31 March 2013

Long Island (the one in the Bahamas)

Our trip from Georgetown to Long Island was almost too calm for fishing.  We gave it our best, actually taking a longer route just to get more fishing time in.  The best we could produce was one Bonita.  The Bonita is a member of the tuna family, but by all accounts that I have heard, not very tasty.  Lucky for him, back he went.  With weather this nice we decided to take anchor in the north end of the island, Calabash Bay.  Absolutely beautiful!  Big long sand beach, crystal clear water, a half dozen boats.  Georgetown was quickly becoming a distant memory.

We have been in the Bahamas now for a couple months, yet I can't say that I have really got any good dives in yet.  Some out of this world snorkelling, but the diving has proven difficult given there is just the three of us.  So, it was time to hire the pros.  First thing in the morning I was on the phone, Stella Maris can you pick me up, I need to get wet.  Seeing as the dive sites are all close by to where we were anchored, they picked me up right off our boat.  Kerri and Macara joined Ryan, Tasha and Morgan as they were renting a car to see the island.  I went diving.

It had been so calm for over 24hrs that the water was absolutely crystal clear.  As we motored between dive sites in 50ft of water we could see stingrays and sea stars and other fish.
Red Lionfish
Spotfin Butterflyfish
Queen Angelfish
My driving force for getting to Long Island was to dive with some sharks.  Short of chartering the entire boat myself, I had to wait a couple days for the dive operators to round up another couple divers to make it worth their while.  Fortunately, a nice German couple said they were willing to go.  Game on!

You would have laughed to have seen me the night before while I was getting my camera ready.  I was nervous like a little school girl worrying about what to wear.  My problem was too many choices, a good problem to have.  The key to good underwater photography is getting close.  The less water you have to shoot through, the clearer your images will be.  My favourite lens for wide angle is my 16mm fisheye lens.  On a cropped sensor camera you do not get the full wrap around affect of that lens, you only get the crisp centre with a tiny bit of barrel distortion.  Overall, a nice choice, but I feared the sharks would not come close enough.  Quite the opposite of most peoples fear of sharks, don't you think.  I needed something not quite so wide.  I have a 20mm lens, but it is in desperate need for Nikon to give it an update.  If focuses slowly and often gets confused.  I wouldn't want that to happen in the middle of all the action.  That leaves me with my least favourite wide angle lens, my 12-24mm.  Designed for cropped sensor cameras and having a top notch focusing motor built into the lens it should be my favourite, but for some reason and only while used underwater, the corners are quite soft.  It will have to do.  I believe that I will need the 24mm reach.  And I was right.

Overall, it was a good dive.  The divemaster mistakingly put us down in some pretty soft sand.  This lead to some excitement early and didn't help my pictures at all.  You see, the way that Stella Maris runs their shark dive is they circle the boat a few times and the sharks come a running.  There were 5 sharks around the boat before we hit the water.  We all jump in together and head straight for the bottom.  Once settled on the bottom we are given a few minutes just to enjoy the sharks, which are mostly circling the back of the boat.  They know the drill, they aren't interested in us.  The plan is to sit on the bottom while the guy on the boat tosses in a bucket of fish that is weighted down so that it lands right in front of us.  So far, so good.  The sharks then help themselves to the fish inside the bucket.  As to be expected, the sharks become quite eager and lots of commotion ensues.  Now comes the exciting part.  Because we got dropped over the soft sand, the feeding frenzy leads to a sand storm.  Soon, we too were almost engulfed in a zero visibility feeding frenzy.  Sharks were flying out of the cloud of dust and were right in your face before you knew it.  Not good.  Time to back up.  Then, one of the smaller sharks gets a nice big piece and he is out of here.  But, then a couple larger sharks decide that they too want that piece.  Just like that, half my sharks are gone.  Damn!  After everything settled, a couple sharks stuck around hoping for a second handout.  Finally, some photo ops.
Caribbean Reef Shark
Caribbean Reef Shark
As much as I loved Long Island, it didn't seem to love us.  Remember how nice I said the weather was upon our arrival, well that all changed around 3am on the second night.  I believe the technical term for it is it turned into a 'Shit Show'.  We ended up puncturing the dinghy while trying to get it on the boat.  Inflatable dinghies do not float very well without air in them and with 15hp motors dragging them down.  With some brute force and a little foul language, the dinghy was saved and nobody got hurt too bad, just some bruises.  We rode out the rest of the night, sleeping on the couch or on the floor.  With the first sign of daylight we were off for Stella Maris Marina.

And this is why cruisers carry spares.  Here is a little taste of cruising life.  First you have to make at least a half dozen phone calls.  Fortunately, the locals are friendly and are all too quick to offer a helpful suggestion.  And, more often than not, they know the next guy's phone number.  Finally, we locate a dinghy patch kit way down in Clarence Town.  Go figure, the other end of the island, some 85km away.  They call it Long Island for a reason.  Now we need to rent a car.  Ever driven in a country that drives on the left side of the road?  Every turn feels unnatural.  So, now that we have the patch in our hands, we might as well make the most of a bad situation.  Tourist time.  First stop, Dean's Blue Hole, the deepest blue hole in the world, some 600ft deep.  A pretty little beach with this strange geographical formation in the corner.  Back in the car and thinking it is soon time for lunch.  Macara turned her nose up at the road side conch shack, so we stop at the next beach side grill.  A fun little open air establishment, with great big portions.  Finally, back at the boat and the no-see-ems are horrendous.  No repairs tonight, straight into the boat.  After all that, when we begin our repairs the next day, we find out that the contact cement is old and the patch does not look like it will take.

Enough of this, it looks like we have to head back to Georgetown.  We need our dinghy.  Being on a boat without a dinghy, is like living in a house, but not having a car.  The wind is blowing pretty strong out of the north-east, but if we stay on the Great Bahama Bank, things won't get too rough.  Protected for most of the 22nm, we would only have to face the ocean size waves for the last 7nm.  It turns out our impatience came around and slapped us right in the face.  We made it within 3nm of our inlet before making a radical about face and headed back for Long Island.  If the open ocean was this bad, there was no way I wanted to attempt an inlet with an outgoing tide.  Most certainly the roughest seas that we have seen in this boat.

Rather than head right back to the marina we left, we made our way south to the Thompson Bay/Salt Pond area.  A pretty anchorage to say the least.  A few boats, but spacious, with great holding.  And we needed it, the wind ripped for the next 48 hours.  With no place to go, we picked up our trusty Bahamian cell phone once again.  Unable to locate another patch kit, we were able to find some fresh glue.  We needed an ounce, all they had was a gallon!  Such is life in the islands.  You have to imagine me in a dinghy with a patch that is barely hanging on.  Can't trust the patch enough to take the motor, I am going to have to row to shore.  Certain that I am going to get wet, off I go.

The glue is exactly as expected and the new patch seems to take instantly.  What a relief!!!  It's a beautiful evening and we finally get to relax and enjoy it.

We are still in Long Island and there are lots of things that we would like to do while we are over here, but it is time to start making some decisions.  What is the weather going to let us do?  Soon we need to start making our way north.  Kerri hasn't had a chance to dive yet in Long Island and over breakfast she expresses a desire to do so.  

Only a few moments later, the generator trips.  Oh come on!!!

Life without a dinghy is an inconvenience, life without a generator is impossible.  Long Island doesn't want us here, we need to run.  Georgetown is not our island paradise, but it does have resources.  Straight back to the Exuma Yacht Club, we need shore power until this is resolved.  Worse still, Easter weekend is coming, nothing is going to be open Friday, Sunday or Monday.  Knot Yet has not been up on cruise for so long, for a long time.  We have got to hurry.

The genny tripped on high temperature.  We must have picked something up in the raw water.  We might have torn up another impeller.  Yep another impeller, that means that I have already used up my spare.  Hats off to Georgetown, I was able to locate a new one within a couple phone calls.  Down to the engine room and further inspection.  Oh my, the coolant reservoir is completely empty!!!  That is not good.  Did I boil the engine completely dry?  It sure took a lot of water to top the engine back up.  Now topped back up with coolant, I give the engine another try.  The raw water flow is fine, so the impeller is okay.  Maybe I had something on the strainer and that long run, cleaned it off.  Everything seems fine.  The genny loaded up fine and the temperature is good.  I guess we are fine.

Off the dock, we are free again.  First stop a shallow reef and Macara and I go for a quick snorkel.  We then pull anchor and head to a deeper spot, it is time for Kerri to blow some bubbles.  We must have found somebodies spearfishing spot.  Within no time a barracuda is harassing us.  It follows us completely around the coral head.  Not natural, but we can handle it.  But, then it gets in front of us and turns back in our face.  It starts posturing at us.  It starts showing it's teeth.  Before I know it, Kerri is using me as a shield.  With the fun now gone, we decide to surface.
The dive was surely shortened, but we are still a pretty happy crew.  The dinghy is fixed, our generator crisis has been averted.  We can dive anywhere, it doesn't have to be Long Island.  We grab a spot to anchor for the night and Macara agrees to try her hand at making spaghetti for dinner.  I am chopping and Macara is mixing ingredients, we have the sauce on simmer, when... you guessed it, the genny tripped again.  Nope, not dealing with it tonight!!!  I am in too good of a mood to be brought down.  We finish dinner on the butane burner and play a board game and go to sleep.  Whatever is wrong with the genny will have to wait until tomorrow.

First thing in the morning we are back in our usual slip at the Exuma Yacht Club.  Clevon is not even in yet, we know the routine all to well.  He has given us the same slip every time.  This time we just help ourselves.

Down to engine room I go, again.  The genny is out of coolant, bone dry, again.  Determined to blame the raw water side I take the heat exchanger apart.  There is some debris on the tubes.  Maybe that is it?  I give the heat exchanger an acid wash.  Yep, Barnacle Buster, the same stuff I got in my eye back in Stuart.  This time I work safety glasses.  I am smart like that.  I refill the coolant and start her up.  It runs fine for a while, then the temperature starts to shoot up.  Something must be wrong on the fresh water side.  That is the more expensive side, I didn't even want to look there.  Maybe the thermostat is stuck closed?  I tear the thermostat housing apart only to find out there is no thermostat in there anymore.  Somebody already removed a failed thermostat and never bothered replacing it.  Not good, but it has been like that for a while.  That will need fixing someday, but it is not my problem.  If anything, that makes the engine too cold.  I still need to ensure that my fresh water pump is working fine.  It could be just air locked from being drained and then not being properly vented.  So, I add more coolant, start the genny and try to bleed the air out of the fresh water pump.  Now, I have my laser thermometer and I can see that I have flow across the heat exchanger.  Hotter here and cooler there, that is a good thing.  But, the reservoir level keeps going down, so I add more coolant.  I wish I had typed this blog post from the engine room, maybe the fact that I needed to keep adding coolant may have dawned on me earlier.  We have a leak stupid!!!  Yep, vibrations have worn a pin hole leak right through the heat exchanger.  At least now I have a smoking gun.  At least now I know what needs fixing.  But, it is Easter Weekend in the Bahamas.  It could be a week before I can get replacement parts and at what cost.  I need to find a fix on my own.  I consider soldering it.  I locate a torch.  Then a neighbour overhearing my problems offers me some Marine Tex.  That just might work.  As of right now, I seem to have a working genny.  Let's keep our fingers crossed.  Let's hope this fix gets us back to the USA at least.

My body aches.  I am tired of doing repairs.  I have been twisted upside down for days.  I am down on sleep.  I sure am looking forward to some fun in the sun.  Please, no more issues.  The weather looks good for Tuesday and a run north.  My parents are coming to join us in Staniel Cay in about a week or so.  The last time they visited both Kerri and I took sick.  It sure would be nice to get ahead of the game for a while.  

Tomorrow we will have fun again.

Georgetown, Exumas

The blog sort of went sideways for a bit when we arrived in Georgetown.  I have tried several times putting my thoughts down about the place and always ended up deleting them.  So, let's try this again...

We met some truly amazing people in Georgetown.  We caught up with people that we haven't seen for a while.  We met some real jerks.  Macara finally got to hang out with some other cruising kids.  She grew a lot there.  I actually really do like the place.  I am so happy to have left.  Confused?  Me too.  Let's keep going.

Georgetown always was our main goal.  It offered so much for us.  Provisioning, protection from many different wind directions and a great location to fly in family and friends.

Because Georgetown was our goal and because we had family and friends coming, we let that dictate our schedule a bit.  We wanted to have a couple weeks under our belts before anybody showed up, that way we would know our way around.  So, when we got a couple really nice days we left Staniel Cay.  I sure miss that place, we will be back.

A group that we met in a bar in Bimini, bumped into again on Highbourne Cay and became friends with at Staniel Cay turned into our cruising friends for a while.  When they said you got to see Black Point Settlement, we said, "sure, let's go".  They were right, we loved it.  A tiny little Bahamian village with no resorts.  Not totally untainted though, they like to cater to us cruisers.  So, we obliged them.  We dropped off our laundry at the local laundry mat and proceeded to take in the town.  Laundry mats have turned into our dirty little secret (bad pun), for a few extra bucks they will wash, dry and fold your clothes.  Hell ya!!!  Less chores and more fun, it's a 'no brainer'.  We walked the streets for a while, stuck our heads into a tiny little school house.  We chatted with a few locals while the wove straw baskets.  Soon noon was approaching and we had a Kalik in our hands, you know how it is.  Later that night, the Kaliks were not the problem, it was the Rum Punch and Happy Hour at Scorpions that was the problem.  Apparently, us cruisers pack the place every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday because they put out some free appetizers and serve cheap rum.  We are so easily tricked.  The next morning afternoon there were a few murmurs of 'hair' hurting.  Without much chance of catching the morning slack tide, a few of us tried our hand at lobstering in the afternoon.  Ya, I got one! ;-)

A couple more days of good weather meant pressing on to Georgetown.  It was like school had let out. Everybody was out on Exuma Sound rather than hiding up on the banks.  With all the time in the world and smooth seas, we broke out the fishing rods.  And then we put them away again.  No fish, this is starting to get a little embarrassing.  Mercifully, on day two, just before arriving in Georgetown, after fishing for about 70nm, we caught a fish.  A Skip Jack tuna.  I tell you, after eating that fish, it is going to be hard to go back to tuna salad sandwiches from a can. Yum, yum.
Skipjack tuna
I have been avoiding it, so let's talk about Georgetown.  Some strange little cruising utopia, and like all utopias, it's flawed.  A lot of the people that come here have the maturity of grade schoolers.  Magnified exponentially by the fact that the cruising regatta is on during our time here.  There is a morning Cruisers Net on Ch 72 that is designed to relay information amongst the cruisers.  Let me tell you the whining and complaining covered up by others clicking their mics to stop others from talking was beyond belief.  I very quickly realized that I was happier not knowing what was going on than listening to that garbage.  And then quite the opposite, on Ch 68, any time of day you can fire a question off into space and usually get a pretty descent response.  I was having battery issues, so I tried it, "does anybody have a Group 31 deep cycle battery that they no longer need"?  Sure enough I got a reply.  So, when another boater woke up a couple days later with dead batteries, I was more than happy to jump on the radio and tell him that I would be right over and give him a boost.

No more Cruisers Net and a little Ch 68 was getting me by, but there was still all the commotion of the regatta.  Just like the Cruisers Net, I decided that this too was the root of all evil and shall be a avoided to maintain my sanity.  Somehow, I still managed to get recruited into the 'Coconut Challenge'.  Something about being young and having a small 'dink' (slang for dinghy) made me a target.  I figured what harm could come from a contest that requires no apparent skill.   Well, I still managed to get our team disqualified on a rules violation.  We were in 2nd place at the time too.  I have to admit it was a lot of fun.
Coconut Challenge
The focal point in Georgetown for us was Volleyball Beach / The Chat 'n Chill.  It was a great place for those of us with kids to meet and let the kids run around.  Anytime around 1pm or 2pm the kids would start to arrive and it would be next to impossible to get them to leave before sunset.  That meant time for some school in the morning and a place that serves drinks while the kids play.  It worked for me.
Chat 'n Chill
Our spot under the rope swing
Our view while at the Chat 'n Chill
As I was saying earlier, our plan was to be in Georgetown early, have everything all worked out for when our guests got here.  Put on a show.

First up, our "cruising/diving/drinking/brother from a different mother" friends.  And did we put on a show?!?!  We showed them exactly what cruising was all about.  We showed them bad batteries, we showed them bad weather, we made the best of a bad situation and ended up having a blast doing it.  We did get some diving in, a little fishing and showed them our spot under the tree at the Chat 'n Chill.  That's cruising. 

Some people may find the following image offensive.  Sorry you had to see this.
I have tools and I know how to use them.
Mahi mahi
Up next were Kerri's parents with only a 48hr turn around.  If you ever hear of Kerri and I as hosts in the charter business, please assume that we have spent too much time in the sun and have completely lost our minds. Actually, it wasn't that bad, but cleaning the boat bow to stern and provisioning on a time line felt like work and we haven't done that for a while.

As far as guests go, having the In-Laws aboard was pretty easy.  We didn't feel that great need to impress, we knew they were here for one reason and one reason only... to see their grand-daughter.  Sure, they will deny that it was not quite that simple, but we knew.  All we had to do was keep the boat from rocking too much and everybody would be happy.  If anybody has ever received the complete tour of Georgetown, they did.  Beaches, fishing (skunked), walks through town and you guessed it, an afternoon or two at the Chat 'n Chill for yet another lesson in Goombay Smashes.

Having Grandma and Grandpa aboard provided us with a rare opportunity, a babysitter.  And I am not talking about let's just go out and have a quiet dinner, just the two of us, type thing,  I am talking Exuma Heritage Festival.  For those of you who are fans of the movie Captain Ron, this was our little island festival.  We went out with another couple and a single guy from France, together the 5 of us amounted to about half the Caucasians in the place.  This was not a party put on for the tourists, this was the locals having a good time.  And, so did we!  All around the outside of the festival grounds were vendors showing off their local cuisine, up on stage were bands from all over the Bahama islands.  We ate, we danced, we drank, we dinghied back to our boats in the black of night.  Ya, we had fun!

As much fun as we had, all night long we talked about the fact that it was time to move on.  So, on the first break in the weather, Hideaway, Senara and Knot Yet were on the their way for Long Island.  We were cruising again!