Friday, March 31, 2017

There to here

Sunrise leaving Great Harbour Cay for the crossing
“Department of Homeland Security”...that name has always seemed like “1984” speak to me; something some addle brained bumbler came up with to try and assure other addle brained bumblers that he was in command and doing something useful. It is hard to say if the actual organization is less “Big Brother-ish” than the name implies, or if it is more. In any case the Miami office gave me 24 hours to check in after we got back to the States. I got a new passport since they had issued my local boater card (also called the SVRS - small vessel reporting system) which, somehow, made me a security risk again. So I dragged my weary bones out of the berth the morning after a 35 hour, 140 nm passage, caught the mooring field shuttle, took a couple of different buses over to the Port of Miami, walked up the stairs to the office, and handed The Man my new passport and my old local boater card.

Sailing the first 18 hours of the crossing
He poked around in the computer at his desk, which is likely linked up with every other government computer in the world, along with the computers that my bank, phone, and Internet providers use. And, if someone so chose, I am sure that at least some of those government computers can look at everything on my personal computer. I guess he added some kind of comment to my file about me having handed him my new passport (which they obviously knew they had issued to me) and my old local boater card (which – equally obviously – they knew they had issued to me). Then he handed them back to me and sent me on my merry way.

What I thought odd was that The Man, like everyone behind the bullet proof glass, was dressed in the full black ninja outfit, combat boots, and with a very serious looking weapon strapped to his hip. He, and his compatriots, were obviously very serious people, warriors, those not to messed with; the ones who appear out of the night, breach the barriers, kick the asses and take the names. Since we are constantly told just how deep is the danger we are all in, how close the bad guys always are, one would think the Department of Homeland Security could find some capable clerks to poke around in the computers and make the notes, and let the warriors go about their warring.

Then again, maybe the Department of Homeland Security dresses their capable clerks up like ninjas and lets them carry guns because someone has to look the part. The real warriors, the ones who do the actual ass kicking and name taking, likely don't dress the part. Instead they wear the same kinds of clothes the bad guys wear, carry the same kinds of guns, get the same kind of haircuts, and lurk in the dark places the bad guys lurk. They pick up the rumors, run down the hints, and search though the murk to figure out what the bad guys are planning. They board the ships that need be boarded and force open the shipping containers that need to be inspected. They follow the money, listen in on the suspected phones, rummage through the suspected computers, and stalk the dark recesses of the web and the world.

It almost has to be that way because making a middle aged white guy, who has already signed on for a background check, drop by the office just because he got a new passport is a waste of everyone's time. If the powers that be actually regarded that as some kind of real security the bad guys would have taken over the place a long time ago.

I say “almost” because, well, it might all be a bit of a sham. How else would they pry literally trillions of dollars out of our collective pockets to pay for “security” while under-funding virtually every social program in the country? Americans are generally pretty good folks. We wouldn't normally let kids go hungry, sacrifice our own kid's education, close down research into weather and physics and space, trash the environment, and condemn veterans to homelessness and poverty. Normally. But where the money goes that we would have spent on those things, other than buying ninja suits and serious looking guns, is secret. Most of what they say they do is also a big secret. I know that the Congress and the Senate are supposed to serve us by keeping an eye on such things, but when was the last time any Congressman or Senator did anything in the public's interest? I guess your view of the sham percentage in all of this rests on just how much you trust the Congressmen and Senators to do the right thing.

Sunset the end of the first day

The 35 hours, 140 nm passage from Great Harbor to Dinner Key went pretty well, if an average speed of four knots can be described as doing well. Truth to tell, having Miami in sight for more than 6 hours before finally dropping the hook was starting to get on my nerves. We were doing barely three knots at that point, the Beast struggling to push us against the Gulf Stream. We had a small problem rolling up the jib again and, again, that was an 0300 in dark, dark, morning thing. Even though we were pulling it in because the winds had died away to near nothing, it still rolled in up funky. While trying to fix it later the furling line got all snagged up, again.

So, on the way home from the DHS we stopped by West Marine and dropped about $200 on new blocks. Back at the boat we rearranged the furling line run and added the new hardware. We also noticed that the spare jib halyard, the one we have hauling around aloft for four years without ever using it for anything, lay really close to furling block at the top of the sail, and that it could easily hang up the whole operation. Since we have the spinnaker halyard for hauling the Ding and the anchor (if necessary) there seemed no good reason to leave that potential problem hanging up there.

So this morning I dropped it, only it didn't drop the whole way. The end, in free fall from the top of the mast, somehow managed to tie itself around the upper spreader as it fell. And I mean tie, as in an honest knot, not just snag as one might guess. How that happened is beyond me, except that Kintala still hates me on some days. And, some days, I hate her right back. Fortunately we picked this morning to move from the rolling, pitching, ugliness that is the Dinner Key mooring field in a southeast wind, to the serenity and quiet waters deep inside No Name Harbor. Untangling the wayward halyard was an easy, 10 minute foray aloft on a boat sitting as still as could be.

Land Ho! Miami on the horizon

After that, the deck was secured and the Ding went overboard. We need water, a bit of food, one LPG tank filled, and a good night's rest or two before heading south once again. From anchored off Great Harbor Cay to the weekend party that is No Name Harbor...sometimes we go pretty slow, but it is hardly ever dull.

No-Name Harbor, Kintala front and center

The lineup of boats waiting to depart for the States in the morning

Our neighbor in the anchorage at Great Harbour Cay

The last of the pretty turquoise water pictures for a few months. Stay tuned for more!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Winds of Change

We are waiting out a minor blow anchored on the west side of Great Harbor Cay. As I type, the cold front is just overhead, big fat drops of rain are bouncing off the deck, and the wind is moaning through the rigging with gusts estimated in the 25 to 30 knot range. Since the bulk of Great Harbor Cay lies between us and the wind, it is a pretty stable ride. It is what we expected, though this whole weather set-up is a little odd. This cold front is the leading edge of a high pressure area passing to the north, so all of the associated winds have been from the north and east.

This would be an ugly place to be if the incoming weather was the more common, cold front related to a low pressure area moving in from the west. If that were the case, one would expect significant west winds and the chance of even higher gusts in possible thunderstorms and down bursts. If there was any real possibility of sustained west winds over the next few days Kintala would be sitting at a dock at Great Harbor Marina, in spite of the $2 / foot / night fee.

Instead, we are tucked up close to a windward shore so it should be comfortable enough. The Mantus anchor is sunk deep into the bottom, only its hoop showing, with 80+ feet of chain laid down. (I love being in clear water. There is a certain amount of comfort to be found when one can look at the anchor and see how well it is set.)

There are at least eight other boats anchored around us. The assumption is that they have made the same assumptions about the weather that we have. It is always reassuring when a bunch of boats anchor up around you when weather is inbound. It isn't a matter of having any control over what the weather is doing, only an indication that one has chosen wisely in response to the motions of sky and ocean.

That is close to the bottom line of what it means to be a cruiser. The only thing we really control is how we respond to completely indifferent winds and seas. There is no malevolence involved. There is no benevolence involved. This bit of ocean and island were here millions of years before the first human sailboat dropped a hook nearby to hide from an east wind. They will likely be around millions of years after the constituent molecules of the last human sailboat (or the last human for that matter) have dissolved back into the water, air, and earth.

After this weather passes, Kintala will be headed west once again, sailing into the waters of the US within just a couple of weeks. By that time I suspect I will have started checking the news again, at least once in a while. I don't expect there to be anything new since the last time I looked. Word of anything major, say the current POTUS acting like a rational, adult human being, would have certainly trickled down to us somehow.

The feeling among all of the people we have chatted with in the Islands, and most of the cruisers we have run across (including one from the great dysfunctional state of Texas) is that the current administration is a kind of monstrous anomaly. “How could this have happened?” being a common refrain. It is not a view I happen to share.

The current administration may be a particularly crass and clownish expression of American politics, but it is still consistent with much of American mythology and ideology. Both political parties see consumerism as a valid economic policy. Both see crony capitalism, deeply influenced by corruption and influence peddling, as a perfectly acceptable means of managing a nation. The Republican partly and the controlling wing of the Democratic party both act as if running a nation as a business is the only proper approach to government.

With that idea, our government works based on the view that most Americans (and virtually every other human being on the planet) are nothing more than a resource to be ruthlessly exploited for the benefit of the few. Benefits like healthcare, education, clean water, and retirement income, are exclusively for those who rule, rewards for clutching the levers of corporate or political power. The current administration is particularly adept at highlighting this belief, making even the deranged kings and sociopathic potentates of by-gone ages look like humble and caring public servants.
The crony capitalism of America doesn't work anymore. Corruption is rapidly undermining any legitimacy government claims for itself. Even “normal” capitalism doesn't work when most of a nation's labor is automated. Put millions of truck drivers out of a job, have the vast majority of their wages concentrated in the hands of the individual who invented the auto-truck, and repeat for clerks, accountants, doctors, factory workers, technical advisers...incomes once distributed over millions upon millions of households now concentrated in the hands of a few. Capitalism is being twisted into outright oppression before our very eyes, and many of us are victims. But such a corrupted capitalism serves the purposes of an insular and fossilized government/corporate elite quite well. They could choose a different path, but it would mean surrendering power and treasure. Neither of which they will be inclined to do, at least, not of their own volition.

War does not work as war once did. Nearly every war since WWII has been an open-ended conflict, resolving nothing, settling nothing, defeating no one, just sort of petering out leaving open wounds that soon fester into some new war. Yet war is now American government's single most defining characteristic. In America, spending on human issues is curtailed in order to fund the war machine. Threatening war is the only diplomatic policy, engaging in war the last throw of the dice to keep a faltering economic system barely functioning.

In spite of decades of continuous failures both parties continue to subscribe to the politics of capitalism, imperialism, authoritarianism, and militarism. Everyone in government insists that what is good for them is good for the rest of the world, that what is good for (some) Americans is good for all of humanity.

Those illusions, those policies, are at the root of American's fading from the leading edge of history, its loss of place in the family of nations. But anyone who dares suggest such a thing, particularly on a national stage, is instantly and relentlessly attacked by the most efficient and effective propaganda machine the world has ever seen. Anyone who refuses to toe the line of “American Exceptionalism” finds it nearly impossible to get elected to the office of Dog Catcher of Podunksville, Boondocks; let alone any national office. There are a very, very few exceptions. Party wonks and corporate media ensure that they are feeble voices echoing in mostly empty rooms.

Only a radical change of world view, a near complete rejection of the politics that have ruled America for the past half century or more, will mark any chance of the US once again being on the leading edge of progress toward a future that holds some promise. An American government that sees itself as one part of a complex web of human interaction, that values wisdom and understanding, and knows that compromise and capitulation are not the same thing, could help fulfill such promise. It would also be the only approach that would help the nation safely navigate the changes of a radically evolving, global human society. For, whatever is around the corner, none of the economic, political, or militaristic forms of the past will suffice.

That radical evolution, much like the movement of the sky and the sea, is beyond the influence of any single nation, and certainly any individual. In a way it, also, is neither malevolent nor benevolent. It is simply the way things are unfolding in this tiny corner of the universe, like a incoming cold front or a building high pressure area. Navigating safely through takes accepting that such an evolution is inevitable, and making wise choices in response. This is not to say that governments, including that of the US at the moment, can't be malevolent. Only that the overall evolution of human kind is ongoing with no particular guidance other than what we provide for ourselves.

Completely fading from the picture, as a nation, is also an option - just like any individual sailor could chose to anchor on the other side of the cay, close to a lee shore, and risk loosing everything should the anchor slip in the dark hours of the night. The earth, like the rest of the cosmos, is utterly indifferent to the existence of the entire human family, let alone any single group living inside a set of contrived and temporary boarders, walls notwithstanding. Should we make the unfortunate choices that land us on the rocks, the rest of the cosmos will not even shrug.

Clearly American government isn't up to the challenge of making wise choices at the moment. Maybe it never will be again. Maybe, after years of self-indulgent hubris, arrogance, and self-imposed ignorance, America's political machine is too badly broken to be repaired. That is also just a part of the unfolding world that is beyond the influence of any individual. Something each of us needs to take into account as we make our own, personal, choices.

 The cut into the Great Harbour Cay Marina

 Very cool retro loaner bikes from the marina

Love this Tings Necessary sign

 The calm before the storm

 The Beach Club restaurant on one of the prettiest beaches in GHC

 The view from the Beach Club Restaurant table

The channel into GHC Marina is in the background

 Top of the cliff at the caves

Not a very good picture, but this is the first hamburger bean I've ever found after looking for 4 years

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


We're in a marina for a night and they actually have fast enough wifi to upload some videos, so enjoy!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Lonely Places

“What the hell am I doing?”

I don't have that thought often, never had it back when I made a living in the sky. Even if I had back then, no Pilot in Command has ever expressed such a feeling out loud while performing the duties of his or her trade. But, half way between the west cost of Abaco Island and Great Harbor Cay, at 2300 on a pitch black night, and out on the bow of a sailboat pitching and rolling in five foot hissing seas, there is no one around to hear such an admission of doubt.

What I was doing was trying to get the jib on deck without dropping a sheet off the heaving boat to get tangled in the prop. That would have been a sure way to make a bad night even worse. There was a better than even chance that the entire sail was about to end up in the water to get tangled in the prop. That would have been an even surer way to make a bad night worse. The surest way to make the night the worst one possible would have been to end up tangled in the sail and join it the water myself which, at the moment of the expletive quoted above was uttered, seemed the most likely outcome. For, at that moment, the boat had rolled hard to starboard, I was sliding off the Ding toward the water, jib halyard trying its best to break my left wrist while I tried to gather in the falling sail with my right arm. Compared to me at that moment, a one legged man in an ass kicking contest would be a potent and capable adversary.

Sunrise leaving Lynard Cay

I have been in a lot of lonely places - a late night solo motorcycle run along the south rim of the Grand Canyon on Route 40 in Arizona, sitting in the single seat of a show plane over a desolate part of Canada while thunderstorms pushed me toward the tops of the pine trees, trying to nurse a King Air back to a cloud-shrouded runway with one engine running and the other locked up with a prop that wouldn't feather - places where there was no one around to help and no opinion but my own that mattered. I can now add the foredeck of Kintala headed to the Berry Islands to that list. (It is, by the way, a very long list. I am sometimes amazed I lived long enough to try this cruising thing.)

We were not supposed to be there. The plan had been to leave Lynyard Cay for a long day sail to the southwest side of Abaco Island. There we would anchor up for the night, making Great Harbor the next day. The first part worked out okay. We left Lynyard at dawn and motored through the cut out into the open Atlantic amid a small group of other, like-minded sailors. Winds were out of the NE with waves of four feet on a five second period. Ugly for anyone headed upwind but not bad for anyone headed the other way. With two reefs in the main and the jib flying, Kintala often showed better than 6 knots for much of the day.

With daylight to spare, we swung around the south point of Abaco island and closed on the anchorage. There was a disagreement between the Navionics and Garmin charts as to there being enough water for our 5 foot draft. The water itself didn't look promising and Deb just wouldn't go in there as an experiment. I halfheartedly disagreed. A pilot who refuses to trust published charts is useless and, likely, soon to be departing this earthly realm. (Much, it is assumed, to the disappointment of his passengers.) But the fact was the water really did look shallow, and I wasn't interested in risking everything I own in this world on Navionics' insistence that the water was deep enough being correct while Garmin told a different story. And before anyone lauds the fact that Garmin is better in the Bahamas since it is base on the Explorer charts, our experience has shown that, in fact, Navionics is actually the more accurate one. The fact that I can't trust published charts is a part of the marine world that just drives me bonkers. I would make a bet that the US military knows the depth of the water world wide to within a few inches but, somehow, that information is too sensitive to share. Which also drives me bonkers.

With no other good option showing itself on the charts, and several hours of daylight left with which to make some hay, we decided to keep going toward Great Harbor. It was an impromptu “all night sail” decision, some of which have worked out okay for us...and some of which have decidedly not. The worst sail we have had since leaving on Kintala occurred in this same area our first year out. But out of options is out of options. Onward.

At first all was well. Sailing far off the wind on just the jib, Kintala was hauling the mail. There were times when the boat speed nearly touched 9 knots, though the GPS showed a more reasonable 7+. Which is still hauling the mail on a night run with the waves hissing by and the boat rolling 50 degrees or so. Deb had the wind vane working and was keeping the watch. I was on the cockpit floor trying to stay warm and hoping to get a little sleep before taking over.

Cruise ship traffic complicated navigation a bit. As far off the wind as we were sailing, and the speed at which we were going, narrowed the compass headings we could safely hold. Several of the light-flooded behemoths (I think there were seven in total) passed less than 1.5 miles away. A couple wouldn't answer our radio calls to ensure that they knew we were nearby. As the night wore on, the winds, already higher than forecast, picked up up even more, stoking the waves as well. From my vantage point from the floor of the cockpit, the white caps on the waves were just about even with Deb's shoulders as she sat braced in at the helm. I was almost glad the moon wasn't up yet so I couldn't really see what we were sailing in.

The heaving, rolling, Nantucket sleigh ride we were on started messing with the jib, which began to slat and bang at times, shock loading the rig and sending shivers through the boat (and crew), all while crashing through the water at hull speed. With a cruise ship too near to windward to be comfortable, and fearing an accidental jibe if we fell off any further, we decided to wake the Beast, roll in the jib, and get off this ride.

For the second time since we left the dock on this trip, the furling line back lashed and jammed.
And so I found myself in one of the loneliest places in the world, where there is no one else in the universe and time flows at its own rate. I was up there for hours, though only a few minutes passed for the rest of the world before I flopped back into the cockpit with the task complete and Kintala back under some semblance of control. All I could think to say to Deb was, “Hi Honey, I'm home.”
A massive Adrenalin hit will do strange things to your sense of humor.

With the deck completely fouled, we were counting on the Beast to behave and carry us through the rest of the night, which it did without complaint. At 0230 in the morning we had turned the corner around Great Harbor, finally putting a chunk of land between us and the wind and waves. Deb tip-toed Kintala in among the anchored boats while I pawed through the disaster on deck to toss the hook. I was cold, wet, and exhausted, and extremely happy to be tossing the hook at 0230 in Great Harbor.

The next morning we woke moving slow, both of us sore from the adventures of the night before. Still, before the day was done the deck was straightened up, with all sails serviceable once again, lines run and stowed, and the Ding in the water. We even managed a short run into town for some provisions, and discovered the little market sold ice cream. We enjoyed a dish full each, celebrating a safe return from one of the lonely places.

The anchorage at Great Harbour Cay

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A little bit of ugly

Kintala departed Marsh Harbor five days ago, in the afternoon after the unexpected rain and wind. It had calmed down considerably so I didn't need my grown up sailor pants. The short day meant we spent the night off of Tiloo Cay. The next day we made it to Lynyard Cay to stage for the trip to the Berry Islands. When the weather forecast went sour we put the Berry Islands off for a couple of days and backtracked a couple of miles to a place called Pelican Point. It looked like an okay place to sit, waiting for the next weather window. I got out my grown up sailor pants again, figuring we could handle a little weather anchored up in a pretty place.

Underway from Tilloo to Lynard cay

After two nights and one long day of an ugly swell, constant rolling, and winds gusting in the high 20s (again), I put my grown up sailor pants back in the bin and we got out of there. Just getting the hook back on board was a challenge. Deb constantly fought the winds to drive us up over the rode. Right after I got the snubber unhooked and stowed, the wind pushed us off to the side enough that I called for idle to get lined up again. Pushed back by the wind Kintala hit the end of her chain so hard that the clutch on the windlass couldn't hold, stripping chain out of the locker at a scary pace. That fire drill was quelled by prodding the Beast, the chain went slack, the bow dipped and swung in the swell, and the chain jumped the roller. Cue fire drill number two.

Sunrise this morning at Pelican Point

Anchor safely on board with all toes and fingers accounted for, we motored south out of Pelican Bay looking for refuge. Little Harbor Bay was even worse than Pelican Point, with a huge swell running through the cut. Little Harbor itself looked very crowded. We are unsure of the entrance and, truth to tell, I'm getting tired of paying someone $20-30 / day for the privilege of walking across their parking lot after I drop my anchor on the bottom of the ocean. (I don't need their parking lot, can't use their parking lot and, in fact, wish their parking lot was a stand of palm trees instead.) Sometimes the charge is for a mooring ball. I don't really need their mooring ball either and, in most places, would trust my ground tackle more than whatever it is they tossed into the water a couple of years ago and haven't looked at since. (I know, I know, mooring balls are supposed to mean you can pack more boats in there. Something I might believe if I had never been to Back Creek.)

Heading back north Lynyard Cay looked ugly and bumpy, in addition to being a lee shore. Tiloo was also a lee shore, looked crowded, and is exposed to west winds. We could see waves breaking on the rocks from two miles out.

Sunset last night at Pelican Point

Five hours after leaving Pelican bay we anchored less than a mile from where we were five days ago in Marsh Harbor, though we are on the other side of the Island. It was a bit of a long and unexpected day, but we are glad to be settled in protected from the winds (still blowing) and swell. (There is no cut immediately to the east of us.) The only poor decision that we made was staying in Pelican Bay as long as we did. My hope was that the wind switch to the west and north west would dampen out the swell, but it didn't work out that way. We thought we could stick it out, no matter how bad, until tomorrow. But 24 hours of motion sickness will be among the longest 24 hours in memory.

There were a lot of boats on the move in the southern Abaco Sea today. Several looked to be doing the exact same thing we were, northbound and looking for a place to be. A couple were headed south; it would be interesting to know where they end up tonight.

Tonight Kintala will be sitting pretty, with her crew well fed and catching up on some much needed sleep. If the weather turns better as forecast, we will head back to Lynyard Cay in the morning, gliding along on a modest north wind rather than motor-bashing into it. Friday – Saturday will be the run to Great Harbor in the Berry Islands. From there we will start the official trek back toward the States, next season's job, and time with friends and family.

But there is no telling how long it will take to get there; with or without my grown up sailor pants.

 The shore from the anchorage at Lynard Cay

 The anchorage at Lynard Cay - a good place to learn about shallow water having different color

 The Atlantic side of Lynard Cay. This little opening was funneling all sorts of trash onto the beach.

 Kintala is out there in the middle of the anchorage

 I never tire of staring at this water. All water should look like this. It looks like melted glass.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Big Sailor pants...

So we checked the weather yesterday and, with the exception of a few rain showers, it looked good for leaving in the morning. This morning we checked the weather again - same forecast. The sky, however, suggested that maybe someone didn't have the weather picture completely in focus. The big puffies building to our north and east sure looked to me like something that might ride along the edge of an incoming cold front. But I have been feeling like a real weather weenie lately, hiding while part timers are out galloping around. There were big patches of blue sky and, well, there was the forecast. Time to put my grown up sailor pants on and go sailing.

Red in the morning...

We did need fuel and water. The fuel dock opens at 0900. We got there around 0830 to start filling up the water tanks while waiting on the fuel guy. Crew from a charter company had one of their boats on the dock as well, getting it tanked up for the next customer. They caught our lines and we stood around talking for a few minutes. As usual they made fun of the madman in the White House, subtly suggesting that America looks a bit like the largest collection of fools in the civilized world. And, as usual, we really did try to explain that the man isn't all that popular, that most of us didn't vote for him, that we were all hoping he wouldn't be as bad as we feared, and we are pretty disappointed (though some of us not very surprised) that he is even worse. But, what are you going to do?  (Well, you could get on a boat and go visit some place that hasn't lost its collective mind yet. Something the dock guys all agreed sounded like a pretty good idea.)

They went to start pumping fuel into their big cat while we started filling the water tanks. I kept looking at the sky, something I had been doing since we had pulled up the anchor. The blue patches of sky were filling in rapidly, and the big puffies were crowding together pushing a clear wall of lower clouds out ahead of them. Rain shafts fell in the not-too-distant distance.

The wind, which had been calm and made for an easy docking, picked up and pushed Kintala hard against the pilings. Then she healed over as the wind gust hit and the temperature dropped about 10 degrees in half as many minutes. Every monohull in the harbor slewed through 100+ degrees of heading, then leaned back hard against their rodes. The cats all sailed about a bit, apparently confused as to just which way the wind was blowing, but eventually figured it out, got twisted bows into the wind, and leaned back hard against their rodes.

If it looks like a cold front...

With the first gusts fading we muscled our way off the dock. Deb headed us out into the harbor. I took off my grown up sailor pants and put on my foulies. The anchor went overboard and pretty much landed in the same hole it left when we pulled it up this morning. Sixty feet of chain went out as well, none of it piling up as the wind blew us backward. I locked the gypsy, Kintala leaned back and set her own hook without any help from the Beast. I played out a few more feet of chain and set the snubber, which  stretched out all of its own and then sprung us back in a little. Welcome to auto-anchoring.

As I type this, the visibility is a mile or so in rain and the wind is moaning through the rigging.
We will check the weather again tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Following crazy

It has been a bit interesting in these parts. The wind, as a friend of ours put it, “has been blowing the oysters off the rocks”... for the last four days. This is the third bout of this kind of wind we have had since getting to the islands. We sat out such a blow in West End, bailed out of Fox Town and rode the wind to Manjack Cay, bailed out of Manjack to hide in Green Turtle, and have now been holed up in Treasure Cay for the better part of a week. With a deadline to be back in the States for visits and work, we are starting to plot the routes to get us there in the brief weather windows it appears Mother Earth is going to offer this year. We are “holed up” in some of the prettiest places around so the weather is just something to plan around.

And to be fair, I should note that it would be entirely possible to move on if we wished. Today, while every single cruiser boat in the mooring field stayed put, three different charter cats motored in from the rumpled up waters of the Abaco sea. Admittedly they were big cats, two of them measuring 52 feet, the other just slightly shorter. A check of company's web sight showed a price tag of about $15,000 / week per boat; so I completely understand their crew's desire to make the most of their time here in the Islands. I will also state, in defense of us weenie cruiser types, that we are headed the other way, and that the cats sailed off the wind and on a following sea to get from their charter base to here. (I will not understand if they head out to take on the Whale in the morning. Even in a 50 foot cat that would be an ugly ride. But who knows? If they do go they will get an “adventure story” to take home when vacation is over.)

In any case, even though we need to get where we need to be, we will simply have to make plans based on the beating we are willing to take in accordance with what the wind and the weather are actually doing; in other words, accept the world for what it is, not insist that it is what we want it to be. Which, if the stories I hear about land dwellers are true, may be a dying skill. More and more people are insisting that the world is what they claim, even if there is considerable evidence to the contrary.

People who do that are, to me, at least a tiny bit insane. I'm not sure how they get that way. It isn't like one can stand out in 30 knot winds, boat bouncing around, hair (if one has some – which I don't) flying about, sheets flapping, waves streaked with white, and say, “I don't believe the wind is blowing, it is a nice, calm day.” Well, I guess one could, but any thinking person standing next to them would likely mumble something neutral while offering a “What is wrong with you?” look.
And if the crazy one decides that such a nice day is a good day for rolling out all of the sails for some reason, everyone in the anchorage (especially those down wind) are going to know there is a lunatic among them. Heads would shake, perhaps some comments would get traded on the VHF, and surely someone would post a picture of the madness on Facebook or make a comment on Twitter. (That is how Twitter works, right?)

Should that one then decide to go some place, manage to get out of the bay in one piece, and heads off into the elephants dancing on the horizon, no one in the anchorage is going to say to themselves, “Hey the wind really isn't blowing, I think I'll follow along.” After all, the ocean is a bit Darwinian in that way. The crazy, and those who follow the crazy, usually end up sharing the same, sad, fate.

In my experience the cruising tribe isn't big on crazy. Different? Sure. We live a different kind of life than most. Odd? Perhaps. But what counts for “normal”, long work weeks to earn enough money to finance stuff not really needed and not often used, doesn't seem to strike most of the tribe as attractive. Wanderers? Maybe. But the earth is a tiny speck of dust in a massive cosmos. In reality none of us ever gets too far away from “home.” Seeing some of what there is to see, learning something about ourselves, and getting to know others who share this little speck floating in the void, seems like a pretty fair deal. We also get a chance to experience a bit of that massive cosmos, feel a brush of the magic, and learn what the word “awe”really means. No cruiser I have ever known or heard about thinks that the time they spent on the water made them less of a person, diminished them in some way, or shrunk the size of their heart or spirit.

But ignoring what the world is really doing, pretending it is something it isn't? No, not our thing. We are also not big on following. Almost by definition a cruiser is someone who has gone off on their own way.

And following crazy? That is definitely not our thing.

Friday, March 3, 2017


... too early to wake up; particularly when it had been near midnight when I climbed into the berth. Though it was a travel day, high tide would not arrive for four more hours. There would be no trying to get through the Black Sound inlet until we were within a hour of that tide. It would take only an hour to prep the boat and be on our way so going back to sleep for a bit would be a good choice. But it was not to be.

A mild hum in the rigging suggested the wind had already outrun the forecast, which did not make me happy. The task for the day was to pass though the Whale, that bit of open water that separates the northwestern part of the Abaco sea from the southeastern part. It can be a finicky bit of ocean that will administer a thorough thrashing to the careless. We had waited an extra day in Green Turtle to take advantage of the forecast for light winds; us, and about a dozen others as well. The light winds were supposed to mark the last day of a weather window to move around the Abacos, followed by four days of winds reaching toward 40 knots. Our plan was to make it to Treasure Cay for the show. We have a long way to go and the calendar now says “March”. Time to get a move on.

Of all the machines I have operated over the years, sailboats still strike me as the most tender, the most susceptible, to bad weather. In reality I am the one who is tender. Though I have ridden motorcycles through the dying remains of a hurricane, driven in snow that had most people looking for a hotel, and flown contently through stuff some people would consider a pure nightmare, I am still unsure of my footing on big water in a 42 foot boot. It is the only machine that has ever made me motion sick to the point of not being able to function, the only machine where – sometimes – I am just not sure of the next thing to do. It frustrates me that this is so.

A check of the weather showed the incoming cold front still a hundred miles away, the forecast even suggesting that the winds would now hang in the low 30s, and fade by early next week. Boats with shallower drafts than Kintala were pulling out all around us. Deb started the coffee. I started to prep the boat for departure. An hour before high tide we dropped the mooring ball and headed off. I pretended to be comfortable and sure; though Deb doubtless knew I was faking.

We slipped though the Whale without a care.

Treasure Cay is different than it was two years ago. It is a full-fledged mooring field now, with just one little spot left clear for anchoring, big enough for maybe four or five boats. We debated a bit, but ended up picking up one of the mooring balls. I am sure it will be fine, but I am not impressed. The balls are small and cheap. The chains running to the bottom are not as big as the one we use to anchor Kintala. The ball we picked up had its pennant chewed about half way through. The bleach bottle float was split and we had to fish the dangling line out of the water. We affixed two of our own lines to the ball, only to be informed when checking in that the rings on top of the balls will not hold up in a blow. We went back to the boat and, using a shackle of our own, fixed our lines to the shackle at the bottom of the ball. It was an awkward little dance, Deb on deck, me in the Ding, to get it set up where we were comfortable. Several of the boats around us have their lines run from a cleat, through the painter, back to the other cleat; a set up likely to chafe badly if the winds blow as forecast. Others are fastened to the ring on top of the ball. I hope the rings are stronger than suggested, and the winds less.

Still, tonight I am content, if a bit embarrassed by this morning's unease. The trip here was short and uneventful, the waters sparking and clear, the little whitecaps of no concern at all. Kintala's newly installed, rebuilt water pump worked fine, though our wind instrument is, once again, on the fritz. We made the right decisions, handled the boat, and are settled in. I am determined to get comfortable doing this, to be at ease in this world.

But it looks like that will be a while yet.

For some reason this sign made me think of our good friend Paul of Lat 43 fame

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Bahamas Communication circa 2017

I've done posts on communication and connectivity in the Bahamas before, but when we arrived here this year things were so different that it warrants a new review of it here. There is still a lot of good information in the old posts and you can read them here and here.

First of all, communication needs vary from cruiser to cruiser. Since we have three daughters and nine grandchildren, communication and connectivity are the key to the success of our cruising. No data to see grandbaby pics and read about the latest escapades, and this cruising life will be short-lived. We also enjoy writing in this blog and posting photos, all of which take data.

Second, our connectivity is almost 100% through our phones. We are rarely where there is wifi and when there is wifi it is rarely fast enough to do even the most simple browsing tasks. We don't have an extender because we're finding that most wifi routers are password protected now and the ones that aren't are so abysmally slow that they're no worth using. In the Bahamas, restaurants and marinas frequently change their passwords daily to prevent someone coming in once and then using the password while sitting at anchor the rest of the week.

Third, we have Verizon (and have had it since our very first cell phone), and before anybody speaks up about the new unlimited plan that they're offering to compete with T-Mobile, read the fine print. We use almost 100% of our data with our phones tethered to our laptops or our iPads. The unlimited plan only allows 10GB tethered at full speed. After the 10GB, they throttle down the speed to 3G or less. It's right in the program description. Our current plan has enough data and it's full speed the whole amount so we're keeping it. That being said, Verizon is useless to us in the Bahamas because of the cost. You can make and receive texts at a "reasonable" cost, $.50 to send and $.05 to receive. Calls are $1.95 per minute, obviously only for emergencies. Data is $10 per day billed only for the days you use it, up to the limit of your data plan. Again, ridiculous and only for emergencies.

Now that we have the basics out of the way, here's what we found when we got here this year. BTC used to have data cards that you could buy, $30 per 5GB, about the same as US prices. Once a year in late spring they would run a 50% off sale and you could buy enough for your next season. As long as you didn't activate them they would last a year, then once activated they would last 30 days. Not any more. Now there are no more data cards. You buy a sim card, and you buy however many phone minutes you want and a data plan, and you activate it on your phone. $30 for 4GB that lasts 30 days. The 7GB special that they were running is gone now, just in case you heard about that one. Much simpler and less expensive for them in administrative costs, but more expensive for cruisers. When you head to the BTC store, be sure to have your phone with you as well as any special tools required to remove the sim card. You will also need a photo ID and cash. They don't take credit cards in most of the outlying stores. You might also want to bring along a case for your US sim so you don't lose it. Turn your phone off, change the sim, and restart. Next, dial *205#, choose #2 (you have to type it in), choose your data plan, and select #1 to complete the transaction. Be aware that applying a new data plan will delete any old one so don't do this until your data is gone. BTC data does not roll over. The restart your phone. Depending on what phone you have, you might have to go into the settings and change the APN. On my Droid Turbo, it's Settings-More-Cellular Networks-Access Point Names then + to add a new one. The BTC APN s Some phones do this automatically. A word to the wise - be sure to set your apps to never update unless you manually update them. If you choose to update only on wifi and then you use your phone to tether to your tablet, it will perceive that it's on wifi and update. You can lose a ton of data this way. We also get in the habit of turning off the mobile data every time we're done on the internet so that nothing updates while we're not online.

There is a new player in town, Aliv, which offers some different plans, including multiple affordable options that have a phone, minutes, and data. They have towers in all the major cities in the Bahamas, but we weren't sure about their coverage in the outlying areas where BTC is very good so we opted to stay with BTC. The one advantage to the Aliv plan is that the data rolls over if you don't use it.

One of the best new advances for cruiser communication is You can go there and order your sim card and plan while you're still in the States. When you cross into the Bahamas and are in range of a tower, you just change out your sim and you're done. It costs a little extra but it's so completely worth it. Keep in mind that there is no BTC store in West End, and the ones in Foxtown and Green Turtle are only open one day a week. Most of the stores except for Marsh Harbor have very limited hours of operation. I didn't get around to doing that this year but I will never come here again without doing it. Sim cards only last 90 days without use before the number reverts back to the company so you will be buying a new one every season most likely. By the way, offers a discount for Active Captain members so join today if you haven't already.

It's worth mentioning here that the Delorme InReach has been a very valuable communication tool for us. The Delorme has two-way texting capability, made easier by the Earthmate app on your phone. It syncs with your contacts so you can send 160 character texts via satellite. There are unlimited preset messages included in the base $24.95 per month fee, and 40 other messages per month. Keep in mind that both outgoing and incoming count against that total so be sure that anyone you send to realizes to keep it to a limited amount. On the presets, you have three preset messages that you can customize both in content and to whom you send them to. We have one saying that we're starting a trip, one saying that all is well, and one saying that we've arrived. They include a link to a map so that the recipients can see where we are. You can also post to Facebook with the messages.

Last, but not least, don't forget the old faithful snail mail. Post cards are plentiful and cheap in the Bahamas and your cubicle-bound friends will appreciate (or hate) you for sending them something to brighten up their walls. Snail mail doesn't quite capture the slowness of it though. A couple years ago I sent post cards to my grandkids and they arrived in St. Louis two weeks after we had arrived back in the States. I believe it took them four weeks to get there.

I will also mention a cruiser friend here who has lots of good ideas on the data savings while traveling. The folks on S/V Odin have a very helpful blog full of practical info. Do a search on their tag "Cheapskates on the Move" and it will bring up the posts, one of which is some exciting news about Netflix.

If you have any other ideas or experiences about communications and connectivity in the Bahamas, please post them in the comments. It's an ever-changing subject so all input is helpful.