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We followed Irma from the time it was a named storm.  Me, because of having been raised on the Louisiana gulf coast and Chuck having lived in the Texas hurricane zone for years, make following storms from the moment they leave Africa just something we do, whether we are within the storm tracks or not.  So, with great interest we followed Irma.  Freedom being berthed in Stock Island Marina Village less than a mile from the Florida Straits increased our interest in Irma.

As the storm tracks increasingly indicated that Irma would make land fall in South Florida, our interest morphed into concern and worry.  Both of us had seen on way more than one occasion what even a direct hit from a Category 1 or 2 hurricane could do.  We hoped Irma would follow a more easterly track and fade harmlessly into the Atlantic.  But, by the Tuesday before the storm it was more than obvious there was a high enough chance of a hit, if only a glancing blow, that we had to start preparing Freedom from the potential effects of the storm.

We removed the two head sails and tied our main sail securely to the boom.  We removed the four dorades and installed their plugs.  Everything not absolutely hard connected to the boat was removed or disconnected and stored below.  The bimini and dodger, along with any other canvas was removed and stored.  All lines were recoiled.  We put out eight fenders.  We made sure the boat had sufficient food and water to last us a week.  And, then it was time to secure the boat to the dock.

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Stock Island Marina essentially sits at the end of the Safe Harbor Channel.  It is short and straight shot of about a half a mile or so from the marina to the Florida Straits.  Freedom was berthed on the dock that was the closest to that channel.  We weren’t happy with that.  We requested to move just one dock in so as to be protected by the potentially huge swell that would rage right up that channel should the storm hit even a little bit to the west of Key West.  There were multiple slips available when we made the request to move.  Just one dock closer to land would make a huge difference should the storm directly hit the area and the floating outside docks start oscillating.  Our request was denied.  We were given a roundabout bull shit excuse that other boats might be coming in with reservations and the marina didn’t know which boats would actually make the move and show up, and which ones wouldn’t.  Quickly it became apparent that the real reason was that the charter yachts would move there; they were even more exposed than we were.  Trying to argue with this marina is moot and a useless exercise.  So, we settled into securing Freedom where she sat.

After securing the dink as best we could, we laid out our fenders and secured Freedom’s starboard side to the floating dock.  There were ten lines, two at the stern, four amidships, and four at the bow.  In addition, there were lines from each of our port cleats to the floating dock cleats of the vacant slip next to us.  A total of fourteen lines holding Freedom to the dock.  All were three quarter inch lines; all but three of them were three strand nylon.  At the end of the day, we sat in the cockpit reasonably assured we were tied off well.  We did debate adding additional lines as well as pulling Freedom off the floating dock in a classic spider configuration, even discussing the issue with our good friend Vanessa.  In the end, however, with two days to go and with the storm now more consistently seeming to be on a track to hit somewhere between Key Largo and Miami, we decided to lay by our rows.

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We spent the last day or so doing whatever we could to help our friends, Nancy and Fernando, secure their boat.

And, following the weather.

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We didn’t like what we were seeing.

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From being through more than a handful of hurricanes we were fully aware of a hugely important point…there is a tremendous advantage from being on the west side of a hurricane.  The wind is less, the rain is less, and the storm surge is less.  One doesn’t even have to be that far west.  Forty or fifty miles can be the difference between a very blustery day, and major damage.  The day before Irma hit the National Hurricane Center (NHC) was predicting the storm to make landfall around Key Largo, well over a hundred miles to our east.  The National Weather Service (NWS) was predicting winds in Key West to be in the 70-80 knot range, strong but manageable.  We felt OK about things.

But, later on, the forecast began an ominous change for the worse.

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Later in the afternoon on Friday, the NHC began indicating the storm was tracking a bit more westerly…the NWS gradually began increasing its wind forecast for Key West as well.  All along the NHC predicted a northerly turn but to their credit readily admitted they didn’t know when or where that would occur.  As time went by, it seemed that each six hour forecast discussion put the storm moving more and more to the west…bringing Irma closer and closer to us.  Some of the storm tracks even predicted Irma would track to the west of Key West.  Honestly, for me, it was like living in a slow moving nightmare.

We briefly but seriously entertained whether we should leave the Keys, but after careful consideration decided not to.

The Saturday morning early before Irma hit, Chuck and I packed everything of value we could think of and were picked up by our friends Nancy and Fernando.  We had much earlier accepted their invitation to ride out the storm in a double concrete block building that was the current location of a local television station…located a very short distance from our yachts.  There were seven of us:  the owner of the station, Nancy and Fernando, and other friends, Jeanne and Sean.

Once unloaded in what we began to call the Bunker, we settled in for what we knew would be a long eighteen hours…and watched the weather.  Each forecast brought the storm further west, closer to Key West…and not by a few miles, but 40-60 miles at a time.

Eventually we lost power and the television feed…shortly after that cell service went down.  The last forecast I personally saw was that Irma was going to hit where it eventually did…just east of Key West.  Stock Island was just at the western edge of the eyewall.  The worst of the storm for us was between 0300 and 0700.  It was a near sleepless night, at least for me; I slept on the floor of the cat room, with five growling cats…a towel for a pillow.

When daylight came the wind was still quite strong.  Mid-day, the wind had subsided enough that we decided to brave things and go check on the boats.  Chuck and Sean went in one car, Fernando and I went in his.  Though the storm surge was not very high it was enough for there to be some flooding on the way to the marina.

Once at the marina we went to our boat first, Chuck and Sean were already there when we arrived.  After a bit I saw our mast and it was upright…I was relieved.  After we parked I saw Chuck walking toward me.  From a distance I could see the dock rash on our starboard side.  Chuck said we’d taken a major hit against the dock, thousands of dollars in damage, he said.  I was stunned, from a distance, it didn’t look that bad.  As I walked up to our finger pier I was amazed at the severity of the damage we had sustained. 

Though Freedom was floating with no list, proud as ever, her starboard side looked like it had been attacked by a jack hammer and chisel.  Most of the stantions on the starboard side were bent or broken.  Roughly a third of the rub rail amidships was simply gone.  A full third of the corresponding cap rail was destroyed.  Ten feet or so of the hull was severely gouged as though some monster had pounced…the fiberglass was demolished almost to the core in places.  Our television antenna had disappeared. 

After inspecting the damage we feel the damage went down something like this.  The major wind, out of the north, pushed the starboard side of the boat against the dock.  Initially we feel the fenders and lines protected the hull.  But, it is obvious as the wind picked up, Freedom started rocking as the more robust gusts came and went.  This oscillation eventually increased to the point that the solid teak rub rail managed to start hitting the 2” X 12” protection boards on the side of the floating dock.  These protection boards on the dock, only nailed in place, eventually came loose.  The same protection boards served as a cover for the roughly ¾” steel studs and bolts that actually hold the floating dock together…once the protection board came loose Freedom was at the mercy of these bolts.  First the rub rail was destroyed.  And, as the winds increased, the bolts chewed right up the fiberglass hull, taking the cap rail down.  Once the protection boards that shielded the bolts came loose, with the steel against wood and fiberglass, the mighty Tayana never had a chance.  From looking at the height of the dock and distance from the rub rail to it, we figure Freedom had to be rocking back and forth from center at least 30-40 degrees.

The damage was significant.  Here it is:

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IMG_0517Sean and Fernando’s boats didn’t appear to have been damaged much, though Fernando’s boat did have his swim platform demolished.  Sean also had another boat that had been on a mooring ball during the storm.  He has since located it with manageable damage.  After we took a few pix we returned to the bunker to wait for the still strong winds to subside more.

Later, Nancy, Fernando, Chuck and I visited Nancy’s home on Key West; it survived.

We had a Honda portable generator the bunker needed.  We made three trips back to Freedom before the winds and chop died down enough for us to actually board and retrieve the generator.

After we got the generator back to the station, the wonderful comradery of our bunkermates aside, Chuck and I were ready to get back to the boat.  Fernando and Sean were understandably elated their yachts had survived with the relatively minor damage they took.  But, for Chuck and I, there was little at that point to be joyful about.  We needed to get back to the boat and the alone time required to fully process our situation.  Fernando and Sean were the bomb, helping us to load all of our things and get them on the boat in spite of the blustery winds and continuing rain.

Once on the boat, we turned on the gen set and sunk into the misery of knowing our boat, though seaworthy, had very severe damage that would need to be addressed; damage in all probability that could not be repaired in Key West.  I suppose the overwhelming feelings we had were ones of just…hassle

Perhaps I may have initially handled things a bit better than Chuck did for he, rightfully so, felt the entire issue would ultimately fall on his shoulders…but I was more than a bit demoralized myself.  With the cats keeping close to us, we had a good nights sleep in our bed, genset humming.

The next day, Chuck started to go down the coulda-woulda-shoulda road regarding how we prepped the boat.  I put an abrupt stop to that from the get go.  Sure, in hindsight, we might have prepped the boat differently now that after the fact we saw the consequences.  But, the truth of the matter is there were boats tied up exactly as ours was, no more than a hundred feet or so from us, who had come through the storm unscathed.  Boats that were prepped way less secure had also weathered the storm with little to no damage.

The damage to Key West from Irma was, in ways, unusual.  The amount of real property damaged on Key West proper seemed somewhat light, certainly not catastrophic.  That’s not to say there was not a lot of damage, there was.  Lots and lots of trees, shrubs, and carports were destroyed, but not what one might expect.  Most assuredly, the 130 mph sustained winds just east of Key West pretty much leveled much of the real estate from Cudjoe Key on over to Marathon…damage was substantial.  But, being just 20-40 miles east of the eyewall spared Key West, just no doubt about it.

Immediately after the storm we took stock of our supplies.  We felt if worst came to worse we were good for a good week to ten days, much longer if it really came to it.  Nonetheless, supplies were quite limited here on the boat.

As is often the case, everyone came together here.  Our Delorme inReach sat tracker acted as a lifeline for loved ones with its ability to send unlimited text messages.  We made it available and many here in the marina got messages out before cell phone service resumed.  Our friends Mike and Craig brought us a care package of bread, sandwich meats, canned goods, booze, and cokes a couple of days after the storm as well…Fernando brought us booze and ginger ale…we lent him our generator until power came back on.

I’m always pretty amazed with the outpouring of support after major calamities.  Every time, the local area rightfully brags about how their community comes together as if their community is somehow special.  The reality is there is nothing special about how Texas citizens responded to Harvey and Ike…how Louisiana citizens responded to Katrina and Rita…how New Jersey citizens responded to Sandy…how Mississippi citizens responded to Hilda…nothing special whatsoever.  They are no more unique that the response got from one in the Caribbean, or the way the community came together here in the Keys after Irma.  When there are times of need, people come together and give for the greater cause…everywhere, no matter what.  I’ve seen it before and I’ve seen it here in Key West the past couple of weeks.  It’s a wonderful thing to witness.

Things are very much on the mend here post hurricane.  FEMA, state, and county aid is coming in.  Just a few minutes ago I even saw a team of Baptist First Responders from North Carolina in the local Publix.  We have water though it needs to be boils.  We got our scooters back yesterday so we have transportation.  Electricity, cell phone service and internet is back up.  Trash is starting to be hauled off in a noticeable volume.  A few of the bars down on Duval Street are back open, as are the grocery stores and gas stations.  It’s only been twelve days…I’m sure it will look even more different and on the road to recovery a week from now.

The cliché hater I am, I have to admit there is one that holds true:  The plans of a cruiser are written in the sand at low tide.  What do we intend to do now?  The truth is we don’t know.  We feel we will be lucky if we can have Freedom repaired in six months.  With Hurricane Maria destroying even more of the Caribbean as I type, there seems to be little reason to continuing on down there.  We could go north up the east coast…or sail on down into the western Caribbean.  Chuck and I both have our own ideas relative to the possibilities but have indicated to each other we have no intention of making any decisions until after Freedom is repaired.

Lastly, perhaps some might wonder how we feel.  That’s difficult to really answer.  Honestly, we are still processing the situation.  I’m a little more of a count-your-blessings kind of person than Chuck is.  Nonetheless, it’s easy to look at our boat at the moment and not become bummed out.  It’s easy to fall into the why me blues.  While talking to someone on the dock the other day she said something that was most true.  She said she had a hard time feeling fortunate.  I think that pretty much sums up our state.  We are, at times, having a hard time realizing just how fortunate or lucky we are, particularly when we know so many here and in the Caribbean that have either had their boat sunk or severely damaged way more than ours.  Our yacht is fully insured, it’s seaworthy and all of the systems are working and intact and, most importantly, we are alive.  Many more, many more, or nowhere near as fortunate…I cry for them.

Sure we have a major PITA experience ahead of us getting our boat repaired, but repaired as good, or better, than it was it will be, rest assured.  We have a marine surveyor coming to assess the damage and look at the boat with a professional eye…he’s surveyed the boat twice before.  During the repair, the location of that repair still undetermined, we do not intend to stick around but rent a car and go on a road trip.  It’s been well over a year since we have been off the boat and are due for a road trip anyhow.  In the interim, we have several guests that are due to arrive in a few weeks that will take our mind off of things for a while.  Once they leave, we’ll get back on track and make the decisions that need to be made relative to the repair.

Well, that’s the scoop. 

Every time I go through a hurricane I hate it.  This one was no exception.

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Unmentioned in the previous post is that as the time kept slipping we were also trying to time our departure from Harbour Towne Marina to Key West to coincide with my first cousin, Mark, and his wife, Connie coming down to visit.  They were going to accompany us on the trip down to KW and then hang a few days afterward.  Aside from the fact that we couldn’t really plan their trip down until we knew when the arch would be completed, there was also the weather to contend with.  The worst case scenario was that they would go ahead and book their flight and then we’d have to sit on the boat waiting on the arch completion.  Or, just as bad, they’d come on down and then the weather would tie us to the dock.  I hadn’t visited with either one of them in years and wanted it to go well for them.

They were both wonderful as they waited for the word on when to book their flights, I gave them regular updates.

As the arch project finally came together, and doing my best to read the weather bones, we finally gave the go ahead for them to book their flights for August 9th, for a dawn departure of Thursday, August 10th.

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Connie was to arrive first around 1830, flying out of New Orleans…Mark, working out in Midland, Texas was to arrive much later, just after midnight.

It was so great when Connie got there.  Always bubbly, we picked up as if we’d spoken the day before.  We got her squared on the boat and then retired to the cockpit for a drink or ten before starting the long process of catching up.  Was wonderful.

When Mark got in, it was Ver 2.0, but without all of the drinks.  We finally got to sleep in the wee hours with a 0430 wake up for Chuck and I.  The plan was for Chuck and I to get us off the dock for the earliest possible departure to Rodriquez Key, about 70 nautical miles away and where we were going to anchor for the night.  An easy sail.

The plan didn’t work out.  They seldom do for cruisers.

The reason the plan didn’t work was, of course, the weather.  After weeks of good weather, we awoke to severe thunderstorms, lightening.  We hung out at the Harbour Towne fuel dock until 1045 or so before judging the weather was marginally acceptable.

We were off.  A half mile down the channel to the ICW we weren’t off.  We turned around.  Our engine had reared its ugly head.  Steam was coming from the exhaust at RPM.  After returning to the fuel dock and cleaning the sea chest we were back off, still with steam but very little…all other engine parameters were acceptable, including engine and exhaust temperature reading.  I wasn’t happy to be leaving with the engine as it was, but accepted the risk.  As it turned out the engine performed acceptably for the rest of the trip.

Getting off to such a late start yielded a dilemma.  The approach to Rodriquez Key is quite shallow and we’d never been into it before…and it would be night time when we got there.  In addition, though we’d be outside the reef in deep water on the way down, eventually we would have to go inside…and inside was a virtual mine field of crab/lobster pot floats…each one capable of wrapping around our shaft and bringing us to a profound stop…again, at night…in possible thunderstorms…shaft spurs be damned.  It was a fairly large risk.  After facing down a huge thunderstorm, Chuck and I decided we would bypass Rodriquez Key and sail straight on to Marathon, arriving around dawn.  The plan was to anchor out in Marathon on the second night anyhow; continuing on would put off of Marathon just before daylight.  We could stop there and rest, hang out, etc.  We decided to sail on.

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Though the entire sky was spotted with intense thunderstorms in the distance, we managed to avoid them all with the exception of that one mentioned above.  The night actually turned out to be beautiful with partly cloudy skies and a near full moon rising in early evening.  The conversation was easy.  At different times we got substantial lift from our headsail, pushing us to eight knots at times.  We traded off the watch though generally all four of us hung out in the cockpit.

Around 0230, just off of Islamorada, Florida, while I was at the helm, under the moon, a noise that sounded like outboards revving caused me to look over my left shoulder.  As soon as I turned my head toward the port stern rail we were lit up by a barrage of high intensity spot and flashing blue and red lights from a boat that was no more than ten yards off of our port quarter.  As our eyes quickly adjusted we saw the go fast was an ICE boat…Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  We knew it was ICE by their hull markings…the entire five months we were in Dania Beach we were berthed adjacent to a very similar boat, often speaking with the four customs agents who crewed it.

We were doing almost eight knots at the time, sailing under genoa only, the seas were flat even with the steady breeze.  They didn’t contact us via VHF.  They didn’t ask us to heave to so we didn’t.  There were two officers standing on their foredeck, one at the helm, and one at their starboard amidships.  One of the guys on the foredeck said good evening, we returned the respects.  Then he asked how many people were aboard; we told him.  He asked if there was anyone below decks; we said no one.  The entire time they were at most five yards off of our port quarter, easily matching our speed.  After finally asking where we were coming from and where we were headed, they wished us a safe voyage, cut their engines to idle, and drifted off into the dark.  Though they didn’t show up on our AIS (a collision alarm would have sounded if they had), they did show up on our radar.

The ICE officers were most professional and it was an interesting experience.  When we were first lit up both Chuck and I later mentioned to each other we initially thought it was the US Coast Guard.  Almost certainly they were monitoring our AIS and our boat is documented…so they had to have known who we were before they even hailed us.  Either way, it gave us a bit of excitement and something to talk about for a while.

Somewhere between Rodriquez Key and Marathon Chuck and I made the decision to simply continue on to Key West.  We stayed outside the reef in deep water; it was an easy and enjoyable night sail.  After taking a nap, I awoke right at dawn with Marathon off the starboard beam.  Chuck had the route way points already punched in; ETA to Stock Island Marina Village with around 1300 hrs local.

Rested, we all piled in the cockpit for the last several hours.  Mark manned the helm.  It was most hot, and the seas were calm.  Just off of the Safe Harbor channel I took the helm and fifteen minutes later we were safely tied at the marina fuel dock.  After taking on fuel to top off our tanks, we settled into a slip.  Many of the friends we had met last years in Stock Island turned out to greet us.  It was a great ending to a good trip.

Later that afternoon, the four of us rented scooters, the only way to get around on Key West.

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For the next few days we all four hung out together.  We toured KW on our scooters, and hit as many restaurants as we could. 

Mark and Connie had a great time.  So did we.  In fact they are coming back to visit us at the end of October for Fantasy Fest.  We can’t wait to see them again.

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Chuck had another procedure to do on his leg, since completed successfully, so as we sat in Harbour Towne Marina with nothing but idle time and minds awaiting his final medical release, we decided that we’d investigate the possibility of having a davit/arch made in Ft. Lauderdale.  Initially, we thought we might wait until we got to Key West to have the arch for our new dink made but just for shits and grins thought we would take a look in FL instead.  After requesting bids from several of the local fab shops in FL and getting only one bite that was way more than we wanted to pay, we backed off on the idea.  And, then we thought we’d ask a local vendor we knew.

The Fiberglass Shop and its owner, Richard, had repaired Freedom when I took out the dock at Lauderdale Marina back in 2013 (transmission cable broke in forward when entering the slip).  We liked Richard and as his firm did a bang up job for us back then at a reasonable price we thought we’d stop by his shop, rekindle the past, and ask him for fabricator recommendations.  And, that’s what we did.

We first called Richard on June 12th and made an appointment to see him.  Upon arriving, there were hugs all around as he appeared to remember us.  We told him of our plans and asked him if he could recommend a fabricator…to which he responded, “Sure, we can do it…we can build anything you want, Susie.”

Great, we thought to ourselves!  Based on our previous experience, his attentiveness, quality of work, price, etc. we were thrilled.  We arranged for him and his fabricator to drop by the next day to review the boat and the preliminary concept drawings Chuck had drawn up on his onboard autocad program.

The next day they arrived right on time and we were introduced to Sergio, his fabricator…we liked Sergio right off.

Richard and Sergio reviewed our drawings.  We told them the drawings were preliminary at best but all agreed they were sufficient for bid purposes.  They seemed to understand.  What was extremely important to us was that the project be completed within three weeks or so.  Neither Chuck nor I wanted to get stuck in Dania Beach one second longer than we needed.  If the arch was going to take significantly more than three weeks we had every intention of having it fabricated in Key West…and we told them so.  We didn’t want to get caught up in the FL area for months as the project dragged on and on.

A week or so later we met with Richard, and after haggling over and then agreeing on the price, approved him to go ahead.  He indicated that his marine architect (!!!) would be down the next day to gather more specific dimensions in order to generate approval drawings.  A few days later his designer showed up and once again, along with Sergio, we explained what we wanted.  In all fairness, and after Chuck and I thought on the design, we added a slight extension to the top to facilitate the mounting of solar panels we anticipated installing.

Time continued to slip by as we waited for the drawings and what turned out to be a revised price for the adder.  Upon receiving them we were hit with a significant charge for the added extension.  Considering everything, we felt the charge was an attempt at recouping some of the monies that The Fiberglass Shop had relinquished during the negotiating process…nonetheless, and willingly, we agreed to the adder.  In spite of the drawings not being very good and lacking specifics, we approved the design and gave our go ahead on the arch construction.

The contract was to provide and install a working davit and arch system and the fabrication and installation of a small swim platform on the transom, as well as removing the existing electronics mast and, once the arch was installed, replacing all of the electronics, removing and repairing the several holes from where the existing electronics mast was, fabricating a new swim ladder to accommodate the new swim platform, and removing and replacing the existing davits as well as any and everything else on the stern rail.

At this point I’m not going to go into the details of the performance of the vendor.  I will say that over the following weeks we attempted on several occasions to contact The Fiberglass Shop with concerns regarding their performance and the status of the fabrication.  Though we both texted and called, as time went by we could not get Richard on the phone or to return our messages.  It actually got to the point we contemplated if we might have to sue The Fiberglass Shop to recoup the 50% down payment we’d offered up; those of you who know us personally know we are not litigious people…but they had our money, would not return our calls, and didn’t appear to be performing…and we had no leverage whatsoever.  The only other thing I will say, though it probably doesn’t need mentioning, is that we find ourselves unable to recommend The Fiberglass Shop anymore as a marine vendor.

Though we couldn’t get a response from Richard, we did eventually establish contact and rapport with his Chilean fabricator, Sergio.  As the time slipped by, Sergio seemed to come to life and it appeared the arch might really get built.  We got Sergio to agree to a drop dead finish date of Friday, July 28th.

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Finally, during the week of July 24th the davit/arch was delivered to the boat and the installation started.  Almost immediately we objected to how they were attaching the arch to the hull and rail of our yacht (as an example they neglected to use backing plates on the hull connection).  They proceeded anyway in spite of our protests and pointing out our misgivings.  That night I stewed; Chuck fumed.  Fortunately, the next day we did finally hear from Richard.  Needing the remainder of his monies, now we did have leverage.  Perhaps he sensed we were quite prepared to head to Key West and challenge him to take us to court to get his proceeds if the arch was not attached to the boat properly.  Who knows or really cares, huh?

We didn’t exactly lay into Richard but very much let him know that the installation of the arch was absolutely and unequivocally unacceptable.  We laid out our beef.  Richard seemed to understand and said he would be down bright and early the next day to personally supervise removing and installing the arch to our satisfaction.  To his credit, he was…and did.

Later that same day, after the arch was finally attached to our satisfaction, Richard sat in the cockpit and presented us with his final invoice.  Lo and behold there was yet another significant adder to the price.  The list of additional work he wanted to be paid for was utterly ridiculous.  For example he wanted to charge us for the lifting eyes that the blocks were to be attached to.  The list went on and on.

After Chuck in no uncertain terms let it be known exactly what he thought of Richard, his company, and the way the project went down from start to finish, we paid the adder and the rest of the monies owed on the contract…for no other reason than to be done, DONE with this vendor.

Over all, we rate our satisfaction with the vendor’s handling of the arch project a D-, the fabricator a B-, the fabrication an A-, and the arch installation a C.  The small swim platform, however, we’d have to rate as an A+, it is rock solid and near perfect.

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The modification of the swim latter was never done, nor was the removal of the existing electronics mast and the removal and replacement of the existing electronics and any and everything else on our rails.

The arch is a somewhat unique design as when the davit is lowered it swings both out and down, to clear the swim platform but also to clear both the engine and generator exhaust outlets.  It works perfectly.

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On March 24th we moved back aboard Freedom.  As our friends, Chris and Larry, sailed our yacht back from Georgetown, Exumas, Bahamas to the marina we chose, Harbor Towne Marina, we settled into marina life.  It’s been pretty much a drag.

To catch up, the reason we are sitting in a marina in Dania Beach, Florida is entirely because of the blood clot issue in Chuck’s left leg.  After our initial appointment with the recommended vascular surgeon at Cleveland Clinic in Weston, Florida we were referred first to a hematologist.  The reason:  to see why Chuck’s blood was clotting.  The hematologist’s disposition:  it honestly didn’t matter why his blood is clotting, the management is the same…oral blood thinners.  Which, of course, he is already on.

A week or so later, we had to go back to the vascular surgeon for a follow up appointment.  The remaining sutures from the surgery in Nassau were removed and we were advised to stop bandaging the wounds.  Though the incisions were continuing to weep a bit, the amount was way down.  The swelling in his leg had gone down considerably over the previous weeks and the surgeon wanted these wounds to start drying out. 

Cool, so far.  All was good.  And, then he brought up the popliteal artery aneurysm   behind his left knee.

When Chuck had his surgery in Nassau the vascular surgeon indicated to us at that time that Chuck had a popliteal aneurysm behind his left knee that would need to be addressed.  He told us that because of how extensive the blood clots were in his legs that needed to be removed in the initial surgery he had decided to forego repairing the popliteal aneurysm at that time…which would have added an additional 3-5 hours onto an already five hour surgery.  However, we would need to have the issue addressed once we got back to the states he said.

Our vascular surgeon here in Florida decided it was time for us to discuss the aneurysm.  Neither of us were real happy with what he had to tell us.

A popliteal aneurysm occurs right behind the knee where the femoral artery splits into smaller arteries that continue on down into the lower leg.  With such an aneurysm, the ballooning of the artery causes a bit of turbulence inside the artery which then makes the area a prime location for a blood clot.  Should the aneurysm form a clot at this point, blood flow to the entire lower leg is cut off.  Once diagnosed, if left untreated and not repaired and the size is 2.5 cm or more, the statistics say there is a one in three chance of the patient losing their leg to amputation within five years.  The only fix: surgery.

The above paragraph is, unbelievably, almost the good news.  The bad news is that in 50% or so of patients if there is a popliteal aneurysm in one leg there is a huge chance that there will also be an aneurysm in the other leg as well as in the aorta itself!

Holy shit, this was getting entirely out of hand all of a sudden!

So,

Chuck had already been through a series of ultrasounds that had revealed and confirmed the aneurysm in his left knee, but the ultrasounds for the aorta and other knee were inconclusive.  So, he was scheduled for a series of CT scans to absolutely determine the status of his arteries not only in both legs but his aorta as well.

The result of the CT scans revealed that the surgeon in Nassau, in the opinion of our US surgeon, had done an “excellent job of restoring blood circulation” in Chuck’s left leg.  The circulation in his right leg was also very good with no signs of clots whatsoever.  There was a 2.5 cm aneurysm in his left leg.  There was no aneurysm in his right leg, nor was there an aortic aneurysm of any size or kind.  The bottom line was that with the exception of the popliteal aneurysm in Chuck’s left leg that would need to be repaired, he showed no other signs of any arterial disease.  The surgery would require a stent be inserted into the artery via an incision in his groin.  That would be the more conservative approach.  After consultation with an Internal Medicine specialist, Pulmonologist, Cardiologist and Anesthesiologist, we scheduled the surgery ASAP, it was to be May 26th.

Seven days after the surgery, there would be a follow up appointment.  Eight weeks after the first follow up appointment will be another follow up appointment.  After the first follow up, we can sail down to Key West, Cuba again if we like, Dry Tortugas, etc.  After the second follow up, we can head back out and down island.  We are already lining up crew for next Fall.

So, we asked all the right questions, did all the right research, looked at all the options, and saw all the right doctors.  Now it would be in the hands of the surgeon.  He was supposed to be one of the best, literally. 

We prayed.

On May 26th Chuck indeed had the procedure to insert a 25 centimeter long (roughly 10″) stent into his popliteal artery.  All went well…last Friday we went back for the one week follow up.  Things continue to go as anticipated.  We are now free to travel with the boat for the first time since March 10th; the next follow up appointment is in eight weeks.  Regardless of where we are, in eight weeks we will be back here for his doctor’s appointment.

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Life here in Harbor Towne Marina is not all that great.  It’s somewhat like living in a scuzzy subdivision except the home is the boat.  I dare say there are few people who would trade living on the hook for being tied up to a marina.  For the better part of four months, virtually all last winter Freedom was at anchor somewhere or the other in the Bahamas.  To go from the gorgeous water and wonderfully friendly people of the Bahamas to the somewhat industrial, power boat oriented, Harbor Towne Marina here in Dania Beach is a several orders of magnitude drop down in ambiance.  What few people we do see are not all that friendly, we are about the only live-aboards in our section, and our view is, well, the pits.  We have gone from having coffee each morning in the cockpit watching for sea turtles and admiring other boats in the anchorage…to drinking our coffee below decks and watching Perry Mason reruns on TV, preferring that over sitting in the cockpit and watching the fork lifts go back and forth into the boat storage sheds.  We’ve gone from our dinghy to a rental car.

Definitely we’ve taken a step backwards.  Both of us are fed up to the brim with our current location.  It is serving its purpose though.  It’s clean and well run.  We are fairly close to the medical facilities, at about thirty minutes.  Close to the beach, Hollywood Beach is about fifteen minutes away…Ft. Lauderdale is only a couple of miles away…grocery stores are close and handy, as are very nice restaurants.  But, the time on the boat just sucks and both of us are quite ready to leave.

One thing we did do was sell our dinghy and get a new one.  If we learned one very important thing last winter in the Bahamas in particular, and since we’ve been out this past year and a half it’s the importance of a good, dependable dinghy.  Our old dink had a rock solid 2-stroke Yamaha 15hp outboard; it started on the first crank virtually every time.  The Yamaha set on a West Marine 11’6” RIB…that was less than adequate.  The RIB was heavy, too long, and had a leak in it we couldn’t seem to ever fix.  Chuck and I both being pretty hefty people, the rig was just too damn slow.  It just didn’t work for us at all, from the get-go.  We put an advertisement in Craig’s List and a sign on it at the marina.  Within a couple of weeks we got a good offer and it was gone…and we were glad it was gone.

We replaced the old dink rig with a new, cooler and faster rig.  It’s an AB, 10’6” Mares Series, with a 30hp Honda outboard…molded console, navigation lights, bilge pump, electric start, power tilt.  It’s two years old, used, but we got it for a great price.  Compared to the old dink, the new one is a sports car…it flies.  We put it in the shop right off to have the engine tuned up, looked over, etc.  But, it should be exactly what we need, albeit, twice as heavy.

One might ask why we intend to sail down to Key West and spend the summer there, in yet another marina?  Well, it’s almost the lesser of two evils.  Here in Harbor Town, we are probably at least an hour away from the Atlantic and a place to sail.  Any anchorages are in the ICW, not really an improvement.  It’s congested, bat-out-of-hell drivers in heavy traffic, less than the most friendly people on Earth, and little to do that doesn’t kind of end up sooner or later a pain in the ass.

Down in Key West, Stock Island Marina in particular, we know a few people.  The marina has liveaboards in it, people are friendly.  One is mere minutes away from the Florida Straits, Key West is a hoot, traffic is light and motor scooters are cheap, Marathon is close, Cuba is a day sail one way, Dry Tortugas is a day sail one way as well…the water is prettier.

So, if we are going to have to spend the summer here in Florida, continuing to recuperate, we’d rather do it in Key West than here in the Miami/Ft. Lauderdale area.  This area is not bad (beats the living hell out of Texas for damn sure) but we’d prefer to live in Key West.

However, though we are free to travel, unfortunately that doesn’t mean we can.  Why?  Why, the weather, of course, what else.

We are smack dab in the middle of south Florida’s rainy season.  Every single day for the next 14 days, according to the long range forecast, there is anywhere from a 50% – 90% chance of thunderstorms.  It’s the same for every station we check in the Keys…Key Largo, Marathon, and Key West.  Every morning for the past ten days we have woken up and gone to sleep at night to the sound of rain.  Asking the locals around here about the weather they tell us if the weather holds to the norm we can count on the next three or four weeks being as it’s been for the past two or so…rain and thunderstorms.

So…we aren’t going anywhere soon.

Not going anywhere soon has become an issue of sorts as of late.  Not insurmountable, but worthy of regrouping.  The reason:  our new dinghy.

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Our new dink is way cool.  But, it’s also weighs considerably more, at about 450#, than the old one, and it is this added weight that requires consideration.

We have davits.  And, the davits are adequate to lift the new dink.  We know the davits will haul the new dink because we have tried to do it; they will work.  But, they really are not adequate to launch the new dink like we’d like to.  As well, we are going to throw in the towel on a bit of solar energy as well.  In short, we are going to have new davits made and think we may use a fabricator our friend Justin Smith used.  If we do use that fabricator, we have to get further down in the Keys…another reason we need to get down to Key West.

However, if the weather is going to have us marooned here in Dania Beach for the next month, we might just hang here for a while and have the dink davits fabricated here.  Over our daily walk today we decided to at least get a couple of quotes on what we want from local fabricators here in the Lauderdale area while we are waiting.  Can’t hurt.

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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.