veal chops awaiting vacuum sealing. Ron will be in heaven
 when I serve these on the aft deck for a sunset dinner sometime!