Sunday, December 4, 2011

Reintegration

I've neglected the blog.  It's been almost three months since I wrote anything.  Life on shore doesn't seem too exciting, and I hate to bore people.  But things have happened, so it's time for an update.

The boat is mostly fixed.  We repaired the blisters as wells as we knew how.  Hopefully, it'll be good for a few more years.  We might haul the boat out in another five years, and only then will we know if our repairs were good.  So we have a while before we have to worry about it.  After the blisters were filled, we painted the bottom.  It's now a lovely green!  So cute!  And we raised the water line so we don't get barnacles again.  Oh wait, no barnacles in fresh water.  Well, at least we won't get river slime up on the side.  Right?  Since we painted right over the boot stripe, we had to put new ones on.  We bought striping tape to do it.  Getting the lines straight was a little tricky, especially on a curvy hull.  But we managed.  It looks good from 10 feet away, at least.  And it's definitely pretty good for an amateur job.  Go us!  Now the boat is ready to go back in the water.  We'll have to get the prop shaft reattached to the motor so we can actually move the boat.  And some adjustment on the stuffing box will probably be necessary since the stuffing is new.  But then it'll be river-trip ready!  We're hoping to bring the boat back down the river.  Right now it's at Sale Creek, which is a 45-minute drive away, and we'll never use the boat that far away.  I want to bring it back to the marina where I lived before: Gold Point.  Unfortunately, the dock with the bigger slips is full, and the other dock is for 25-foot boats.  We're waiting to hear if they'll take us anyway.  I know there are other 27-footers there, so I'm hopeful we can put the boat there again.  *fingers crossed*

Wedding plans are coming along.  Most of the big stuff has been ordered: food, flowers, cake.  Sending out save-the-dates needs to happen soon.  Very soon.  But we're making progress.

And I have a job!  I was offered a job in Nashville, but I turned it down.  The hours were weird, they didn't do holidays, and I just wasn't prepared to move to Nashville for a job that wasn't awesome.  Rejecting a job was hard.  The search had been slow and discouraging.  But the job wasn't right.  A week later, I was offered a job here.  I got a long really well with the people in the interview, and the job seemed interesting.  And it was a 5-minute drive from home!  Unfortunately, the pay was terrible.  So I had to turn it down.  Apparently, they really liked me.  The offered me more money.  It's still not a great salary, but it's livable for now.  And once Trevor finds a salary-type job, our joint income will be fine.  So what's the job?  I do stability testing for fragrance and cosmetic samplers for a marketing company.  You know those smelly pages with perfume ads in magazines?  Yep, we make those.  And those little samples of shampoo you might get in the mail?  We make those, too.  And my job is to test them.  We do accelerated stability.  Basically, we stick some in an oven for a week (or month, or a few months)  and then compare it to the room temperature sample.  I smell things.  That's my job.  I have a professional nose.

I always managed to land the quirky jobs.  It's a knack.

We're still living with Thaddeus.  Our plan is to buy a house in the next few months.  We hope to be in a house around the time we get married.  We'll see how it goes!  We haven't even started looking at homes yet.  There's so much going on with holidays, wedding planning, job searching, it's hard to even conceive of shopping for a house.  But we'll get around to it.  Meanwhile, our living situation is great.  I live 7 minutes from work.  Because our expenses are low, we're saving up for a down payment when we find a house.  And we get to hang out with Thaddeus!

Life is good.  We're moving forward.  Acting like adults, with actual long-term plans.  And the weather no longer dictates our every move.  I'll admit, that part is kind of nice.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Moving Forward

The last blog was about the big mess of getting our boat almost-fixed at Brunswick Landing Marina, spending all our money, and being very unhappy.  Now that whole ordeal is over.  Tears were shed, money was spent, but now we have our boat back!

We had Eärendil shipped back to Sale Creek, and now the ole boat is up on blocks.  It's a redneck sailboat!  There's something sad about a sailboat out of the water, with the mast taken down.  It just looks wrong.  But once we finish the bottom work, we'll get it back in the water, where it belongs.  Speaking of doing the bottom work, we were on top of things for a little while.  We unloaded tons of personal belongings and started getting the bottom ready for repairs.  After buying a cheapo rotary tool (thank you for your cheap Chinese knock-offs, Harbor Freight), I went to work grinding out blisters (and formerly repaired blisters that did not hold up).  We thought we only had a few, but once I got going, I kept finding more and more.  Oh my.  Fortunately, most of them are small and won't require new fiberglass, just some new epoxy to fill in the pocket.  There are a few larger ones that will need more extensive work.  But even though it was worse than we thought, it's not horrible.  And it will be so much cheaper for us to fix it ourselves!  I spent less than $200 on supplies (including epoxy, fiberglass, and paint).  I hate to think how much it would cost to pay someone for the work. 

Prep work was started, supplies were ordered.  And then you know what happened?  Tropical Storm Lee, that's what happened.  It rained.  And rained and rained.  In one day, 8 inches of water dropped on Chattanooga.  So all these blisters that have to be super dry before they're patched?  Yep, soggy again.  So now we're hoping for another long dry spell.  At least until the end of next week. Things should be dry again by then if we don't get anymore rain.  Yep, I'll get to work next week.  (I really mean it this time.) 

Blister repairs, bottom paint, put the mast back on, and get the boat back in the water!  That's the plan.

Other things have happened, too.  We've been planning the wedding.  Yay, wedding!  The date is set for April 21, 2012 here in Chattanooga.  We found an amazing venue right on the river.  So gorgeous!  If the weather is right, we'll get to have an outdoor wedding.  If it's rainy (it will be April, after all), we can easily move indoors.  But it'll still be on the river.  So pretty!

So we have a date and a venue.  And I have a dress!!!  I'd post a link or picture, but Trevor hasn't seen the dress.  And we intend to keep it that way.  Maybe cheesy and old-fashioned, but we're both excited about him seeing me in the dress for the first time as I stroll down the aisle.  Trevor's eyes will pop out of his head, my dad will sob uncontrollably, the rest of our immediate families will get a little weepy.  Tissues all around!  (Maybe I should use tissues for pretty-yet-practical decorations, hmm?)  After a ridiculously short ceremony, we'll have a rockin' party!  There will be snacks, booze, and silly beach-themed decorations.  (Keeping my eye out for an inflatable palm tree.)  Good times!

Progress!  The wedding plans are coming along.  I'm a little slow, but I'm getting the hang of it.  Ordered save-the-date magnets yesterday.  Called a florist today.  And going to the beach this weekend!  Oh wait, that's not wedding-helpful at all.  But it's the beach!  Maybe I'll bring some sand back or something.  For decorations.

Even more slow-moving is the job search.  Trevor has found something!  He's working at a cafe, so now we have actual money coming in.  And I'm still up to my eyeballs in career-hunting.  I've had 2 interviews with a company in Nashville, with a 3rd phone interview scheduled for Friday.  Things are looking pretty positive there, as far as I can tell.  Of course, that would require us to move to Nashville (any Nashville residents are welcome to chime in on how much they love/hate living there).  And it's a 3rd shift position.  Not ideal, but I'd much rather work an overnight shift than an evening shift.  So we'll see what comes of it.

I've put in quite a few applications.  I'm at an awkward in-between stage of my career.  I'm over-qualified for entry-level work, but underqualified for the next step up.  So it seems I might have to start toward the bottom and work my way back up.  But that's okay.  It looks like I can make about the same money as I made before I left the job market.  So that's good.  I was, of course, hoping for more since I'm an accomplished captain now.  But being a sailboat captain does not translate to running a chemistry lab.  Yet.

So that just about sums up the last month or so.  Other minor accomplishments:  I've gotten really good at baking bread.  I beat the video game Portal 2 (once Trevor beats it, we can play co-op mode together!).  And somehow, I've lost 5 pounds in the last week.  Now I'm back in my good weight range.  Couch surfing is good for me!  (I don't think that's true at all, but I guess kneading bread is good exercise?)

I'll try to keep this blog more updated.  There's no cruising news anymore.  It's just updates on our daily lives.  We'll try to keep it interesting.  Is making lasagna for dinner blog-worthy?  No?  It'll have Italian sausage and spinach in it!  Still no.  *sigh*  Land life.


Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The End of the Whole Affair

Okay, it's been almost 2 months since the last post.  I've been psyching myself up for this one.  And things keep happening, so I keep thinking that when the dust settles, I'll finally update.  The dust hasn't settled yet, but it should soon.

When last you heard about our intrepid adventures, we were hatin' on the ole Florida ICW.  Because it was awful.  Anyone who has cruised that section in a slow boat will agree.  The rude boaters, the muddy water, and the current that was inexplicably working against us most of the time.  We stopped in Fernandina on a mooring ball.  We raced a storm and just barely tied up to the ball before it hit.  (We're awesome!)  It was exciting.  And wet.  The town of Fernandina is really cute.  Little shops and restaurants on the scenic little main street.  I'll admit, though, I was a little put-off by the $7 loaf of bread at the bakery.  That's more than in the Bahamas!  I don't care how "artisan" it is, that's just silly.  But we enjoyed walking along the street.  So cute!  But with a factory spewing out some serious funk, it was a smelly night out in the mooring field, and we were happy to leave the next day.

Then we crossed into Georgia!  And you know what?  It's prettier there.  The trees are green.  There are less boaters.  And we heard a marina bash someone on the radio because they didn't obey the no-wake zone.  Yep, they yell at people for being douchebags.  Go Georgia!  As it had for the last week, the afternoon brought rain and thunderstorms.  We anchored next to a water park.  Due to the storm, it was quieter than usual.  And we discovered the joys of a bimini bath.  The rain had made little puddles in the bimini top, and instead of hopping in the dirty salty water to bathe, we just used the bimini water to splash on and lather up.  Soap works better in fresh water, too, so it was a really refreshing (if slightly chilly) way to clean up.  And then we warmed up by using the last of our solar shower water.  Delightful. 

The next day (I think we made it into Brunswick on June 30), we made it in to the Brunswick Landing Marina.  Huzzah, floating concrete docks!  Those are the best.  And we learned later that they have 8-foot tides there, so floating docks are very important.  The showers were huge and awesome, and they even had free laundry.  Free laundry, people!  We were psyched.  Almost wanted to hang out there instead of going home for a month.  Nah, we were ready to go home.  Take a break from the boat, see family and friends, and enjoy air conditioning and other amenities of non-boat life. 

In the three weeks we had been on the ICW, we had a crazy amount of growth and barnacles on the bottom of our boat.  We thought it might be worth it to haul the boat out and repaint the bottom while we were gone.  If we left the boat in the water the whole time, we would have a whole coral reef down there by the time we got back.  With a good quote on bottom painting, we decided to go ahead and haul the boat.  It's always nerve-wracking to see your boat (and home) pulled up by a couple of straps, swinging in the breeze, looking very out of place.  Then they scraped the barnacles off (unreal how many there were) and gave it a pressure wash.  We knew we needed to raise the water line.  We thought it was because we had so much weight on the boat.  Nope, some idiot who owned the boat before had the water line lowered.  Lowered?  Why in the world would you do that?  So we'll get that taken care of.  So we think.  Then the boat yard guys start looking things over. 

They found that our prop shaft (and engine) were out of alignment.  So the prop shaft was really worn and could fail at any time.  Holy smokes!  We were pretty mad that the guys at Sale Creek Marina didn't notice it (or if they did, they didn't mention it) when we had the boat out before the big trip.  We noticed it, but assumed that since they didn't mention it, it wasn't a big deal.  Crappity crap.  How could they let us go on a long trip with this huge potential for propulsion failure?  And now we were going to have to shell out money to have it fixed.  New prop shaft, engine alignment, fixing the strut that holds it in place, replace the cutlass bearing.  We just wanted to paint the bottom.

So we left to go back to Tennessee.  They would send us an estimate for the work that needed to be done.  Two weeks later, after many phone calls and a lot of nagging, we finally got our estimate.  $4500!  What?!?!  And that doesn't even include paint and blister repair.  We study the estimate.  $2000 for rudder repair.  The rudder is fine (good enough anyway), so we'll knock that off.  That still leaves us with $2500, but we can manage that if we have to.  And it has to be done, right?  So we tell them to go ahead, starting with engine alignment and then seeing what else needs to be done.  (Take note, starting with engine alignment is important.)

So they order the parts and start to work.  The initial work ends up only slightly more than the estimate.  But wait, the engine isn't aligned yet.  They did a mock-up so they could work on the shaft support strut, but the motor is not in place yet.  Hrm.  Then we get a call that one of our motor mounts is toast, and they can only order them in pairs.  Crap.  But necessary.  Add another $500, that's just part of boat repairs. 

Another week or so goes by, and we get another call.  Once the new motor mounts were installed and they were going in for the final alignment, the bolts kept spinning.  The wood underneath must be rotten, and they'll have to replace it or the engine can't be aligned.  This means moving the motor, ripping up fiberglass, replacing the wood, reglassing, and finally putting the motor back in place.  Seriously?  You guys know we're working on a budget, right?  Yep, they know.  But what can we do?  If this isn't fixed, none of the previous repairs matter.  And here was our biggest mistake: we didn't get an estimate for this work.  There was no warning about it being expensive, even though they knew we were running out of money.  There was no indication about how much it would cost.  Communication break-down.

Another week or so goes by.  We call and call to see where things are with the boat repairs.  By this time, we've decided to ship the boat back to Tennessee.  We can't afford to cruise it back, and hurricane season is in full swing.  Wrong time of year to cruise around Florida.  So we're just ready to be done with the whole mess and get our boat back.  We've decided the blister repairs and bottom paint are something we'll have to do ourselves once we get it back.  Can't afford to pay them to do it.

And then we get another phone call.  When they took the mast down for transport, the boat settled.  The hull flexed.  They say it's a structural issue that Hunter knows about.  What?  Is our boat on the verge of death?  Have we spent all this money for a boat that's suffering hull failure?  You've got to be kidding me!  The next day we talk to the boat yard manager.  Trevor tries to understand what's going on, and Robert gets combative.  "No, Jeff never said that!"  You need to watch your attitude, mister.  We're just trying to understand what's going on so we know what next steps to take.  Turns out it's not as bad as we thought.  The hull settled a little bit, 1/2", but without the stays giving support, this isn't so surprising.  But you know what?  Now they can't align the engine.  Can't align the bloody engine!  That's the first, very first, number one on the list of things we  told them to do.  And they can't do it. 

And then we get the bill.  Another $3500, on top of what we already paid.  $3500!  Where in the world did this number come from?  That's more than the first round of repairs.   This brings the grand total to over $6500.  Not including haulout, not including dockage.  Yep, they're charging us to keep our boat there while they're working on it.  I've never heard of any boat yard that charges you to keep the boat there while they're working on it.  If we're doing the work ourselves, sure, they'll charge us.  But this is the only place that charges dockage while they work.  And you know how much I paid for the boat?  The boat cost $6000.  The repairs (that aren't finished) have cost me more than the boat is worth.  It's a nightmare!  If we'd known how much it was going to be, we never would have let them touch the boat in the first place.  Hindsight is 20/20, of course.  But this is just wrong.  The repairs are at almost triple the original estimate. 

We are very unhappy.  There's an understatement.  We're going down tomorrow to check the repairs, go over the bill, and pay them what we owe (our souls, first born, etc.).  Monday, we have a truck coming to ship the boat back here.  Remember the reason we wanted to haul the boat in the first place?  Bottom paint, that's right.  We'll do that ourselves when it gets here.  All this money, and we didn't even get done what we wanted.

The cruising kitty is empty.  The boat isn't finished.  Our trip is completely over.

It was a great trip, we wouldn't trade it for anything.  Amazing experiences, great new friends, more good times than bad.  We just hate that it had to end so bitterly.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Back in Florida and the ICW: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

It's been a week and a half since the last blog.  We've been anchoring out constantly, so internet is hit-or-miss.  But we also just don't have much to report. Reader beware: rants will follow, peppered with sailor-quality vocabulary.  Just so the Wilsons are warned.  :)

The Good: Communication!  Now that we're back stateside, we can talk to people again.  I've talked to my parents almost every day since we've been back.  Trevor can finally call his BFF and start catching up on what he's missed.  And even though we don't have it every day, we do have access to internet.  So we can check our email every once in a while.  Though I'm a slacker friend and keep not calling people (I'm sorry; I promise I'll try to call sometime!), I do like knowing that I can call when I finally get the inkling. 

The Bad: Traffic!  Florida is full of boaters.  Fast boaters.  Inconsiderate boaters.  There are a few nice ones, but they are the exception (and usually are cruisers and therefore not Floridians).  I don't know what the deal is.  The bigger the boat, the bigger the douchebag driving it.  Compensating for something?  I think so.  Compensate with a shiny car, and get out of my way, you jerk!  And the weekends are the worst!  The douchebaggiest boaters come out on the weekends, in hoards.  They rush by in their big (why so big???), fast boats, sending huge wakes to knock us sideways and spill our coffee.  We've taken to finishing coffee before we get underway.  And now I have a sippy cup to prevent spills (it's a "straw bottle", but sippy cup is more fun to say), and the sippy cup makes one-handed drinking easier when at the tiller (unscrewing a bottle cap is hard with one hand!).  Right, we were talking about inconsiderate morons, not sippy cups.  They're inconsiderate morons!  (Now we're back on track.)  Do they ever look behind to see the effects of their wake?  Do they?  Of course not.  They're too busy spying out the next boat to dodge, or ogling a bikini-clad chicky.  Yesterday, we were passed by a speed boat driven by a guy with bigger boobs than me (I'm no Baywatch girl, or anything, but still).  This guy works way too hard to look good driving his boat around.  Spend less time at the gym and more time learning to drive your boat without being an ass!

The Ugly: Muddy Water!   Remember those pictures of the Bahamas, with their gorgeous, crystal-clear water?  Remember that?  It was a long freakin' time ago.  We're back in the ICW, and that means murky water.  Muddy grossness all the time.  Back in Tennessee, we swam in muddy water all the time.  Though dirty, it was fresh water.  Now we have muddy and salty.  No fair!  It's hard to wrap our heads around jumping in that water to take a bath.  How can we be cleaner after going in there?  Thank goodness for the solar shower!

The Good: US Prices!  Food, fuel, and water were crazy expensive over in the Bahamas.  Okay, water wasn't expensive, but we did have to pay for it.  I'm sure those of you who haven't left the States are thinking fuel is expensive here.  I saw $3.47 for gas today.  We were paying $6 over there.  I'm sure I'll grumble over the prices when I start driving a car again, but for now I'm happy to be back!  We fueled up about a week ago, and it cost us $25 for 5 gallons of diesel, a block of ice, and a bag of ice.  And water was free!  We were super happy about it.  We went to the grocery store and spent $25.  We got so much food!  Produce, meats, bread!  And that was a Publix.  Imagine how much food we would get at Aldi.  (Oh, we can't wait to shop at Aldi when we get to Chattanooga.)  We're afraid of packing on the pounds since we can afford food again.  But we're able to buy more produce (Bahamians are not really into the whole vegetable thing), so maybe we'll eat healthier.  Maybe.  Oh, and we have ice!  All the time!  Because it's only $2-3 for a bag (or block - they have blocks here, too!).  Oh the joys of having a cooler that's actually cold and not just "kinda cool-ish".  And Trevor gets cold beer now.  Happy Trevor!

The Bad: Jerkwad boaters going fast and rocking us with their wakes.  Oh wait, I already covered that one.  But they're really obnoxious. 
The Bad: Weather.  It's hot here!  And humid!  I guess that's normal for June, but I gotta whine about something, right?  It seemed like the wind blew all the time over in the Bahamas.  So while it was warm, it was usually not too hot.  And we could always go for a swim in that gorgeous water.  (Oh, how I miss it!)  But when the wind doesn't blow here, it's miserable!  The first week we were traveling, the wind was dead until the afternoon.  Once the breeze picked up it wasn't so bad, and sleeping was very comfortable with a nice wind.  The last few days have been a little better.  It's been breezy right from the get-go.  Ah, not so sweltering.  It also lets us fly a sail (usually), so we pick up a little bit of speed.  Until the current turns against us.  Blast you, unfavorable current!  We hate those currents when they're against us, but love them when they work for us.  But I guess with breezy mornings, we get crazy afternoons.  Thunderstorms.  We've been fortunate so far and haven't been smacked down like we were outside of Palm Beach.  Yesterday, we drove for about 2 hours in the rain.  Then anchored in the rain.  But the boat was cleaner!  Until we pulled up anchor this morning.  But that's back to the muddy water rant, and we've already covered that one.  (Did I mention it's salty and muddy? Ick!)

The Ugly:  Scenery.  Up until a couple of days ago, the scenery was craptastic.  Nothing but big buildings, lots of development, and HUGE houses.  Why does anyone need a house that big?  Don't you have something better to spend your money on?  Like, I don't know, a boat to go on that half-mile long dock you have?  And do these people have solar panels on these giant McMansions?  Nope.  As we've moved north, we've seen a few more solar panels.  And they make me happy.  A couple of houses have had entire roofs covered with solar panels.  Way to go, rich people!  That's how you lead the way to greener living!  If the rich people don't do it, how do they expect the rest of us to do it?  Solar panels are pricey!  (Trevor and I are determined to have at least a few on our house, when we get a house, one of these days, in the future.)  Right, I was talking about scenery (or lack thereof), not ranting about rich people.  They're probably very nice.  Even though they don't like us anchoring near their houses.  Scenery.  Yes.  It was bad.  Hotels, businesses, giant houses (not even pretty, they all looked the same, and boring).  Then we hit Mosquito Lagoon.  It's not exactly scenic, but at least there were no buildings.  But when we got north of the lagoon, oh yes, here are some people with their priorities straight.  I don't know what the town/neighborhood/whatever was called, but it was awesome.  Quite a few double-wide trailers (and a few singles), some small houses, all of them immaculately kept and with a nice dock.  The houses weren't big, but these people obviously took pride in them and loved them.  They were in good repair, nice paint, a little landscaping to make it look homey.  A beautiful area.  And people used their docks!  Even on a weekday, we saw many people on their docks.  Fishing, snuggling, or just enjoying the day.  It was a nice change to see.  And the scenery has been better ever since.  There have been a few cities (Daytona isn't so scenic from the ICW side), but there's been much more wildlife.  Yay for wildlife!  Except mosquitoes - I hate those blood-sucking bastards!  Oh, yesterday, we saw huge jellyfish.  They were probably 12 inches in diameter, just drifting along with the current.  It's weird to see jellyfish in muddy water.

The Good: Dolphins!  Maybe two or three times in the Bahamas, we saw dolphins.  Here, we see them all the time!  Sometimes just one or two swimming off in the distance.  But occasionally, we'll see a whole pod!  As we were coming into New Smyrna Beach, we saw a bunch of them.  When they swam over a shoal, it was too shallow for them to get underwater, so we saw their dorsal fins wiggling as they scooted across the shallows. So cute!  Even after a big (or not) doofus speeds past us and knocks us around, a dolphin always cheers me up.  They're just so happy.  This morning, we had a double rainbow, and dolphins swimming under it.  So happy it was ridiculous!  Like and '80s cartoon or something.

We miss the beauty of the Bahamas, no doubt about that.  But we are happy to be back in the States.  We've missed family and friends.  We've even seen people!  We got to see my cousins Dee, Jim, and Jon while we were in Palm Beach.  It was awesome!  And two days ago, I saw Tammy (wife of my old dock buddy JD) while she was on vacation with her family.  We played miniature golf (excuse me, Adventure Golf!) and had a great time.  If our luck holds, we might get to see David and Alice from Alice Mae while we're in St. Augustine.  They've got other things to worry about right now, but if we don't get to see them this time, we'll see them when we come back down.  And St. Augustine is gorgeous!  Lots of tourists, but the city itself is pretty.  And we had pizza for lunch!  Our first pizza since we got back, and it was delicious!

We're making our way north at a pretty decent pace.  We expect to be in Brunswick, GA by next weekend.  It'll probably take us a day or two to get the boat ready to sit for a month.  A solar panel to install to keep the batteries topped up, removing all perishable food, general cleaning.  But then we'll rent a car and head back to Tennessee!  We're excited about seeing family and friends.  We can tell our stories to a new, appreciative audience.  We'll sleep in beds.  We'll do laundry until absolutely everything is clean.  We're even getting a 7-months-later Thanksgiving dinner with my family, since we all missed Thanksgiving last year.  (Traditional Thanksgiving anyway - my dad still raves about the arepas London's husband made us last Thanksgiving in Mobile.)

Being back in Florida is a huge change.  But we'll take it.  The good outweighs the bad and ugly.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

High-Seas Excitement! Adventures in Returning Stateside.

So we were anchored at Chub Cay, right?  The wind had been blowing pretty much out of the east.  Then Friday afternoon, the wind shifted.  It started howling out of the north.  We weren't very well protected from the north, so it got a bit bumpy in the anchorage.  Fortunately, the water to the north is pretty shallow, so the waves didn't have a chance to build up too much.  But it was still a little exciting.  Then the sailboat anchored behind us started to drag, Isle Escape.  And the little broken-down sailboat that had 3 anchors out, remember them?  With the wind shift, they were now behind the boat that was dragging.  Luckily, there was no collision.  But Isle Escape's anchor did catch one of the 3 that the little boat had down.  Anchor tangle! No good!  They managed to get untangled, but then started dragging again.  Oh no, there's a catamaran in the way!  But they started their engine, hauled up anchor, and moved to a new spot.  A couple of times, they dropped anchor but then started dragging.  So eventually, they gave up on that anchoring business and went into the marina.  We were all relieved.

At some point in the night, the wind shifted the opposite way.  South winds, what the what?  And yep, they were howling.  It made us uncomfortable to have a 180-degree wind shift.  Would the anchor hold?  If it were deep sand under us, we would have no worries.  But it was grassy sand.  Not such good holding.  Fortunately, our totally awesome Delta anchor held through it all!  Best investment ever!  Neither of us slept very well that night.  It was uncomfortably wavy, and we worried about the anchor.

The next morning, the wind was still out of the south.  We were up at the crack of dawn, sipping coffee and waiting for Chris Parker to come on the radio and tell us about the day's weather.  Around 7:00, we headed out right behind Amata Marie.  We would have 13 miles of deep, open water before we hit the banks.  Would this south wind make it horrible?  Nope!  It was actually pretty nice.  There was a big roll that rocked us back and forth, but not as bad as when we left the Exumas, or when we left West Bay.  Alright, this banks crossing is looking good!  Once we made it through the northwest channel onto the Great Bahama Banks, the waves calmed considerably.  And the wind shifted again.  West.  Right in our faces.  Rats!  We managed to use the main sail for a little while, but eventually we were going straight into the wind.  So it was pure motoring.  Slow and noisy.  But we were making progress.

It's 70 miles or so from Chub Cay to Bimini.  With a good wind we could make it in a day.  We did not have a good wind.  It was apparent by mid-day that we were not going to make it by sundown.  We could either go through the night and get to land while it was dark, or we could anchor on the banks.  We opted for the latter.  It's exciting to anchor 25 miles from the nearest land.  We caught up with Amata Marie just before sunset and dropped anchor in 15 feet of water.  Did I mention the wind shifted again?  Northwest this time.  It managed to chop up the water a little more.  So we were not comfortable, the boat rocked and rolled all night.  We weren't worried about the boat or anything.  The deep sand made for excellent anchor-holding.  And even if the anchor did drag, where were we going to go?  We were in the middle of nowhere!  So it was discomfort, not stress, that made it the second restless night in a row.

And then the sun came up on Sunday.  We had about 5 minutes of amazing sunrise, and then the clouds obscured our sun.
Sunrise on the banks
We had coffee and breakfast and headed west.  We made it into South Bimini mid-afternoon.  Hello, Bimini Sands Marina!  This was our first time in a marina in 2 months.  It was so weird to pull the boat into a dock!  But we managed and got tied up and fendered.  Then we helped Amata Marie in.  Holy crap, it's hard to dock a 44-foot, 20-ton sailboat!  I thought mine was tricky.  Makes me happy for little bitty Earendil.  It didn't take us long to don our swimsuits and take advantage of the swimming pool.  Our first time in fresh water since who knows when.  It was nice to get out and not feel the desperate need for a shower.  But it was also weird to sink in the water and not float on top.  Changes!  We all went out to dinner down at Bimini Beach Club.  Our last dinner in the Bahamas.

And then came our last sunset in the Bahamas.  I'll admit, it was a little sad.  We've had some amazing sunsets, even a green flash once.  And this would be the last time for a long time that we'll get a sunset over the water.
Our last sunset in the Bahamas
After showers and laundry, we enjoyed our last night of hanging out with Jim, Nancy, and Tim on Amata Marie.  We've been traveling with them a long time, and we're going to miss them terribly.  Our little Bahamas family is finally broken up.

Monday morning, we were up at 5:00 getting the boat (and ourselves) ready for a 6 am departure.  We managed to get out pretty much on time.  The seas were calm, the wind was light.  It was shaping up to be an amazing Gulf Stream crossing!  We had a slight west wind in our faces for several hours.  It wasn't enough to slow us down, just enough to keep it from getting unbearably hot under the sun.  So we motored.
Sunrise over Bimini

Reflection of the clouds in the calm, glassy water
In the afternoon, the wind died completely.  And it was hot out there!  I mean, really hot!  We were terribly tempted to turn off the engine and jump in for a swim.  But out in the middle of the Gulf Stream is probably not the safest place to swim.  So we sweltered.  I went inside and had a nap.  When I came back up, the wind had picked up out of the south.  Just enough to cool things off, not yet enough to put up a sail.  It gradually picked up.  Trevor suggested raising the main sail.  Good idea!  So we hoisted the main and gained a half knot.  Then a whole knot.  Yeah, buddy!  Cruising on.

We had "land ho" around 1:00, but we were still far from our destination.  Once we saw the Palm Beach skyline, we knew we were only a few hours away.  And the wind continued to build out of the south.
And they kept building.  And the waves grew with the wind.
It was a following sea, so it just pushed our back end around a little bit.  But it wasn't scary.  Yet.

When we were about 10 miles out of the Lake Worth inlet, the clouds started building up, too.  Hmm.  We had the full main sail up, and I knew if the wind picked up too much, we would have to reduce sail.  But we also needed the sail up to keep our speed up.  The sooner we get into land, the better.  It also gave us much-needed stability in a 5-to-6-foot chop.  So we left it up.

When we were a mile from shore, we knew we wouldn't make it in before the storm hit. I decided life jackets were in order.  When the wind hit about 20 knots, it was past time to take the sail down.  I noticed the sail already had a little tear up at the top.  This is when things got exciting.  The wind picked up fast.  Trevor was up on deck taking the sail down, and the wind kept getting stronger.  He managed to get it lashed down to the boom when a big wave came at us from the side.  "Hold on!"  I didn't see it, but Trevor said our gunwale went underwater.  Yikes.

We were 1/2 mile from shore, just getting into the channel to take us inland.

And then all hell broke loose.  The wind roared out of the south, bringing a couple of waves at least 10 feet high.  Fortunately, they were swells, not chop, so we just rode up and down them.  Whoa!  Then came the rain.  Heavy, blinding rain blowing straight into our eyes.  We couldn't see more than 10 feet in any direction.  The wind howled like I've never seen before.  I guessed it had to be 50 knots.  Holy shit!  Thank goodness we took the sail down.  It would have been completely shredded in those winds.  We had to put on sunglasses just to keep the rain out of our eyes.  I don't know if you've ever had rain blown into your eyes at 50 knots, but it hurts.  The wind howled, the boat rocked, and we held on!

We had the SeaClear navigation software pulled up on the computer, so I had Trevor keep an eye on it to make sure we stayed in the channel.  With the wind and rain, we couldn't see where we were.  Every once in a while, I could pick out the blinking lights on the channel markers.  With that poor little 8-horsepower motor fighting against the wind and waves, we weren't going much of anywhere.  My only goal was to keep us upright and out of the shallows.  There was nothing to do but keep going as long as we could.  If the worst happened, we were wearing life jackets and would swim to shore once the storm let up.  But we just had to keep going.  And it's a good boat.

I have no idea how long the storm lasted.  20 minutes?  30?  It seemed like forever.  I just drove and hoped for the storm to go away.  It started to slack just enough for us to see shore.  We had made maybe 50 yards progress while the storm blew at its fiercest.  Trevor said something about us making it in to the shelter of the channel soon.  I told him the storm would blow over by the time we made it to shore.  And I was right.  As we motored past the jetty into the inlet, the wind eased off and the rain slowed to a drizzle.  Thank goodness!

As we made our way inland, a Coast Guard boat zoomed out past us to go save someone.  We heard on the radio that a catamaran with 4 people on it had capsized in the storm.  We were passed by two towboats bringing people in.  I thought those guys were going to be busy for a while.  I remembered a little fishing boat going out past us as we were trying to beat the storm in, thinking they were idiots for going out in that mess.  I'd say we were idiots for getting caught out in it.  But we did all that we could.  That little sailboat only goes so fast, and we tried so hard to get in.

But we survived the storm!  With no damage except a small tear in the sail, we came out better than we could have hoped.  It was, by far, the worst weather I've ever been in.  That estimation of 50-knot winds?  I was right on.  Reports came in later of 55-mph winds on land.  And we made it through!  All thanks to an excellent first mate, a solid little boat, and an awesome captain (screw modesty, I kicked ass that day)!

Two and a half months in the Bahamas.  75 miles across from Bimini.  And a half mile from being back stateside, we get pummeled by a wicked thunderstorm.  Thanks for the warm welcome, Florida! 

After the storm was over, we made our way into the ICW.  On our way in, we were awarded with a double rainbow (not full-on all the way across the sky, but double rainbow nonetheless).  We earned that rainbow, I say.  Then we anchored, put on dry clothes, called families, and enjoyed some nerve-calming sangria.  What a day.

Tons of boats and big, tall buildings. Welcome back to Florida and the ICW.


Yesterday, we moved to a marina.  Docked like a couple of pros.  In the afternoon, my cousins came and picked us up.  Now we're hanging out with Dee, Jim-Bob, and Jon.  Sleeping in a big, king-sized bed that doesn't rock.  Enjoying a noontime Bloody Mary.  Yep, life has gotten pretty sweet.  We're enjoying a little bit of down time.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Chillin' at Chub Cay

Monday morning, we left the gorgeous (if not cruiser-friendly) West Bay and headed northeast toward the Berry Islands.  Last time we came to the Berrys, we saw the northern islands.  This time, we were aiming for Chub Cay.  The seas were rocking and rolling when we left, hitting us on the side and knocking us around for the first hour or so.  But then they smoothed out a little, we got the rhythm down, and it turned into a really nice, blue-water day.  Around noon or 1:00 we had "Land Ho!!!" as Whale Cay came into view.  Then the rest of the southern Berry Islands materialized in front of us.  We figured out which one was Chub Cay and headed that way. 
We'd been told the little cove on the west end of the island was a pretty nice anchorage, so we tried it out.  There was a catamaran already anchored here, so we tried to give them plenty of room.  The first time we anchored, we felt we were too close to the channel, so we picked up and moved closer in.  Ah, that's better, no worries about getting hit by a mailboat or fishing boat.  When we dove on the anchor, it didn't look like it dug into the sand very well.  It's grassy here, so it's a little harder to anchor really solidly.  Thank goodness for our Delta.  We swam around, scouting out sandy patches.  When we decided it was plenty deep to move farther in, we fired up the motor and hauled up the anchor.   We got close to a sandy spot, and Trevor dropped the anchor.  When we snorkeled on it this time, we were still in grass.  We missed the sand by about 10 feet.  But the anchor seemed pretty solid, so we decided to stick with it.  We've been through some pretty strong winds since, so it seems we made a solid decision. 
Then Amata Marie followed us in and anchored between us and the catamaran. Seemed like a snug fit, but we're all good.  Over the last few days, more and more boats have come in here.  It's a new spectator sport, watching new boats anchor.  Some are successful, some are scary. 
A shiny, shiny sailboat came in and dropped anchor a couple of days ago.  The boat was so shiny, my first thought was "charter boat".  They backed down on the anchor, but the captain ("dad") said they were dragging.  I don't think so.  Then he said the current was pretty strong.  Current?  News to me.  So like many guides will tell you to do, they dropped a second anchor.  Bahamian mooring?  Not quite.  The execution was all wrong, and the second anchor was completely pointless.  And everyone else in the harbor had down one anchor.  These crazy people were obviously quite new.  Charter boat still seemed pretty likely.  Then the snorkelers entered the water and tried to set the second anchor.  Wha???  Needless to say, we were so glad these guys were behind us and not in front of us.  They left the next morning.  Thank goodness.
And yesterday, a tiny sailboat was towed in.  Jib was torn, no engine was on the back.  Yikes, not a good day for these guys.  They anchored right in the middle of us.  I didn't think there was room between us and Amata Marie, but apparently there was.  Sailboat Tetris!  Then the guys went ashore.  After a while, it was apparent that their anchor was dragging, so Trevor and I snorkeled over it.  We could see the 100-foot long ditch it had cut through the sand and grass.  Whoa.  When we got to the anchor, it was a CQR on its side.  Why didn't these guys snorkel over their anchor and check it out before they went ashore?  No idea, but Trevor and I managed to reset their anchor for them.  Heroes!  Meanwhile, the guys came back out and dropped 2 more anchors since they'd been dragging so much.  Danforth anchors.  These are great anchors in mud and sand, but they do not like grass.  With Trevor (not either of the guys from the boat) snorkeling, they managed to get one of them to set (more or less).  Then we got their story.  One guy has been sailing on his boat for a year and a half.  His friend joined him not long ago.  According to the captain, his friend had managed to break many critical systems in only 5 days.  He hit a reef, their rudder broke off, their sail tore, their engine wasn't working.   A heap of trouble.  I think this might be one of those friendship-ending kind of trips.  Who's to blame?  The guy who was driving?  Or the captain who let him hit a reef?  Seems blame can't be assigned only to one person.  But I'm an outside, what do I know?
Besides excitement in anchoring, we've done a little bit of fishing.  There's a pretty awesome reef about a half mile away.  We spearfished on that, no one particularly successful.  There were huge, delicious-looking fish everywhere, but we were not so successful with the spearing.  As a consolation prize, I managed to snag us a couple of bluestriped grunts.  Man, those things are good eating.  Small, but delicious.  I made fish tacos out of them.  If the sun comes out today, we might just go back out and try again. 
As for our future plans, it looks like we might just be leaving tomorrow.  The wind is supposed to die down tonight and stay calm for a few days.  So it could be crossing the banks tomorrow (and maybe Sunday), then heading back across the Gulf stream to Florida.  There's a good chance we'll be back in the States Monday.  Woohoo!  We're psyched.
We've loved the Bahamas, and we'll miss them when we're gone.  The water, beautiful, clear water.   But in the States, we'll have phones that work and grocery stores that are affordable.  We might even go into a marina or two.  We haven't stayed in a marina in 2 months.  We haven't plugged up to shore power in over 5 months.  We never would have thought it.  Go us!
Next time I blog, we'll be in Bimini or Florida.  Yay!

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Dear Exuma Cays: So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish

Farewell, beautiful waters of the Exumas

It's been a while.  Internet in the northern Exumas is hard to find, and expensive when found.  Last time I updated, we were in Black Point. 

We stayed in Black Point just one night.  Long enough to do laundry, get some groceries (and ice!), and have a cheeseburger.  The next morning, we moved on up to Big Majors Spot, just outside of Staniel Cay.  Last time we were there, it was insanely crowded.  Sailboats, trawlers, motorboat, and megayachts.  Dinghies, runabouts, and tenders (think really big dinghies) roared by at all hours, kicking up a wake and making us nervous for our anchor line.  That's when we started employing the kellet to keep our anchor line down and out of danger.  That was last time.  This time was so much better!  Way fewer boats, no tenders, and plenty of room to anchor.  It was pretty sweet.  And Amata Marie was already there, so we had company.

Since it was less crowded, we decided to try spearfishing around some rocky islands on the north side of the anchorage.  There were just a few coral heads, but we fished them to our little hearts' content.  Jim and Tim from Amata Marie came with us on the hunt.  We managed to get 2 or 3 bluestriped grunts, a Nassau grouper, and a lionfish (guess who got that one).  Jim also found a little bitty lion fish.  He wasn't too concerned about spearing it because it wasn't big enough to eat.  I have no such qualms when it comes to those guys.  I speared it and wiped it on a rock for the birds to eat.  That brought me up to 5 lion fish.  We cleaned up and dinghied over to Amata Marie, where Tim showed me the proper way to clean a fish.  Yay for finally learning how to clean a fish!

On May 27, we moved up to Warderick Wells.  We didn't want to fight the crazy currents around the main mooring field (or pay for a mooring ball), so we anchored around the Emerald Rock area to the west of the island.  The next morning we headed in to shore, taking advantage of the end of an outgoing current.  We hiked up to the top of Boo Boo Hill.  This is a place where cruisers can leave their mark, or at least a piece of driftwood with their name on it.  It's an impressive pile of boards commemorating all the boats that have passed through.
Boat boards on Boo Boo Hill
We made a board, too.  But there's a story behind the wood itself.  When we left Chattanooga, we had this little rectangle of plywood, just a scrap we'd used to catch drippings of glue, paint, silicone, whatever was dripping from any project at any given time.  It sat on top of the cabin, just because we forgot to throw it away before we left.  It stayed all the way down the rivers, through Mobile Bay, across the Gulf of Mexico, through the Keys, across the Gulf Stream, over the Great Bahama Banks.  It wasn't glued or fastened down; it just stayed there.  We thought it was our lucky board.  But then I thought about all the rotten weather we'd had with that board up there.  Maybe it was an unlucky board.  While we were in the Berry Islands, Trevor cleaned it up and sanded it down, thinking we'd paint something on it to change its luck.  We didn't get around to it until we started thinking about a board for Boo Boo Hill.  We used our lucky/unlucky board to leave our mark in the Exumas.  It seemed appropriate to leave something there that had traveled with us since the beginning.  It's nothing fancy, but it's us.
Trevor and me and our sign atop Boo Boo Hill

Earendil's sign on Boo Boo Hill
That afternoon, Amata Marie joined us, as well as Juno.  We took the dinghy out to the Malabar Cays to do some snorkeling.  I've never seen so many conch!  Big ones, too!  We were in the Land and Sea Park, so we couldn't take any.  We also saw some good-sized fish, including some huge mutton snapper and a dozen or so barracuda (creepy buggers followed us around).  I think the fish (and conch) know they're in a safe place and never leave.  We came back in and snorkeled on some of the coral heads around Emerald Rock.  Pretty nice, with colorful coral and lots of fish.  But no lion fish, fortunately. 
The next morning, we headed up to Shroud Cay, at the north end of the park.  We skipped it on the way down, but we were told it's a must-see with creeks going all the way through the island.  So we grabbed a mooring ball and took the dinghy across the northernmost creek.  It was indeed pretty cool.  It's odd to see blue water in the middle of an island.  But the creeks run from the Sound side to the Banks side, flowing with the tides.  We battled an incoming tide until we got to the other side. 
East end of the creek on Shroud Cay
Once we got to the other side, there was a crowd of people, so we just turned around.  There's supposed to be a really nice beach there, but we've seen beaches.  Didn't want to play bumper boats.  We also wanted to get up to Norman's Cay that afternoon.  The trip back was considerably faster since we had the current going with us.  We got back on the boat and headed north. 

And then the wind shifted.  We'd had a great day with good breezes and small waves.  But suddenly we were fighting into a chop.  Where did this come from?  And the southern end of Norman's Cay has quite a few coral heads to dodge, and they were tricky to spot in the rough seas.  But we managed to make our way through and anchored really close to shore (hooray for shoal draft!).  It was a little rolly, but considerably better than the choppiness of the last hour.  We also had a seagull following us, occasionally trying to land on the dinghy for a ride.  Once we anchored, the water was calm enough for it to land and rest a spell. 
Trying to land on our light

Petey (Trevor named it) taking a rest
We were anchored near some coral heads, so the next day we tried some spearfishing.  We saw lots of fish, but couldn't get close enough to spear any.  A few hours later, I took the dinghy and tried fishing like a normal person (hook and line).  With hot dogs as my bait, I caught a good-sized French grunt.  I caught a tiny grunt and then noticed a barracuda lurking.  I put on a bigger hook and used the little grunt as bait.  The barracuda just yanked the thing right off the hook.  I caught another little grunt and tried again, this time putting it on the hook more securely.  I tossed the fish right in front of the barracuda, and he nabbed it!  Hooked pretty strongly, he fought with a vengeance, but I held on.  Then the wire lead let go.  Alas, no barracuda for dinner.  He was probably too big to eat anyway.  When I caught another tiny grunt, I cut it up to use as bait for more catchable fare.  Though I had seen a ton of snapper when we were snorkeling, they were nowhere to be found when I was fishing.  I did manage to catch another French grunt and a bluestriped grunt.  And three makes dinner, so I went home and cleaned them.  (It went much better now that I knew what I was doing.)  Fried grunt makes an excellent dinner.

The next day, we headed up to Highborne Cay just after Amata MarieJuno stayed behind until the next day.  After dodging coral heads, we headed a couple of miles offshore to skirt around a rocky bar before we turned back in toward Highborne.  It was rough out there!  Choppy and splashy and not fun.  Trevor and I agreed the conditions were like the first time we tried to cross from Bimini to the Berrys (we turned around that time because it was too rough).  Since we only had a few miles to go, we toughed it out and were very happy to drop an anchor next to Highborne Cay.  This was where we first landed in the Exumas a month and a half earlier. 

The next day (Wednesday, June 1 - the first official day of hurricane season), Trevor took a couple of dinghy trips in to the marina for fuel and water.  Toward the end of the day, we snorkeled over a nearby coral head.  Trevor spotted a lion fish, which I was determined to kill, so he went back and got the spear for me.  It took me a few tries (I'm not very good aim with a spear, really), but I finally got it.  Now I'm up to 6 lion fish killed!  It was a bleeder, so we took it back to the boat immediately.  Before we headed back to the coral head, a nurse shark showed up.  I think it smelled the blood in the water and came to check for snacks.  Even though nurse sharks are the most non-threatening of sharks, I didn't want to continue spearfishing with it hanging around.  So we called it a day.  The fish was too small to eat, but I cut it up for bait.  Juno showed up that day.  We thought we would be traveling to Eleuthera with them, but we've decided to take a more direct route home.  The wind was going to be blowing out of the northeast for a while, so we would have been stuck in Highborne until it changed.  And with some potentially big stuff brewing down south, we've decided to get back to the States before the weather gets bad. 

Thursday morning, we were up early to listen to the weather.  It would be our last chance for half a week or so to get out of the Exumas.  We put a reef in the main sail (something we'd never done before) to reduce sail area since it was forecast to be pretty windy.  Less sail means less fighting if the wind blows hard.  We also took off the big rainbow genoa and put on the smaller jib.  We were ready.  We left around 7:30.  So long, Exumas, it's been grand!  The first few hours were pretty rough.  The waves were coming at us from the side, and occasionally they would knock us around.  Mostly it was just a rough ride.  As the day went on, we were able to put the waves more behind us, which made it a much easier ride.  Trevor fished most of the day, trolling a lure behind on the yo-yo (Cuban hand reel). 
Around 1:00, it was time to turn off the engine and check the oil.  Naturally, while Trevor was below doing other things, the yo-yo jumped, indicating a fish was on the line.  Then the line started unrolling.  "Trevor, I think you have a fish."
"I have a fish?"  He looked and saw the line going out.  "I have a fish!"  He jumped into the cockpit and excitedly reeled in his fish.  It was a fighter.  Turned out to be a good-sized yellowtail snapper.  I've been wanting to eat one of these since we got to the Bahamas, so I was just about as excited as he was.
Trevor super excited about his catch. And what a beauty it was!
The good fishing continued the rest of the day.  He caught a big barracuda.  It was too big to eat, but he had to douse it with tequila to subdue it enough to take the hook out.  Then he caught a smaller barracuda, but it was at the upper end of the edible size range, so we tossed that one back, too. 
The smaller barracuda.  Look at those teeth!
As we got closer to New Providence Island, the water got a little smoother.  At one point, I ran right through a bunch or coral heads, dodging in between them.  The yo-yo jumped big time!  I was afraid we'd caught a coral head with the hook, but Trevor pulled on the line and said it was fighting.  A big fish!  He pulled and pulled on the line, slowly bringing in this fish.  I looked at the GPS, and the fish was slowing us down a little.  Whoa.  It broke the surface a few times, but we couldn't tell what it was, just that it was bigger than the other fish he'd caught.  Finally, he brought it into the boat, and look how much of our cockpit floor it took up!

Trevor's big catch in the cockpit.
We radioed Amata Marie to let them know dinner was on us that night.  When we described the fish to him, Jim told us it was a mutton snapper.  Good eating.  Both boats were pretty psyched about that night's dinner.  We were also psyched about getting out of the waves and into a harbor!
With that fish, Trevor and I decided we were done fishing.  As we neared blue water, a couple of dolphins played around under our boat.  Only the second time we've seen porpoises in the Bahamas.  As we got close to the entrance into West Bay, a dive boat was on the mooring ball that was right in our way.  So we went around behind him and tried to find the entrance.  The wind had picked up wildly by this point, and the water was rough.  There were also clouds sporadically overhead, so it was very hard to see the way in.  To make it worse, we were heading straight into the wind.  So Trevor went up front to take down the jib while I tried to find the space between the coral heads and the shallows.  I managed to make my way in to the right cut and dodged another coral head as Trevor took down the main sail.  Amata Marie followed us in, and it was a little harrowing for them, too. 
But we all made it in okay and were very happy to anchor.  Once we made it far enough into the bay, the water calmed considerably.  Trevor and I snuggled up close to shore.  When the depth finder read 3', we dropped the anchor in a sandy spot.  (Our depth finder reads about a foot and a half less than actual depth.)  We drifted back to where we had about 5 or so feet under us.  Nice.  And the water that close to the beach was smooth.  Ah, that's more like it.
Then we loaded up the fish (and rum and Kool-Aid - our new favorite drink) and headed over to Amata Marie for dinner.  Tim was nice enough to clean the fish for us.  He's a pro at that sort of thing.  With the 29-inch and approximately 12-pound mutton snapper, I was way out of my league.  Tim managed to get 10 steaks out of the fish.  10 steaks!  And these were not little steaks either.  Add 2 fillets from the yellowtail, and we had more fish than Trevor and I could handle!  The 5 of us ate half of the big fish for dinner that night, and the rest went into Jim & Nancy's freezer.  Our ice would never hold out long enough for us to eat that much fish.  They've always been very generous sharing their fish with us, and it was nice to finally return the favor for once.  What a day!

Yesterday, Jim shuttled the rest of us to shore so we could go shopping.  We didn't realize how far it was to civilization.  There are houses all around us, but there's a big, spiky fence along the road for miles.  So we walked and walked.  We found a convenience store a couple of miles down, where we were happy to have a quick refreshment before walking the rest of the way to the grocery store.  And then we shopped!  The prices were almost like US prices!  We stocked up on fruits, veggies, junk food, and Kool-Aid.  All the essentials of cruising.  :)  We got a ride back to the beach, and Jim shuttled us back out to the boats.  Last night, I made West Bay Stew for dinner.  It was a soup I made last time we were here, and I happened to have the ingredients again.  Smoked sausage, an onion, a can of tomatoes, a can of corn, and a pack of onion soup mix.  It was tasty this time, too!
Today, Trevor scrubbed the bottom of the boat.  Now we're going to be so fast!  I sat around and read.  Tough life.  We'll be heading out of here Monday or Tuesday to get to the Berry Islands.  From there, we'll cross the banks again back to Bimini.  Should be a better trip across than last time.  And then, we'll cross the Gulf Stream and get back to the States.  It's weird to think we could be back stateside by this time next week.  We'll just have to see what the weather does.
And here's a picture of Trevor with his awesome catch!
Trevor and his prize mutton snapper.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Back up the Exumas. It's even better the second time.

Alright, I told you about our journey across the Tropic of Cancer. It was awesome. I forgot to tell you about the next day, which was less fun. Remember when I stripped out some threads on the motor tightening a bleed nut? It was 3 or 4 weeks ago, it's okay if you don't remember. It resulted in some amazing sailing one day, and amazing creative engineering the next day. Well, the engineering was a temporary fix, and it was time to make it more permanent. At least stop diesel leaking into the boat. That smell takes weeks to go away, and when it's constantly leaking, it never goes away.

So Trevor dinghied across the harbor to get a Heli-Coil kit. We'd never used one before, but they're pretty cool. We also hauled the dinghy out of the water to do some fixing because it was leaking like a sieve in the back, and we were starting to lose air out of the pontoons. Not good. So it was a day of repairs. Work days are no fun. We managed to get the dinghy patched up (with a little hardware assistance from Jim, always there to help). The transom had a crack that was flexing and allowing water in and air out. So we bolted plywood on either side, along with rubber gaskets and a bucketload of silicone (magic stuff). When we put it back in the water the next day, it didn't leak! Woohoo! Right, back to the Heli-Coil. We had never used one before, but it seemed pretty straightforward.
1. Clean out the old threads. Ours were totally gone, so no problem here.
2. Use the tapping tool to make new threads for the coil.  Not complicated, but kinda tricky.  I ran into problems getting the thing to go in straight.  By the time I realized it was crooked, it was already screwed up.  Crap! (And a few other, more colorful words, to be sure.) 
3. Insert Heli-Coil into tapped threads to make new threads that fit that old bolt perfectly.  This is the easy part. 
Like I said, I ran into problems with step 2.  I made crooked threads.  When we put the bleed nut back in, it leaked crazily.  Nope hope for a good seal.  Super major big crap!  (etc.)  The only option was to drill out the new Heli-Coil threads and start over.  The part is trashed anyway, so what could it hurt?  So Trevor drilled it out, being careful to make the damn hole straight.  Then he used the tap and made new threads.  Then put the new coil in.  Alright, looks pretty good.  Bleed nut goes back in.  Fuel is pumped through the system.  And it leaks more than when we started, but less than with the crooked threads.  So I slapped on some plumbing tape, put the bleed nut back in, and repressurized the system.  No leak.  No leak?  Hell yes, no leak!!!  Happy dance time!  After lots of stress, swearing, and a few tears, we had fixed the problem.  This will get us back to the States, where we may or may not replace the part.  We'll see how we feel about it when we get there.

The next day was spearfishing.  And the day after that was our final resupplying in Georgetown.  Then seafood dinner aboard Amata Marie.  While we were enjoying our pre-dinner cocktails, a familiar sailboat came cruising by.  It was Glenice!  They were back from Long Island, only a day after they left.  Turns out they had some engine trouble and didn't want to get stranded over there.  So they came back.  While the cause was unfortunate, we were so happy to see them!  So we had a great dinner and delicious dessert with great friends again. 

Side note: I have to tell you about this dessert.  It's simple and super yummy!  Mix 1/2 cup of lime juice (fresh squeezed key lime juice is best, but you can use whatever is around) with 1 can of sweetened condensed milk.  If you have a refrigerator, let it chill a little bit, but it's also fine at room temperature.  It thickens on its own.  Then use cookies (ginger snaps are good) to scoop up the goosh like a dip.  Key Lime Pie without all the work!  And it makes a great, fast, take-along dessert if someone invites you over to their boat for dinner.  Totally awesome!

Right, so the next day (are we up to Thursday? I think it was Thursday.) we did our final final restocking in Georgetown.  For real this time.  Then we came back and went for a swim (it was hot!).  We swam over to Glenice to make plans to hang out, since it was our last night together as one big, happy family.  We all got together on shore for cocktails and some Chicken Foot dominoes.  During the 3rd or 4th round, the light went away, but Jim brought some lights.  So we played until way after everyone's bedtime.  Great times!  We were all sad to say goodbye.

Friday, we headed out from Georgetown.  It was sad to leave.  We knew we were finally headed toward home, even if it's a month until we get there.  When we got outside to the sound, the waves were rolly, but nothing terrible.  We had the main up and motorsailed up the coast.  Every once in a while, a wave would knock us around, but otherwise it was a pretty nice day.  We got to Adderly Cut while the tide was still coming out.  With the opposing wind, it made for an exciting ride going in.  It didn't look bad at first.  We managed to stay out of the strongest current.  By the time I realized how big the waves were, there was no turning back.  Luckily, we were going with the waves.  "Waves" being a 6-foot chop.  It was spooky to look over and see a wave at eye level and the trough way down low a few feet ahead.  Yikes!  We managed to surf our way through the cut.
The photo doesn't do it justice, except you can see the dinghy there above the anchor
What we encountered was what they call a rage.  The current flows opposite the wind, and it gets all confused a choppy.  We went through a mini-rage.  The current wasn't as strong as it could have been, and the wind was only 10 (at most 15) knots.  This was small-time.  I can only imagine what strong winds would do.  The idea of a full-on rage is terrifying.  We'll stick to this here inside route, thank you very much.
Oh, and another note.  Remember that day we sailed all day, no motor functioning at all?  We sailed through Adderly Cut.  Incoming tide.  Much better.  Even so, we are still super badass for sailing through it.

But after the excitement of going through the cut, all was well.  We tied up to a mooring ball at Lee Stocking Island.  It was nice to motor onto it instead of trying to sail on like last time we were there.  Amata Marie arrived shortly after us.  We had a delicious dinner of mahi mahi and cero mackerel that Jim and Tim (Nancy and Jim's son) had caught on the way up.  So good!  Trevor dropped a hook in the water when we got back to the boat, just to see what he could catch.  And you know what?  He caught this!
Trevor's fish!  A whopper!
I thought it might have been a crevalle jack (not good to eat), so we tossed it back.  (Thaddeus! Is it a crevalle, or something edible?)  But look how big!  Trevor is getting the bug for fishing.  Who saw that coming?

The next morning (we're up to Saturday now), Amata Marie left, and we went to work.  Like I said before, the research center doesn't have much funding, so we offered to help them out with some volunteer work.  We spent about 3 hours doing trail maintenance.  Snipping away at plants that were trying to take over the trails.  It was hot, exhausting, and backbreaking work.  But afterward, we went for a swim at coconut beach.  It was gorgeous, and we had the beach all to ourselves!  Once we got back to the boat and cleaned up, we didn't do much the rest of the day.  Relaxation is kinda nice, too, you know.  :)

Sunday, we went to work again.  This time, we were on palm frond duty.  We went around the research center, tugging down dead palm fronds and picking up ones that had already fallen to the ground.  They didn't give us a ladder or machetes, so we didn't get all of them, just the ones we could reach and that were ready to let go.  We also picked up fallen coconuts.  Not a bad way to spend a morning.

After lunch, I wanted to do some snorkeling, so we took the dinghy (and the speargun, since it was more than 1/2 mile from the research center) over to Tug & Barge rocks.  We anchored in sand and swam over to the coral.  Pretty coral heads, right next to shore, and coral growing on the side of the island itself.  Lots of fish swimming around.  Trevor spotted a lionfish.  I've been hoping to kill a few lionfish since I heard they were in the Bahamas.  Invasive and voracious, they don't belong here.  So I took a breath, dove down, and took a shot.  Missed.  Hey, those things move fast when they want to.  I dove again.  Direct hit!  But not hard enough, it slipped off and swam away.  When it came back again, I hit it harder and right in the side.  Success!  Okay, so I have this squirming fish with venomous spines ready to stab me if I touch them and put me in excruciating pain.  Now what?  I tried bashing its head on the rocks to kill it.  No luck.  We swam it back to the dinghy and scooted it down the spear.  Then Trevor unscrewed the tip and slid the fish off the pole with a towel.  Sweet!  Now we can go hunting for more.  We swam all the way around the tiny island, Trevor occasionally shooting at a passing fish.  It was a  neat place to snorkel.  Lots of fish and little coral heads all over. 

After a little while, I noticed the clouds were getting darker.  Time to head back to the boat.  We were about a mile from the mooring field, so I put the hammer down and raced to beat the rain to the boat.  Nope.  We were about halfway there when we saw the rain get to the boat.  Oh well, at least it's fresh water.  The wind chopped up the waves a little bit, but we've been in worse.  Onward, to the boat!  As we got there, the rain tapered off.  Of course.  We had left the windows open, but at least we closed the hatch over the bed.  So we had a few damp spots, but nothing serious.  I decided it was time to clean the fish.  I donned 2 pairs of gloves, just to be safe, and dug in.  I'm not very good at cleaning fish.  No one has ever taught me how to fillet.  So I'm still learning.  The fish didn't yield much meat.  But still!  My first lion fish!
My first lion fish!  Not so scary once they're dead.
Yesterday morning, we went ashore at the research center and hopped online to check the weather.  Looks okay, let's go!  So we headed out.  This time, we were taking the inside route.  No need to go back through Adderly Cut again.  Trevor dropped a line in the water to troll for fish.  Jim was nice enough to give us a lure.  And it was way better than ours!  Within 5 minutes, Trevor caught a bar jack! 
It's bigger than it looks.
Go Trevor!  We continued making our way through the shallow VPR routes, which get a little tricky around the Pimlico Cays.  And it was cloudy, so we didn't have sunlight to help us out.  But I managed.  We rounded the cays with shallows all around us, and I didn't run aground.  Right at one of the more intense parts, Trevor caught another fish.  He was down below taking something for an impending migraine, so I told him when he came back.  He pulled it in a little at a time (we were using the Cuban hand reel, because our other 2 reels have been disabled by the salt water).  Just as the fish was a few feet behind the boat, it jumped and threw the hook out.  Aw man!  Trevor was understandably disappointed.  And he had a headache.  Bummer.

Eventually, we made it back to Rudder Cut Cay.  This was the place where I had spotted a lion fish a few weeks before.  I was ready to get that sucker!  But I waited until I was sure Trevor wouldn't die from taking expired migraine meds before I left him alone on the boat.  First, I checked out the cave on the other side of the hill.  It was pretty cool.  It went farther in than our cave, but had a sandy floor with no coral.  It did have 3 holes in the roof, one of which seemed to have a cactus growing around it. 
Cactus over a cave hole on Rudder Cut Cay.
After sufficiently exploring the cave (there wasn't much to it), I went back to the boat to get my gear.  It was fishing time!  I looked where I had seen the lion fish before, but it had hidden in a hole.  I shot at it anyway, maybe hitting it, maybe just making it mad.  I went to another coral head.  There was a lionfish in there, too!  I shot at that one.  Missed.  Went back to the first coral head.  It went on like this for quite a while.  Shooting at (and occasionally hitting) one of the lion fish.  I finally managed to get the one in the second coral head.  It was a biggie.  I took it back to the dinghy and deposited it in the bucket using the same method as we did with our first lion fish.  Then I went back.  I had to get that other one!  I did manage to hit it solidly, but my spear got stuck in the rock.  No way I was going to reach in there to get it!  So I tugged and yanked and finally got the thing out, but no fish.  So I went swimming around.  I found yet another lion fish.  Shot at it a couple of times, but it was really well-protected.  Then went back to my first lion fish.  Still couldn't get it.  So I went back to the other coral head.  Hey, there's another lion fish in there!  I shot at that one a couple of times, too, but couldn't get it out.  Have I mentioned I'm not very good with the spear?  Well, I'm not bad with it, but it's very tricky to get something tucked into a crevice when there's no straight shot and all you can see is flowy fins (venomous ones, at that).  I went back to my first fish.  I poked the spear into its hidey hole, with no real hope of getting it.  Then it swam out.  I guess it was tired of me harassing it and tried to make a run for it.  But had a couple of big holes in it, so it wasn't going very fast.  I shot, missed, shot again, hit!  It was pinned to the sand, but not dead yet.  I pulled the spear back one more time and gave it a solid shot behind the head.  Dead at last.  I did a little more swimming and stabbing, hoping to get a third fish, but no luck. 
Went back to the boat and cleaned up.  Then cleaned the fish.  I was better at it this time.  And we had lion fish for dinner.  Whoa!  So delicious!  I mean, really really good!  They're a lot of work to kill (if they have good hidey holes) and clean, and they don't have much meat on them.  But boy are they tasty!  Oh, and a shark (maybe a lemon shark) showed up to munch on the morsels I tossed overboard.  Definitely wasn't a nurse shark.  Cool!  First lemon shark!

My second lion fish.
Today, we had an excellent trip back to Black Point.  We even got to sail.  Just sail.  Without the motor.  It was pretty sweet.  We got anchored by 1:15.  Not bad!  Then we came ashore and did some laundry and had cheeseburgers (DeShamon's has excellent cheeseburgers).  Not internet.  It might be the last time for a while that we have internet access.  Internet is scarce in the northern Exumas.  Then we'll be heading over to Eleuthera and eventually to the Abacos and back to Florida.  Not sure what the timeline is for all this travel, but we'll play it by ear.  And keep you informed as much as possible.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

From the Tropic of Chattanooga to the Tropic of Cancer

Woohoo! 

We've been on this boat trip now for six and a half months.  According to SeaClear, we're 875 nautical miles from our home port of Chattanooga, TN (as the crow flies, if it flies in a straight line).  But we've sailed (and motored, of course) many, many more miles than that.  Two days ago, we crossed the Tropic of Cancer.  Hell yeah!  What an accomplishment!

We almost turned around at Black Point.  We would have missed so much if we'd stopped there.  We've really gotten to know and love Jim and Nancy on Amata Marie and Greg and Janice on Glenice.  We wouldn't have spent nearly as much time with them if they hadn't talked us into coming farther south.  We would have missed great snorkeling (and a lionfish) at Rudder Cut Cay, the crazy sailing (with a dead motor) the following day, the nice people at the research center and the amazing view from Perry's Peak on Lee Stocking Island, and the refuge of Elizabeth Harbor and Georgetown.  We have been in Georgetown for two weeks, and we have enjoyed it so much!  Affordable groceries, friendly locals, cheap phone calls back to the States, and excellent anchoring.  We've been hiking, spearfishing, snorkeling, swimming, working, relaxing, eating, and socializing to our little hearts' content.  It's been awesome!  And we almost turned around.

For that matter, we almost didn't come to the Bahamas at all.  I can't imagine how much we would have missed if we'd just headed up the east coast.  We've had rough times: 25-hour crossing from Bimini to the Berrys, engine troubles, and those pesky, persistent headwinds.  But we've had great times filled with gorgeous scenery, good food, and great friends. 

But you wanted a story, not a sappy recap.  So here goes.

Sunday morning, we decided to scoot down to the Tropic of Cancer.  It's only 5 miles south of here, but there's an island in the way, so we had to go about 10 or 15 miles southeast to cross that imaginary line.  Since it was their idea to go in the first place, we got Amata Marie to go down with us.  We left around 8:00; they came shortly behind us.  Instead of programming waypoints into the GPS and jumping from point to point, we just eyeballed our way down Elizabeth Harbor.  There are some shallow places and some coral reefs to watch out for, but we figured we'd be able to spot them.  But it was cloudy.  Bummer.  We did the best we could comparing GPS coordinates with the charts and trying to keep clear of obstacles.  It worked just fine for the most part.  There was a scary moment when the depth jumped from 22 to 8 feet when we ran over a coral head.  Yikes!  And by the time it shows up on the depth finder, it's too late to avoid it.  Luckily, it wasn't shallower than 8 feet, so we were okay.  But I slowed down a little and looked even harder for the dark coral heads hiding under the water.  Sunshine would have helped.  We made it out of the harbor and hoisted the main, hoping to get a little help.  We were going straight upwind.  I mean, straight into it.  There were coral reefs to avoid, so we couldn't even zigzag our way down.  And we only gained 0.3 knots filling the sail anyway.  So we just let the sail luff and motored on at our measly 3 knots.  Jim and Nancy caught up with us pretty quickly. 

Amata Marie, Jim & Nancy's CSY 44

Amata Marie, after they got tired of the main sail luffing
Eventually, we made it far enough southeast that we could turn straight south and cross the Tropic of Cancer without hitting land.  We aimed for the big, gorgeous beach and anchored just offshore.  We crossed the line!  We were officially "in the tropics".  I think it's a pretty big accomplishment to take a 27-foot boat that far south.  Go us!
It's official: We crossed the Tropic of Cancer!
We all went dinghied ashore to have lunch together.  Getting into shore was a little exciting.  The water is pretty deep right up to the beach, so the waves break two feet from shore.  We were easing our way to the beach when a wave came right up under us and tossed us onto the beach.  Inadvertent dinghy surfing!  We hopped out and used the next waves to drag the dinghy up onto the beach.  Jim and Nancy had an even more exciting trip in.  They anchored their dinghy out because it's too heavy to beach.  Nancy jumped out of the dinghy to wade to shore, but ended up chest-deep in the water.  10 minutes later we were all on the beach, but their dinghy was getting too close to the beach.  Jim got aboard to tighten the line on his stern anchor when a wave crashed right onto the dinghy, flipping him out backwards.  Fortunately, the dinghy didn't smack into him, and he had time to get away from it.  Once they got it situated, we all had lunch and enjoyed the beach. 
Beached dinghy with Earendil off in the background

Beach!  (and a cap'n)
After lunch, Nancy and I wandered up the beach to check out a wreck in the shallows.  It was pretty cool.
Wreck off the beach

Earendil and Amata Marie anchored off the beach

If you look close, you can see our boats in the background.
When we came back from our beach exploration, it was time to head back to Georgetown.  After obligatory couple shots, of course!
Awww!  We love a good beach!
So then we sailed back.  This time, the wind was straight behind us.  It was light, so we didn't pick  up much speed from it.  But it was fun to fly our big, rainbow genoa!  We were enjoying it so much, we decided to take the long way home.  Instead of going back in to Elizabeth Harbor the way we came out, we sailed all the way to the top of Stocking Island on the outside.  At one point, the depth dropped off to over 600 feet (the depth finder stops at 600, so we have no idea how deep it actually was).  Exciting!  We trolled for fish all the way back, but didn't catch anything. 

It was a long day, and we were gone almost 12 hours, but we crossed a major milestone!  And now that we've gone as far south as we're going to, I guess we're officially on our way home.  Sometime in the next couple of days, I think we're going to start our mosey north.

Oh, and yesterday we went spearfishing with Jim.  Trevor and I didn't get anything, but Jim had a very successful day!  And he's generous, so we had schoolmaster (a kind of snapper) for dinner with fried rice.  And tonight, we're going over to Amata Marie for another seafood dinner!  Yum! 

Yesterday did have a sad note, though.  Our friends Greg and Janice on Glenice headed over to Long Island for a few days.  We're not sure when they'll get back to Georgetown, but there's a good chance we'll be gone by then.  We're going to miss them terribly.  They've been such great friends on the trip.  But we'll get together with them sometime!  That's the good thing about cruisers; they're always turning up somewhere!