Sunday, March 30, 2014

Dunk-n-dink

Okay, so maybe, once in a while, squandering a weather window might be a good idea. Marsh Harbour has been an ugly, rolling, pitching basin of white caps since the hook hit the bottom. We would dearly love to be back in the fully protected little bay of Treasure Cay right about now. If the wind would clock around another 70 degrees and lay down 10 knots, this would be a nice place. That was forecast to happen about 14 hours ago. As it is we are nearly 20 hours after the thunderstorms rolled through last night and the wind is still honking out of the WNW. In other words I can think of a lot of other places I would rather be.

There are a lot of boats sharing the misery, and most of them got here before us. Thus it is a long, spray flying ride to the dink dock. We went in today to do laundry anyway. The white covers Deb made for the cabin cushions brightened the place up no end, but with nearly 9 months of full time living aboard ground into them they were considerably less bright then they were. Since last night's driving rain managed to find its way in and soak the starboard side, washing the batch seemed like a pretty good excuse to get off the boat for a couple of hours.

At the dinghy dock we ran into Ken and Sara, friends we first met back in Oriental during the fuel pump travail. We had no idea they were in the area so it was a very pleasant surprise. Since they are staying at one of the marinas here, going to see them will be a good reason to get off the boat tomorrow as well. It is one of the parts of cruising that is the most fun. Months later, hundreds of miles away, in a completely different country, in some out-of-the-way place, and completely by chance, friends bump into each other and pick up conversations like is has only been a couple of hours since parting.

Somehow we got from Kintala to the laundry and all the way back to Kintala while missing the bag of dirty clothes sitting in the bottom of the dink. So we took a second, wet, round-trip ride back to the laundry to finish. Why is it we pick the worst times to do the dumbest things? On the way back I completely misjudged the wind and waves and almost hooked an anchor chain with the dink motor. Deb let my brain fade pass with but a single warning and no additional comments. My only excuse is that, while better at it than I was, dink driving is still not my thing. Wet, bouncing, and trying to pick my way through waves clearly taller than the dink sides are high is nothing I really want to practice much ... but it comes with the territory.

The hope is, by morning, things will settle down a little and we can get back to enjoying ourselves again.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Island meet

S/V Veranda coasted into Treasure Cay mid-afternoon yesterday and Friends Christy and Bill dropped the hook next door to Kintala. They spend the winter "down Island" from the Abacos and the last time we saw them, way back in Annapolis, we were still planning on staying in the States this year. It was an unexpected pleasure crossing paths with them again. A walk on the beach and then evening sun downers gave us a chance to catch up, trade some stories, and meet their Talking Dog Tucker (Who was silent for the evening. Apparently it takes a certain amount of Rum to loosen him up around strangers. Then again, he might have read this blog and decided he didn't like me enough to say anything. You never know.) Thanks you two. I know Treasure Cay is not your kind of place but it was a great to see you again.

Given the weather forecasts we were all pretty convinced that we would share a couple of days in Treasure Cay. A churned up Whale was blocking their way further north, stout winds forecast to hit us right in the face and inbound thunderstorms were keeping us from going south. This morning we woke to grey skies but the winds had faded to near nothing. There were VHF reports that the Whale was taking a nap and the next thing we hear is Veranda's anchor chain clanking onto her deck. When Bill gets a move on he hates to stop; an unexpected weather window was not to be squandered. (I think Bill's move on must have impressed the weather gods some. Every other passageway out of the Abaco sound was reported as barely passable today; 20 knot winds, 4 and 5 foot swell, and breaking waves all the way across.)

We wished them "Fair Winds". About an hour later Kintala's hook pulled out of the sand and we set out for Marsh Harbour ... an unexpected weather window should not be squandered. Rain showers washed some of the salt off for the first hour, and then (no surprise) the forecast winds showed up and hit us right in the face. But the sea state was mild (2 – 3 feet at most) and it was an easy motor. The staysail went up and down a couple of times as we tried to scavenge what we could, and for about half the way it added a knot. The thick overcast kept the radiation levels and temperatures pleasant and we were both pleased to be moving rather than setting.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Wisdom or weeniedom?

In the aviation world there is this gonzo class of weather pilots. At the very top of the heap are those fortunate few who get to fly Herky-Birds in Hurricanes. Then there are the old school night-freight dogs; flying meant getting paid, not flying meant getting fired. Air ambulance drivers are up there as well, honking around in the uglies because someone (maybe a child) needs them to be there. Combat drivers who are going to get shot at anyway don't give much thought to tangling with Mother Nature. And then there is that "other", the last to touch down as the weather falls on its ass, the first to lift off when it picks up a little. I started out as a night-freight dog, spent my time as an air ambulance driver in the Rocky Mountains, and ended up as one of those "others". A black-as-sin instrument night flight ending with an ILS to brass knuckle minimums, ice shedding off the wings, is the part of flying I miss the most. Any weenie can drive the bus when the sun is shining and the winds are light, and I still regard a complete weather weenie in the cockpit with a bit of disdain.

The clock alarm trilled through the boat at 0600 this morning. We set it after spending much of last evening examining all of the weather information we could gather. An 0600 wake up would give us enough time to prep the boat for departure and get through the inlet a few hours before low tide. We set 0900 as the "anchor up" goal, leaving plenty of daylight for the 20 mile sail to Hope Town. It is time to get moving again; a feeling that stirs this cruiser's soul and can hardly be ignored.

Deb was listening to the latest weather she could find on the VHF while I sipped coffee, listened to the wind singing through the rigging, felt the boat sway and swing to its pressures, and tried to place it all in the big weather picture I work to keep current in my head, an old habit from my airplane driving days that still serves. Unfortunately my "big weather picture" is built on aviation habits, needs, and speeds; and doesn't serve as well as it once did. I have learned to be very careful with it, often doubting its veracity to sailing needs and speeds. (A boats seems a damned sight more vulnerable to the sea than an airplane to the sky, and can't get out of its own way if weather dictates running the other way. And, to be honest, my skills as a sailor are sorely lacking when compared to those I had as a pilot.)


There are only a few boats left in Treasure Cay, and Kintala is one of them. I am either one of the biggest weather weenies in the Abaco Islands this morning, or one of the few smart people around. Knowing which, would help me revise my "big weather picture" to a more useful model, but finding out exposes us to a spanking in 20 knot winds blowing sideways to 6 foot seas on a 7 second period. That's what the GRIB file, the most pessimistic of the weather sources we reviewed, suggested. (The 20 knots of wind don't bother me at all. The 6 foot seas on a 7 second period in water around 15 feet deep, with Kintala wallowing in the trough, is another matter.) The sound of the wind and the movement of the boat hint that the GRIB might be right.

I really, really, want to be moving again. I like moving. It is one of the reasons cruising fits me so well. And the thought of being one of sailing's worst weather weenies grinds at my old self. But we will not be moving today. I'm pretty sure a year from now (or maybe two) I will look back at entries like this one and be completely embarrassed by my weather weenieness. But for now I am still in full "weenie" mode, trying to figure out where on the graph between this boat and weather, true happiness can be found.

However, if there was anyone out on the Sea of Abaco today, and you don't mind helping out a weenie, what was it like out there?

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

A couple more days ...

The much anticipated cold front bashed its way through the Abacos today. Starting yesterday the winds were pretty consistently in the low 20 knot range, which lasted through last night while adding splashes of rain. Kintala has 2 big hatches, 2 smaller hatches, 10 opening ports in the main cabin and 3 in the aft cabin, the vast majority of which are pretty much open all the time. Rain falling though the V-berth hatch always wakes Deb (sometimes me as well, though usually she has to thump me to life as she exits the berth) and the scramble is on to get the boat closed up. Come this morning, and in spite of the winds ramping up enough to churn even the protected waters in Treasure Cay, we took to doing boat cores. After which getting off the boat for a while seemed like a good idea, even if the dinking was wet and bumpy.


We walked across the Cay to check out the "Big Pond" (what the locals call the Atlantic Ocean). It was surprisingly smooth given the lashing we were getting; proving that I have a lot to learn about big water conditions. Back sitting around the pool to get some Wifi we chatted with another crew working their way south toward Nassau on their Manta cat. Most everyone else seems to be going the other way so it was reassuring to talk to experienced cruisers with a plan similar to ours.


We had noticed several Manta cats these last few days and learned why; there is a Manta gathering going on in the Abacos soon. (We noticed because the Manta is a boat we once thought in our price range; not sure where that illusion came from.) While chatting I noticed the sky darkening up so we headed back to Kintala on another wet and bumpy dinking. Soon after the winds ramped up to 30 plus to stir up the waves, then the rains came and pounded them back down. It was quite a show for a while. We were glad to be tucked away on a well set hook but both of us were surprised had how few boats had found there way here. We had settled in on Saturday afternoon expecting to have a lot of company, but the place is only moderately crowded. (We heard other protected spots in the area were chock full with people scrambling to find a place to avoid getting a spanking. Waiting to the last minute to make a decision on a craft that moves at a slow trot at best? Not sure that is a good idea.)

For a few hours this evening wind faded to nothing and it is an excellent night to be living on a boat. Cooler, dryer air moved in and the harbour was as still as a pond. But the wind is forecast to be back in the 20s tomorrow with 6 foot seas in the Abaco sound, and it is already back in the low teens. Things happening with family have made it important that we not delay our return to the States past the current plan (if possible), and we would really like to be moving south. But the forecast has given us some pause and we may be here a couple of more days.

Gee, a couple more days at Treasure Cay in the Abaco Islands ...


Monday, March 24, 2014

Water water everywhere

The reasons to go cruising are as many as there are cruisers. For some, it's a temporary break from the bleak reality of the workaday cubicle world. For others, it's an affordable way to retire early when the funds to retire on land are not available. Some want to travel, to experience other cultures and environs. For even others, the decision to cruise is based in a desire to live on this planet of ours with a lighter, less intrusive footprint. Some simply love to sail.

For us the ability to retire early due to the much less expensive lifestyle was the primary motivating reason. Now that we've been cruising for 5 months it's been pretty rewarding, though, to see that we are without any doubt living with the lightest possible footprint, and there is no area more changed in the way we live than in our use of water.

While I don't know our exact land-based consumption of water because it was included in our condo fee, the EPA says that the average family in the US uses 300 gallons of water per day, 70% of which is used indoors. Since some people don't water their lawns as much as others, I'll deduct that 30% of outdoor use and we'll just deal with the indoor average use of 210 gallons. Out of that amount, 16.8% is used for showers, 26.7% for the toilet, 15.7% for all faucets in the house, 21.7% for the washer, 13.7% for leaks, and 5.3% for other uses. I admit, especially in the cold winter, that I would take 20 minute showers when we lived in the city. It was a good way to warm up in the middle of a St. Louis winter, and to work out the neck and shoulder kinks from a high-pressure cubicle job. I was also guilty of running the faucet long enough to draw hot water to it, a variable amount depending on whether the faucet was the kitchen faucet 12 feet away from the water heater or the bathroom faucet or shower 30 feet away from it. At least I didn't let the water run while I brushed my teeth.

Water is becoming a critical resource in the world, not because it's not available. It is, but because it takes more money to produce it and transport it than people want to or can afford to pay. Agriculture is using up vast quantities of the elixir, and portions of the Western US who insist on having green lawns instead of naturally ocurring landscape are rapidly depleting not only their water supply, but their neighboring states' supplies as well. It's a basic human right that not all humans are benefitting from. Clearly we need to conserve.

When we lived on land, conservation was always present in my mind. We recycled plastic, tin, aluminum, paper and glass, we turned our furnace down when we left for long periods, we set our air conditioning up a few degrees, and we bought energy efficient appliances. But water...well I really liked my hot shower at the end of a long grueling day.

So I figured that when we went cruising, I was going to be like all the other cruisers I'd read about that run for the shower first thing when they tie up to a dock or pick up a mooring. Surprise surprise. It turns out that water conservation would be the one thing that I absolutely don't mind at all. So what do we do aboard Kintala to conserve? Here are the basics.

First off, we are one of the fortunate few cruisers who are blessed with large amounts of onboard water in three tanks. All totaled, we have 157 gallons in those three tanks and the water heater. For the two of us, with no feeling of being shorted at all, we get just about 2 weeks out of that water. That equates to about 10 gallons a day. Now I know a few cruisers who would gasp at that number since they can do it on half of that or less, but 10 gallons is reasonable, and comfortable, so that's where we are. I do a lot of cooking since we eat nearly every meal on the boat, and I do a lot of baking, including most of our bread, so there are considerably more dishes to wash than most people have.

We have a 6 gallon water heater that resides near the bottom of our lazarette. That would be the lazarette that is in the cockpit. The cockpit that would be 20 feet from the shower. Just for curiosity's sake, I one day took a gallon jug and ran the shower hose into it until the hot started coming out. A little more than ½ a gallon just to get the warm to the shower. Even if Tim and I took our showers one right after the other, that would amount to ½ a gallon per day, 183 gallons per year just to get the water to the shower. We do use our gray water to flush the toilet with, but that was too much water even for that duty so it would have to go down the drain. Considering that water is hard to come by, has to be either carried in jerry cans or involves moving the boat, and in the Bahamas costs upwards of $.50 per gallon in some places, that was not going to work. It also involved using a lot of energy to heat 6 gallons of water, of which only 1-1/2 were going to be used. So now we don't use the hot water heater, we just heat water in a tea kettle on the stove which takes only a minute or two and wastes no water. We still flush our toilet with gray water so that we're not introducing biological growth from the saltwater in the holding tank.

Washing dishes involves heating just a bit of water and keeping the faucet turned down low when rinsing. It's amazing how much water we blow away just because we have the faucet turned on too high, most of which goes down the drain unnecessarily.

We still do our laundry at a laundromat. The quantity of water for that is not included in our 157 gallons, although I do an occasional load by hand on the boat which will use a couple gallons.

If we're washing the boat, we first scrub with salt water from a bucket on a line dipped overboard, then rinse with fresh sparingly or we have been known to wait for a rainstorm and don our swimsuits and scrub the boat in the rain. You can also get things amazingly clean just with the dew in the morning and a rag.

We would love to have a water maker onboard so that we could cruise in some more remote places without worrying about running out of water, but to be honest, at the moment it's good to be aware of our usage and to be careful with this precious resource. I think cruising has ruined me for sure. My land-based showers are now not without guilt. But the green lawn? Don't miss it at all.




Sunday, March 23, 2014

A typical Bahamas travel day





Yesterday we moved from Great Guana back to Treasure Cay. We sailed 10.5 miles, an easy day by anyone's standards. We had a great downwind sail straight across the bay, going a steady 4-5 knots over crystal clear water. We lined up behind three boats headed into Treasure, only to turn around and see a whole parade of other boats coming in to avoid the string of cold fronts as well. There was an easy anchor spot way in the back of the harbour, and even after straightening up the deck we had plenty of time left to spend an afternoon in the cockpit reading and doing some crafts, and even a bit more time to convert a bag of softening apples into some warm crusty apple pie. The pie, by the way, was a concession to Tim because I was serving him leftover hot dogs and boxed macaroni and cheese for his gourmet dining pleasure.  The end of the sailing day was some good Joe Cocker tunes. This happy camper can't complain.


Map 3-22-14 Great Guana Cay to Treasure Cay


Map 3-20-14 Marsh Harbour to Great Guana Cay


Map 3-15-14 Treasure Cay to Marsh Harbour


Map 3-11-14 Water Cay to Treasure Cay


Map 3-10-14 Green Turtle Cay to Water Cay Anchorage


Friday, March 21, 2014

The Barefoot Man

It appears that when one comes to the Abacos to visit as a cruiser, a must-do is the Barefoot Man concert on Great Guana Cay, so we pulled up anchor yesterday from Marsh Harbor and set out for a really wonderful light wind sail almost due North to Great Guana. The harbor anchorage had filled up early since this concert is a big deal around here, so we set the hook down at one of the outer anchorages along Fisher's Bay. Fisher's Bay is not protected for any wind except for the winds with East components but the winds are not really the problem. The ferries here are high speed V-hull boats and they pretty much go wherever they want, including right through and next to anchorages. Today it meant that their wake was hitting us on the side instead of the nose where the wind was, so we rolled pretty obnoxiously, something I've had some difficulty dealing with to my dismay. I was pretty happy to be heading into town for the concert.

Nipper's is the host for the concert and I was told that nearly 1000 people routinely attend. It was hard to get a feel for the attendance because the bar is a bunch of separate buildings, porches, poolsides, and patios. It was pretty crowded, but not uncomfortable, and much less roudy than I had thought it might be. The music was good, the food as well, and the people watching spectacular. Even pets were enjoying the poolside tunes.



A random decaying tractor along the road to Nippers, painted with Nipper's ads


On the nature front, this morning they announced that the birds we had heard and seen flying around the boat were in fact a rare occurrence of White-tailed Tropicbirds. I was able to get a picture of one but it required a bit of photo gymnastics as these birds are fast and they fly high.


On the walk to Nippers for the concert we passed a Poisonwood tree, a bit of foliage that can cause extreme poison ivy type reactions on a much greater order of magnitude.



The view from the Nippers porch
When we got to the concert it was high tide, but by the time we returned to the dinghy beach the tide had ebbed significantly. This involves carrying the dink back out to the water. What do you call a beach full of dinghies?  A gaggle?
 

Musing on an Emerald Sea

Kintala has been wandering around the Abaco Islands for a few weeks now, which is also the longest time I have ever spent outside US borders. This is a fantastically beautiful place and I start most days sitting on deck, sipping coffee, and somewhat amazed at being where I am. Which is not to say there are not fantastically beautiful places in the US. Having flown over and motorcycled through much of the country I have seen, not just oceans and beaches and rocky coasts, but painted deserts and towering mountains, breathtaking canyons, spires and thundering rivers, and the ancient forested ridges that make up the Allegheny mountain range. (My original stomping grounds and still one of the prettiest places Mother Earth has to offer.)

As fascinating as the scenery is here, the people are even more so; confounding my American prejudices. We took a long walk along the beach at Treasure Cay. At the far end is a resort called Treasure Sands, which seemed like a good place to get a cold drink and take a break. It was a slow mid-afternoon at the outside bar so several of the people who work at the resort were gathered at the end close to us, chatting and telling stories. I watched and listened, enjoying the musical cadence and inflections that make their version of English so much more pleasing to the ear than that of the States. As I both listened and reflected over our short time here, I realized just how different this place is from my home. These are just first impressions of course, but they are radically different from the first impressions given by America.

From what I have seen the Bahamian people are pretty tolerant of each other. In fact they seem to genuinely like themselves and those who come to visit them. I have seen no hint of racial tensions. That might be because pasty white skin is the minority and we don't make the rules in this place. The US is a society riven across racial lines. We don't practice legal slavery anymore, but that isn't anything to boast of in the year 2014. Yet the very first chance they got, Southern states moved to limit voting access to minorities, particularly black voters, with complete disregard that they are betraying a basic tenet of democracy and assaulting the civil rights of other Americans. We are also a society torn across economic class and ideology, political borders, and religious affiliations. Americans don't like even other Americans very much, have abandoned any pretense of tolerating even minor differences in people, and really don't like most foreigners.

So far I haven't run across anyone who sparked a threat assessment. Nearly everyone I meet smiles and wishes me a good day. There has been no hesitation at all to approach someone looking for directions or some bit of information. In the States, particularly in St. Louis, many (not most, but many) people moved into my awareness first as potential threats. How many, how big, how young, are they likely armed, do I sense any aggression, do they appear to be hunting or working with a team? Pretty regularly the conclusion was that there may be a potential problem. Occasionally some counteraction seemed prudent; move to the other side of the street, change speed to pass at more distance, or make some move that suggests here is dangerous prey and maybe a hunter as well. On a very few occasions things tensed right up to the point where violence was surely imminent, only to fade when it became clear that the violence was going to flow two ways. Twice, it has.

I haven't seen a single gun since I left the US. Not in the Customs office, not in a store, not hung in the back of a pick-up truck; no "Don't worry about the Dog" stickers, no "Gun Control is hitting what you aim at" signs. This society isn't pro-gun. It doesn't seem to be anti-gun either. It appears that guns to a Bahamian are like English Cricket to an American, "Who Cares?" The US is one of the most heavily armed countries in the world, and the only society that equates gun violence with personal freedom. Guns are a central theme in America's self image, particularly handguns, and they are everywhere. All Americans simply get used to it, living with daily gun killings as if they are normal because, in the US, they are.

Yet even without an armed population to fight off the government, this society is at least as free as ours, maybe even more so. There are no warning signs on every little thing. Deb's prescription came in a bottle that actually opens like a bottle should. She filled it by simply walking into the drug store and showing them the bottle from the States. No fuss, no muss, and at 1/3 the cost. Apparently no one cares what kind of container you pump gas into at the pump, and you can do it with the engine running while talking on a cellphone. If it floats and you have a desire (or need) to take it out on the water, go. If it gets the job done, fine. The people here seem to do pretty much as they please without looking over their shoulder for a lawyer, a cop, or a preacher. This might be because they live so close to the ocean. Regardless of who thinks they might be in charge, once a person is on big water in a small boat all bets are off, nature rules, and each citizen is completely responsible for their own well being. That seems to be the basic attitude around here, "I am an adult, and I will look out for myself."

There is very little "official presence" here. A few days ago we took part a gathering of people for the world's "Shortest St. Patrick's Day Parade". Nearly 200 of us foreigners milled around and then filled the 300 foot long parade route, conch horns and whistles blowing, as we made our way to the free beer stop, blocking traffic and waving at the little kids in the cars. There was not a single security person in sight anywhere, none, no kind of uniform at all. Two hundred foreigners gathered together and blocking traffic in the third largest town in America (Chicago) would have made the evening news and probably resulted in a few arrests. Certainly the route would have been lined by police and every single face in the parade scanned and passed through recognition software being run on some of the world's most powerful computers, looking for one of the hundreds of thousands of people currently on a USA "watch list". Then again, getting a permit for such a thing (even without a free beer stop) would probably take years and a whole office full of lawyers; so we are likely safe from foreigners throwing parades on our shores.

There have been no military uniforms. There are no tanks sitting in front of VFW clubs, no fighter planes on sticks in front of airports. There have been no war machines in the sky, on the streets, or on the water. The US is a thoroughly militarized nation in a constant state of war. Fighter planes and bombers regularly prowl American skies and utilize most civilian airports. Military convoys on highways are common. We all have friends and/or family in uniform. Military spending consumes much of our budget. To support it we sacrifice schools, bridges, and health care. This has become our "new normal" and it is probably permanent. This is the life we constantly vote to support, and none of us are likely to live in a nation at peace ever again; not my generation, nor that of my kids, nor that of my grand kids.


If it wasn't for Daughters 3, Grand babies 7, and the big ugly hurricanes that threaten these islands every summer, I'm not sure I would ever leave this place. Unless it was to see if there are others like it in the world.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Abacos picture catchup

I managed to find some decent wifi for just a brief period so here's some pictures from the past week or so. Enjoy!










Treasure Sands Resort

$7 beers are savored


The parade leaving Treasure Cay

We were in the middle of the parade leaving Treasure Cay


A bad panorama of Marsh Harbour. The panorama is not very good on this camera...





The world's shortest St. Patrick's Day parade in Marsh Harbour sponsored by Snappa's Bar and Grill