May 2011 ~ Bahamas
Day 259 ~ Electric RacingMay 31st, 2011
The morning broke with heavy cloud cover, managable seas and decent wind. We have lost our following current so adjust our course to the west a few notches in hopes of finding the main trunk of the stream, with little success. We actually find a counter swirl that pushes us back .5 to 1 knot.
The winds eventually blow out and the sea surface becomes flat and reflective, like a mirror. We're 190 miles from land and, other than slight ground swell of old waves from Ireland, or wherever, it's like a lake. We sail slower and slower, passing through a tidal line of trash and weeds at one point, complete with a 5 gallon bucket floating just below the surface.
The GRIB weather prediction files show a calm patch with winds on both sides. We finally decide to run the engine for a while to try and punch through the dead zone. After an hour we see darker, ruffled sea on the horizon. In another hour, as a blood red sun slunk toward the horizon obscured by a milky haze, the winds begin to fill in.
In the waning light, we could clearly see multiple dark thunder clouds and hear distant rumblings to the East. As darkness falls, the lightning takes center stage, crackling behind a frontage of scuttling puffs. The wind builds, and now we are cooking.
I notice the crew glancing frequently askance at the activity. The unspoken concensus is clear, outrun the cells if possible. The wind builds, we are now hitting 8 knots and really starting to move. But the cells are moving too. For a good hour, it's unclear who is gaining on whom. By 11pm, it's clear we have outrun the first thunder cell, now fading into the background. A new cell develops to our starboard and seems to be heading our way.
The wind builds again, and we are now seeing 20 to 23 knots. After such a tranquil day, we had debated putting a reef in the main, but decided to anyway, for "prudence" sake, and are now relieved. The spray is flying, the wind is climbing and it's pitch dark. The speed builds and we race to the northwest rocking and rolling. Any hatch opened for a minute drowns its occupants, as I learn the hard way. Desperate for some airflow below deck, I crack open our top hatch which is in the wind and spray shadow of the salon roof. A rogue splash of warm brine hits me in the face about 11:30p, soaking clothes, sheets and my pillowcase. Won't be sleeping now for a while anyway. But we are gaining.
Again, the outcome of the race is unclear for a couple of hours, but then, slowly, we leave behind the huge, flashing hulk that curses us with its electric fingers as we slip through its grasp, charging into the infinite darkness ahead.
5pm yesterday to 5pm today: 99.2 nm
Average speed: 5.8 knots
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Day 258 ~ Memorial DayMay 30th, 2011
The sun set behind a thick, high overcast. We stuck to our rhumline for Cape Hattaras, even though it meant taking the seas a touch forward of crosswise. This meant occasional leaps and launches with their inevitable counterpart of crashes and splashes. While not nearly as embracing as our first night out of the BVIs, it still had a bit of a washing machine effect. In hindsight, we should have turned a bit and ran before the swells and winds; it would have been a lot more comfortable.
As day broke, the winds lessened and clocked a little behind us making a much more comfortable ride. We did lessons and tried to stick to normal routines, but the fact is we are headed into the vast unknown and it's loud and windy. The girls stayed in their pajamas all day and we all understood why. Just dealing with the transition from cruising to passage takes a day or two at least; we can grumble and pester or we can go with the flow and let each person adapt as best as she can.
To add a bright spot to the day, I decide to grill burgers on the back, a bit risky given the occasional cross swell that passes through, adding unpredictable rolls and jostles. The wind keeps blowing the grill's flame out, until we finally get it to stick. The lettuce and a few condiments get caught in the wind and rocking a few times, but the girls are pretty adept and keeping them all pinned down in an instant. Finally all is ready. Then Tim remembers, "Hey", he remarks, "It's Memorial Day!" Guess a BBQ is appropriate.
Jeff and Tim are holding it together well. But presenting a freshly cooked-on-the-grill burger with all the fixins in front of a hefty guy who had but a nibble for breakfast and lunch, and he can't get through it, you know something is amiss.
First 24 hours: 170.49 nm
Average speed: 7.1 knots
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Day 257 ~ Hopeful DayMay 29th, 2011
Lisa succeeded in talking me into a delaying our departure until late afternoon. As a result Lisa, the guys and the kids, were able to stretch their legs and have a little fun. Va Bene was anchored nearby, so guess what the kids have on their mind? Kid time.
Jeff and I dinghied into Hope Town and were on the way to the second dock looking for water I saw a familiar sight: Independencia, our last boat, a Fontaine Pajot Venezia. The dinghy was there but locked up tight, so we just looked it over and moved on.
I can't believe how fast Sundays come around when I'm not paying any attention to the time and Mondays never come. Well, it was Sunday morning, and that meant everything in town was closed up tight. No water sales. A few nice people we spoke to indicated we were free to fill a jerry can. However, I really needed 60 gallons and didn't want to take that kind of advantage of the unsuspecting donor.
So, we came back empty-handed. Va Bene called, and soon the whole crew were off for day of exploration and kid fun. That afternoon, Lisa managed to find someone working in the yard of one marina after calling 4 others in vain. He said it was no problem to fill our tanks so she and the guys made a couple of runs while I caught up on the blog, long over due.
We had planned on leaving at 4pm, but it was just after 5 before we were actually underway. It's funny, the departure for our first overnight was more stressful. Now, heading to sea is just another cruising thing to do. Plenty of food? Check. Plenty of water? Check. Latest weather downloaded? Check. Time to blow this continent. Check.
We motored out through the south Man-O-War Channel and set the sails up with a reef in the main, a practice we have yet to regret. A few squalls blew by with wind in the mid 20s just an hour later. It felt great to stay in the cockpit and watch the action with no need to rush around.
We devoured a quick dinner of homemade ham and bean soup, but the lively sailing had taken the edge off the crew's appetite. The first night is always a little rough, and tonight was a fast one topping over 9 knots. We flew off some waves and the spray precluded having hatches opened, which meant stuffy conditions below. The girls set up camp in the salon and most of the adults crashed on the cockpit benches.
The stars, the phosphorescence and the rush of the waves and water swirling by have a magic all their own. We are either wide awake or sleeping like a baby swimming in the womb.
05/29/2011 14:29:26 AKDT
Day 256 ~ Town DayMay 28th, 2011
It was another peaceful night at anchor in the lee of Lynyard Cay. We got up and got moving early again. Boats and planes don't mix well and we have two friends from Alaska coming to help us with the passage to the East Coast. We are also pretty short on provisions, so it will be a busy day interfacing with towns and taxis. The longer we are out here the harder that has become, and grimmer such a day looks from the calm quiet morning which proceeds it.
Better buckle down and do it.
We managed sail most of the way up the inner lagoon on the east side of Abaco while the girls tackled their math. We anchored out in the open near the Abaco Beach Resort. Nika and Lisa hate grocery trips, so Nana, Nina and I were dropped off to do the deed. We had a taxi within minutes and were soon shopping at Maxwell's, a piece of generica if ever there was one. Except the prices are higher.
We were just past the produce and into the dairy section when we got a text that the guys were in the store looking for us. The next thing I know, I look up from the egg case and see an aberration. Tim and Jeff standing there, like we ran into each other shopping back home. It was great to see them and I soon had them off rounding up water and refried beans on top of $400 worth of other staples.
A hour and quite a bit of hefting and hauling later, we were back aboard stuffing and stashing. We motored across to Hope Town and dropped the hook in 6 feet of water. The swim was excellent and the treats from Grandma were much appreciated by the girls, who promptly started several knitting projects only to abandon it all on the floor as soon as Ben and Nicki from Va Bene appeared. Go figure.
Day 255 ~ Deep BlueMay 27th, 2011
The day broke with a high haze giving the sun a softer, Alaskan feeling. The anchorage was perfect: deserted, light breeze, nearly flat calm.
We have 50+ miles to make today, and light winds predicted, so needed to get moving. I made a big batch of oatmeal which was completely devoured. We welcomed Mr. Bruce back into the family and threaded our way out through the serpentine cut around Spanish Wells, Eleuthera.
The big ocean was amazingly calm, making the final pass through the north end of Devil's backbone a piece of cake. Winds were light and from the starboard aft quarter making progress slow, averaging 4.5 knots. At this rate we weren't going to make it to our anchorage before dark.
The genoa (big head sail) wasn't in the best of shape the last time Steven, Jeff and I stuffed it into the bag; it was an unrollered mess of shredded mylar. Digging it out didn't seem too attractive. Kind of like that laundry you discover in your gym bag a few weeks after the last rainy game. You just want to pretend it doesn't exist, but eventually the smell will demand attention. Well, puttering along just wouldn't do, so up came the hatch, down went the body and up came the bag. I recruited the girls to keep the huge sail pinned down on the deck while I fiddled with all the sheets and lines, routing them over and under all the right lines, well mostly all.
After an interminable wait, we finally hauled the halyard and things went amazingly smooth. Nina sheeted in the clew and we were really sailing. Putting up a sail the size of your average suburban lawn usually makes a difference. Now were were doing 5.7+ knots in the same wind.
As we slid noiselessly over the rippling surface, the ocean bottom fell away. At 4,538 meters deep, the color under a full glare sun was its deepest electric blue, reflecting the deep's velvet soul.
For the third time in our few ocean miles, I saw a huge splash and watched transfixed as a massive sword fish skipped on its side across the surface. It leaped 7 times completely from the water, its eyes rolling, its huge dorsal fin splayed out as if it were trying to break gravity's hold. It looked like a minnow running from a trout, but when the minnow would top in over 150 pounds and sport a lethal three foot weapon, what size is the trout?
We slipped along the rippled surface, flying as it were on the top of Mount Rainier over a vast underwater canyon that would dwarf anything Arizona has to offer.
We sighted land about 5pm and were through the cut and anchored by about 7pm. We called Va Bene on the radio and they responded a few minutes later; they had arrived just 30 minutes ahead of us. The kids were thrilled, of course, and we agreed to catch up in the morning.
Day 254 ~ Landing Gear UpMay 26th, 2011
After the sorrowful goodbyes with Remi De last night, it was all business this morning; get up and get going. We have 50+ miles to make and some touchy navigation ahead. Fortunately, overcast clouds of the last few days burned off, the sun was bright and the visibility underwater was ideal.
While we were making anchor recovery noises, I looked up and saw the catamaran navy, Remi De, No Rehearsal and Gone with the Wind were up and motoring out of the anchorage just beside us. Remi swooped by and said goodbye again, then Mr. Bruce was back and we were off as well.
It was fun watching everyone get their sails up; Gone with the Wind quickly pulled ahead.
We threaded our way between the Ship Channel keys, lonely windswept rocks with shells of long abandoned cottages and out buildings scattered from rock to rock like tombstones of forgotten dreamers past. Ahead was a nearly white line and, as we sailed slowly along, it broadened and grew to a light green crest rising to meet the pure blue horizon beyond. It was, "middle ground", a large shallow bank of pure white sand with crystal sea flickering over it a thin covering. I could have stood up with my head out of the water. We watched our chart and depth sounder as we ghosted over with only a foot of clearance at times. The tide variation here is so small, 2 feet or so, that we don't pay much attention to them. Suddenly, we were keenly interested. You guessed it, we nailed middle ground right at low tide. How nice.
Slowly, a blue line replaced the glowing sea floor and the water deepened. I let out my breath. We sailed on then through a sea that turned slowly green as we approached Eleuthera, and motored through Current Cut, aptly named as a torrent of incoming tide ripped through the pass. We twisted and bobbed like a cork in a gutter as the vortices of current slithered their sinewy fingers around our slippery hulls, only to lose their grasp a moment later.
We sailed on through the Bight of Abaco, finding a sheltered anchorage in the lee of Meeks Island. A shallow sandy anchorage off a deserted beach, again. Yawn. No one was interested in going ashore, so I snorkeled the anchor and found Mr. Bruce, as always, set like a rock.
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Day 253 ~ A Hole For OneMay 25th, 2011
Well, the red can marker did its magic. Lisa, wanting to get it over with and seeing the tide was at its lowest, dove in before breakfast and sighted the can in a minute and came up with both the can and the plug the next. Got it put back in place and am looking forward to having a dinghy as light as it is supposed to be, again.
Nina and I dinghied over Highborne Cay marina which sports a nice little mini market. We grabbed a few essentials, like butter that our cookie making has depleted. Bruce and Toni came by on their way to check out some "baumies" (coral heads); Remi decided to stay and play with the girls while Lisa, already wet, decided to go along with the swimmers. Guess who got kid duty?
After they returned, we got things in shape to move and lead Remi De and Gone with the Wind through the reef that divides Highbourne and Allan Cays. We had an old track on the laptop from 2009 so it was just a matter of following something we've already done before. We found our favorite little anchorage open, so slipped in and enjoyed the 360 protection and great holding. Bruce suffered from anchorage envy and came over for a look, but decided there wasn't really room for two.
Lisa and Bruce took a couple of tanks and explored some of the rocky walls and overhangs. Bruce is anxious to find spiny things to kill and eat, but it wasn't to be. Liam saw their empty anchored dinghy and went out looking for them, in the wrong direction, as it happened. Nice to know that someone was paying attention. In kidville, I hadn't noticed a thing.
After the rain let up, Remi De joined us on SW Allans Cay beach to see the iguanas, but only one finally poked his head out. Must be the cooler rain that drove them under cover. Walked over to the opposite side looking for shells, but instead saw a huge manta ray, its wing tips breaking the surface as he glided back out to deeper pastures. We said our goodbyes to Remi De and prepped the boat for an early departure tomorrow.
Day 252 ~ Trivial PursuitMay 24th, 2011
Va Bene bearing Nicki and Ben, co-conqueror's of Lone Tree island, left bright and early, at 6am sharp as they are hoping to make Nassau before noon to get the most Atlantis bang for their buck. We had agreed with Remi De to sail up to Highbourne Cay after they had snorkeled the drug plane again with the rest of the crew.
We welcomed Bruce back to the family and motored out of Norman's cut into the protected western waters and got the sails flying, just about the time Remi De got started. We ended up about a mile ahead. With 8 miles to go and light airs, the race was on. I tweaked and winched, trying to eke every once of speed out of our condo on floats. We have 4 anchors, 450 meters of chain, two full diesel tanks, 5 bodies, a huge dink and as many girl accessories as we can cram in. It's not exactly a speed machine. And yet he gained.
Yard by yard he reeled us in such that, after an hour and twenty minutes, he was breathing down our neck and I could see the whites of his eyes. A 30 foot wide cat bearing down under full sail is not a sight I soon forget. In a strategy move, Bruce turned downwind to gain a final burst of speed and pass us on the port side. But I was ready. I tacked immediately to starboard, towards the anchorage of which he had lost sight in his quest for the little white rabbit.
We tacked a couple more times and anchored near each other off of a half mile white sand beach with nary a house in sight.
Bruce came over a bit later and suggested a beach fire. That meshed will with pot of chili I had on the stove, so we scrounged some firewood and invited the Gone with the Wind, No Rehearsal and Scaramouche crews as well. It was a regular potluck of snack food. I found some wieners in the fridge and Bruce and the kids had fun roasting them. Gone with the Wind pulled out a stash of marshmallows to round out the food end.
Liam brought is guitar ashore and we all joined in the chorus for Where ya' gonna go when the volcano blows?
Day 251 ~ Drug PlaneMay 23rd, 2011
The day broke breezy and overcast with a light scuttle of lower clouds on the eastern horizon, pale in the gray dawn light. We're anchored with our Bruce up on a grassy ledge in 2 meters of water, while we hang over a channel of 5-6 meter water with swift tidal current. The first sounds you hear waking up is a distinct gurgling as millions of gallons of tidal flow slip under the keels, a living river of sound.
We have a date with Remi De about 24 miles north near Norman's Cay where a drug ferrying DC-3 went down in 8 feet of transparent water during the 1980s cartel era, which saw entire islands taken over by drug lords.
It all seemed a distant past as we downed a quick breakfast and weighted anchor. Mr. Bruce appeared with a nice fistful of grassy bottom. We wound our way out through the narrow cut at Soldier Cay to Exuma Sound, raised the sails and took off. The winds were ideal and the sea state gentle. It felt great to be really sailing again after a week or more of boat camping. We made good time, the girls listened to history lessons while I tweaked sails and finally found the groove, averaging about 7.5 knots in 12-14 knots of wind.
Remi De is traveling with old friends of theirs from Aussie land. The destination of the day changed several times while they discussed various dive sites, cuts and shallows to avoid. Gone with the Wind's chart-plotter is on the blink, so they are following Remi De as their pilot boat on the inside. No Rehearsal and Scaramouche are also travelling in the group.
As we approached Normans Cay, Va Bene came on the VHF, and the kids went spastic. We slipped through the Norman's Cut and dropped the hook just 40 yards from Va Bene, alive with bouncing with little people, waving and yelling at us. We then headed over and snorkeled the plane wreck. In the overcast conditions, it wasn't exactly toasty, but we saw a large stingray, barracuda and several tropical fish. Before long, however, we were zipping back to the boat with shivering kidlets.
About a 100 yards away from our boat is a small islet with one lone palm tree. The six kids decided to take over the island and name it "Kid Freedom." We dropped them off and the parents watched the madness from aboard; it's pretty tough to beat having your own "grown-up free" island. Needless to say, hours flew by as the kids organized their political landscape, hoisted their respective flags (brought from our boat), collected material for national defense (a pile of rocks) and cooked meals made of sand and grass. What a great way to burn energy.
The parents joined them for snacks and conversation as the obscured sun slowly faded in the East. We weren't back to the boat until dark, now at 8:30pm. The girls barely made it through showers and a small bowl of warmed up planned over beef stew. Then crash.
Day 250 ~ Sea AquariumMay 22nd, 2011
The days blur one to the other as if the calendar were an artist's color palette dropped face down, twisted and then picked up again. Everything runs together; things which happened just two days ago feel like a dim, ancient memory.
The one defense of continuity in such a timeless world is tradition; TRADITION!, as the Fiddler on the Roof would say. And one of our most sacred is Swedish Pancakes on Sunday mornings. We had to check the computer to see if that was in fact the day. It was, and so I mixed up the magical elixir which Lisa soon had toasting on our pans. Pounds of pancakes disappeared in a few frenzied minutes of grunting and stuffing. Like we never feed these girls.
By the time we were wiping the syrup dribbles off the table, Remi De called us on the radio to tell us they were just slipping into the Soldier Cay Cut and wondering where the great dive sites were. I zipped over in the dink and pointed out the high points. It was an hour before slack tide, so the whole fam mobilized and we hung out on Gone with the Wind until the moon and sun did what they do best and the waters calmed down.
Bruce generously loaned Lisa one of his tanks and the entire crew enjoyed what Gone with the Wind described as, "our best dive since the Red Sea!" I worked on my free diving, while Lisa gave the girls her spare regulator and they had their first experience of breathing below the surface.
It was well after 3pm by the time we returned. After a snack, the girls and I headed to Jack's Beach where Nana undertook the generous service of sweeping off Johnny's swim platform and neatly coiling its anchor rode.
We enjoyed a beef stew dinner on the veranda as the sun slowly snuck across a sea of tranquil glass.
Day 249 ~ Back JackMay 21st, 2011
Not sure how long we have been at Staniel, the recent influx of kid boats has surely slowed us down some, but today it's time to make tracks. Remi De, Gone with the Wind and No Rehearsal all took to the wind before 9am, leaving us with our necessary water run waiting in the wings.
We finally had the tank filled and final internet chores done by about 1pm and weighed anchor. It was a slow, peaceful sail on the protected west side of the Exuma chain. Our average speed hovered around 3 knots in 1-4 knots of apparant wind.
I firmly believe that good judgment is what makes sailing safe or dangerous, not specific sail boats, plans or skills. It's a fine line, for sure.
The wind was nearly perfect, the sails were up and pulling, so I opted to run through the Bell Island west channel under sail, if possible. Had the anchor ready to drop and one engine on. It was nip and tuck in a few places, as the wind waffled around the island's steeper bluffs. We might have come through the final bottleneck, perhaps 50 feet wide, but the currents were swirling and the head sail luffing, so I punted and pushed us through with a Yanmar burst of wind.
We picked our way to Jack's Beach off Little Halls Pond, one of our favorite anchorages, and set the hook up on the bluff just inside the two headlands.
Day 248 ~ A drinking problemMay 20th, 2011
Life on land is a deceptive existence. Accomplished sailor Webb Chiles asserts that "the purpose of cities is to insulate you from the reality that nature doesn't care."
There's something to that. On land, every move is pre-arranged for safety and comfort. The corners of the roads are graded precisely and never too tight. The sidewalks are engineered for slip prevention. The temperature of your home, car and shopping experience is carefully monitored and controlled by machines that you never see. The water comes out of the tap filtered, sanitized and routinely tested by professionals you have never met.
You'd think that after a year floating around, a guy would be just about done making really stupid mistakes. Sure, unknown cruising grounds, bad charts, weird currents and unpredictable weather will always shade the sailor with humilating encounters that don't happen often enough in normal life on land.
But what bad can come from cleaning the boat? It sounded like such a great idea.
The entire deck drains right past the water tank fill ports so if it would just rain a little we'd have all the water we needed. But no, the sunshine just never stops. Yesterday we hauled H2O, painstakingly filling both tanks by hand from jerry cans and our 40 gallon bladder, one bucketful at a time. It felt great to have enough water aboard for another 10+ days.
Lisa had deep cleaned the inside yesterday and today it made sense to tackle the deck, which had been encrusted with the tiny footprints of a thousand kid-mania footfalls.
I whipped out the Boat Soap, pine scented and concentrated to make 96 gallons of effective cleaner. Keep out of reach of children, the bottle states. I slung droplets of it at random and then the girls hauled up buckets of salt water while I scrubbed the deck from bow to stern, while they splashed things clean, chasing down entire armies of sudsy bubbles.
We had finished the starboard side and were just about done with the port side when a cry was heard. "The water tank is open!"
I rushed back thinking blood must be spilling, only to see half of the long trail of bubbles, forking inboard and down into the water abyss of our port water tank. The one we use for cooking and kitchen clean up. It took a few seconds for the reality to soak in. We had been washing out boat, while mindlessly adding Pine Scented Boat Soap to our domestic water supply. This just never happened at home.
I rushed downstairs, pulled up the floor boards and opened the tank inspection port. Nice little clumps of bubbles were floating around, like white puffy clouds on a clear dewey morning, their edges shifting and shrinking as members popped slowly, like tiny champagne corks celebrating their promotion to drinking water.
I just sat there and stared at them for a while, drifting this way and that slowly with the gentle rocking of the boat at anchor.
At times like that, a gutteral moan is about the most expressive thing to say, at least from a man's point of view. Lisa never quite knows what the grunts mean, but this one was surely unmistakable for anything other than sad disgust.
Chalk another one up to stupidity.
The day progressed. We opted to leverage the 65 gallons of tainted water on a full fresh water scrub down of the deck, the cockpit and transom teak, several loads of hand laundry and a dozen other miscellaneous things we never do with our precious fresh water.
By the time we were done, my trips to the usual sources of water were pointless; it was Friday evening and everyone had gone home. Have to wait 'til mañana. Just another lesson in the slow down and relax curriculum. One Type A guy from Alaska isn't going to change the island culture in a day, or a lifetime for that matter.
Day 247 ~ Hauling WaterMay 19th, 2011
We have minimal water usage down pretty well, 12 gallons per day, including showers for 5. But it still doesn't last forever. Under the rainless Bahamian sunshine, eventually the day comes when we have to buck up and break out the jerries (as the Aussies say).
A brief aside on Aussie talk. Just say the first syllable of any words and add "ie" or "y" to the end and you, too, can speak aussie. As an example try, Sunnies (sunglasses), Costies (costume meaning swimsuit), Brekkie (breakfast), Barbie (BBQ), Bickie (bisquits, any kind of cracker) and more.
Remi came by in their "cool" dinghy and took the girls for a beach hike while Lisa and I walked our garbage to the "Waste Management" facility on the island. All this means is a big heap of garbage in a hole in the middle of the island that gets torched from time to time. We then dinghied all the way around the island to find the Isle General store (and water dock) closed for lunch; this is the islands. No use fighting it. We just came home and took a swim.
The girls went to play at Remi's boat for awhile, while Nina enjoyed having the boat to herself for a while. Lisa and I finally had some water success and, after it was all done, it feels good to have another 10-12 days of water aboard.
Bruce and Toni dropped Remi off for the evening, which meant more kid madness, but also distraction. Bruce came back by about 9pm and everyone stumbled to bed.
Day 246 ~ Kid ManiaMay 18th, 2011
Freeze or fry I guess. We have had no kid contact for nearly 10 days and the girls, well, they were doing pretty good actually, but old people just don't quite find the fun in jumping up and down chanting soundtrack loops over and over again. Go figure. And when that kind of energy is compressed into little kid bodies without being allowed to escape you get some weird behavior at times.
Last night a nasty little chop found it's way into the anchorage, reflected off the nearby rock walls and made for choppy confused bobbing motion most of the night and well into the morning. A night or two of this is tolerable, but this is going on three days now. I had a painful, powerful itch to find someplace more protected.
But we have internet here so we put up with it until about 1pm when we were finally ready to move. It happened to be slack tide, so we decided to snorkel the Thunderball Grotto (underwater cave) which at low tide doesn't require holding one's breath to make it inside, not something one pushes an 8 year old to do. It remains one of the coolest snorkel spots we have yet to find. By the time we were done, I had also swam out the far side of the islet and found a nicer spot to anchor, more protected and that should still benefit from WIFI coverage. We were just ready to move when Nika the Eagle Eye called out, "There's Va Bene!" (kid boat from the marina).
Sure enough, there they were just coming in. There were squeals, screams, dancing, waving and running. Va Bene pulled in close and we told them we were just moving to the other side.
So, we pulled anchor then danced around a bit in the current trying to get the anchor set in the right spot, eventually succeeding. Va Bene anchored just a couple of hundred yards away and, before we had our dinghy down, Ben and Nicki (8 & 9) arrived to ask about taking our kidlets to the beach. Uh, sure.
The kids were off in a frenzy of catch up and stopped by yet another boat to pick up two more as well. An hour later, we heard an Aussie voice calling us on the radio and Remi De was just a few miles out, trying to find us. They pulled up and anchored even closer so that, within a couple of hours, the kid factor went from zero to crazy.
And guess where they all ended up? On our boat, naturally, for an insane night of rope swinging, legos and "spy" while Bruce and Toni, Lisa and I caught up on the three weeks since we had last crossed paths.
Day 245 ~ May 17th, 2011
Moved around to the other side of the Grotto. Swam off the boat to snorkel.
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Day 244 ~ Dodgy PlacesMay 16th, 2011
The sea is that way I guess. She treats you with kid gloves for a week, night after night of moonlit tranquility, and then she changes her mood. The winds shifted during the night, turning our protected spot into an exposed jungle gym of bounce. Nothing dangerous, just uncomfortable. It motivated the entire crew to get up and going. A quick breakfast and we were off, sailing across the same breeze, now leveraging it for a nice run up to Staniel Cay.
We anchored in a questionable area, a quick snorkel showed the hook just barely caught on a rocky ledge. "Ah it'll hold while I grab a few groceries." Sure. You'd think a guy would learn by now.
This is the kind of ah-sure-it-will-be-ok-ness that is just part of life ashore, nothing really at stake. On the water, in a fluid dynamic enviroment, that kind of landlubber attitude is routinely punished, occasionally severely so.
By the time the girls and I returned we were literally chasing down the boat as it dragged the anchor around the anchorage, chain rattling over the hard bottom. There was a brief craziness getting everyone back aboard, and the dink secured. No choice now but to move, and fast.
It took a couple of tries, but eventually we were reset securely in a spot that should, we hope, not be too rough tonight.
Day 243 ~ Seamless DaysMay 15th, 2011
My vocabulary is failing me. It was another near perfect day; enough wind to keep the boat cool, plenty of sunshine, calm anchorage. We did lessons, swam around, finished the Sign of the Four and spent the last hour and a half working on the stone house again.
The days, no the weeks, are bluring together in a seamless way that just isn't possible on land. The weather has been picture perfect, the temps are nice and warm during the day, cool enough at night. I am sure it won't last but, for now, it's tough to see any way it could get better.
I guess a kid boat would be nice. Not sure I am up for more than two hours a day of book reading. But that's a pretty light duty in a universe of potential drudgery.
Day 242 ~ The DiscoveryMay 14th, 2011
It's pretty toasty mid-day, so we decided to hit the beach this morning and stretch our legs. We slid the dink up onto the gentlly sloping beach and Lisa and I headed north while the three girls headed south. There's an old Osprey nest on the point that Lisa wanted to investigate.
To Lisa's surprise, there were two eggs in the nest, unattended. Hmmm, they looked suspiciouly like store-bought eggs but no resident appeared perturbed at her approach. Hmmm, perhaps someone's idea of a practical joke. She took a picture anyway, but it appears that the resident avion has moved. We were just turning to walk back when we heard a yell and looked up to see Nina running, waving and hollering towards us.
"We found the house!" she panted as she got within easy ear shot. "It's way down there, come and see!"
So off we marched and, sure enough, there was the "tree", no more than a large bush. Wrapping around it were several stone walls we had started in January 2009. The sun was climbing, so we checked it out for a few minutes, yook some photos then headed back to the boat with big plans for an afternoon construction party.
Did some swiming in the afternoon, Nana is doing her best to teach me to dive. I finally figured out that the glaziers clamp (big suction cups with a handle) I found aboard back in Grenada was actually for giving one a hand hold on the hull when it came time to scrape barnacles. Duh. Gave it a try with great success and even managed to pull myself down to scrape the bottom of the keels which were sporting a beard of grass.
About 4pm, the girls and I zipped over and renewed efforts on the stone house. Nothing like a common goal and some heavy rocks to take their focus off of the pettiness of daily sisterly existence. They did good and we made real progress on a new "balcony". When we returned Lisa had a big batch of her famous homemade spaghetti sauce bubbly; the smells were heavenly. Nothing like hauling rocks to build an appettite.
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Day 241 ~ White PointMay 13th, 2011
The days are stretching together in a seamless chain of sunrises and sunsets. Not sure how long we have been anchored here, but the general sense is that it's time to move. The wind appears ideal, light, but enough to sail with. Since our next stop, White Point, is only about 23 miles up, there was no rush with breakfast.
While it's hard to tell incrementally, but stepping back it's pretty impressive how well the girls have adapted to boat routines. When it's time to go, a myriad of small details are done without even having to mention them. Life jackets are out, lines are secured, awnings come down, etc. It's a good feeling to see the teamwork starting to gel.
We welcomed Miss CQR back to the family. She hadn't been wet for months or more, but with the sand and shallow anchorages of the Bahamas, she is back at work.
We wove our way under power up through the narrow channels to Adderly Cut, raised the main and were off. It always feels good to be back under sail. There was a bit of cross-sea motion, so the girls did stories while I tended the sails.
We sailed back in through Galliot Cut, a nice clear channel. As we passed through the slot between the islands, the transition from ocean sailing to lake sailing was almost instantaneous. It's a magic carpet ride feeling to be flying along at 8 knots in flat calm turqoise waters watching the white sand roll past underneath.
We anchored about 3pm off of White Point. This is, we think, where we started building a playhouse from flat limestone a couple of years ago and the girls are anxious to see if it still stands. Chagrin, however, takes over when glassing the half mile stretch of beach that revealed no place that looked familiar, and no "lone tree" that the house under whch it was stacked.
So, I went for a swim, checked the anchor while the girls did some lessons and literature.
We prepared a leisurely dinner on the veranda to a sweeping 180 degree view of glowing twilight.
05/13/2011 07:54:04 AKDT
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Day 240 ~ Setting a Speed RecordMay 12th, 2011
We could have sailed today as the wind was workable. However, by the time we had identified and fed a huge Mutton Snapper that was hanging out under our boat, the Swedish pancakes were mixed, made and eaten and the math lessons were complete it was nigh unto noon, and we hadn't even gone sailing in the dinghy yet.
So, we just stayed put. The girls and I motored about a mile upwind, and then ran under full sheet/spinnaker back down and past our anchored home. We had a blast and I was more than tickled to see that Nika has a particularly keen sense of wind direction, calling out helm corrections before I hardly noticed a luff (sail losing wind). Nina and Nana were constantly tweaking lines and rigging the whisker poles back to the hand rails so they didn't have to manually hold them. When the time came to take in the sail Nina figured out a way to roller it just like a real one and pin it in place.
We ate a light snack lunch and then went for a long snorkel, finding a few little coral heads and a nice school of Margates that were curious enough to swim back around behind us again. Once back on the boat, we plowed through a couple more chapters of Sign of the Four, much to the girls delight, and then did a light dinner of chicken tacos.
Since we're fairly far north now, the evening twilights are lasting longer by the day. The sun was aglow as it softly landed on the horizon as it found the girls and I at it, once more, beating our previous dinghy sailing record of 2.6 mph with a nice blast that strained out clothesline rigging: 3.9 mph! Nana yelled, Nika lept while pumping her arms and Nina, both hands clutching critical control lines, yelled with delight – adding childhood glee to the rush of wild air. It was a milestone cheered with a quality of enthusiasm that just never seems to happen when playing a DS.
Day 239 ~ Under full sheetMay 11th, 2011
We have bagels. After nearly 6 months without, you wouldn't believe how precious they are. The girls begged for them in the store so I bought one overpriced bag of six. Nina and Nana, practicing teamwork, made egg McBagels which were richly enjoyed.
The girls were prattling on all morning through lessons and breakfast about how we were going to rig the dinghy for sail. With such a carrot you wouldn't believe how fast chores can get done. It's a carrot, and not a stick, precisely because it was their idea. One thing led to another, and after a short time we had a boat hook mast, clothesline stays and modified a bed sheet with some hand stitching. Suddenly the terms I had been throwing out only to land on blank looks started to make sense. When you are tying a sail onto your dinghy you have to know what to call the parts you are holding in each hand, and in your teeth.
Terms like "stepping the mast", "tighten the head stay", "grab that clew!" and "watch it! You shaved my head with that whisker pole" were met now with comprehension and, better, active involvement and feedback. I had to smile as their sheets became twisted and whisker poles got caught in a tangle of lines. Nina has a great sense of twist and tangle which she employed to good effect.
An afternoon swim and some beach exploration nicely rounded out a near perfect day.
Day 238 ~ New TracksMay 10th, 2011
I was up at 3:00am to have a look around and found a surreal universe. Mirror flat water in which you could make out the reflections of a million distant stars. A ring of haze obscuring the distant horizon. The white sand of the several nearby beaches glowed softly in the starlight. The full dawn brought little change, complete peace and calm in picturesque surroundings, turquoise water, white sand underneath and solitude at every turn.
Having negotiated a labor deal for the production of Swedish pancakes (dad makes the batter, mom does the frying, Nana and Nika clear the table, Nina washes the dishes) we gave it a test run with great success.
A breeze came up by mid morning and shifted 200 degrees throughout the day, keeping the bugs away and giving enough airflow to keep the boat wonderfully cool. The hours meandered by, completely unhinged from any normal context. We were going to visit the kid boats up island, but discovered they had already pulled anchor. Instead, we explored Coconut Beach, eventually had some lunch, went swimming, did some literature lessons and caught up on our reading.
About 3:00pm I looked to the East and saw the oddest cloud shape, like two spiny talons reaching out of the sky. Water spouts, one more mature than the other, hung and twisted and shifted for nearly a half hour, slowly moving to the south of us. This is the second time we have seen a mini-twister here and probably won't be the last. The hills of Williams Cay obscured the horizon, so not sure if they ever touched down.
We went ashore about 6:00pm and visited "the grand canyon" as the girls call it, a favorite climbing spot that we visited on our last Bahamas trip in 2009. The sun slowly sank and, as we climbed back in the dinghy, we found a nice breeze blowing us straight home so we left the outboard up. Nina then held out her coat as a sail which spurred a discussion about rigging. Before long, we had a decent plan in place to rig a dinghy spinnaker and go sailing tomorrow. Just the kind of creative problem solving that today's employees are completely lacking. Should make for a great learning day.
Day 237 ~ EscapeMay 9th, 2011
Today is the day, seriously. It's time to leave. A week of endless hot showers, wi-fi, washers/dryers at our disposal and endless pressurized water just has to stop sometime.
Took care of some long overdue boat scrubbing this morning and then mobilized for the shopping trip. Getting better/faster at provisioning, but it's still an hour or two of undertaking. Nina and Nana came along, which is really a help now, as they have their own things they like and often remember things as we browse the isles.
We returned with the usual piles of bags and managed to stow everything. After scrubbing yesterday, I found a half gallon of soapy water in the bilge. It's time to fix the hoagie roll sized hole in our deck which used to house the starboard spring line cleat. I had heard once of using a cutting board for such repairs and found just the perfect size at the store. A few minutes with a hacksaw and a skill saw and it was just the right fit. Filed down the edges but resisted breaking out the router. Not sure a cutting board glued down to the deck warrants a decorative edge.
Nika had drawn pictures of our new friends' boats, which she delivered with pride, and then we were off. There was no wind so getting off the dock was just a matter of slipping a few lines, giving us a shove and stepping aboard. Once out on the big water it was flatter than most lakes so we just ground our way there, mile by mile. After half an hour you get used to the engines, so much so that we blew right past our cut and had to back track a mile or two.
Then we threaded our way through Rat Cut, past Children's Bay and into one of our favorite spots near Williams Cay. We anchored in 6 feet of crystal clear water over sand with nary a boat in sight. We gave the CQR another chance; with our ideal conditions she eventually did set.
The girls and I went swimming for a good hour as the sun slowly sank over the distant ridge of Lee Stocking Island. In the long afterglow of the sunset I noticed two boats anchored a couple miles north and, with the binoculars, it was clear. They were Alayat and Amaris, the two French boats with 6 boys between them. Tomorrow might be more interesting than we planned.
Day 236 ~ The Marina TrapMay 8th, 2011
We should have departed today by all standards of decent motivation. But this is the tropics we are talking about. With the new dawn it was clear that much remained to be done and if I pulled the type A animal out of his cage it could happen, but at what cost?
So, instead, I spent the morning cleaning water tanks, went part way up the mast and fixed the shroud boots which had, from months of rope swinging by the resident monkeys, ripped free. This is just one of the many treasures that having kids on a boat will bring. I need to dedicate an entire page to the special pleasures that kids bring to a boat.
We will be out of touch with civilization for the next couple of weeks so we need to take on some serious provisioning. We worked up our list, collected all our bags and found out the store was closed. It's Sunday. Er, forgot that part. Guess it will have to wait.
Lisa took the crew to the beach while I caught up on the blog. I joined her later for a snorkel through Emerald Bay, but there wasn't much there, relatively speaking. Guess our standards are pretty high by now. There were only about 20 kinds of fish. Yawn.
The wind has completely died now, as predicted, so we hadn't been done with dinner more than a few minutes when the sun dropped and the bugs were out in force. In 5+ months, we have only had a few windless nights with bug problems and this would be one of them. Being eaten alive during the 10 minutes it took to get find the mesh and screens seemed like an eternity. The mosquitos here are about 1/2 the size of the Alaska variety. They make the same sound though, and somehow itch just as bad.
Day 235 ~ Official, At LastMay 7th, 2011
Last evening, as the girls and I were coming back from our walk, we saw what was obviously a kid boat tied on the pier next to ours. We headed over and introduced ourselves, a newly acquired skill for my super introvert nature. Turns out they are Belgian, but speak English very well. And there are 6 boys, two from their boat and 4 from their French friends' boat, each as blond as the next. We had agreed to do some beach time, which should be just what the kid psychologist ordered.
Lisa got permission to bring the girls along for her final certification dive, so the house was up and hopping like there was a school bus to catch. A very unsailorly mindset to be sure.
But, the boat was soon my own and, with a suspicious pump cycling symptom, I tore up every floor board to try and find whatever leak there may be. For 6 months the plumbing (toilet issues aside) has been flawless so it's about time for there to be a problem. Try as I might, though, I couldn't find a single trickle of stray water. Hmmm. Have to do some more thinking.
Lisa and the girls were back about noon so I headed to the 'office' and wrapped up a few more loose ends returning just in time for Lisa to head over and take her final written exam. In my opinion, life is one big final exam; if you pass the shark bubbles, does it matter if you can name the three ways that diving will enrich your life?
Of course, she passed with flying colors and returned all smiles. We're all very proud of her, mostly for being alive, but the card is icing on the cake.
The girls and I went to the beach and the French boys came over a short while later. There's nothing like a couple of hours of kids + water + sand to tucker the little ones out. It's a beautiful sight.
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Day 234 ~ Shark BaitMay 6th, 2011
The girls and I work on lessons throughout the morning while Lisa is out training the black fins. That's right, the local dive operation runs a "dive with the sharks" trip that involves the same reef shark (black fins) that starred in BBC's Earth series. Oh, and they feed them racks of ribs afterward.
So guess what?! The dive boat appears and the sharks swarm. The boat means food, just like Pavlov's dogs salivating at the sound of the bell. But do they feed them right away? No, they go diving with the sharks for 30 minutes just testing them to see if they have the patience to wait for the real meal.
Lisa reports being a bit tense at first, but also "irrationally comforted" by sticking close to her instructor. That is irrational. I am sure the black fins where thinking, "Gee, that one is a PADI master diver so we had better not touch him; that girl there is with him, oooo, boy, we're scared into submission now."
Personally, I think swimming with large predators is roughly akin to petting bears in Alaska's wild. Sure, you might get away with it once or maybe even a dozen times. Five-sixths of Russian roulette players survive. Statistically, you aren't likely to get hurt on any day. Any one day. And so we are back to our dicussion of aggregate risk, the fact that seemingly innocent risks we take every day have a cumulative effect. That means, in the course of a lifetime, the chances of dying in some stupid accident are actually far higher than you perceive.
So, here's my wife pushing the edges of Pascal's game theory.
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Day 233 ~ Another diveMay 5th, 2011
Lisa was doing her PADI pool work all morning while I helped girls with their lessons and cleaned our port water tank. It was pretty clean, actually, but since it was close to empty I may as well go all the way and wipe it down. Va Bene left first thing this morning so the girls are morose and snippy. The post-friends withdrawal symptoms that adults would dull with an espresso right out of the gate.
We read an entire Sherlock Holmes episode. I remember really loving them as a kid, but now the plots are transparent the the stylization strained and tiring. Oh well, the language is real English and you can feel their vocabulary stretching with every page. And there's that research about how good it is to read to your kids, meaning they are less likely to make dumb choices later in life, so we plod on.
Lisa's back about 2pm, so I load up the laptop and head back to the office. It's well past 7 before I stumble back and throw together some sausage pasta.
Hope a kid boat shows up soon.
Day 232 ~ Work and PlayMay 4th, 2011
Lisa is up early and going. She has her first dive at 8:30am and grabs a quick mouthful of corn flakes on the way out the door, or off the transom as the case may be.
The girls and I do some lessons, then Scott from Va Bene comes by and ends up playing the kid care role all day while Lisa learns to dive and I catch up on client work.
Other than the exotic location, life is pretty much the way it was at home. Can't say I missed it much.
Day 231 ~ NetworkingMay 3rd, 2011
Lisa has done 14 dives in the last couple of months, so we figured she should go ahead and learn the diving essentials and get certified. Since there is now a PADI dive school right here at the marina, and the price was reasonable, we decided to have her go for it. It means some extra days tied to a dock, like a trailer park with squeaking bumpers and nearby neighbors actually, but it seems the smartest move.
And yes, I have a few patient clients who could use some TLC. It's my opinion that every person, dads specifically, have a set amount of TLC they can give each day. If the clients get it, the girls don't. I know that sounds terrible, but it's true to some extent. After hours of wrestling the code demons it's tough to come home and be all smiles and interest in a kiddy art project, for example. And, wow, after a couple of weeks with no computer time, the transition is terribly painful, like getting sucked back into another life by your fingernails. I am afraid there was collateral damage.
We had been invited for a "sundowner" on One White Tree, a catamaran tied a few slips from ours. The owners seemed like the gregarious types and, when I got home, the idea of socializing sounded about as good as knee replacement surgery. But some food and space helped, and we ended up spending an enjoyable evening with some adult company while the kiddies did crafts on Va Bene, now best friends for the week.
Day 230 ~ Emerald ErrandsMay 2nd, 2011
The first day back in civilization after some time away is always a bit crazy. The fridge is empty and there are several minor boat items that need attention.
Since we have a car, it made sense to knock down some of these pins as soon as we could. Lisa needed some quality time with the web for banking and tax stuff, so the girls tackled their lessons before we all piled in the car to drop Steve off at the airport and do a grocery run. I made the mistake of showing the girls the 5 spoons I had brought along for ice cream duty. It was one hint and reminder after another, but I had a plan.
The last stop after a couple of hot hours in the car was the marina supermarket. We rounded up our selections and then, just as I was about to pay, the girls brought over the ice cream so it would be as cold as possible. We got the groceries in the car and then the five of us literally dug into the half gallon in the shade of the shopping center's covered front sidewalk. The girls were concerned about how we would keep the leftovers from melting. Jeff and I just laughed, "Leftovers?! There won't be any."
And there weren't, of course. Nary a drop remained for the ants, although Nana managed to get some ice cream on her feet.
When we returned to the marina, the girls spotted a new boat in a slip just a few down from ours. "It looks like a kid boat!" Nana exclaimed, although I could see none of the tell tale signs, such as laundry hanging out, toys, or ketchup smears on the deck.
But, sure enough, as Nika, Nana and I were walking back to return the car, the owner walked over and asked what their ages were. Turns out Scott has a 10 year old girl and an 8 year old boy just itching for some boat kid time. We were happy to oblige and we all spent a couple of hours at the beach burning kid energy as efficiently as only sand, water and grassy dunes can do.
We got back in time for some rope swing and email work, then wrapped up the evening with the all time favorite, taco night.
Day 229 ~ Emerald Bay Three Years LaterMay 1st, 2011
We flew our quarantine flag last night as we closed in on Long Island and awoke this morning to a nearly deserted anchorage; three boats set against a 2 mile sandy beach studded with ruffling palms and pines. A few houses were visible through the trees.
The sun rose smartly against a clear tradewind sky, soon revealing crystal clear water over a bright sand bottom, our anchor set like an earring on the vast whiteness of the sand. Turns out our GPS was dead on.
The winds were light, 8-9 knots and blowing directly where we wanted to go. This might sound good, but it's a very slow point of sail, because as soon as the boat starts moving, the apparant wind, or what the sails feel, drops for every knot you go in its direction. This combination had the potential to turn the remaining 30 miles, a mere baby step compared to the 680 already done, into an all day affair. After 5 days aboard, the prospect of an entire day sailing along at walking speed didn't sound like fun.
So, we upped anchor and got moving before breakfast. The day was so perfect, the seas so light, that I agreed to make a celebatory Swedish pancake spread which we did, and enjoyed, while underway.
Steven got the boat moving well wing on wing with the 150% genoa grabbing a monstorous handful of light air. We were able to make 6-7 knots of boat speed with just 2-3 knots of apparant wind. As we progressed across the Exuma Sound, the wind picked up a bit and the miles clicked past.
By the time we were done with breakfast and had the kitchen cleaned up, there was just time for some reading before we dropped sails and negotiated the rather narrow entrance into Emerald Bay Marina, where our last boat lived. Seven miles in 6 days on less than 2 gallons of diesel. Who says that sailing is expensive? That's about a penny a mile.
It was like déja-vu all over again, to quote Steven's dad's favorite line. So little had changed, some of the same staff, same everything, just fast forward 3 years. The soap in the bathrooms is still the same brand. It all felt rather surreal; the girls enjoyed it immensely, commenting at length on remember this, or that, etc.
Lisa was glad to have a quick and easy way to handle the mountains of laundry that had arisen from the passage, and soon marched off with loads and loads, requring some sherpa help to get it all there.
An immigration officier came to the boat and we soon had her paperwork in order and passports stamped. A customs guy was supposed to come as well, but I ended up having to rent a car and drive to the airport to jump through all the hoops, what with recently reduced staff and all. It went pretty smoothly and I was back in time to join Jeff and the girls at the beach for some much needed leg stretching, swimming and sandball production. The water was incredibly warm.
We mosied back to the boat about 6pm and I whipped up some turkey pasta mash stuff, that the girls devoured ravenously. The curtains fell pretty quick for the girls and the grownups weren't far behind.