Friday, May 22, 2009

Marathon - The Abacos. A whole year of cruising experience in one week.

We are on the hook at the entrance to New Plymouth Harbour on the south end of Green Turtle Cay – (pronounced Key) I think I just saw a large rounded ferry boat go by loaded with pairs of animals and being steered by a white haired bearded old guy carring a shepherds crook …. Just kidding, it wasn’t Noah but given the intensity of the rain in these parts, it’s no wonder that the residents of Green Turtle Cay here in the Abacos gather rainwater in cisterns beside or under their homes as their drinking water supply. In the past 12 hours we have received almost 4 inches of rain. Oh well, the locals love the rain, because up until this week, the area has been very dry and the cisterns were running empty, forcing the residents to line up at the marinas with jerry cans to lug R/O water at $.30 per gallon.

To get into the spirit of the locals I had rigged up a funnel over the fill spout of one of our water tanks to supplement the output of our trusty water maker. When I got up this morning, the funnel had fallen over so all of the precious rainwater that could have been filling our tanks was sluicing down the deck instead of being directed into the tank as intended. Now it’s only about 3 feet from the cockpit to my starboard deck fill, and it was already pouring buckets, so I figured that I could go out there, make a quick adjustment and be back below deck in a flash. It seems that flashing was the order of the morning because just as I crawled out from under the side panel of the enclosure, a dinghy with two very wet but wide eyed tourists from a nearby charter boat came barreling out of the rain. I not sure who was more shocked, me who hadn’t expected any intelligent life form to be out in a torrential rain, or the two fools in the dinghy being mooned by a gangly chinaman.

Every person with a boat should make the pilgrimage to the Bahamas at least once in their life time. It is sort of a final exam and senior grad trip for developing all of the pilotage skills one needs to be truly comfortable on the water. In the past week, Pat and I have experienced some of the most incredible natural beauty on the planet, and we are just getting started.

What has become obvious to us is that there are many self appointed experts about sailing these waters, but in reality there are very few who have spent enough time here to provide more than just an opinion. As a devotee to the Ports Guide to Lake Ontario, I had expected other guide books to at least be equally precise if not as eloquent and entertaining as the “Ports Book” We have several Bahamas cruising guides on board and while they are in general agreement about issues like avoiding hurricanes and not running aground, none provide more than a potentially dangerous illusion of precision on how to successfully cruise the Bahamas. I guess it is sort of like raising kids, there are lots of books, even more free advice, but only you and your significant other can pick a path that works.

Navigation in the Bahamas is by sight. Your eyes are the only things that can really keep you out of trouble, or get you out of trouble if you stray into tricky waters. It takes a leap of faith to trust your instincts but after a few hours of picking through shallow water the difference between sand, grass and rock becomes pretty easy to discern. It took me a little longer to tell how deep the water is, but if in doubt I head for the softest option available! Please take that with a huge grain of salt, but it has worked for me. I have only been aground a couple of times so far, and I don’t think anything is broken!

If one develops the confidence to read the waters, the reward is something that many people will only ever fantasize about. There is something completely satisfying about picking your way through a rocky shoal and finding a secluded, protected lagoon of 100 foot horizontal visibility water, surrounded by miles of white untouched sand. Such was the scene that greeted Pat and me as we dropped the hook on Sandy Cay which is located in the middle of an area known as Double Breasted Cays in the Northern extremes of the Abacos. The guide books describe the anchorage almost as a footnote but perhaps their authors are trying to keep the best for themselves.

Our feat of the week was doing the anchor dance in +25 knot winds with a broken windlass. We had arrived at Green Turtle Cay during a pretty decent squall, so by the time we had negotiated the very narrow and shallow channel to get into the harbour, we were pretty anxious to get to hook down and take a warming shower. As it happened there was no room at the inn, because lots of other people apparently had heard the same weather forecast and had filled every open spot.

We tried valiantly to find a place where we could both set the anchor and also have enough scope to handle the even worse weather that was to come. I drove through two of the sets and Pat drove to 2 further attempts….The driver had the easiest job, because squinting and steering was much less difficult than sitting on the foredeck hauling up our 55lb Rocna and 40-60 feet of chain by hand. I wouldn’t describe hauling anchor by hand, in very tight quarters, while being lashed by high winds and rain as fun, but it is certainly unforgettable.

By the fourth attempt we had had enough so instead of expending what was left of our energy to try a fifth time, we headed back out into the open water outside of the harbour. Since we really couldn’t see where we were going, we headed for a space that didn’t have any boats in it and threw the hook in with 120 feet of rode out. It must have worked because we’ve been here for 3 days now and we’ve not moved in the constant stream of 30-40 knot squalls. Hopefully the skin will grow back on my knuckles before too long!

The operative word to truly enjoy the Bahamas is patience. I would hate to be the guy that spends thousands of hard earned $$ to come down for a week of bare boating, only to find that the weather isn’t good, or that a chosen anchorage turns out to be too crowded because every other bare boater read the same book. Doing things in a hurry, or expecting to do things in a hurry will only lead to misery down here, so we are learning to turn down the volume from even the relaxed pace of the Keys. Right now I am trying to eke out a WiFi signal so I can post this installment of the blog, but it seems, at best, to be like trying to milk a bull. You get all the right noises but when the moment of truth comes, you aren’t getting what you thought you would get. I could get in the dinghy and go into town for a free hook-up but that would mean more physical exertion than I really want to make….Well maybe if I can time it with Happy Hour over at Pineapples beach bar?? My multi-tasking habits die hard!

At the end of the day however it’s all about the sailing and discovering. Gentle day long beam reaches on emerald green water, mixed in with howling 40 knot squalls, flat seas and ocean swells all lead to a destination that suits the sailor. In the Southern Abacos, you can marina hop, or you can go from one isolated anchorage to another with about the same degree of effort. Whether you are looking for the latest in local rock bands or a deserted island with naked women on the beach…(and no I am not kidding, just check out the pictures), The Bahamas seems to have an abundance of all sorts of experiences to suit every taste.

It’s Better in the Bahamas is only a corny TV tag line until you actually get down here and see it for yourself. Now if it would only stop raining, I would go sailing! Have a great week, I know I will!


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Saturday, May 09, 2009

Growing Roots!!

It was about 12:30AM on Saturday morning and I was sitting at the nav station huddled over my laptop putting the finishing touches on my pictures for the latest installment of the blog. The atmosphere was reminiscent of the all nighters that I did many many moons ago, trying to complete term papers before the already extended deadline was to expire. The circumstances surrounding the all nighters were then, as they are now, just a matter of getting the priorities straight.

Back in the day, there was always something getting in the way of sitting down and completing assignments. Listening to a friend commiserate over opposite sex woes, or gathering at the pub under the guise of a study group or maybe straying into amateur theater, all those activities seemed to be higher on the priority list than sitting down and grinding out 1500 words for Dr. Ross. These days it seems that issues like helping a friend move his boat, or going to a cool tiki bar to hear the latest in music, or serving as the harbour computer geek seems to get in the way of sitting down and telling the folks back home about what I am doing. Instead I am just doing it!

I get asked by some, who haven’t yet embraced the cruising lifestyle, about what I’m going to do when the vacation is over. The first couple of times I was asked, I would mumble some non sequiturs about letting nature run its course. The reality is that cruising is not a vacation, it is a lifestyle choice. And by making the choice we embrace the blessings of new and interesting people. New and interesting places and new and interesting sights to see. We also accept that normal everyday tasks that would take 10 minutes to accomplish in a land life, can take all day in the cruising life.

Laundry for example, often becomes an all day affair. I have to admit that the closest thing I got to doing laundry in my past life was to not miss the hamper with my underwear but these days a team effort is required to get the job done. Food shopping is yet another chore that in the cruising life has actually become a past time. When your family car is a dinghy and a pair of folding bicycles, it is really important to make a list, check it twice and make sure that what you buy us really needed.

The pay off for the seeming inconveniences is that we have had the opportunity to meet, and really get to know people from all over the world. Whether it be the result of a conversation struck up in the laundry line, or a chance meeting waiting for the propane truck to show up, friendships start much more easily than they do in the more guarded land lifestyle.

The past few months have flown by. It seems just yesterday for example that folks for PCYC (Trevor and Eva, Jane and Paul) and my friend Randy from New Brunswick came down for a visit. Yet it has been over a month since the last one went home! By the pictures in this installment of the blog, you will see that there a many more pics of the social side of cruising. From cockpit gatherings to full fledged dinner parties, the ability to create a party never ceases to amaze me. In the Daytimer, Outlook Meeting Maker world I used to live in, it was a major endeavour to get 2 people in a room, never mind 10 or 12. These days a chance meeting or a quick call on the VHF can get crowd gathered in no time at all.

We have not been to as many places as we originally planned, but we are certainly getting to know more about the places we have been. Time is governed by the events as opposed to events being governed by the amount of time available. When I sat down to write this installment of the blog, I was at a but of a loss as to what to say because we haven’t moved off of our mooring ball since Feb 1.As I reviewed the pictures however, I realized just how full the past few months have been. Tomorrow we are off to the Bahamas and the voyaging part of cruising will begin again.

Look for another installment before the next quarter is out. In the meantime enjoy the pictures and have a great week, I know I will.


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