Sunday, January 3, 2016



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Christmas 2015


Christmas 2015 – Great Abaco Island

 
Its Boxing Day now, it was supposed to be a race day in the Sea of Abaco hosted by the Hopetown Sailing Club, but for some reason at 8.15am it was postponed until next week due to inclement weather.  It would have been a great race day with tons of wind and sunshine – maybe they thought it was too windy, or maybe the organizers were suffering Christmas Day hangover, I know I was, but was still looking forward to the wind blowing away the cobwebs.    Hopetown is a lovely little town on Elbow Cay but not somewhere I would want to be for that much time, so I’m back in Marsh Harbour.

 
Its not that Marsh Harbour is particularly beautiful but it is the hub of Abaco and has the life sustaining facilities.  Its also where I don’t feel guilty about running my generator for many hours trying to get my batteries up to 100% capacity.  I was given a battery monitor by another lovely couple on Sargo, John and Lory.  They didn’t need it and John definitely felt I needed help with my battery situation.   Russ installed the monitor for me a couple of days ago, and now I understand a lot more than just how many volts are pushing through them.  So I’m really looking forward to the monitor display saying the word FULL.  So my very loud Honda generator is still plugging away, the wind is howling and I’m not very close to any other boats, so I’ll keep it going until dark.

 
This has been the first Christmas in 4 years that I have not been working,
which was a good way of not having time to notice my lack of family proximity.
In the lead up to the big day I was nervous that it would be difficult to get through, but I was lucky to spend the past few days with Lisa and Russ from Uproar, who were also spending their first Christmas sans family so we became a small family unit  together.  I was able to get through to all of my kids, except Josie.  It was really sweet actually – we had lunch in the Hopetown Inn on Elbow Cay and after lunch as I was sitting on a very comfortable couch on a quiet patio I looked around to see so many other people on telephones with beatific smiles on their faces as they talked to their loved ones.  Love makes people beautiful.   And I smiled and smiled as I listened to my 2 little grand children, Mission 5, and his sister Isaan 3 fighting over the Lego house they were building.
I plan to be home for next Christmas – with MoondancerX
(sorry for lack of pictures - I'm using data on my phone as my internet connection and its taking too long to upload pictures.  I'll take my laptop ashore and use a better connection to post a bunch of pictures.)

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Life on Great Abaco Island – Bahamas


 

 
Its now December 20th 2015, almost Christmas and that time of year when the urge to be home with my family becomes quite consuming and of course a bit sad.

I got back to Marsh Harbour mid-October, spent 2 weeks living on board in Marsh Harbour Boat Yard with 10,000,000 little biting bastards that left almost no skin unbitten anywhere on my body; noseeums – worse itch than most mosquitos.

Its always tough living on board in a boat yard but its bound to be as that’s not where boats are supposed to be – on land.   But of course it’s the necessary evil – boats cannot be submerged in water without protection from all of the little underwater critters who will embed themselves in the fiberglass, not to mention just the water getting in, so we haul our boats out regularly and spend lots of money painting the soon to be submerged part. 

And then of course while its out of the water there are all of the other projects

to get done.  So me and the little bastards lived together for 2 weeks, every evening felt like torture, but I got the work done and was out of there much poorer but feeling pretty good about MoondancerX.

The Bahamas is basically a 20,000 square mile sand bar with some bits of land above the water, the rest of it about 6 feet below the water.  I don’t  have the right boat for the Bahamas.  Though I have just met a very nice couple who have a Beneteau First which draws 8 feet.  They sailed their boat from Milwaukee  via the ICW and never touched bottom.  So they are pretty confident  that Tumultuous Uproar can get around here.  I’ve actually never been so conscious of the tides as I am now.  If I’m on the move I want it to be on a rising tide, so at least I’ll float off if I get stuck.   Have touched bottom a few times but not stuck yet.  It is funny to get in the water and snorkel around the boat to see just a few inches below her keel.

MoondancerX’s  been in the water now since the beginning of November, haven’t gone far but so far I know where the good holding is,  the good snorkeling is, and I need to find more of that.  I also know where to get the best price on rum, where I’ll find good vegetables – almost nowhere – good cheese – nowhere.  I so miss good cheese.  One could build their whole cruising itinerary around things like that – who’s got good cheese.    But much more important with the Canadian Dollar being so weak at present,  just go to the countries where our dollar can actually buy some cheese.

Another anomally in this country -  When you get money from the bank  they charge 7 ½% VAT on top for the privilege of allowing you to get your own money out of the bank.  Not just visitors – everyone, and if you are a visitor you are going to pay another percentage to your own bank. 

OK enough about that.  I’m on Guana Cay as I write – I’ve been here a few times now,  what I like about it is Fisher’s Bay which is a fairly protected anchorage with a couple of nice snorkeling spots and clear water.  On the other side of the Cay is the wild Atlantic Ocean with forever beach when the tide is out.  A couple of good watering holes. 

Last night I went to the Christmas tree lighting ceremony which was attended by the official dignitaries of the Abacos.  It was so casual compared to anything I have experienced before.  Myself and Russ and Lisa from Uproar, of 8’ draught were the only visitors.  There were maybe 60 – 80 people there, many of whom were born and have grown old on this tiny cay.  They all know each other, and many are related.  Having moved around most of my life and born of mixed nationalities I cannot fathom what that must be like, perhaps very comforting to always know all of the people around you.

They were welcoming, we joined in with their Christmas Pot Luck supper.  It was cold – I wore my foul weather jacket all evening and long pants.  The long pants were mostly a noseeum deterrant. 

Tomorrow gotta get outa this marina and go back to Marsh Harbour which is the hub of the Abacos, it has an international airport, an  excellent anchorage with about 5 marinas all housing Charter Companies who I’m sure will all be doing a roaring  trade when the season gets going – this isn’t it.  I think its going to take another month or so before the hoards that I keep hearing about will be here.

What they need in Marsh Harbour is a good deli where they sell really good cheese.
 

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Grand Turk to Great Abaco - 450 miles


 
9th – 13th May 2015

 We were all pretty glad to get out of Grand  Turk, maybe we were there at the wrong time of year, but even if it were the height of their season (whatever that is) there was little to offer the sailing cruiser.  Perhaps the cruise ship terminal has sucked all of the life out of the tiny island, and as we didn’t go to the terminal (no interest in doing so) we didn’t see where all the life went.

And the biggest issue on my mind was FUEL FILTER, or lack thereof.  The marine supply store didn’t have one. So we were going to have to sail pretty much all of the way there because I was saving whatever filtering ability the one I had installed to get us in through the hazardous reefs leading into Great Abaco Island.
And as we were going to be in the Atlantic Ocean all the way there I fully expected us to be using the trades to get us there.

And that’s exactly what we did – it was generally great sailing, mostly broad reaching,  generally always heading north west with a few sail alterations and occasional adjustments to Mr. Chubbs.  We had good wind all the way, sometimes a bit too much and  our boat speed was between 4 and 6 knots.  Life was good.

I do remember many electrical storms which did get my crew twitching.  Most of the conditions we encounter on the ocean we can react to to keep the situation somewhat in our favour.  With electrical storms, they start off as little pockets of lightening in the distance, and then a few more until whoever’s causing it sees the mast and decides to move in and scare the bejeezus out of you.  Altering course doesn’t help, because they find you and follow you to wherever you are next.  And when the thunder claps right over the top of you it shakes your bones.  Basically if you are going to get struck – there’s nothing you can do about it.  It’s a good idea to protect your electronics by unplugging everything when you’re in the thick of it, some people say to put all of your hand held electronics in the oven – I’ve done that, seemed like a good idea to put them in a metal box.

Being out in the open in the ‘eye’ of an electrical storm on the ocean is extremely exciting – the top layer of your hair stands up and you feel charged up, and the knowledge that if you get struck you aren’t going to know it anyway.  It’ll be poof!  And you’re gone.  So just enjoy it.

So this part of our journey was the reward to all of us in that the sailing was exactly what ocean sailing provides.  The frustrations of all that goes wrong is shed when the sails are full,  Mr. Chubbs is doing his job, the stars are bright and you have the feeling that if my life ended right now I would be happy (as long as the actual ending wasn’t too traumatic of course).

We arrived at Great Abaco early in the morning with almost no wind at all, a beautiful clear, sunny day - continuing to sail at 2 – 3 knots and less sometimes.  The sport fishing boats were coming out all around us and our sails were flogging and my crew were glaring at me willing me to start the engine.  I wouldn’t – I was in that dreadful state of having to make a decision that could and likely would bring the guillotine down after 400 odd miles of a great sailing journey.

 

I called Cruise Abaco, the company I was coming to work for, told them of our predicament, that it was highly likely that my engine would die on our way through any one of the channels leading through the reefs on the Atlantic side of all of the Abaco Cays.  Mark suggested we go for North Man-o-War, he would go buy us a fuel filter and meet us in his powerful, fast motor boat.  Now that I had back up we started the engine, took the sails down and headed for North Man-o-War cut, and just before we arrived – what happened? the engine started to die, and die and with its last gasp I darted below and switched to the forward fuel tank – just to see if it would make any difference.  It did – the engine took a huge, deep breath and motored us in.  Mark came out to meet us, threw us the extra fuel filter and we  motored into Marsh Harbour.

Its funny how often an arrival is anti-climatic, this one was.  It had been a tense though enjoyable journey, the constant fuel problem had eaten away at my body so that when I finally got into a shower I hardly recognized myself, I had lost so much weight.

The clearing in process was taken care of at the Conch Inn Hotel and Marina – the Customs and Immigration people came out to us there.  Be prepared anyone coming into the Bahamas – It costs U$300 for a year, regardless of how long you want to stay which includes a fishing permit.  It does notinclude immigration, just the Boat.

The staff kindly gave us a key to their showers and password for the internet – my crew made their arrangements to leave.

That evening  as we were getting into our dinghy I looked over to the boat anchored in front of us, Sonyo – I knew that name – then I saw Marcus from Switzerland, the owner of Sonyo.  The last time I had seen Marcus was in Gran Canaria just before we headed out across the Atlantic for the Caribbean.  The time before that we met in Gibraltar.  It is very cool to meet these people again in different parts of the world, friends made in such a short time and likely forgotten because they were short time friends – and then when we meet again, we realize that even if its for a short time - that’s all we have then - but we are still good friends and value that time together.

Someone I know said that cruising is all about the people you meet, and its all about saying goodbye to good friends.

So Debra left the next day for Colorado; Adam helped me take down the genoa which had been causing some problems since Sint Maarten – as it came down I could see that the halyard had been twisted.  Another problem solved.  Adam left and I made arrangements to put MoondancerX into Marsh Harbour Boat Yard.

Getting to Marsh Harbour Boat Yard from Marsh Harbour entails sailing or motoring a few miles to Point Set Rock before heading towards Boat Harbour.  Because I had a couple of days before I was booked in I decided to have a look around, so as I was motoring over to Man-o-War Cay guess what happened?

the engine died – by now I was so used to it I just dropped the anchor in the middle of the Sea of Abaco, which was about 12’ deep, changed yet another $50 fuel filter and carried on.  I got 11 engine hours out of that last fuel filter.  It was enough for me to see Man-o-war Cay, where I bought 2 more fuel filters, Hopetown which has a beautiful old fashioned but functioning light house and then to the yard where I made preparations to leave my lovely girl for the summer.  And to leave the fuel problem for my return in the fall.

Monday, December 7, 2015

Grand Turk 6th - 9th May 2015

Grand Turk
6th – 9th May

As we approached, kinda limped into Grand Turk we called (as one does) the Harbour Authority to ask if we could go straight to the Town Site as we only wanted to anchor once, while we got all of the earlier described problems dealt with.
A very nice gentleman called us back and said that would be fine, suggested where it would be good for us to anchor and even told us he would wait for us to take us to Customs and Immigration. 
Wow, now that’s hospitality – never been received into a country like that before. But as the saying goes, if it seems too good to be true, it usually is.  The nice gentleman turned out to be the only ‘white’ taxi driver on the island, we didn’t really give a s—t, what color the taxi driver or the taxi is, but it would have been honest for the guy to tell us what he was when he answered our call on VHF.  I did tell him that – he didn’t comment.  The next day I hired him to take us
to get water, take our laundry, buy groceries and find fuel filters.  He drove us all over hells half acre to do these things and charged us U$100.  Next day we found that all of those things, except the fuel filters were within walking distance of our dinghy.  Bastard.

Grand Turk is the capital of Turks and Caicos and it cost quite a bit to get into the country and then a quite a bit more to get out.  They have no facilities at all for cruisers – no marina, no public showers anywhere, one Chandlery who did not have anything that we needed and a few vending machines from which we could fill up our jerry cans and carry them back to the dinghy.
To bring our boat to a dock we would have had to pay for a minimum of 200 gallons of water, and that dock was not suitable for a small sailboat, it was for big ships.

The water front was quite pretty, the snorkeling I liked, especially when I swam back to the
Drop Off – from the 10’ we were anchored in to the edge of a precipice 7000’ deep.  Breathtaking colour blue forever.  Just like little Nemo I was afraid to swim over the edge even though I was floating on the surface.   I had a distinct feeling of vertigo and felt sure I would fall.

Many cruisers stopping in the Turks and Caicos make Providenciales or Provo their destination.
Looking at my charts all I could see around Provo was very shallow water, much less than the 6 ½’ that MoondancerX draws, and if that’s what the chart says I believe it.


Didn’t like Grand Turk much, if I’m by that way again I’ll take my chances with Provo. 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Sint Maarten to Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos

Sint Maarten to Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos
29th April – 6th May 2015
Approx. 600 miles – no stops

(Author’s note -  My memory is a little vague now on this journey and the log kept is mostly essential information only, which though helpful is not that interesting to anyone – not even me anymore – so unless something really exciting was going on this might be dry reading).

Planned route was Sint Maarten to a waypoint above Anegada, then a long leg supposedly
heading west with a little bit of north until below Mouchoir Bank  before turning further north for Grand Turk which is just a little bit of land which manages to stay above the reef, or a 7000’ high underwater mountain.   It is the northern part, the southern part of it is about 30 miles south, where the reef shallows up to about 20feet, quite suddenly.

Off we went, left with the 10.00am bridge opening to get out of Simpson Bay Lagoon, all tanks full, Jerry cans full;  200 gallons of liquid and the fridge and cupboards busting open with food.  MoondancerX felt like a slug and I knew that she would sail like one too, until we lightened the load a bit.

This was the start of our real journey together, the 3 days from St. Lucia to Sint Maarten just a taster.  We settled into the same 3 hour watch routine where we left off.  Our morning routine regardless of who was trying to sleep – I listened to Chris Parker, the Caribbean weather guru on SSB radio at 06.30 hrs. 
Can’t really remember now when we started to get news of the potential Hurricane Anna which was developing to the north of us; think maybe the second morning out.  F--k!  So now what to do – plan a duck-out destination.  That was to be Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic – I didn’t want to go there, bad memories of Dominican Republic (see 2009 archives).  If we had to stop there it wouldn’t take us too far out of our way.  None of us wanted to stop, but the thought of
dealing with Anna sailing through what is basically a passage between Dominican Republic,
a mountainous hunk of land to our south, and a shelf of banks studded with rocks stretching hundreds of miles just about 90 miles north of us made a compelling argument to stop.

Sailing towards Dominican Republic I was struck by the enormity of this land, having lived and sailed in the Grenadines for the past 3 years, tiny little islands by comparison.  Bodies of water develop reputations – Mona Passage is one of them, but passing to the north of Mona Passage, even though we had lots of wind and the seas were rough we were trucking (trucking for MoondancerX is 5 – 6kts) mostly broad reaching.
Sometimes decisions get made for you,  the wind decided that we were no longer going to Puerto Plata,  it was the right wind to take us to Grand Turk, or at least generally in that direction.  We had a little conference, all agreed that Anna was now far enough away, the wind and seas we could handle.  Next destination was a waypoint south of Mouchoir Reef. 
Somewhere around here we had the first inclination that we had a fuel problem,  now we really needed confidence in the engine – coming into reef ridden areas and eventually of course trying to come into land. 
The primary fuel filter has a clear ‘glass’ bowl underneath the filter which when we changed the filter was full of black muck.  I know quite a lot about that now as I had to learn what causes it and how to prevent that and how to get rid of it.
We changed that fuel filter and now only had 1 new one left and I had the forboding feeling that this was not the end of this problem.  That muck had been sloshing around as we were rough riding these seas.
Also somewhere around this time  - heading up towards Mouchoir reef Debra and I had a battle of the I-pad Navionics charts.  Though I do have a paper chart of the West Indies it is large scale and though good for general passage planning I really like my GPS chart plotter on my lap top and Navionics on my I-pad.  Debra had downloaded a newer version of Navionics  and hers and
mine did not agree.  And being a couple of miles out doesn’t matter when you have lots of room but it sure did now.  (We found later that her download was not complete.  She completed it in Grand Turk and then all was well).
This created quite a bit of friction, not to mention outright fear for me.  So we started to plot our lat and long positions on the chart again.  These positions I trusted as they were coming from 2 other tried and true units which are fixtures aboard MoondancerX.

The most memorable watch I experienced was sailing over salt cay reef – the shallowest point – and watching my depth gauge (engine on ready for quick abort) go from the maximum reading I have it set at of 400 odd meters to 30,  I almost screamed, but held my breath and my faith that my instruments and all of the GPS’s on board were right, then I watched without taking another breath as it dropped to 8 meters – I was praying now, and then as we went over the reef and the depth increased the seas also laid down.  It was an underwater breakwater.
 Maybe Adam heard my strangled scream because he came up, and now we could turn north towards Grand Turk.  As the seas seemed to be a bit flatter we thought it safe to harden up the sails and speed up.
Wellll, we did that and were suddenly screaming along a 6 ½ kts, laughing because we were having soooo much fun – then wham took a wave right over us which went right down through the companionway, everything that was not held down went flying, some all over Debra who was sleeping. She was actually covered with Pringles.   My laptop which I had secured with a bungy broke its way out and was hanging just above the floor and soaked – with salt water, not good for electronics.  Obviously we were not laughing anymore, went back to our more sedate speed by reefing down again heading in the right direction.

The next 20 odd miles to get in and anchored in Turks and Caicos were brutal.  We had land in sight, very strong wind and current holding us off,  new problem with our transmission which we thought was the linkage, another with our autohelm and then the dreaded Fuel.  We tried to sail in for the first couple of hours but made no progress, in fact were just sailing away, so we gave up on that.  Adam disconnected the gear linkage and engaged the transmission at the linkage by-passing the cable from the levers and Debra steered us in through very strong wind and current
while the autohelm self-engaged when not wanted but wouldn’t hold when it was.
We were doing about 2 – 3 kts.  It took us 6 hours to go 16 miles.

Coming up to our anchorage the depth was still 7000 feet deep about a quarter of a mile offshore, and then 10ft, YIKES.   That was ok though, we were in, manoeuvring around coral heads until we found a nice sandy spot where we dropped the hook.

All of us were exhausted, tired, stinky but happy – and just about to be ripped off by the so-called helpful Citizen who took us for a ride.
That smudge off in the distance is MoondancerX, that's how far from shore we had to anchor.

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Saint Lucia - Sint Maarten - 23rd - 26th April 2015 SHAKEDOWN

Saint Lucia – Sint Maarten
23rd – 26th April 2015

3 days in St. Lucia and we worked very hard while there – the genoa halyard was very difficult to re-wind onto the drum, with all three of us putting our  heads together, Adam and I dismantling the lower drum several times – all of us taking turns to read and attempt to understand why we kept getting it wrong.  Now and again I think that I might be dyslexic, this was one of those times – no matter how many times we re-wound the furling line onto  that drum it was backwards.


Debra and I working on sewing the sun strip back on the genoa

We got it on eventually,  and furled and unfurled it while on our mooring and all seemed well – It wasn’t, it plagued us throughout the rest of the trip – we were constantly reefing and unreefing it – the unreefing was the problem and I broke another rule I usually adhere to – ‘if you have to
use brute force to make something work, something’s obviously wrong and you have to stop what you’re doing and fix it’.  Well when you’re at sea and you need that sail and cannot fix it in the existing conditions go with brute force.  Unfurling the genoa was a joint effort of Adam forcing it to unfurl up on the bowsprit while I cranked it out on the winch using the winch handle.  Thank God it did not break, but the foil is now bent at the point where it always got  stuck.    Later when Adam and I took the sail down to put all the sails away the halyard came
down twisted around the foil.  Hopefully now that I have re-raised the sail without twisting the halyard that problems is over.  Yet to see.
 It was a very expensive stop-over, life raft service, fire extinguisher service, new to me rigid inflatable dinghy,  fuel filters – only 2, should have bought a dozen,  new engine lining material and many spares.
Going back to my log from St. Lucia to Sint Maarten I see that we had to change the primary fuel filter after 28 hours of running time,  so now I’m thinking that it wasn’t in Sint Maarten  we took on the bad fuel but in Bequia where I filled up before leaving.  And that makes more sense as I filled up from the local Daffodil fuel barge.
The 350 odd miles from St. Lucia to Sint Maarten was well and truly a shakedown trip for the 3 of us and MoondancerX.   Debra and Adam were working their  first night watches and were ‘excellently’ obedient crew – observed all the the rules which are vital to me.  No-one leaves the cockpit unless another member is up.  Life jackets on at all times on watch.  If  a ship is within 2 miles of us wake me up even though they both knew how to use the AIS – Automated Identification System, and of course stay awake.  Try to be quiet when below decks so that the sleepers can sleep.  We worked 3 hour watches around the clock, day and night even though we were mostly all awake in daytime hours.


The jenneka flying up front looking lovely

In between grunt work Adam fished, didn’t catch anything, but I’m sure it satisfied his hunter gatherer instincts and made us girls feel like the man was trying to provide for us.
We did fly the jenneka for a few hours, mostly I just wanted to see if I could remember how to put the damn thing up – it had been so long since flying it – last time coming back across the Atlantic – and apparently I didn’t remember how to put it up because I completely ballsed up the first couple of attempts while Debra and Adam watched me in complete bewilderment as they could not understand what I was trying to do – never having see that done before – and I was becoming increasingly frustrated as a couple of times it almost lifted me out of the pulpit.  We got her up eventually and it was a thing of beauty, no faster, but pretty.


Adam, me and Debra at Lagoonies
Adam is an incredible break dancer – too bad didn’t get him on film

We did have some fun in Sint Maarten along with the work, this is us at Lagoonies, a happening bar in the Simpson Bay lagoon – where all the reprobates hang out, good music, good food and the ever necessary Wi-Fi.  Also met people I knew from Tradewinds, they have a base there.
I do, however think the customs and immigration people could put a bit of effort into being nicer to the cruisers, they are up there with the worst