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Cracking up at the Chat and Chill the weekend before Chris left us.

 

Internet service in the Bahamas being what it is, sketchy at best, anyone who regularly reads this blog can readily see that the past two posts here have been rushed.  That has been to simply catch up the blog in a fairly brief manner.  We are now back in the US, Harbor Town Marina in Dania Beach/Ft. Lauderdale, Florida to be exact.  Below is why we are here.

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Our Bahamas courtesy flag upon being removed when Freedom left.  Not really indicative, but showing the wear of a season of winter blows in the Exumas.

On Wednesday, March 2nd, overnight as we slept, and sleeping as Chuck and I do, with our feet intertwined, I most assuredly noticed that Chuck’s left leg was cold.  It wasn’t cool, it was cold…so cold that during the night when I noticed it I asked him if he’d been sleeping with that leg from beneath the cover.  He mumbled something, and the both of us went back to sleep.  The next day I remarked how cold his leg had felt the night before and how in the almost ten years we’ve been sleeping together, always with our feet and lower legs together, I’d never, ever felt his leg cold like that.  As we breakfasted, I felt his leg with my hand and it was still ice cold.  He said he didn’t know why it was cold, it didn’t hurt, he said, and we essentially blew it off.

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Compass Cay and Black Point Settlement

Having topped off our fuel tanks the day before at Staniel Cay Yacht Club, on January 18th we brought up the anchor and set sail eight miles or so north to Compass Cay, a harbor known for its nurse sharks.  Chuck and Chris wanted to swim with them.  I wanted to get in the water with them as well, but moderate pain in my lower stomach at the site of a previous surgery was to prevent me from doing so. That pain has since disappeared but for almost a week it drove me nuts so I neglected to sit the excursion out.

Note:  Staniel Cay Yacht Club is not a yacht club at all, but a restaurant/bar/fuel dock.

The motor up to Compass Cay was uneventful.  We anchored out from the relatively shallow harbor.  The boys dropped the anchor and made the mile or so dinghy ride into the marina there.  I fished under crystal clear skies and in gin clear water…not a bite.

A couple of hours later the guys returned with great stories of their visit with the most gentle nurse sharks.

We upped anchor and headed back south to Black Point Settlement, the trip took a couple of hours and was less than twenty nautical miles.  By 1515 hours the anchor was back down.  Black Point Settlement is touted as the second most populated place in the Exumas, behind Georgetown.  We will take their word for it, we never left the boat…for the next morning we were headed out to Georgetown.

 

Georgetown

January 19th at 0830 hours we pulled anchor and headed to Georgetown.  Black Point Settlement is where we jumped over from the shallow Exuma flats on the east side of the Exumas, to the much deeper Exuma Sound on the west.

I put out a fishing line and then went below and read for much of the eight hour or so trip on down to Georgetown, 53 nautical miles.  An hour or so before our arrival I went topsides and found my line had been taken in.  I put it back out and within a few minutes got a huge strike.  One that snapped my line and took my lure.  Bummer.

We were happy to get to Georgetown.  Georgetown is the most populated area in the Exumas, an international airport, grocery stores, fuel, medical clinic, etc.  We were happy to get there for two reasons: my stomach pain was still in play and somehow Chuck had twisted his right knee…there was medical service in Georgetown.  Since arriving in Georgetown my stomach pain, and Chuck’s knee resolved.

Our arrival at St. Elizabeth’s Harbor behind Stocking Island was uneventful, by 1630 hours our anchor was down just off of the Chat and Chill, a local hangout for cruisers, a bar and grill located on the beach.  No sooner than the anchor was set a dinghy from the ketch behind us motored up and welcomed us to the harbor, Art and Allyson.  It was a great greeting, somewhat typical of the locations we’ve been to so far.  Art and wife were headed off the next day to the Turks and Caicos Islands; a day, night, and another day sail south. 

Just before dark we dropped the dinghy and motored to the beach for a grilled meal of fresh Mahi Mahi, slaw, and French fries…and a celebratory beer or two.

Georgetown was somewhat of a milestone mark for us.  It is traditionally the jumping off point for those headed on south to Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic for cruisers headed for the eastern Caribbean, of which we were one.  The multiple anchorages in and around Georgetown are known, at least in the cruiser’s guides, as Chicken Harbor or Turnaround Harbor.  The name is based on the fact that many cruisers bent on going further south into the Caribbean chicken out and turnaround here.  Instead, they go back north or east and flush their plans to go south into the more challenging weather and seas…either staying in the Bahamas or even heading back to the states.  Our plans were not to turn around.

It’s easy to get attached to this area.  The harbors and anchorages are protected from bad weather for the most part, there is virtually anything one might want in the nature of boat provisioning and such, friendly locals and cruisers, and generally just a cool place.  They have an active cruiser’s net on every morning at 0800 hours on VHF 72 with any information one might need.  According to that net, there were roughly 165 boats in the harbor as of this morning.  That changes daily as new boat arrive and depart daily…mostly arriving for the Cruisers Regatta…ten days of festivities.

After removing the starboard stern rail from our boat and having it repaired on the second day there, we’ve just kicked back and enjoyed the area.  Our friends Rod and Joe arrived a couple of days ago and that was a lot of fun.  Joe’s vessel, SV Happy Destiny, left this morning.  It will probably be the last time we see them for quite a while.  Their plans were never to go much further south than Georgetown.  Today they were headed east to Long Island and then more or less north through the Eleutheras and then even further north to the Abacos…before eventually heading back to the States. 

We met Rod and Janet on our Cuba trip where they were on their boat…just great people.  Then we ran into Rod in Bimini where he was crewing for his friend Joe, the owner of Happy Destiny.  Since then, we hop-scotched around them several times, running into them in Nassau, Leaf Cay, Staniel Cay, and here in Georgetown.  Just a lot of fun to be around them both.

As uneventful and laid back as the area of Georgetown has been we did have one near miss of sorts.  On Monday night most of the Stocking Island crowd cleared out to other anchorages in anticipation of winds gusting to the 50-60 knot range.  We stayed, feeling we had good holding.  Initially, we did.  The winds and seas never piped up to the range that was forecast in this area, but they did blow consistently in the 20-25 knot range with the occasional gust to 30 on Monday afternoon.  Late that same afternoon the winds seemed to be decreasing.  After a vigilant afternoon we retired below decks for dinner and a movie.

As the rather crappy movie was ending and the credits rolling, just after good dark, we checked our anchor…all appeared well and the boat was riding good on the hook.  But, a mere few minutes later we were somewhat shocked to feel the boat bumping off the bottom.  We were aground.

Going into major overdrive, we quickly ascertained the anchor had let go and we were dragging in 6’5” feet of water…we draw 6’8”…and we were beam to the seas…not good.  Starting the engine and using the anchor windless and bow thruster to get our bow into the seas, we manage very quickly to get off of the shoal and back out in the harbor to reset our anchor.  It was a very exciting twenty minutes or so, however.  When we got the anchor up it turns out that it was one big mass of sea grass and muck. 

We reset our anchor considerably further out in the harbor, with more scope.  We also established an anchor watch with someone in the cockpit for the remainder of the night.  Even so, we dragged anchor a second time around 0100 hours…about sixty feet it dragged before it set itself.  The winds never got above about 35 knots.

We actually foresaw this possible anchor drag scenario and Chuck and I discussed moving the boat further out from the beach earlier in the day, however, we decided to forego the exercise and PITA of moving.  After all, we’d held anchor in much stronger winds and seas in Staniel Cay, we thought to ourselves.  Well, live and learn, we won’t make the same mistake again of, truthfully, being too lazy to give ourselves adequate sea room should our anchor drag.  Life’s a carnival…

Our plans are to reprovision our boat over the weekend and refuel.  At the first weather window, we anticipate continuing south, most probably, to the Dominican Republic.  We will see.

Nassau to Allan’s Cay

Our stay in Nassau was actually not much, punctuated only by our visit to the Atlantis Resort.  And, for us anyhow, even Atlantis wasn’t all that, offering up only a very fine aquarium and their casinos.  After our water maker was installed and proven the only thing keeping us there was the weather.  At the first window of opportunity we planned to leave.  The first good weather would see us off to the Allan’s Cay-Highborne Cay area, and the Exumas.

On December 28, 2016 at 0632 hours and slack tide, we slipped our lines and headed out of Nassau Harbor for the 60-70 mile cruise to the Highborne Cay area of the Northern Exumas.  Chuck was at the helm.  Our course would take us initially west and then south around Providence Island before then turning east and the crossing of the Exuma Banks.  For those who don’t know, the Exuma Cays split two bodies of water:  the shallow (except for the Tongue of the Ocean) Exuma Banks to their east, and the very deep Exuma Sound on their west.  All of the water very near the myriad island is extremely shallow.  Nonetheless, the Exuma Banks offers miles and miles of 15’, more or less of open water, and great cruising.

It was a beautiful day with ESE winds just under 10 knots, seas were less than a meter, as we made the turn around Providence Island.  The waypoint marked on our chartplotter approaching, Chuck turned the helm over to me.  I nicked the waypoint and then made the turn east, following our route set to miss both the White Banks and, a bit further, the Yellow Banks, a shoaling area just South of Nassau.

…and then the chartplotter lost its signal.  Temporarily at least, we were sailing blind, only by compass…with about 5.5 hours to go to our anchorage.

Now, it wasn’t as bad as it might seem, after all, all GPSs lose their signal acquisition at times.  In fact, on our passage from Alicetown to Chub Cay we lost our GPS four or five times…but it reacquired the signal within a few seconds or so.  However, make no mistake, when one’s primary chartplotter is out that’s not a good thing.  In this case, we fully expected it to grab the signal momentarily. 

But, it didn’t.

Not to worry.  We have two Garmin chartplotters on board, as well as two independent copies of OpenCPN…one cell phone that could be used in a pinch, paper charts along with two hand held VHF radios giving us latitude and longitude, the Iridium GO and Delorme trackers, etc.  We were anything but lost.  But, losing the primary chartplotter that’s right in front of the wheel was majorly inconvenient.  I continued at the helm, bearing off to the south (to clear the White and Yellow Banks ahead) navigating by compass until Chuck and Chris got the backup OpenCPN on our PCs up and running.  Once up, we set one of the PCs in the cockpit and navigated with it.

The primary chartplotter in the cockpit never did acquire a signal.  The Garmin primary chartplotter, the Garmin backup down below at the nav table, and the AIS are all connected to a network and talk to each other.  The AIS and Garmin primary chartplotter both have separate external antennas.  For several reasons, we suspected we had an issue with the primary chartplotter’s antenna.

After we were back to a stable state, I turned the helm over to Chris and went below to read.  While I was below, Chuck disconnected our secondary Garmin GPS down below from the network; it instantly acquired the GPS signal.  Unlike the primary Garmin, the secondary Garmin has its own internal antenna…it acquiring gave further credence to our having an external antenna issue with the primary unit.  About five miles out of Allan’s Cay, I took the helm again to make the entrance into our anchorage.  With the Bluetooth headsets we have Chuck, from down below, steered me expertly into the anchorage.  At 1550 hours we entered the anchorage, fifteen minutes or less later the anchor was securely set.

Our anchorage was actually between two cays, Allan and Leaf.  As it turned out, we were anchored a hundred yards or so from SV Happy Destiny, the boat our friend Rod Casto and, his friend, Joe were on.  They anchored a couple of hours ahead of us.  Though the anchorage was quite protected from everything but north winds, there was a significant tide swing twice a day.

The next day we dropped the dink and went exploring.  Leaf Cay is known as being quite infested with iguanas.  Harmless as can be, the iguanas come to the beach for food handouts from the other cruisers and numerous tourist boats that travel the 35 miles or so from Nassau to see and feed them.  It’s pretty cool.

On the third day there, when two smallish motor yachts left the anchorage, we decided to move to a better spot, more in the middle of the field instead of quite close to the ironshore of both cays.  On the horizon were dark clouds directly to our north and our weather indicated a front with high northerly winds would be approaching.

Chuck and Chris coordinated this move with no input from me.  I wasn’t happy with their efforts at all.  No less than three times they dropped the hook and re-positioned the boat.  By the time they finally settled on a spot we were hit by the first squall line…and the tide changed.  The winds jumped from a leisurely eastish 8 knots to right out of the north at 25-30.  The boat hung beam to the winds and two foot or so chop, the tide not strong enough to swing the stern around and the bow into the wind.  They rigged a riding sail of sorts on the stern to help swing it around…a useless effort in my opinion.  I wasn’t happy.  The orientation of the boat did not change until the tide flooded. 

Other than the iguanas, there really wasn’t that much there.  We swam one day, but with the strong tidal current it wasn’t much fun.  Within a couple of days we were ready to go.  It would be three days before the front cleared and the wind clocked around to the east. 

We spent New Year’s Eve in the Allan’s Cay anchorage, anxious for Tuesday to come.  During that time we isolated the primary chartplotter’s issue as well as our auto helm.  Both had loose connections.

 

From Allan’s Cay to Staniel Cay

With our GPS up and the auto helm working, we raised the anchor at 0830 on Tuesday, January 3rd, 2017.  I eased us off the hook and out of the anchorage.  When we reached the first of our preprogrammed waypoints I turned the helm over to Chuck.  There was a squall or two during the morning but otherwise another day in paradise.  The wind, as always it seems, was straight on the nose.  We never raised a sail.  I read most of the day.  The GPS gave our ETA around 1545 hours.

Again, about five miles out from out last route waypoint, I went topsides and relieved Chris; I would bring us into the anchorage.  They were expecting near gale force winds over the weekend at Staniel Cay and I wasn’t about to go through another anchoring fiasco like Allan Cay if avoidable.   I suppose it’s a control thing.  Though, truthfully, no one can drive our boat as good as I can…not bragging, just fact.

With Chuck on the bow with one headset and me at the helm with the other, we eased Freedom between numerous other yachts and into the main anchorage at a cay adjacent to Staniel Cay known as Big Major’s Spot, just off of Pig Beach.  One pass and the anchor was down and set. 

Pig Beach is a beach similar to the iguana beach on Leaf Cay.  Except for iguanas, they have pigs.  It’s a tourist attraction, just like Leaf Cay.  Boats go to the beach to feed the wild, but tame, domestic pigs.  When the dinks and runabouts beach, the pigs come running.  Touristy, but cool as well.  Like Leaf Cay, once one has spent about a half hour there, you’ve seen it all…forever.  Short trip, short visit, and then that’s it, the novelty is over.

After we were anchored, the dink went into the water.  A dinghy is like a yachts car.  You get wherever it is by yacht, then drop the dink to go to shore, explore, etc.  Dinks are very important…if there is no marina it is the only way to get to shore.  At Allan and Leaf there was nothing but the cays.  But, here at Staniel there is civilization or sorts, a couple of restaurants, a couple of bars, an airport with regularly scheduled flights, etc.  We all looked forward to going ashore.

Once started, Chris and Chuck decided to honk on over to the fuel dock and check things out.  I watched them motor away…and then get clobbered by a rainstorm.  LOL  Back I saw them coming.  No sooner did the squall subside than off they were again.  I went below and started to get dinner prepared.  An hour or so later I was surprised to see them in the cockpit.  Surprised because I didn’t hear the motor as they came up.  Turns out that just out a piece, the outboard lost water circulation; they shut it down.  And, then had to row back to the boat.  Poor guys.

We had a box of Yamaha spare parts but had no idea if we had another water pump impeller or not.  Chuck decided to not even look until this morning, choosing to put off any potential disappointment for another day.

This morning, the outboard spares were isolated and indeed there was a spare impeller in the lot.  However, once they got to the water pump it turned out that the only problem was sand that had blocked it up.  They flushed the sand, reassembled the lower unit, and the motor ran fine.  They just left to attempt check out Staniel again.

All is well.

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Fort Montagu, where John Wells introduced us to Commander Tellis Bethel.

 

From the previous post, one can see that we’ve a water maker issue.  It has to be replaced.

Our boat came with a 40 gph water maker.  For those reading this that may not be in the know, a water maker takes salty sea or unpotable water and forces it under high pressure through a membrane and, through the process of reverse osmosis (RO), produces pure drinkable water.  The membrane filters everything out of the undrinkable supply except water molecules…dirt, sand, bacteria, minerals, everything.  The technology has been around a long time to do this.

On a boat that is cruising, there are only a few ways to obtain pure potable drinking water.  One can carry it on board, of course there is a limit to how much they can take…in our case, 80 gallons.  A boat can also catch rain water, an iffy proposition depending on if it rains or doesn’t.  One can buy it at a port of call.  Or, one can make it themselves on board with an RO water maker.  As the body can’t live without it, pure drinkable water is a way big thing with cruisers.

Many cruisers have water makers on their boat; many don’t.  Some are quite content to carry an exceedingly small amount of water on board with them.  Others have fairly large water tanks on board.  Conserving water while on board is always a big thing, water maker or not.  But, having a water maker on board greatly increases one’s comfort.  Showers, for instance…not really an option for a boat that only carries 80 gallons of water and has to pay to refill the tank each time they run out. 

Many pride themselves in how little pure water they use, and their minimalist approach is admirable.  But, once one goes down the minimalist rabbit hole, all sorts of other things could also be eliminated…like an auxiliary engine, navigation by sextant instead of by chartplotter, auto helms, etc. none of which are absolutely necessary to sail or cruise.  Where does one draw the line?  For us, we want a water maker.  And, the long and short of it is the water maker that was on our boat was antiquated and unusable without essentially rebuilding it from scratch.  In North Bimini, when ours petered out, we chose to keep whatever salvageable part we could as spares, and spring for a brand new unit.  We chose a Technautics unit from the same vendor we used when we replaced our refrigeration.

In Bimini, we called the company and purchased the unit.  We arranged for it to be shipped to the marina we had reservations for in Nassau, Harbor Central Marina.  It was shipped out within a day or so from California; our tracking number indicated it would be delivered in the Bahamas at the marina this past Monday, day before yesterday, December 19th.

Now, something the average person in the States seldom ever, often never, has to deal with is custom duties.  If one goes out of the country on vacation and upon coming back they bring too much of what is allowed, they might have to pay a duty on the gifts and souvenirs.  And, in the States, the limit of what one can bring into the country from another is not all that high – a couple of hundred dollars or so – before US Customs will charge them a duty.  And, the same applies when entering a foreign country from the US…immigration/customs will ask if you have anything to declare?  If it’s more than what that country allows you either pay the duty or forfeit the goods.  It’s generally a pretty straight forward proposition.  But, being on a boat can be another story.

Over the weekend, our tracking number for the water maker indicated the unit was in Nassau and indeed would be delivered to the marina last Monday.  Early Monday afternoon, we received a phone call from DHL, the shipper who handled getting the unit from California to Nassau.  They politely told us the water making unit was in their facility here in Nassau and they would gladly deliver it to the marina…after we paid a $2,000 duty!

Yikes!  We weren’t expecting that, for sure.  And, here’s why.

In some countries a foreign flagged vessel can import replacement parts for their vessel and no duty is charged…the Bahamas is one of those countries.  There are only two conditions to be met in order to be declared exempt from the Bahamas’ import duty.  One, the vessel must have entered Bahamian water legally and have a valid cruising permit.  And, the other is that the boat must be in transit to another country.  We satisfied both of those requirements.  And, though not really a requirement, it is suggested, though not required, that a copy of one’s cruising permit be in the shipment, as well as the packages labeled “Repair Parts for Boat In Transit.”

Well, needless to say, we pushed back.  We informed the DHL shipper of the Bahamian law that applied and politely, though firmly, indicated we had no intention whatsoever of paying the $2,000 duty.  The DHL agent requested we email him a copy of our cruising permit and he’d “check into it.”  He’d let us know his disposition the next day.

The DHL agent’s response and actions didn’t quite do it for us; we weren’t comforted at all.  As is often the case with cruisers, we turned to the internet for assistance.  I put out posts on three Facebook groups I belong to explaining the situation and requested information and help regarding our situation.  Comments started to pour in almost immediately.  All were appreciated but most of the comments simply boiled down to “they can’t do that.”  But, one post stood out.  From the Seven Seas Cruising Association FB page came the following post:

“Call John Wells, 242-465-3243, Tell him Capt. Gil said to call. He will probably charge you a few hundred bucks to act as your ships agent but it’s better than a couple grand.  I just spoke to him, he’ll take you to pick it up.”

Enter Bahama John…

Around 0900 on Tuesday, we called John Wells.  Without hesitation, and with no additional information, he said he’d pick us up at the marina at 1000 hours.  He showed up exactly on time and he and my husband left.  Less than two hours later he and Chuck returned with our new water maker.  We paid no duty.  We did, however, have to pay a $400 Value Added Tax (VAT).  We were told we could even have the VAT waived if we kicked and screamed long enough.  But, considering there was no US Tax on the purchase, we decided to leave well enough alone; we paid the VAT, obtained a customs receipt, grabbed our water maker, and returned to the boat.  John charged us $90 for the hour and a half of his time and him furnishing the transportation.  John told us, “The shippers are always trying to pull something like that.”  We called the day a success.  Our $5,100 water maker ended up costing $5,600, instead of $7,600. 

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Commander Tellis Bethel

 

John (Bahama John) Wells, whose name and phone number I have permission to give out, was in every good and great sense of the word, a character.  A real gentleman who seemingly knew everybody on Providence Island (Nassau).  Later in the day, we arranged for him to give us a two hour tour of the area in his minivan.  He was a wealth of information.  There wasn’t a person we ran into that didn’t know who he was, including Tellis Bethel, the Commander of the entire, albeit small, Royal Bahamas Defence Force.  Commander Bethel, whom we met, was exceedingly polite and friendly as well, taking the time to give us a printed poster of the Bahamas from his car and explaining to us his efforts to have the water around the Bahamas, Turks, and Caicos renamed the Lucayan Sea, in honor of the indigenous people who first settled the area in 600 AD.  There was no doubt that Commander Bethel and John were very good friends, first name basis and all.  We were told that though the Defence Force was quite cordial and friendly to cruisers, should they board our boat and we were not treated with dignity and respect, we should not hesitate to call the Commander.  We won’t.

Meanwhile, Chuck and Chris are installing the water maker.  Weather doesn’t look particularly promising after tomorrow, so we might be here through the weekend and Christmas.  Our friends, Justin Smith and his girlfriend, Sher are on their way to Nassau from Hoffman Cay, in the Berry Islands.  Expecting them in this afternoon.  It’s Sher’s birthday and they asked us to go over to Paradise Island for a couple of hours of gambling at the Atlantis Casino.  I can’t wait.

The weather dictated we should leave Alive Town on Tuesday, December 13th.  We’d have three days to cross with ease from Alice Town, first to Chub Cay, and then on to Nassau.  However, on Monday evening when we tried to make water, our water maker took an unrepairable dump.  It was not wholly unexpected, the water maker was probably at least twenty-five years old.  Several options were discussed, including hopping back across the Gulf Stream to Ft. Lauderdale to both purchase and install a new one…I lobbied hard not to choose that option and, thankfully, prevailed.  Instead, the decision was made to use our fairly good internet service in Alice Town to arrange for a new water maker to be shipped from California to Nassau’s Harbor Central Marina where we intended to take on fuel and spend a few days anyhow.  After spending all day Tuesday, we successfully tackled the logistics of making that happen.  Our 20 gph water maker was set to arrive sometime on Monday, December 19th from Technautics , the same vendor we used for our two refrigeration units.

After another delightful meal at the Big Game Club Marina restaurant, in which we were pleasantly surprised to run across our friend Rod Casto (he, his wife Janet, and friend Chuck sailed to Cuba together last May)…we set our alarms for 0600 Wednesday morning to head out.

NOTE: 

I’m not much at all for clichés and cute, overused nautical phrases.  The “cruiser’s lifestyle” sort of irks me, for example.  But, many of them are as true as tea.  One particular one that applies, whether I like it or not is that “Cruising is nothing more than about fixing your boat in exotic locations.”  It’s an inescapable and undeniable fact.  Boats, no matter the age or the condition, break…regularly.

At 0630 we started the engine and almost immediately noticed it was running a bit hot.  Turns out the sea chest strainer was somewhat clogged; we cleaned it out quickly and at slack high tide, 0730 we eased the dock lines and made our way out of the channel.  Good bye Bimini, Captain Husband was at the wheel.

As we rounded North Rock, a reef with light, that sits at the north end of North Bimini, I took over the helm.  Chuck mentioned to me that the auto helm was “acting crazy.”  That was understatement, it would not hold course at all, evidently due to getting some sea water on it the night before as we massaged our leaking,  creaking, failing water maker; the auto helm’s computer module sit right next to it.  So, we hand steered the beast across the Bahama Banks, a somewhat tiresome affair on a yacht the size of ours.

The auto helm issue aside, the eighty-seven nautical mile run to Chub Cay was a great day on the water.  The seas were flat; the wind was light.  We set the genoa and staysail and popped along at almost eight knots the entire time.  Mid to late morning I turned the helm over to Chris before reclaiming it around 1500 hours.  Shortly afterwards the auto helm miraculously started to work again, a good thing.  It was to be a night entrance to Chub, but the moon was completely full, an exceedingly easy approach.  By 2030 hours the anchor was set and we all enjoyed a couple of beers in the cockpit before turning in for the night.  Another 0600 alarm time was established for departure on to Nassau.

At 0600 we were awake, by 0630 the anchor was up and we were on our way, again with genoa and staysail only flying.  Five hours and thirty-eight nautical miles later and we were refueled and in our slip at Harbor Central Marina, in Nassau Harbor…which is where we sit as I type.

Harbor Central Marina is not really one of the best we’ve stayed at.  Though we had reservations, we had a choice of three slips to berth in.  All of them were designed for 30’-35’ long boats, at most.  There were other sufficient slips available that our boats would have more easily fit into but no matter how much we tried we were unable to persuade the two very young Bahamian ladies in charge to let us dock in them.  There advertised internet service has been down for weeks with no indication when and if it will be back, if at all.  There are no dock hands.  They never answered their VHF as we approached.  The showers are marginal.  Overall service would be rated one star and even then we’d be generous.  But, there is free and very fast internet at the small restaurant, Green Parrot, next door, a half block walk maybe.  So, we are thankful.  The boat is tied up and we are safe and sound.

Note: 

Most of the time I drive the boat…particularly when docking and undocking.  There’s no particular reason for that really.  Things have just sort of evolved that way in all these years we’ve sailed together.  Make no mistake, Chuck is quite capable of driving the boat, after all, he had six sailboats before we met each other, and we’ve had two together since then.  But, specifically with the beast, our Tayana 52, he has only docked the boat twice in the over three years we’ve had her. 

Now, to both me and him, there’s no glory whatsoever in being the one at the helm.  Being at the helm when at sea is really nothing more than scanning the horizon and monitoring the chartplotter (navigation, radar, AIS), auto helm and engine instruments.  Docking and undocking in a marina one is not familiar with is a bit different, however.  Though there is some stress on both of us when bringing Freedom into a marina we’ve never been into before, the pucker factor goes way up on the one at the helm during that exercise.  Our boat is big, heavy, and ungainly when slowly maneuvering in a marina, even with the bow thruster.  Throw in a howling wind and ripping current and it’s, well, downright exciting, though not particularly in a good way.

Before we left Key West, Chuck and I agreed, without actually talking about it, we’d alternate helming the docking and undocking efforts.  As I’d taken on the docking in Key West, I brought us out of the Safe Harbor channel when we left.  Chuck took us into Bimini, and out.  I took us into Chub Cay, and out.  It was Chuck’s turn to take us into Nassau Harbor…and out, when we leave.

My poor guy had a fairly rough time docking at Bimini.  Even with calm winds, there was a slight current at the dock which, unfortunately, he didn’t read.  However, there was a dock hand available to assist us at least.  In Chub Cay I took the boat into and out of an anchorage, sort of a piece-of-cake thing.  

In Nassau, however, it was Chuck’s turn to handle the docking and conditions, though not all that bad, were not all that good either.  The wind was gusting off the port quarter at 10-15 knots, but the current was ripping straight into the slip we were assigned, and there were no dock hands.  The very short finger pier ended forward of our mast, pilings midships and aft, both port and starboard.

After an admittedly easy and picture perfect dock along the fuel dock, and then unable to convince the marina staff to give us a berth with a longer finger pier, after considering the wind and current, Chuck chose (rightfully in my opinion) to enter our assigned slip bow to.  As there were no dock hands, I elected to handle the lines from the dock, as Chuck and Chris eased from the fuel dock and approached the slip.  Chuck expertly lined up on the slip and brought the boat in, with the current dead on the stern.  We got a quick bow line on before quickly securing the stern lines to the two pilings on either side of the stern…then the midships spring lines.  Though not a difficult dock per se, it was wasn’t an easy one either.  We danced a delicate ballet from point to point fighting both wind and current in an effort to prevent the midget of a fixed finger pier from damaging our cap rails.  Thankfully, we have strong, study rub rails.  It wasn’t particularly pretty, but sometimes it never is.  Adequate length finger piers would have made the dock a no brainer.

As Gulf Coast sailors, current is something that very seldom comes into play…not so, here in the Caribbean.  We have next to no experience dealing with ripping currents.  Believe me, we are learning to deal with it quickly.  Docking is never an issue of just getting to the dock and secured.  It’s always an issue of getting to the dock and secured without tearing your, or someone else’s, boat up.

 

I certainly don’t scour the internet for sailing and cruising blogs but there are a couple that I follow…three, in fact.  Of the three, one of them has solicited donations via PayPal from the start, or at least since I’ve been reading it.  The other two wrote blog posts several years ago specifically stating their disdain for such blogs, seemingly appalled that someone would have the nerve to ask their readers to support their cruising…posts much longer but very similar to this very one here.  A few months ago, I happened to notice that both of those blogs now have PayPal or some other form of internet payment means (often more than one) and actively solicit donations. 

“Please support our efforts and the ability to continue posting content of our cruising lifestyle on the internet.  It takes a lot of time, money, and equipment to make these posts.  In order for us to continue we need your financial support, no matter how little or much you’d like to contribute so that we can buy new equipment and continue bringing you the quality videos and blog post you’ve come to enjoy.  Since you’ve been contributing to our cruising kitty we managed to buy a couple more cameras, underwater housings, mounts, lights, batteries, microphones, a new laptop and video editing software.”

…or something to that effect.  Sounds a bit like an evangelical preacher begging for money when they already live in a ten million dollar home to me.

Needless to say, we don’t contribute. Our idea of charity doesn’t include helping others support their travels, or lifestyle, if that dreaded word is more to your liking.

And, though it is a bit time consuming to put together a decent blog post, and even more if one wants to produce a video, my site here on WordPress doesn’t cost one red cent and no special equipment is necessary.  I use either our Nikon DSLR or my iPhone for the photos.

I fully realize that some are not as fortunate as perhaps we are.  I also understand and respect anyone that has the drive to make a buck.  But, it seems more than a bit pompous and presumptuous for all of these people to assume that their blogs and vblogs warrant anyone paying for it, or that their particular content is really any different than anyone else’s.  Believe me, or check for yourself, there are hundreds and hundreds of sailing and cruising blogs out there just like the three I follow…posting essentially the same content, the same photos and same videos, often shot from the same vantage point.  Truthfully, though we shoot a lot of photos, that is one of the reasons my blog posts don’t have more photos…everyone would have already seen them.

I’m not trying to be a horse’s patoot here.  If one wants to contribute to a blog they follow or like, for whatever reason, then by all means do so.  But, for us, we’re not interested in helping buy new camera gear, computers, etc for a cruiser because in their eyes they are the next up and coming Cecil B. Demille offering up a veiled threat that if people don’t give them money they will stop posting.  In fact, in my opinion I don’t think they will quit posting…I think they would post whether people donate to them or not.  And, if they do quit blogging, there’s literally a hundred more to take their place.

A blogger knows exactly how many people read their blog, and all manner of other information concerning the hits they get to their site.  In our case, we don’t get all that many hits on our blog and that’s fine with us.  We don’t write our blog to generate click bait in order get a few bucks at the end of the month from advertisers.  And, you certainly will not see any internet links to online payment sites here…ever.  Our blog is personal…actually I have to curb myself from making it too personal.  In short, our blog is for us to one day look back and reminisce about our trip, not to particularly entertain the masses while having them help pay for our more than extended vacation.  If others enjoy it that’s fine but if they don’t, that’s fine as well.

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I’ve neglected our blog and after being somewhat scolded by one of our followers I will endeavor to be a bit more diligent in our posts.

The passage from Key West to Bimini was a bit rough on me.  Not because it was difficult; on the contrary, it was about as near to perfect as any passage we’ve ever made.  But, because I just felt extremely tired and out of sort.  In hindsight, I’ll write it off to having a very mild but lingering-in-the-background upset stomach.  Perhaps some background is in order.  I just felt a bit out of sorts.

Chuck and I have had additional crew on our boat for two of our passages and considering the shallow depth of the Bahamas, decided we like company on this one.  The first name that came to mind was a close friend of ours from Texas, Chris Earls.  Chris is forty-nine and has been sailing and boating with his family and others since he was six.  Over the years he’s either done out-right or has assisted Chuck on numerous projects on our boat.  No better candidate could have been found.  We contacted him and he was available.  As it were, we got him down to the boat in Key West one week before what became our departure over here to the Bahamas.

During that week, as anyone who makes offshore passages would attest, there were many things to do.  We started tracking the weather and a good window for leaving turned out to be last Tuesday, December 6th.

On the Monday before we left there were two major items left to do: complete our provisioning and, almost as importantly, bring our yacht to 3D Boat Yard (right next to the marina) to have our fixed prop replaced with our newly refurbished foldable Max Prop.  The Max Prop is way more efficient than a fixed prop and the boat performs much better with it.  On three separate occasions we’d attempted to have our propellers changed out but as luck would have it, we just couldn’t make it happen.  So, on Monday, the prop change was job one; it had to be done.  We had the propeller guy lined up and were set with the boat yard to have the boat quick hauled at 1300 that afternoon.

As 1300 rolled around we rode over to the yard only to find out that they were going to have to splash a large schooner first…we were next in line after that for the quick haul.  The long and short of it was after the schooner was dropped in the haul out slip and started their engine they had lost engine cooling water circulation…busted impeller.  Our haul out time slipped to almost 1530 before our prop contractor finally got to work.  He had some very minor problems that delayed his installation but the boat yard agreed to stay late, knowing we were leaving the next day.

After the prop was installed and we splashed, it was back to the Stock Island Marina Village fuel dock where were took on a whole four gallons of fuel (we thought we’d need a measly fifteen) and left ourselves tied up there rather than go back to the slip.  Then we hurried to downtown Key West to return our scooters, before borrowing a friend’s jeep and rushing to the local Publix Supermarket to finish provisioning.  By the time the provisions were bought, brought and loaded back onto the boat it was near 2200.  Our initial plans were to leave, perhaps as early 0300.  Exhausted from a grueling and very stressful day, we then sat down to finalize our route.

Now, over the previous several days we’d consulted several from the marina that had made the trip over to Alice Town.  Seldom can one have too little information on something like this.  Our first plan was to go from Key West to Rodriquez Key, down near Key Largo in the upper keys, spend the night and then jump over to the Bahamas the next day; that plan would have broken the trip up into two days with the only real advantage being it avoided an overnight passage.  Then we considered going to Marathon, Florida, anchoring out, and then make the jump…which also would have included an overnight passage.  All of us being dead tired and somewhat stressed not only from the day, but for the several days before in which we averaged maybe six hours of sleep a day, we finally just took a deep breath and tossed out both of those plans.  Here we were with over a hundred years of sailing experience between us and we were fretting a 150-160 mile passage in what was predicted to be perfect winds and seas.  We’d sleep until 0600, have coffee, and depart Key West at 0630 direct to Alice Town.  We estimated the passage at somewhere between 21 and 24 hours.  At 0630 the next morning, after another six hours of sleep, we slipped the dock lines and headed out into Hawk Channel.

The plan was to take the shortest path to the Bahamas…we’d take the Hawk Channel inside the reef until an hour or so before sunset and then jump out into the Gulf Stream.  We’d then set our rhumb line for Alice Town, Bimini.  And, we did.

We’d never sailed inside of Hawk Channel but knew before we left there would be a lot of crab pots.  We weren’t disappointed.  I took the helm while Chris and Chuck spotted crab pot floats…we estimate there were roughly 39,658,003 crab pots…we’re not sure…we quit counting at five million.

After we jumped outside into the Gulf Stream the sail was uneventful.  What was significant is that our ETA at North Bimini was estimated at between 0300 and 0500…we knew that, at the least, we’d have to circle the entrance until daylight.

The only burp in the passage was our dinghy davits.  Around 2200 hours we noticed that the starboard side davit had dropped about three inches for some reason.  Upon inspection, we saw that a stainless steel pin that allows the davits a bit of movement had failed.  It was still quite secure, however, and with less than one meter swells we decided to just keep an eye on it, anticipating a repair once in Alice Town.

We arrived at the North Bimini waypoint at almost straight up 0400.  Within a half hour, another sailboat arrived off of our starboard quarter.  We hailed them on the VHF, S/V My Kay, asking what their draft was (we draw 6.5’).  They drew 7.0’ and indicated they were going to have to circle until high tide which was to be around 1300.  We knew we would have to do the same.

So, for the next eight boring hours we, along with My Kay, circled the entrance about a half mile or less offshore…watching multiple catamarans and small power boats with their shallow draft enter.  Occasionally, we’d hail a vessel exiting the cut and inquire as to water depth.

At around 1230 hours we uneventfully entered the channel; Chuck had us safely tied to the dock at Big Game Club Marina a short time later.  We had dinner at the marina, showered, and by 1830 I was in bed and sound asleep…a short time later the boys turned in.

After a great meal and thirteen hours of replenishing sleep my out of sorts disappeared.

One pleasant surprise was that within a half hour of our initial docking, a gentleman approached us on the dock offering us a dozen freshly caught lobster tails at a price that was ridiculously inexpensive.  We jumped right on that.

The next morning, Thursday, we dropped the dinghy in the water and completely disassembled the dinghy davits, removed them from the boat, and brought them to a welder we were told about.  By 1430 hours the repair was made, expertly.  A couple of hours later the davits were back up and the dinghy safely hanging from them.

That evening, I cooked a splendidly delicious meal of steak, two lobster tails each, and my semi-famous hashbrowns.  We made short order of the feast.

On Thursday, after we had communications, business back in the US dictated that Chuck had to return in order to send a Limited Power of Attorney to our lawyer back in the States.  On Friday morning, he flew out to Ft. Lauderdale to handle that chore…Saturday morning by noon, he was back, his trip a success.

We knew before we got here that there is essentially nothing to do and nothing to see, and we weren’t disappointed.  It’s a small place, with friendly people but otherwise quite bleak.  The locals make their living fishing and catering to the tourists and cruisers.  That was no problem with us for on Friday, a cold front blew through with 25-30 knot winds, rain squalls and a chop in the marina that made conditions raw at best.  We hung out on the boat, took care of some minor repairs, ate at least once a day at the more than acceptable marina restaurant, and just took it easy.

Today is Monday and the weather is once again settling down, the sun is out, high in the upper 70s, and the chop is gone.  We have a great weather window, starting tomorrow morning, for the next three days.  After we refuel today, we plan to head out for Chub Key tomorrow, perhaps anchoring out on the way.  In Chub, we will anchor out before making the 37 mile passage into Nassau early on Thursday to arrive mid day.  On Friday, the weather is expected to again deteriorate with high winds and seas between Chub and Nassau.  We fully expect to be in Nassau before then…you never know, however.  Once we ride out the next weather system in Nassau, the 10 day forecast indicates we will have a good week or more of favorable winds and seas to pass east of Providence Island (Nassau) and continue on South.

There is one additional side story in the trip.

On Friday, we received an email from Stock Island Marina Village informing us that when we exited our slip last Monday to go to to the boat yard we had hit the huge power boat that was next to us.  We were somewhat taken aback as we were quite careful when we undocked.  All three of us on our boat were in agreement that there was no way our hull hit them…we did acknowledge to ourselves that our dinghy came quite close to his yacht, though we honestly didn’t think that hit them either.  We contacted the owner, told him that we didn’t feel we had hit, but to be sure, and in the interest of fairness, could he please send us a brief narrative of his side and take a few photos, particularly the height from the waterline to his alleged damage.  We also assured him that if we hit him we’d be more than happy to pay for his damages.

He honored our request and as soon as we saw the photos knew that we were mistaken.  At exactly the point in which we were the closest to his boat it was apparent that the rubber port side rub rail of our RIB dinghy kissed his boat leaved three or four minor scuffs.  As we could see from his photos, and of which he admitted in his note, the damage wasn’t even slightly severe, very minor scuffs indeed.  We called our friend Kyle Ohearn who did our bottom job this summer and asked him to take a look.  On Sunday morning he dropped by the owner’s boat to look-see.  Forty-five minutes later he was gone, the scuffs buffed out and waxed and…most importantly, the owner of the power boat tickled pink with the effort.  He had a PayPal account…we paid him the $105 immediately.

The incident was more an inconvenience than anything else.  On three separate occasions we had the marina park large power boats right next to us, in a double slip that was already too small for one boat, much less two, considering the tight fairway…our bow stuck out fifteen feet.  On the first occasion the power boat actually struck our boat when docking, though the damage was insignificant.  On the second occasion the boat was quite beamy and close to us, we complained and they moved him to another slip.  And, as the boat we kissed was docking we complained at the time, but they berthed him there anyhow.  It would have been one thing if the marina was chocked full of boats but there were numerous double slips that all of these boats could have had…instead, they docked them next to our 52′ behemoth.  Oh well, as the Captain at the helm at the time of the kiss it was my responsibility to control my vessel…shame on me.

For us, it’s always all about the weather.

Though both Chuck and I have been sailing for many years, both separately and the past ten years we’ve been together, we’ve never claimed to be experts, preferring instead to say we “know what we don’t know.”  And, one thing we’ve known since we headed out a year ago was that we were sorely lacking in the ability to obtain weather information while at sea.  We subscribe to several weather sites that allow us more than adequate weather forecasts when sitting at the dock, but once we get out of range of either the internet or cell phone service we are on our own.  Understand, we do have a brand new viable state-of-the-art SSB on board but neither one of us are particularly single side band savvy.  We needed and wanted another option.  We also wanted a sat phone.  After much research we found what might be the answer.  The product…is the Iridium GO.   Ours arrived yesterday.

This unit allows one to use e-mail, tracking, iPhone as a satellite phone, and most of all, to access weather from anywhere on the planet.  And, specifically, it supports a weather site we subscribe to called PredictWind

Though we consult and subscribe to somewhere around 12-15 different weather sites prior to making a passage, PredictWind, is our go-to site when it comes to weather.  Since we’ve been using the site their forecast have been right on the money every time.  PredictWind gives routing suggestions, departure forecasts, sea state, wind speeds and directions, currents, passage times, water temperatures, grib files, and a host of other functions.  Having the ability to access this kind of information, via the Iridium GO, while at sea takes a world of worry out of being there.

The unit is not cheap and our plan is $150/month just for the service.  As well, it’s said that is not the most intuitive of electronics to set up.  But those who use it swear by it. 

For us, not particularly fair weather sailors but not foolhardy, caution to the wind types either, we now have two satellite units.  One is the Delorme inReach, recently updated to give local weather forecasts…and now the Iridium GO.  Both are satellite units and work anywhere in the world, certainly anywhere we will be going, we think.

As we speak, Captain Husband, is slowly chugging away at mounting the antenna and running the cable to the navigation station, never a pleasant task.

Will let you all know how it turns out.

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This little fellow came waltzing down our port quarter the other day…a real beauty.  He stayed a while before casually sauntering down our stern line and on down the dock.

 

We had our bottom job and are back in the slip.  It went smoothly, really.  Not the easiest or most forgiving slip to back into, but not really all that difficult either; there were six of us horsing it in and we had plenty of fenders out.  Still, it was nice to get the boat in the slings, always is.  We hauled out and were in the blocks by noon…three days later, Friday, we splashed.

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We were warned about this haul out slip by a local friend .  Our mast is so high we always have to back in so the crane can make the lift without nailing the forestay.  Even at that, the crane here could just barely get us out of the water (without hitting our backstay…had about four inches under the keel while moving the boat to the blocks.

 

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We had fenders out everywhere…concrete always wins over gelcoat.

 

We were anxious to see the bottom after our last haul out.  There was significant growth hydro blasted away before the painters did their thing.  But, in the big scheme of things, it went well.  We are fortunate that as big as our boat is we have not one blister, not even a previously repaired one.

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The hull being hydro blasted prior to being blocked up.  Two years of marine growth…it was time.  If we’d have waited any longer they might have declared us a marine sanctuary.

 

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Was a wonder the boat even moved…

 

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The bow thruster tunnel seemed to fair a bit better though the sacrificials were toast.  Not so much for the starboard bow.

 

The work to be done was quite routine, actually:  sand and recoat the bottom, inspect the prop, shaft, cutlass bearings, bow thruster and shaft spurs, replace the zincs, have three small dings in the topsides repaired, and then have the entire topsides cleaned and waxed.  This was done by two contractors, one for the painting and ding repair and the other who handled the waxing.

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There were six workers, three on the bottom painting and three on the cleaning and waxing.  They did a superb job.

 

The shaft, bearings, bow thruster, and spurs were in good shape and repairing the topside dings was uneventful, as was replacing the sacrificial zinc/aluminum…the cleaning and waxing was nothing short of superb.  However, not so much with the prop.

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This is the aft end of the Max Prop.  As you can see, the zincs were on their last leg.  However, the issue was that space that appears as a black curved line in the upper right quadrant of this photo.  That is where the prop blade enters the gear housing…that space was out of tolerance, though just barely.  As shown in the photo, the blades are in the neutral position.  The yellow one sees in this photo is the remnants of the Prop Speed that was applied two years ago.

 

One of the things required in inspecting the prop was to purge the interior gears with grease, a semi special kind of grease, for in our case, we carry a 3-blade, 20” PYI Max Prop on our 1.5” shaft.  Without getting into the rather complicated mechanism that is a folding propeller (and as the pix shows it is a complexly engineered gizmo), greasing the interior of our Max Prop is not something the inexperienced just wants to jump into.  Certainly not something either Chuck or I wanted to tackle.  We brought in a professional to do that job.

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Part of the aft portion of the internal gears of the Max Prop.  All of those letters that one sees stamped correspond to a specific prop pitch.

 

Upon inspecting our prop and before he disassembled it, the pro called to our attention that there was a bit of play where the prop blades joined up with the gear box.  We called PYI, the Washington state manufacturer of Max Props and a firm known for their customer service and explained the play.  They gave us the tolerances for the allowable play.  When we checked these tolerances we were just on the edge of what was acceptable.  As we anticipate going down island in a few months and didn’t want to have what could be less than acceptable work done down there on what is an insanely expensive  propeller, the decision was made to remove the foldable prop and send it to PYI to be refurbished.  They estimated a seven to ten day turnaround.  Of course, we had a spare fixed prop on the boat which the pro then popped on for us.

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The boat after completion and as it is being moved to the haul out slip.

 

This was not our preferred way to go, we’d have rather the foldable prop be the primary, the fixed as the back-up.  We’d have liked it that way because the fixed prop can be installed with the boat in the water way more easily; the Max Prop, theoretically, could be installed with the boat in the water, but nowhere near as easily as the fixed.  But, we didn’t want to keep the boat out of the water for a couple of weeks or so waiting for the Max Prop to be returned from Washington.  As well, our Max Prop is way more efficient when motoring than the fixed.  The prop walk (tendency of the boat to turn in the direction the propeller is spinning, most noticeable when the boat is in reverse and backing up) is also significantly less with the Max Prop than the fixed, though with the bow thruster that is somewhat less of a concern.

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After completion and just prior to being splashed.

For those not in the know, a foldable prop’s blades pitch in different directions depending on the direction the shaft is turning, i.e., whether the boat is in forward or reverse.  When the shaft is not turning, as when under sail power alone, the blades straighten out with no pitch, essentially acting as three fins…the propeller drag is significantly reduced when in that position.  Though the prop mechanism is complex, it is very dependable and quite proven.

And, lastly, we were most interested in how our Max Prop had held up these past two years regarding marine growth, for on our last haul out in 2014 we opted to use Prop Speed  on it.  After inspecting the prop before it was hydro blasted we did see somewhat of a difference/improvement on marine growth, but not enough to justify the expense of recoating it.  Using Prop Speed on the Max Prop cost us just under $300 when we had it done on the last haul out…just wasn’t worth it to us this time.

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Foreword:

It’s been a while since I’ve last posted here.  No problems, just a lot going on.  The day after returning to Key West after our Cuba trip we received a phone call from a friend of ours offering to buy our house…as is.  She knew we were returning to Texas to prepare our house for sale as soon as we returned from that trip and wanted to be a bit proactive.  She made an offer, we countered, she accepted, and we immediately started readying the boat for what ended up being the six weeks we were away.  Less than a week after our return from Cuba we were in a rental car for the 1356 mile drive back to League City.  We did it in two days…Key West to Tallahassee the first day, on to League City the second day.

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As we have/had a very nice home, complete with swimming pool and as our buyer was willing to buy the house as is and make the very few maintenance repairs it required herself, essentially we had six weeks to sort through all of our stuff deciding what we would keep and what we would discard before the closing.  And, then coordinate with the packers to pack everything else up and move into storage.  Since I had a major house cleaning in 2006 when I moved to Port Arthur, Texas for the Total project, the vast majority of personal sorting fell upon my husband and him getting his stuff together.  He worked hard on it and did a splendid job.  Nonetheless, we had a lot of stuff that needed packing.

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On moving day, ten men came the day of the pack out…it took them almost ten straight hours to pack everything up…it took two trucks for everything.  We spent the last night sleeping on our king size mattress and box springs…nothing else was left in the house, nothing.  The mattress was one of the few pieces of furniture we had decided to throw away.  We ordered pizza to be delivered and then retired to the pool for a cocktail.

At 8:30 the next morning we discarded the mattress to the curb, packed our bags in the rental, loaded up our two mollies and left for the closing…a few signatures later and we headed to our bank to deposit the checks from the sale of our automobiles…the house proceeds were electronic transfers.  Yep, my husband’s truck and my BMW Z4 were sold; we now own no house, nor any cars.  After the deposit, we were on the road to Biloxi, Mississippi.  We arrived well before dark.

At 4:30 the next morning we headed out for the 941 mile drive all the way back to Key West.  It was a brutal 16 hour drive, particularly once we hit Homestead and started down the Keys on a late Saturday afternoon.

It feels pretty good to have the house and cars sold and to now be full time live aboard cruisers. 

Our future plans?  Well, our daughter (my stepdaughter) is coming on September 4th for a week…we absolutely can’t wait to spend the week with her on the boat.  We are lining up a bottom job for Freedom for next week or the week after.  And, we will hang out here in Key West until the end of hurricane season or at least until the tropics calm down, mid-October to mid-November or so.

Then it’s on South into the Caribbean for the winter.

Wow…living and hanging in Key West for a few months.  There are way worse places to have to hang…like Texas.  And, way better places, as well.  But, we like it here in Key West.  Friendly people, beautiful crystal clear water, great weather, great food, good places to sail that are not too far away.  Just a cool place overall.

We struggle on…

The Trip to Cuba:

We arrived at Stock Island Marina Village   a full month before the rally, with seven boats, was set to depart on May 28th.  We like Key West a lot, enjoy scooting around on our rental scooters, which is really the only way to easily get around the island.  By the time the rally started we were firmly established in the marina and had cultivated a small but great group of friends.

Prior to our departure and at least a couple of weeks before the rally was to leave, we had researched the logistics of getting there and back with several of the locals who had made the trip numerous times over the previous couple of years…it seemed pretty straight forward.  As the week before departure came we began our weather worrying vigil.  By all of our means, the weather appeared to be shaping up to be perfect and as the day before departure came it firmed up nicely, even perfectly.

The afternoon before we were to leave, Justin Smith, the Marine Services Director for Harmony Yachts (they furnished several of the charter boats some were to be leaving on) dropped by our boat and indicated he was going to be leaving at 0400 on Saturday, May 28th, a full 15 hours before the rest of the flotilla and asked if we’d like to leave with him.  We immediately jumped on his invitation.  He was driving a Pearson 53, while we would be on our Tayana 52…we’d both have virtually identical hull speeds.

We never ever understood why the rally was leaving early evening at 1900 hours on May 28th, essentially wasting three quarters of a day sitting at the dock.  It just never made any sense to us.  Why on Earth would one want to sit around wasting the day, and then leaving at seven at night to cross the Gulf Stream?  It just never computed for us.  Though we were the only boat with just two on board, and even considering that the other five boats had at least three crew – one had as many as five dedicated crew – a one night overnighter is energy taxing.  Those who were to leave late would be fairly exhausted when they would arrive in Cuba the next morning.   Leaving at 0400 instead of 1900 hours meant that the sail across the Gulf Stream to Cuba would be, in some respects, just another day sail…and would put us at Marina Hemingway  before dark on the same day we left.  For the record, the sail over to Cuba, against the Gulf Stream, was estimated at fourteen to sixteen hours…the sail back, with the Gulf Stream current boost, was to be around twelve hours.  Leaving at 0400 instead of 1900 hours meant we’d be on approach to Marina Hemingway about the time the rest of the boats were just leaving Key West.  We were all in on the early departure.

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A couple of weeks before departure we’d moved the boat to the fuel dock and topped off our tanks…and the boat was way provisioned by the time we were to leave.  The plan was for Freedom and Jacaru (Justin’s yacht) to move to the fuel dock the afternoon before we left.  That would eliminate negotiating Stock Island Marina at night.  The marina fuel dock is lined up with the Safe Harbor Channel, meaning at departure we’d have a straight run out of the lighted channel when we left at 0400 in the morning, in the dark.  Easy peasy…cool beans.

On the afternoon of May 27th, the day before our departure, Chuck and I strolled over to the fuel dock and sat at the rail, waiting for the afternoon fishing boats to finish fueling up and for the dock to clear so we could move our boat over.  While standing around, we ran into Larry McCart, a Facebook friend of mine…we’d never met Larry but took an instant liking to him and his buddy Jim Mitchell.  As it turned out, we spent a fair amount of our time with the two of them while in Cuba…great guys to hang out with.  Larry was from Indiana and Jim lived in Michigan.  Just after meeting them it was time to move Freedom over to the fuel dock for our early morning departure, Larry came along to help with the lines.

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At 0400 hours sharp, Jacaru eased away from the dock, and not a minute later we slipped our lines and followed them out…not five minutes later one of the charter catamarans, Sea Dame, followed us…they had decided to leave early as well.  We set the engine at 1600 RPMs, unfurled the head sails, grabbed a huge cup of coffee, and we were off.

All went well, the three of us in line, with Sea Dame easing into the lead, then Jacaru, and then us.  Via radar we were spaced out about five nautical miles, neither of them had AIS.  The cat, predictably, eased over the horizon around noon and, due to a mainsail malfunction at almost the half way mark, sometime after lunch so did Jacaru.  Radar showed Jacaru to be about 10 miles ahead of us.  Our burp is easily spotted when reviewing our tracks on our Delorme tracker .

Upon getting the mainsail back in the bag, our chartplotter showed an ETA of well after midnight…totally unacceptable.  If we arrived at the sea buoy marking the Marina Hemingway entrance after dark we’d have to circle out in the Florida Straits all night for entering that particular channel at night was most definitely not recommended.  We upped the engine to 1850 RPMs and with me at the helm and constantly adjusting the headsails and course I milked every last drop of speed out of Freedom in a stupendous effort to get to the Hemingway Marina channel entrance sea buoy before the sun set.

As the afternoon progressed, our efforts seemed to pay off as the chartplotter ETA slowly but consistently dropped.  Finally, we hit the counter current that flows southwest about the time that the Havana skyline popped on the horizon some 15-20 miles out.  By the time we got within a few miles of the coast our ETA started dropping and our speed increased to over nine knots.  We spotted the sea buoy around 1930 hours and entered the Marina Hemingway channel at exactly 1951 hours.  That was just nine minutes shy of 16 hours of sailing.  I can’t tell you all how relieved we were to be able to get to the marina before dark and not having to circle until the next morning…though in hindsight, the entrance to the channel is highly overrated in the calm seas we had.  The channel is well lit, and in all probability, after we saw it from outside, we’d have probably run it…darkness or not.

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This was our first time clearing into a foreign country on our yacht and even though we’d read numerous accounts and talked to people about the procedure we were a bit stressed as to how things would go.  The worries were for naught.

By the time we pulled up to the Immigration and Customs dock it was around 2015 hours.  The dock had no other boats on it.  There were three dock hands standing by to handle our lines.  Docking was uneventful.  Almost immediately a female medical doctor and an Immigration and Customs agent were on hand and asked to board out boat, most politely.  Then, only momentarily, there was some confusion over who was the Captain of our boat, me or Chuck.  The confusion was because I was at the helm; I drive our boat almost exclusively and almost always dock it…though there is no rule on this, generally the Captain on the boat drives it.  That sorted out, the officials did their thing.  Tourist visas were filled out, Passports were produced, and, separately, both the doctor and customs official went below decks and performed a cursory walk through asking the errant questions now and again.  Both spoke pretty good English and were most courteous, polite, and patient.  Then the doctor took our temperature.  (As a side note, Cuba has some of the best medical care in the world.  In country, there are two types of medical assistance, one for the Cubans, and one for those that aren’t Cuban.  The care is the same, there are just special clinics for non-Cubans.  There is no charge for the medical services should one require them.)

Next, Chuck, as the Captain of our vessel, was required to walk into the customs building and have his photograph taken.  After, our passports were returned to us and we were finished clearing in…almost…we still had to drive the boat down to our slip and dock.  We were assigned dock space and told to “hurry up, the Dockmaster is waiting for you.”

As I drive the boat, I was a bit stressed at having to dock our boat as by the time we cleared in it was pitch black dark and the slips, located within one of the four canals that make up Marina Hemingway, were not lighted.  Having no choice, I cautiously eased Freedom down Canal C and on to slip 315…while Chuck stood on the port side rail with a light anxiously looking for our slip number.

Within a couple of hundred yards we spotted Jacaru just finishing their tie up, and in front of them was Sea Dame, safely moored to the dock.  All of the dock space at Marina Hemingway is “side tie”, not really a slip, per se.  I eased over and behind Jacaru to, again, three waiting dock hands who grabbed our lines.  This docking was also uneventful except for the fact it was well after dark.

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Once again, officials politely asked to board our boat.  This time it was the Cuban veterinarian official, the Cuban Agricultural official, and the dockmaster (not to be confused with the harbormaster.  The vet inspected our two cat’s vaccination paperwork, the agricultural guy inquired about the food we were bringing in.  And, the dockmaster had a bit more paperwork.

While the officials were below decks and in addition to the three dockhands on the dock, an electrician showed up to hook us up to shore power…they had modern marine shore power pedestals just like any other marina one might go to.

By 2130 hours, everyone was tipped and gone.  All of the officials, every single one of them, were as nice as could be, most polite.  We had no problems clearing in.  It took about an hour and a half to clear in from start to finish.

And, just like that…we’d sailed to Cuba.

I had a glass of wine, Chuck had a beer and we just sat in the cockpit with the cats taking everything in.  Our first foreign country we’d sailed to.  Pretty overwhelming once we thought about it.  The first of many countries we will visit on the boat…hopefully.

The next day, Sunday, May 29th, the rest of the group was to arrive…and they did.  However, it seemed a couple of boats had had a hell of a time with Cuban Customs.  You see, one just can’t go to Cuba for just anything…not because Cuba has a problem with it, but because the United States does.  Remember that CG3300 form I talked about a post or so back, the one that actually gives one permission to go to Cuba.  That is the Department of Homeland Securities Permission to Enter Cuban Territorial Waters form that gives one permission to go to Cuba.  Currently, there are twelve reasons one can go to Cuba legally:

  • Family visits.
  • Official government business.
  • Journalism
  • Professional research and meetings.
  • Educational activities.
  • Religious activities.
  • Public performances, clinics, workshops, exhibitions and athletic competitions.
  • Support for the Cuban people.
  • Humanitarian projects.
  • Activities of private foundations or research for educational institutes.
  • Exporting or importing information or “information materials.”
  • Travel related to some authorized export transactions.

In our case, the reason we gave in order to complete the CG3300 form was based on “Support for the Cuban People” above, specifically:  “Educational supplies in support of the Cuban people.”  That was how it was listed.  Just that simple one sentence. In order to do that we bought 12 spiral ring medium notebooks and 12 plastic rulers (centimeters and inches) from K-Mart before we left to pass out.  Most brought a little something along.  Some, however, brought a lot of stuff along.  We didn’t even declare our notepaper and rulers.

One friend we made, our buddy Larry, brought 20 baseballs and baseball bats, a few vinyl baseball gloves, and a handful of Frisbees.  After several hours of discussion with Cuban Customs he was finally allowed to keep the sports equipment and hand it out to the children.  Another boat, however, brought 500 baseballs and 500 baseball bats.  After hours of arguing with Customs, he was not allowed to bring in the equipment unless he paid $10 US for each and every bat and ball…the following Thursday night, in an attempt to essentially smuggle them off his boat he was busted a second time by Customs.  In the end, this boat ended up returning to the States with all of the balls and bats.

Though there are twelve official reasons an American can legally travel to Cuba, the bottom line is that almost any reason one wants to give, as long as the CG3300 is filled out, seems to be approved.

Sunday night, May 29th, there was a dinner held for all in the rally at the Hemingway Yacht Club .  The Commodore of the club welcomed us to Havana…it was pretty cool actually.  The food was superb.

On Monday, May 30th, we all went for a tour to the Havana Historic District, then lunch, and then a school for underprivileged, poverty stricken young children.

The historic district was just too much to take in during the short time we had to do it.  Havana and Cuba have so much history it’s mind boggling.  We saw so many historic stone buildings it was impossible to keep track of the importance of all of them.  Old Havana was somewhat like the New Orleans French Quarter on steroids.

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Tuesday was a down day for us to do anything we wanted to.  Friday through Monday were long days so we just hung around the marina, enjoying the pool, and eating.  Both meals and drinks are quite cheap in Cuba.

On Wednesday, June 1st, four of us, me, Chuck and the two friends we’d met on the trip, Larry McCart and Jim Mitchell, rented a tricked out ’55 Chevy and, along with another group of 10 who’d rented a small minivan and a guide, set off for Vinales Valley  located 150 miles or so southwest of Havana.  Vinales is a World Heritage Site   and was touted as a “don’t miss” by most we’d met.

It was a long drive but quite enlightening to get out of Havana and see the real Cuba.  On the way there we stopped and visited a tobacco farm…one that just so happened to have been chosen by Fidel to make his cigars during the revolution.  Note: We met no Cuban who referred to Fidel Castro as either “Castro” or “Fidel Castro”…they always referred to him as simply “Fidel.”  We bought two of the cigars Fidel was supposed to have preferred at this place. (We bought them for two friends we have back in Texas.  We managed to hook up with one of these guys to give him his cigar when we went back a few weeks ago, and contacted the other guy letting them know we had something for him…but he never called, we assumed he was either busy, or could care less for or about the gift…live and learn.)

Also on the trip to Vinales we had fresh Pina Colatas at the cliff murals…after they made the drink they set a bottle of their best Havana Club rum on the bar for everyone to add ever how much rum they might want.

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In Vinales we ate at a paladares, or privately owned restaurant and toured a somewhat hokey underwater cave in which one walked into, but rode a boat out of.

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The trip to Vinales was sobering.  The poverty was overwhelming.  It’s startling to see the primary mode of transportation in the Cuban countryside to be horses, either alone or pulling a small two wheel cart.

On Wednesday, we learned that Jacaru and all of the rest of the boats were leaving early the next morning, arriving back at Key West Thursday afternoon.  That seemed early to us, but that was what it was.  Unlike every other boat, we had permission via our CG3300 to stay a full nine days more so we didn’t sweat it as the other boats planned to depart…and, depart they did.  However, the Thursday morning they left we finally acquired internet service and, when we did, things weren’t looking so good weather wise.

On Thursday, our weather sites forecast a tropical storm for the following weekend and into the early part of the next weeks with a 90% chance of rain for four days in a row.  There was mention of 13’ seas and 45 knot winds in the Florida Straits. That storm ended up being TS Colin  that later dumped on Panama City, Florida.  We had a decision to make.

The weather was not forecast to start going downhill until Sunday morning.  So, if the weather was what it was forecast to be we had two more days, Friday, June 3rd and Saturday, June 4th of good weather…and possibly Sunday, June 5th, if things went well.  If the weather didn’t go as forecast, we’d have one more good day, Friday, June 3rd, before the weather started to deteriorate.  In both cases, after Sunday, June 5th, nothing but rain was forecast for Havana for the remaining week.  All things considered, we decided to bail early the following day, Friday, June 3rd, for the trip back.  Departure time was set for the very earliest we could safely extract ourselves from the marina…that ended up being 0545 hours.

By 0600 hours, we were approaching the Customs docks to check out of Cuba.  At exactly 0620 hours we entered the channel to leave the marina.  And, shortly after, we had course and sails set for the trip back across the straits to Key West.  It took us just one minute less than 12 hours for the return trip  (16 hours over, 12 hours back).  A little squally out in the straits but, otherwise, clear skies, good wind, meager seas.  A great sail.

We arrived at the Stock Island Marina Village fuel dock at 1819 hours and spent the night there before moving on into our slip the following morning.  Quarantine flag hoisted, the next day we rented our scooters and boogied to Immigration and Customs here at the Key West airport to check in.  That went fine…until we were asked if we had any fresh vegetables or meat on board.  We said we had no veggies aboard but did have almost an entire freezer full of meat.  That wasn’t the answer the officer needed to hear. 

The Customs officer, though extremely polite, informed us we would in all likelihood have to throw away all the meat, but that he would have the Customs Agricultural Officer meet us at our boat to make the decision.  He said to go back to the boat, continue to leave our quarantine flag up and wait.  We did.  An hour or so later, the inspector came.

When the agricultural officer came she was actually quite nice.  She looked all over the boat, though not in our drawers, asked a bunch of questions (Did we buy rum? YesDid we buy any cigars? Yes. etc.) and initially it didn’t seem as though she was going to even ask about the meat (the meat being the only thing we were sweating)…and, then she did ask.  We were honest, told her we had a whole freezer full of meat on board, and waited.  She opened the freezer, took perhaps half of the stuff out, and then declared everything as being OK as it was all sealed by the grocery stores we’d bought the meat from here in the states…she returned the things she’d removed from the freezer back.  She told us if we ever go back to another country and reenter the US with meat there will not be a problem at all if we just keep the receipt from the US supermarket we bought it from. 

This pleasant lady then told us she hoped we’d return to Cuba one day, told us we could now lower our quarantine flag, and bid us a good day.

We were back in the USSR…er…USA.  Easy peasy.

Thoughts:

We never, ever felt threatened…everyone was nice.  Hardly ever saw any police, and never saw any military where we went.

Needless to say, though we were disappointed that we didn’t or couldn’t stay longer, Cuba was a very fine place to visit.  Almost certainly we will go back as we head south this Fall.  But, the “Rally” part of the trip was a joke.  With that said, sailors in general are resilient and overall we’d give the trip a B+…had the weather not gone downhill, undoubtedly it would have been a solid A.

To this date I’m really not sure what we paid for.  We got a cruising guide that seemed next to being only slightly more useful than worthless.  We got a T-shirt.  We got a six hour or so tour of Havana.  We got one meal at the yacht club at the marina as a welcome.  And, we got the paperwork to legally go there.  But, if you break that down, it was in no way worth what we paid for it.  The tour of Havana was OK but way too hurried.  The best trip we had, to Vinales, was one that me, Chuck, Larry, and Jim put together on our own in a few minutes after we returned from the Havana tour; it was an all-day affair and only set us back fifty bucks each…not including lunch and the tip.

The Rally was put together by someone who claimed to have been to Cuba many times and probably has.  Yet he seemed way more absorbed with himself than actually chaperoning or offering any real assistance to anyone.  We met him once when while we were having lunch one day; he approached our table and joined Chuck and I.  It was the only time on the trip we ever saw him; he never came by the boat.

The travel agency that sponsored the trip was not much better.  There seemed to be little if any coordination between them and the gentleman who put the trip together.  The whole operation just seemed “seat of the pants” with the right hand not having a clue what the left was up to.  Justin Smith seemed to be the only one on the trip who had any real information; we very much appreciated his and Sher’s input on things.

Lastly, to be fair, maybe all sailing rallies are like this one…and we simply didn’t have the experience to recognize that beforehand.

We will most definitely go back to Cuba.  Having been to somewhere around fourteen foreign countries at this time, the Cubans were some of the nicest folks we’ve met and been around anywhere, bar none.  But, the next time we go it will be all on us.  In hindsight, we really wished we done it that way in the first place.

I’ve already posted pics on Facebook that others took on the trip and, honestly, they are essentially the same pics I took.  As time permits I’ll post some more of the pix that we took.