2010 Blog

31 December 2010: Current Cut, Eleuthera Bahamas

We left Boat Harbour and sailed South through the Sea of Abaco on a high tide, actually running aground once in 6.5 feet of water (we draw 7 feet) but were able to get ourselves quickly free – it was just sand. We then motored about 14 nm to a protected anchorage on the West side of Lyford Cay (just North of Little Harbour). Although Little Harbour was about 3 nm distant (say 6 km), our wifi antenna (bought through Island Time PC) brought in lots of signals to pick from. At anchor, we often have Internet. On 30 December, we motored-sailed the 60 nm SE (from Abaco to Eleuthera on the ocean), entering Eleuthera (first time here as well) and anchored on the West side of Current Cut – staging ourselves for today. You can see a panoramic view of current cut at this website.

At anchor, we are again enjoying high speed internet, likely courtesy of the library at the Current Cut Settlement. The pointed tips of Eleuthera and the adjacent island named Current are only about 300 feet apart. It is these two islands tip-to-tip which form the Current cut. As the tide on the north-western side – the Atlantic side – starts to rise, it is still falling on the south-eastern or Caribbean side – actually the Exuma sound. After two hours it starts to rise in the Exuma sound, too. This results in a strong tidal action from the open sea through the Current cut into Eleuthera Sound, the shallower sea. As the tides changes, the flow is reversed. Other boaters have reported currents as high as 5 knots. In order to be safe, we’re planning our exit through the cut at 1245 pm today, just after low tide stops. The weather, by the way, is really getting NICE – daytime 22C and 20C at night.

25 December 2010: Boat Harbour Marina

After sailing from Spanish Cay, we passed through both the Whale Passage and Man-o-War Channel. Both narrow cuts can be extremely hazardous in the wrong conditions, setting up what the locals call “a rage”, where the wind, tide and current toss up an incredible mixture, one that has sunk many ships in depths of only 10-15 feet. When we exited the Whale, we opposed breaking waves that were 6 feet or more in height. With the engine running and the main sail up for stability, we were still only making about 4 knots of headway. Once we were out in the ocean (after 30 minutes), all was calm with the gentle rolling ocean waves. After running South along the coast for nearly two hours, we then turned back in to enter at Man-o-War Cut. This time, we were surfing the tide on the same kind of breaking waves, making 10 knots over 12 feet of water, on a 6 foot high wave. Quite the experience, and if I could have wrenched my hands off the wheel, I might have tried to take a video!

Sailing into Marsh Harbour, we quickly discovered that our draft, at 7 feet, is really too much for this protected anchorage. We got stuck in 5.5 feet of water and a friendly Kiwi came out with his dinghy to help push us out to deeper water (as the tide was rising). Together with Brian and Gale on Novia, we decided to move around to the other side of Marsh Harbour, Boat Harbour, in order to anchor in slightly deeper water. We had two very peaceful nights at anchor, as well as an adventurous walk into town (where I bought two bottles of rum at $ 6.95 and $ 8.15) – and are this morning going into the Marina for shelter. This anchorage is exposed to any South winds. Tonight, the winds are shifting to the South and South-West and unless we want try again in the shallows of Marsh Harbour, we’re going to suck back and pay for a couple of nights in the marina. Off-season rate, by the way, is $ 2.75 / foot / night. The most we have ever paid is $ 1.75 / foot. Getting into a marina for Christmas has the added benefit that Diane will be able to organize our Christmas dinner. We took our 13.5 pound turkey from our freezer yesterday in preparation for this event. Last year while in Nassau, Diane cooked up an incredible Christmas dinner that we shared with our friends Merritt and Sandy. We expect that after two nights in the Marina, the winds will become favourable again and we’ll move on.

The picture below is a view of Boat Harbour Marina, part of the Abaco Beach Resort complex. In our short two day stay, we’ll try to take advantage of everything this posh resort has to offer.

23 December 2010: Spanish Cay Marina

We’ll set out this morning after having spent two nights at the marina. Spanish Cay is a privately owned island, with its own airstrip, customs/immigration staff, hotel, restaurant and a few privately owned houses.  We liked our stay here, and ate twice in the restaurant.  The marina is spacious and shows the evidence of good management and attention to detail.  We’d certainly recommend it both as a place to clear in, and to stay. Our next destination is Marsh Harbour, about a 42nm journey (85km).

19 December 2010:  Spanish Cay, Abaco Bahamas

We had a very comfortable motor sail (and often times just SAIL) 32 hour passage from Cape Canaveral to Great Sale Cay (Abacos, Bahamas) on Friday/Saturday.  Diane did not get seasick and nothing broke.  

After arriving in the anchorage and having it all to ourselves for about an hour (us and Novia), we were then joined by 6 other boats who appeared to have just made the crossing before nightfall.  Still, it was a very tranquil night to be on anchor.  Perfect weather for stir-fried chicken on the BBQ.  The air temperature was about 21C, and we enjoyed a cloudless star-filled night.

Today we had an excellent sail (no motor required) from Great Sale Cay down to Spanish Cay, wind was on the beam 18-24 knots all the way.  We anchored just off Spanish Cay Marina, within wifi range of course. Right now its blowing like stink (22-28 knots) out of the NW but the surge is minimal as we’ve got a bit of land shelter.  In the Bahamas the land mass is so low that it doesn’t offer much if any of a wind break.  

We haven’t cleared in yet with customs and immigration, and we’re still flying a Q flag.  Our plan is to go into the marina tomorrow morning for 1 or 2 nights.  From Spanish, we plan to sail down to the anchorage at Marsh Harbour but haven’t scoped out either the weather or the route yet.  The depths are sufficient, by and large, but one has to be careful.

Systems are working just fine, and nothing is broken — and I’d like it to stay that way.  We’ve never been totally satisfied with our Autopilot’s performance but two days ago we discovered one setting in the dealer setup (I was there before) that was set years ago but it appears that I made a mistake and typed a 3 instead of a 4.  I changed that and the autopilot never dropped off once today — its a reformed system!

15 December 2010:  Weather window has arrived (departure from Florida)

A very good weather window has now arrived, with a safe gap between cold fronts.  Tomorrow morning (Thursday 16 December) we will make our long-awaited departure, heading South along the coast to West Palm Beach and then East to the Abacos (anchorage at Great Sale Cay).  The next time I make a posting, it will be from the Bahamas.  It will be a few days before we get Internet again.  We will be traveling in the company of Brian and Gail Alexander (from Thunder Bay) and their boat Novia (a C&C 38).  Since provisioning a few days ago, we couldn’t resist the urge to get even more food and wine.  We are ready and keen to get going!

11 December 2010:  Idle Time in Florida

Here we sit, waiting for a good time to make our way across the Gulf Stream.  At this time, it looks like we’ll have a good opportunity next Wednesday or Thursday. Since we sold our car, we’re spending more time in the Marina, and where possible get a lift with one of our friends.

Yesterday, a fellow boater who was having problems with his fuel system asked me about bleeding the fuel lines.  Bored of reading books, I gave him a thorough answer, followed by a detailed diagram of my own layout.  This morning, as I had time on my hands, I thought I would follow this up with a detailed diagram and explanation, both for my comprehensive owner’s manual and to display on the Internet should anyone benefit from it.  The photo below shows the actual setup, whereas the diagram may give more clarity.  With the dual Racor filters, it is possible to select one filter or the other, or both at the same time – when the motor is running or not.  With the squeeze bulb, I can prime the lines – usually avoiding any requirement to bleed air out of the system.  I added the 12V automotive fuel pump two weeks ago, and with this pump it is possible to polish tank fuel by recirculating it through the filters overnight. 

9 December 2010: Waiting for weather (Cape Canaveral, Florida)

The fuel tank project is finished, and both the engine and generator have been started to verify that the lines are all put back together properly.  I also tested the instruments because many of those cables had to be moved to accommodate the fuel tank.  We have done our provisioning, and the cupboards are all incredibly full – and then some.  We now realize just how much wine we can carry, when we buy boxed wine and store just the bladders below the floor board (easily 40L).  While testing systems, I discovered that our Uniden 525 VHF radio was broken, again. This time, we returned it to West Marine and bought a new Icom M504 radio. Hopefully, this one will be more reliable.

We are now waiting for our weather window, together with another boat SV NOVIA (Brian and Gale Alexander from Thunder Bay).  There is an opportunity to cross the Gulf Stream Friday/Saturday, but the window is slim and is followed by a second strong cold front immediately after with GALE force winds.  Despite the cold weather, we have collectively taken the decision to wait for the next window, maybe early next week.  I believe that the route will be through the Bahamas heading to the South Shore of the Dominican Republic.  It’ll take a month or so to get there.

On the upside, we did see another rocket launch yesterday.

2 December 2010:  Things are coming together (Cape Canaveral, Florida)

We’ve installed the fuel tank, blocked it in place, replaced the floor, reconnected the fuel lines and transferred the fuel (that was being stored temporarily in two 55 gallon drums on the poop deck) into the new tank. The little 12V solenoid pump that I started out with quickly heated up and started to leak – it just couldn’t handle the load.  I went out and bought a new slightly larger solenoid pump at Advance Auto for about $ 50.  After finishing the transfer task, I reconfigured the fuel line connections to include this new pump and two valves.  Now, I’ve got a home-grown fuel polishing system in place at a fraction of the cost of a purpose-built one. As I write this post, the pump is recirculating fuel in the forward tank through the filters, polishing it clean.

I had an interesting conversation with a local yesterday.  He was complaining about his car being broken into a few months ago. Sadly, he lost his wallet, bank cards, credit cards, entry passes and his gun (a pistol).  I expressed my regret but commented that I didn’t feel that a car was a suitable place to store a handgun.  He informed me that in the state of Florida, your car, mobile home, even your motorcycle are all considered an extension of your home.  They are all perfectly good places to store a handgun and it does not have to be in a safe or gun locker.  I told him that it would be a shame if somebody was shot with his gun, but he couldn’t care less.  His feeling was that bad guys have guns, so good guys need to have them too.  What happened with his gun after it was stolen from his car – he felt was not his problem.  Therein lies the most significant difference between Canadians and Americans.

In a day or two, Diane will take responsibility for provisioning, filling up the freezer and lockers with food, condiments and flowing supplies.  The next task will be to sell our car, for the best price we can get – and then start watching for a good weather window, suitable for a departure South.  Right now, Central Florida is being hit by multiple cold fronts bringing down cold Northern weather.  It is unsafe to cross the Gulf Stream when there is any Northerly component to the wind, so we’ll play the waiting game.

Raoul – happy 29th birthday “ping-pong”! (3 December)

27 November 2010:  Working Along (Cape Canaveral, Florida)

The new fuel tank was delivered a few days ago.  Yesterday, Diane and I – and 5 other sailors – moved the tank from the dock into the boat and fit it into place.  It fit like a glove. The next step is to re-connect all the hoses, glue the floor back in place and move the 110 gallons of fuel that I’ve got stored in drums on the poop deck back down into the tank.  I bought a little 12V pump to help with that task. My plan is to reconfigure the fuel system lines so that I’m left with a home-grown fuel polishing system using the existing components.  I figure we can start looking for our departure weather window in about 2 weeks.

Thanksgiving Day, we were invited to join Maria and Cathy aboard JOANA 1, together with about 20 friends and family. It was an excellent time and how unique to spend Thanksgiving eating turkey and all the fixings aboard a sailing vessel.

Last week, I made an attempt to align the engine/prop shaft.  Since I’ve got a flexible coupling and thrust bearing installed, alignment is less of an issue.  However, with the anecdotal evidence of the aft fuel tank leaking (cracked weld was discovered) – I figured it was time to review this issue.   First off, I noticed that one of the 4 engine support mounts was broken, the 3/4” stud was completely sheared off, and I think it has been like that for a few years.  After changing the mount, and re-aligning the engine, it was remarkably steady, rather than easily rocking on its mounts. Maybe I’m onto something here.

18 November 2010:  Two JOANA’S

We continue with many small jobs as we wait for the fabricator to start work on making our new fuel tank. In the meantime, our steel hull Sailing Vessel (SV) JOANA has now been joined at dockside by our sister-ship SV JOANA, also with a Canadian flag and City of Quebec registration (ours is City of Ottawa registration).  We call this one “Black JOANA” because the hull is painted black.  Black JOANA is owned by Maria and Cathy and is also made of steel.  In truth, the registration papers say that the boat’s name is JOANA 1, while ours says JOANA.  In the US, you can have boats with the same name, as long as their port of registry is different.  Canada isn’t quite as flexible, and doesn’t allow two boats to have the same name, period.  The really interesting thing on Black JOANA is that the girls, Maria and Cathy have both extensively crewed on the Picton Castle – a 179 foot tall ship.  Both of them have a lot of sea time, and can work most men into the ground when it comes to taking care of their boat.

On Sunday night, we had dinner at TGI Fridays, a restaurant chain that has presence in Canada as well.  This is only the second time that we have been to a TGI Fridays, and it has been the same restaurant in Merritt Island.  What I want to write about is the free dinner extended to active or retired military.  Apparently, ever year around Veteran’s Day, this chain (as well as others) offers a free entree to military veterans.  To my surprise and delight, on Sunday night they extended this offer to me as well, a 26 year veteran of the Canadian Forces.  This is one very positive thing that you have to say about the Americans.  They do treat their military very well.  Also, I would be remiss if I did not comment in general, that the Americans also treat Canadians very well.  I’m not aware of such benefits in Canada for retired military, and whether they might extend to Americans as well.

11 November 2010: “TANKS FOR THE MEMORIES”

When we launched a week ago, we motored over to the fuel dock and took on 110 gallons of diesel in the aft tank – slowly.  Back in May we transferred the contents of the aft tank to the forward tank and painted the inside of the aft tank with a liner.  In a nutshell, I was suspicious of a fuel leak.  When we arrived here in May, we had about 6 gallons of diesel in the bilge.  Obviously some of it had come from a fuel system leak, but there was also anecdotal evidence that the aft tank was slowly leaking.   I left the aft tank bone dry from June through to 3 November — more than enough time for the tank sealer to cure.  24 hours after filling the aft tank up, we had 1 quart of diesel in the bilge.  48 hours later and it was 2 quarts …….

On Monday, we took the decision to replace the tank.  First order of business was to transfer 110 gallons of newly purchased diesel up to the poop deck, in two 55 gallon drums. I was considering putting in a nylon foam filled flexible tank, but it was just too expensive – $ 4860 versus $ 1600 for a new 1/4” aluminum tank to be fabricated.  It took me two days to chop up the floor and relocate hoses and wires.  Luckily no cabinetry is in the way, just the stairs.  Yesterday, with the help of Maria and Jeff, after 2.5 hours of tugging, and pulling – we got the tank out of the boat, but only after using the sawzall to chop off the bottom 2”.  Here is what the tank looks like, after we brought it to the dock.

Its all very disheartening, but that is life – just work with the cards we’re dealt.  The silver lining is that we did discover this tank leak when we were in the US, and close to suppliers.

After close inspection, I discovered the reason for the leak – a failed weld seam about 1 foot up from the bottom.  The aluminum fabricator estimates 10-14 days to fabricate the tank.  We’re going to be here for a while yet …….  On the plus side, we have all our sails on deck and we’re just waiting for a windless day to hoist them up.

Here is the hole that is left behind.  I’ve got about 2 weeks to clean it up and prepare it to receive the new tank.

4 November 2010:    LAUNCH DAY

Yesterday, we launched the boat.  We then spent the rest of the day cleaning and tidying things up.  It is great to be back in the water.  The motion of the boat rocks you to sleep at night.  This now puts us a few steps closer to departure.  Speaking of which, I’ve been checking the NOAA hurricane tracking website and the presence of Tropical Storm TOMAS (formerly labelled hurricane and soon to be renamed hurricane) moving towards Haiti and The Turks and Caicos is a little unsettling.  I’ve got no fear that the hurricane is headed our way, not at all, but the presence of a hurricane on our projected path simply means that high seas will result – and we want to avoid that.  This just reinforces the requirement to check for a good weather window.  In a perfect world, we’ll leave here AFTER the last hurricane of the season (and there may be more yet) and on the heels of a good cold front.

In the photo above, you can see JOANA hanging in the straps, waiting to be launched.  In the background is one of the many cruise ships that frequent Port Canaveral.  Tomorrow, we’ll have a good vantage point to observe the last of the space shuttle launches, right from our poop deck!

28 October 2010

New Refrigeration.  Last week, we decided that our existing refrigeration system (EZ Kold holding plate and Danfoss air/water cooled compressor, purchased 10 years ago) was beyond economical repair.  That is to say, it just didn’t make sense to invest any more money or effort into it.  To be honest, it probably would have started up if I injected a bit of refrigerant (which I have onboard), but the box was still setup as a freezer/fridge and with our new separate Waeco freezer, we wanted it to operate as a fridge only.  So, I placed the order with Technautics for a Cool Blue system (www.technauticsinc.com) and proceeded to modify the box and extract the old system.  Over the next few days, I chopped out the insulated divider separating the fridge from the freezer area (where the old holding plate was located), and then epoxied and repainted the interior.  The new holding plate was going to be 50% larger than the old one and designed to freeze at 27F instead of 0F.  Our new system arrived at 1130 am on Monday and by 1000 am on Tuesday, it was all installed and ready to operate, together with the new SCAD Sensistat digital controller.  By the way, this controller senses when “free” power is available (excess solar or when the engine alternator is on) and takes advantage of this by “storing” energy by freezing the holding plate – earlier than would normally be required.  One minute later, and I determined there was a problem, the fans and the display all turned on, but the compressor wouldn’t start.  The key to locating the problem was with the single red LED situated on the compressor.  It provided 3 flashes, indicating that the electronic control module restricted the compressor from starting, possibly too high refrigerant pressure.  I called Randy at Technautics and he gave me a tip I’d never heard of, place a couple of bags of ice in the box to cool down the plate, and then try again in a few hours — the ambient temperature was probably too high.  He was right, Florida is getting record high temperatures, in the low 90’s (and Halloween is in a few days!!).  The air temperature inside the main cabin was 30C.  So, I put two 10 pound bags of ice against the holding plate, and then checked every few hours.  By 9 pm that night, when I turned the switch on, the compressor started and we were finally back in business.  These two photos show the new SCAD temperature controller and the installed Cool Blue compressor.

Now, two days later, the system seems to be working perfectly and we can focus on other things.  My 12V fanless navigation computer has just returned from warranty repair, so I’m in the midst of doing updates and installing software, something that will take several days.  We’re headed to the Fort Lauderdale boat show tomorrow, and will be visiting our friends Bob and Cheryl on Kasekuchen.

21 October 2010

Refrigeration Problems. Well, the jury is IN. After two days of effort to get our fridge to cool, we gave up on it and ordered a new one (from Technautics Cool Blue). I’m talking about our top-loading air/water cooled holding plate system (12V DC). This system is 10 years old, so it doesn’t owe us anything, and is not related to the new Waeco/Dometic front loading freezer I just installed in June 2010. While uninstalling the old holding plate and compressor, I made an interesting discovery…… The Danfoss BD-35F compressor is both air and water cooled. The water cooling comes from a copper tube that is wrapped around the top of the compressor and encases a loop of refrigeration copper tubing. When the water temperature is cooler than air temperature, the addition of water cooling can lead to more efficient cooling, and less power consumption. However, it comes with the risk of circulating sea-water through the cabin. What if something breaks with this water cooling? You’ve got a pump that is sucking in sea-water, dumping into the cabin. What I discovered is that the copper nipple (where you connect one of the two hoses) was just “waiting to fail”. It crumbled in my hand as I removed the rubber hose. Imagine the consequence of this failure if we had been away from the boat all day? This photo shows the crumbling copper tube.

The new Technautics system promises less power consumption and is only air-cooled. I’ll write more on this next week. As a side note, we were delighted today with a visit from Vince and Linda Weeks on Fortnight (www.fortnight2.blogspot.com). We first met them in Nassau Bahamas last winter, and then again in Georgetown.

17 October 2010

So, we’ve now spent 3 nights aboard — on the hard. As far as I can tell, the only negative consequence to our 3.5 month absence has been 3 dead batteries. The “house-bank” is fine; but the engine starting battery, genset starting battery and bow battery (bow-thruster and windlass) were all DEAD.  Diane and I lugged all 3 out today.  The “house bank” is fine since it was on solar the whole time. In the past, with similar situations, I’ve left the wind generator ON while away, but this time I figured the risk of high winds from hurricanes wasn’t worth it. BTW, the bow battery is an 8D, weighing 135 lbs, so lifting it out of the boat took a little ingenuity (halyards and blocks). In the past two days, I’ve been preoccupied with getting our EZ Kold fridge (holding plate and Danfoss BD 35F compressor) going – air cooling only (since we’re not yet in the water). I added a new SCAD Sensistat Precise Digital Controller, but the compressor isn’t able to drive the plate to freezing. It looks like I need to add refrigerant (first I’ll have to find the leak). In the meantime, Diane and I are considering opting for a totally new system (Technautics Cool Blue). More on this in a few days.

14 October 2010

We’ve returned to the boat (on the hard at Cape Marina, Cape Canaveral, Florida) arriving on Thursday 14 October at about 11am. We’ve had a good look and things are just fine. For some reason, the power bar supplying power to our dehumidifier shut off. Whether this happened two days ago, or two months ago, is impossible to ascertain. There was no sign of cockroaches or mould, two things that we were concerned about. The deck is a little dirty, but we’ll give that a good clean in due course. Nothing appears to be broken or missing. There is no evidence of any lightening strike. As I write this post, we are both relaxing, listening to music, after working for a few hours to put things away. Over the next week, we’ve got a few small projects and then we’ll launch and give Joana a good clean. We’re very happy to be back home, and were just as happy to have taken the time to drive North, visiting with friends and relatives.

This is how we left the boat on 26 June 2010, as we drove North:

6 June 2010

As usual, we’ve been busy when we’re dockside.  Since arriving in Florida, we’ve:
– replaced the mainsheet traveller rope (required Diane to make two eye splices) which was aging.
– changed the outboard motor hoist blocks and rope, and lifting point – to make it easier to use.
– installed a Waeco 3.9 cubic foot freezer (12V and 110V, low current consumption) (replacing the bar fridge that we put in 10 years ago)
– installed RF chokes on all the SSB / modem lines to reduce crosstalk.
– sent the 12V fanless Navigation computer away for repair
– bought two new folding bicycles (20” tires)
– replaced screening in most of our hatch mosquito screen sliders
– changed a switch on the Jenn-Air electric stove-top
– We discovered that the new Uniden VHF radio we bought in August 2009 was not working, so we swapped it for a new one (warranty repair).
– replaced the Water Witch electronic float sensor in the grey water tank and installed a separate one in the small forward grey water tank.
– installed a check valve in a bilge pump line that was T’d into the grey water discharge hose (this is a 2nd check valve that tries to stop grey water from dribbling into the bilge)
– removed and re-bedded a dorade box (that was leaking water into the cabin)
– on suspicion that the aft fuel tank was the source of a diesel leak, we emptied, cleaned and painted the inside of the tank with a special tank liner.
– replaced screening in all dorade box vents.
– took apart and greased all 7 existing Andersen winches
– replaced a broken boom main sail furling winch (Ecko) with a new SS Andersen winch
– installed a new Andersen winch in the cockpit for the gybe preventer.
– did touch-up paint on the hull and deck
– installed an additional side bearing on the top of the rudder shaft to prevent it from flexing when working in a seaway.
As well, Wade helped Carlos (a man of Argentinean descent) finish many items on his home-built boat, of 34’.  Why?  Just for something to do…
Finally, we’ve hauled the boat and strapped it down in preparation for hurricane season. We’ll return from Canada in October and get ready for the next trip South.

8 May 2010

I’ve finished collating and editing my Cuba video.  Go here to see the video, that includes still photos and videos that we took during our 5 week stay.

7 May 2010

Hitch-hiking: Cuba has insufficient public transport to meet the requirements, and owning/operating a car is beyond the economical means of most Cubans. Therefore you see hundreds of people hitchhiking on a daily basis. This includes people from all walks of life.  You even see government officials from Agriculture/Customs/Immigration/Coast Guard etc – all trying to either get to work in the morning or home at the end of their shift.  The number of hitchhikers is alarming, and they’re all trying to get your attention – “can’t you take just one more passenger?”.

Two day excursion to Havana:  Diane and I, as well as a single-hander Greg (on a CR 36 “RainBeau”) went on a two day excursion to Havana.  The cost was $165 per person and this included the bus, guided tours, overnight stay at the Havana Libre (formerly the Havana Hilton before the Revolution), 3 meals and the Cabaret Show at the famous “Tropicana”.  Since this is our 3rd visit to Cuba (the last two times at resorts), we thought it was high time to visit the capital – Havana (Habana).  Therefore, from the Marina, this guided tour package made a lot of sense.  It was good value for money.  Once we leave Cuba and get access to fast internet, I’ll upload the photos/videos.  In short, we spent two days in the Capital and it can be summed up in a simple phrase:  “crumbling, with obvious/deliberate signs of planned and executed renovation”.  The show at the Tropicana was excellent entertainment, under the stars (no roof), but even then the cigar smoke was quite hard to take.  It’s a good thing that the show only lasts for two hours.

Visit to Caves in Matanzas:  We took a day trip to Matanzas, about 80 km West along the coast.  This is where the Cuban oil rigs are to be found, positioned along the coast and directional drilling out under the sea bed.  At Matanzas, we visited the Bellamar caves, quite an interesting site and well worth the visit.  While there, we struck up a conversation with a young Cuban woman who was also on her first visit.  This 20 year old woman was visiting relatives in Cuba.  She was born in Cuba and left at the age of 4, with her mother and about 8 others on a raft.  Not all the passengers made it to Florida.  She told us she couldn’t remember much about the trip, but it was obviously one of “desperation”. 

Departure from Cuba:  After 21 days at Marina Darsena in Varadero, and just over 5 weeks in Cuba, we decided to leave Cuba – returning to Florida for rest, recuperation, repairs and renovations.  The last thing we did at dockside was to remove our Danby 110V bar fridge and gift it to a local family (this was the deaf man and his wife and children that we visited at his home). They didn’t have a fridge. Customs allowed each of us to gift $ 50 to a Cuban and we reckoned that the bar fridge had a residual value of less than $ 100 (after all, it is over 10 years old). This was our 4rth “crossing” of the notorious Gulf Stream in only 10 months – and certainly the most pleasant. 

22 April 2010

Varadero.  While berthed at Vita, we went shopping (by taxi to Holguin), both at the Mercado (national grocery store where they take national pesos) and several stores (where they take the convertible peso).  At the Mercado, we found tomatoes, cucumber, green peppers, romaine lettuce, sausage, and leg of lamb at roughly a quarter the cost of similar items in Canada.  The romaine lettuce was a bargain, a huge head for about 4 cents.  Tomatoes, by the way, cost about $ 1.00 each in Bahamas or Bermuda.  In Cuba, you can get about 10 for $ 1.00.  We also bought Cuban rum and wine, also at prices that were about one-fifth of the cost in Canada.  In the department stores, we saw appliances (washing machine, microwave ovens, stereos etc) at prices that were a little higher than in Canada, but also in much less variety.  Still, after being in Cuba for several weeks, we have yet to see any military or police figures with guns.  We’ve had many government officials onboard for the in-clearance, and they were very polite, and weapon-less.  The one exception has been an armoured car with 3 guards, all with pistols, one with a shotgun.  They looked well trained and alert.

We left Puerto Vita on 5 April, sailing up the North Coast to Varadero.  It took us 7 days of sailing, each day covering 50 – 80 nm and staying in an anchorage at the end of each day.  At many of these anchorages, we were obliged to “check in” with the local detachment of the Guardia Frontera (the Coast Guard).  In one case, they had no boat and we used our tender to go ashore to pick them up to inspect out boat and papers.  In another port, they rowed out to us.  In other ports, they simply took down our details over the radio.  We never tried to go ashore since we were told that we were not allowed to leave the boat unattended, “for security purposes”.  I am pleased to report that we finally caught two fish while sailing.  I now trail a single heavy duty line (200 lb test) from the port quarter with lead weights and 3 different lures.  This has landed us one yellow jackfish and one Spanish mackerel.  Nothing tastes better, after a hard day’s sail, than fresh fish.  The next improvement will be a second heavy duty on the starboard quarter.  The trick is to have two good lines with a variety of lures, one at surface and two just under the surface.  It is important to tend these lines, cleaning off bits of seaweed and such.  It is also important to keep an eye on them and bring in your catch before something much bigger takes a bite for himself.

I’m now making this entry from a state run Internet café in Varadero.  It is unlawful for Cubans to access the Internet.  There are some limited exceptions, where the Cuban may need it for his job, but the state seems to be concerned about what their citizens say about the government, in public.  Remember, this is a communist state, and they run industry and the media.  I still find the people to be warm and inviting.  However, I’m starting to form an opinion of how their society works.  It seems that everybody is out to get whatever they can for themselves, simply because the state won’t or can’t provide it.  The monthly salary of the average Cuban is less than $ 20 per month.  The state rations flour, rice, vegetables, eggs, some fruit and some meat.  As well, there are allowances made for accommodations and utilities.  However, it is really impossible for any but the grossly uninformed, uneducated and simple rural citizens to carve out a life with such poverty.  The result is that people find a way to earn money from tourists, or steal from the government.  I met a hotel bartender who regularly sells government stock alcohol at discount prices.  In order to be able to do this, he has to include in his circle of trust the security guards and other hotel employees.  Bringing home a bottle of rum and stealing from your employer is one thing, but doing this as a business is another.  Fishermen try to sell some of their catch directly from their home.

31 March 2010

Update from Cuba.  While still in the Bahamas, we anchored for 4 nights on the East side of Long Cay.  This is an incredibly shallow anchorage and even with light winds developed an uncomfortable swell at night.  Bob and Connie discovered an 8” tear in one of the tubes of their hypalon inflatable dinghy, so they had to make repairs to that before we ventured ashore.  Our stock of fresh vegetables and fruit had dwindled to zero.  Looking ahead to Duncantown in the Ragged Islands, we decided to give it a miss altogether because of the non-availability of real food in the small “grocery” stores (and I use the term loosely).  It is certain, now that we have ventured into the “wilderness”, the further you get from Georgetown, the less amenities are available. At Long Cay, there are two stores, one is closed, and the other had about 20 cans of tomato paste, 12 bottles of 10W30 motor oil, and 2 bottles of lime juice – that’s it.  The locals place their orders from Nassau, and the Mail Boat arrives twice weekly to drop this material off, while picking up fish/lobster/conch destined for sale in Nassau.  Existence in the family islands (formerly called the “Out Islands”) is definitely for the pioneers.  The water is definitely warming up, and we saw water temperatures of 29C and crystal clear water on the beaches, as predicted.

On Monday, 29 March, we made landfall in Cuba, after a windy and exciting overnight sail (a distance of 130nm).  We arrived in Puerto Vita (along the North coast, about one-fifth up from the bottom South edge of Cuba) at 0900 in the morning.  The landscape is noticeably different from the Bahamas, with mountains and deep anchorages, contrasting with the Bahamas endless shallow banks and stunted profile (maybe 20’).  We tied up at the very well protected Marina Vita at a cost of $ 0.60 / foot (including electricity/water).  The in-processing was paper intensive and 6 different government officials came aboard for an inspection, and this doesn’t count 2 dogs that were sniffing for drugs and firearms. There is no Internet and may not be for years to come.  The facilities are quite a bit better than expected, certainly a bargain at $ 0.60 / foot.  You need to bring your own toilet paper to the washrooms (clean as they are).  We are allowed to rent a car, take a taxi, explore inland, as long as the boat is at one of the approved marinas.  Once we sail out of here and head along the North coast, staying at anchorages, we are not allowed to leave the boat unattended.  Therefore, for our purposes, since we won’t be split up, we will be “boat-bound” for the 7-10 days it will take to sail up to Varadero.

24 hours after being in Cuba, I can now offer some more first impressions.  Our marina does not accept credit cards, therefore, we went to a bank and changed money (actually used a bank debit card to withdraw) to obtain Convertible Cuban Pesos (CUCs).  With CUCs, we were able to buy many food items at very good prices, at least compared to the Bahamas.  In Cuba, a Coke costs $.50 whereas a single can costs more like $ 2.00  — even in a grocery store.  The price of gasoline and diesel seems to be about the same as in Canada.  At lunchtime, we had a meal at a beach café consisting of: 6 hamburgers, 4 fries, 2 beer and 2 pineapple juice – for $ 12.60.  I had a “black market” haircut and a shave (from a barber operating under some trees, behind a hedge in a local park) for $ 5.00.  I sat on a car seat that was balanced on top of a couple of rocks.  The barber was a hard-working enterprising fellow, the kind that you would expect to see making his way to Florida on a raft someday.  While cutting my hair, he was constantly on the lookout for the police.  The electricity and water at dockside are on nearly all the time, except when they’re doing renovations (and you can tell when this is occurring).  By and large, the people are warm, inviting and friendly.  Oh yes, here’s an unexpected twist.  I’ve tuned our TV and found 4 channels.  At 7 pm, one of them was showing an old American detective movie with Spanish subtitles (possibly 15-20 years old).  As I´m typing this posting, I´m sitting in an Internet cafe in Holgan, about an hours drive from Vita.  We brought Diane´s MAC, but they won´t allow us to connect it to the LAN, probably to prevent virus infection. Therefore, we can´t check my email or any bank sites.  If anyone is trying to reach me, please send email to my SSB-radio email address (you have to be on the white list) or to Diane.

23 March 2010

Clarencetown.  We left Rum Cay without a hitch.  As we were leaving at high tide, the depth was 8’ or greater so there was no dragging/towing required.  We had a fast sail, 35nm to Clarencetown on Long Island.  With the winds on the beam at 22-28 knots, this gave us speeds of 7-8 knots under a double-reefed main and full jib and staysail. It was an fun and sometimes wet ride.  We anchored in 15’ of water at Clarencetown in one of the best anchorages in all of the Bahamas, offering good protection from nearly all directions.  The following day, we went ashore to explore the local area. While it was pretty, and tidy, it was obviously suffering economically.  There were two “grocery stores” (and I use the term loosely) and one restaurant which was not open on Monday or Tuesday (sadly, the only two days that we were there).  Signs of a dwindling ecomoy are everywhere.  In the dinghy ride to shore, we pass by many turtles in the bay.  Tomorrow we’re headed to Long Cay, about 50nm South.  If you guessed, we’re heading to Cuba. The port of entry is still under discussion.  We’re currently buddy boating with “the Benners”.  Google “Benners Adrift” and you’ll find Bob and Connie Benner (from London Ontario) on Meredith.  I’ve still got two serious bruises, one on my hip and one on my leg (each about the size of a watermelon) from my fall a few days ago.  Our fresh vegetables are dwindling and it is getting difficult to find real groceries.

20 March 2010

Rum Cay. Since leaving Georgetown, we covered a bit of ground, starting with a day trip of 42nm to Conception Island. This uninhabited island is part of the Exumas land/sea park.  We anchored on the East (lee) side of the island, but still felt quite a bit of roll through the night. Therefore, we hauled anchor and set sail for Rum Cay (22 nm) the next day.   As we approached the Anchorage at Rum Cay, again we were concerned with the roll, so we decided to stay at Sumner Point Marina for a few nights. In fact, we overheard on the radio a boater calling in to Sumner Point Marina and we were swayed by the low charge of only $ .80 / ft (per day) so we decided to give it a try, particularly since the anchorage was a little rough.  We were on a low, but rising tide (about 3’).  We asked if they could accommodate a 7′ draft at the dock and in the channel, and they said yes.  So we headed in, just at the time that the marina owner was out with his boat installing some more buoys for the channel entrance.  We got stuck on a sand bar when the depth read 6.5′.  He had to tow us about 1 boat length twice over two separate sand bars on the way through the channel.  Then we got dockside and he had to nudge us again to get along the visitors dock.

While at dockside (wood pier with big pilings), I was on the dock changing my shoes (from crocks to sandals) and lost my balance, tumbling about 4 feet down onto the side deck of my boat, in a very clumsy manner, nearly impaling myself with one of the stanchions.  I got a serious bruise on the hip from this, and the next day it felt like a horse kicked me.  The stanchion, well it broke in two, but I’ve got a dozen spares.

We waited 3 hrs for the real high tide, and then he had to drag us over two more sand bars IN THE MARINA to get to our berth. It was a stressful, but successful venture.  No doubt, there will be difficulty when we exit the marina in a few days time, and I’ll want to do that at HIGH TIDE and when the owner is available.  Last night we had a WONDERFUL dinner in the marina restaurant, just 4 of us, treated to appetizers/salad/fresh grouper/dessert at $ 25 / person. Wow, it was a great meal.

With light winds, there are a few mosquitoes and a moderate number of no-see-ums during the day, and particularly at dawn and dusk.  Therefore, on Sunday 20 March, we’re planning to leave the marina (at high tide), heading South to Clarencetown, on the SE corner of Long Island.

11 March 2010

Georgetown.     We’ve now been in Georgetown for a little more than a week and can offer our impressions.  Cruisers have two popular names for Georgetown: Chicken Harbour and Day Camp for Adults.  It is called Chicken Harbour because this marks a turning point for many if not most cruisers – at least those who flock like snowbirds down the ICW.  In fact, a lot of cruisers come down here, put down an anchor (I’ve even heard of several who come to the same spot with a bottom screw and install a mooring) and stay from early December to May.  These people long ago gave up their dream of going further South. Having said that, they’re still enjoying the cruising life. The Day Camp name comes from the Regatta activities.  During Regatta you can play beach volleyball, beach golf, dominos, poker, trivial pursuit, Hollywood Squares, race your sailboat, coconut catch etc.  There are lots of activities where you can have fun and meet other cruisers, as well as people you have already met before. While berthed at Bock Marine in North Carolina, we met cruisers and saw many sail down the ICW headed South. While in Nassau, we met many more, also headed South. Now, we “are South” and we are discovering just how small the cruising community really is.  While I’m talking about cruisers, I should mention that based on my observation, the national compositions are 55% American, 40% Canadian, 5% other (Brit, Aussie, German, Dutch, French, Swiss). Of the Canadian boats, most are from Ontario and Quebec, but we’ve seen some from Nova Scotia, Saskatchewan, New Brunswick, BC and Alberta.  Canadians are over-represented, possibly a sign of the strength of our economy. 

There are two grocery stores in Georgetown, and you can find most of what you need – for a price.   For example, the yogurt that we like to eat cost 70 cents in the US, $ 1.00 in Nassau but $ 1.49 in Georgetown.  You can say the same thing for pop/soda.  We have come across one couple who make their own soda onboard.  An alternative to buying fresh fruit and vegetables in the grocery store, it is possible to buy local produce on the street – and we often do.  You can also buy fresh grouper, conch, red snapper and lobster at the harbour from fishermen.

Yesterday, I spent about 2 hours giving the bottom a thorough scrub.  A few weeks ago, I did this at the waterline with a small brush and using my mask/snorkel/fins.  Yesterday, this was a complete scrub, with the intention of removing much of the algae/slime that bonds to the hull.  The copper in the bottom paint keeps the barnacles from attaching but you still get a bit of slime holding onto the hull.  To do the hull, including the prop and shaft and bowthruster area – you need to have SCUBA gear. I used up a tank just doing this.  I was surprised at how fast I was consuming air, but it was vigorous work.  I’m glad to report that the application of PropSpeed paint on the prop / prop shaft / bowthruster have kept those areas clean.

27 February 2010

Jimmie and Christine Thom left on Tuesday morning for Ottawa, in a very heavy downpour – as predicted. At least we were at dockside and they did not have to suffer through a 30 minute dinghy ride across the harbour in 30 knot winds as well!  Diane and I joined together with 3 other cruising couples and took an area tour in a rented minivan today. We got to see most of the sites and stopped at the Exuma markets for groceries.  I’ve sorted through our photos of our trip from Nassau down through the Exumas and have posted them here.  When there is a break in the cold fronts, we expect to push the last 12 nm South to the Anchorage in Georgetown.  Maybe tomorrow, or more likely – mid next week.

22 February 2010

We’ve made it to the Marina at Emerald Bay, 12 nm North of Georgetown.  We made easy day hops from Nassau to Allans Cay, then to Bell Island, then to Staniel Cay and then a long one to Georgetown (0630 to 1630). Travelling over the Yellow Bank and on the West side of the Exumas made both of us nervous, with a draft of 7’2″.  We saw one depth that was 6’8″, but usually 20-25′. When it gets down to 10′, its only for a short time so I slow down. I wouldn’t be comfortable running overnight with such depths, open ocean yes, but not over these banks. We have not yet touched bottom.

The newly installed steering pump is working fine. The autopilot tends to crap out after 20 mins or so, so I’m going to have a look at that today. I suspect a wire problem. Our anchor light has been almost none existent, as we observed in the tender returning from dinner two nights ago. Last night I discovered corrosion on some terminals below the cabin sole at the mast compression post area. But it was not necessary to use the anchor light last night since we are at a marina (Emerald Bay, $ 1.50 / ft no services, but they have wifi, great showers/toilets, apparently free laundry and garbage).  The prices were even cheaper when the facility was in receivership, but was bought by Sandals only a week ago.

What we’ve heard about Georgetown seems to be true. There are 300-400 boats anchored here, and most are return visitors / snowbirds, a surprising number of Canadians (disproportionate). It is definitely warmer than Nassau and less subject to the cold fronts that pass through. However, there is one arriving tonight that will impact on us. I suspect that we’ll move to an anchorage on Tues or Weds depending on the weather situation. With an El Ninio year, the weather in Florida has been poor, and this extends to the Bahamas, particularly to the Abacos, to some extent Nassau and to a much lesser extent – Georgetown.

Once I’ve sorted out the photos, I’ll post them.  Jimmie and Christine Thom are still with us, and expect to fly out tomorrow morning. 

14 February 2010

It has been nearly two months since we arrived in Nassau.  As usual, we’ve been busy fixing and modifying things. I don’t think I reported that I discovered my wifi antenna and booster was no longer working well, so I ordered/received/installed and tested a new one. This time I’m using an Island Time client bridge installed at the aft end of my solar platform – extended by CAT 5 cable. The results are excellent although there is still no free wifi within reach. Everybody that has been at this dock has had the same results. We buy Internet from the $ 6.99 per day site (pretty expensive isn’t it? But I suppose this is a deal compared to the transient dockages costs – now down to only $ 85 / day as “long term”).  We’ve seen most of what we want to see in Nassau and I found 3 more photos that I’d like to share – you can see them here.   We’re now eagerly awaiting the arrival of cousins Chris and Jimmie, and then we’ll head South to Allan’s Cay.

10 February 2010

Natalie left on Saturday, returning to Timmins and new adventures. Only two days later, Mark Hrabowsky was in Miami for a couple of days and took a cheap flight (only an hour) to come over and visit us. It was great to see someone from “home” so we treated him to fresh lobster, conch salad and red snapper cooked on the BBQ. I’m now configuring my new 12V, fanless, navigation computer. We should be on track to leave here next week when Chris and Jimmie Thom come for a visit.

29 January 2010

I think it’s time for us to leave.  For the first time in nearly 6 weeks, instead of just watching people come and go, we are going to do the same.  We’ve started to look at weather, wind/waves/tides – watching for the right opportunity.  A new danger will be the coral heads that come right to the surface on the next leg.  Yes, many of them are on the chart, but we will be travelling at 5-6 knots over ground that is only about 10′ deep, leaving a narrow margin of safety when we draw 7′ 2″.  At Allan’s Cay, we expect to anchor and visit a nearby island where many natural iquanas live in the wild.  I’m curious to see what they eat. 

23 January 2010

I’m happy to report that my leaking hydraulic helm pump problems have been solved. I’ve finished installing the new Hynautic H-41 pump, and had to make some modifications to the supporting bracket and get some new hoses made up.  All told, I think the installation cost me about $ 2600.  If I had a new Kobelt pump shipped to me from Kobelt in Vancouver, it would have cost me a similar amount.  I wanted to change out the manufacturer and give another one a fresh start.  The new Hynautic H-41 pump is a little stiffer than the Kobelt 7012, probably because it’s output is fixed at 5.5 cu in / turn, whereas the Kobelt model provided variable output from 4 – 12 cu in / turn.  The output of the pump is directly responsible for the resultant turns from hardover port to hardover starboard.  Whereas I might have had easy steering with 5 turns, the Hynautic unit gives me 3 3/4 turns.  It would be wonderful to have both a small number of turns and little effort – but hydraulic steering rarely gives you both.  Bottom line – the installation works and is leak-free.  Here’s a photo I took of the new installation this morning:  We could be leaving Nassau as early as 30 January.  Natalie will take a maritime safety course next week and I’m waiting on a parcel to arrive via post.

18 January 2010

Our hydraulic parts have arrived and I’m starting to work on the configuration / installation. Of note, many people are wondering about the customs on boat parts coming into the Bahamas.  I had the shipper attach a copy of our cruising perimit on the outside and the inside of the box.  The parts cost about $1800 US.  There was no duty or customs payable.  UPS handled the delivery and I paid UPS a brokerage fee of $ 38 and to the Bahamas I paid “stamp tax” of $ 10.  Quite reasonable, in my opinion, particularly since I paid no sales tax at the point of origin.  I was told by Bahamas customs last week that as long as the parts were necessary for the “propulsion of the boat” that the duty would be zero or low.  If I had ordered a replacement TV or new fridge, the tax might have been different.

8 January 2010 (amended 11 January)

A new hydraulic helm pump and reservoir has been ordered.  At this point in time, I still can’t say why the previous one leaked.  I did check on the cost of shipping it back to the manufacturer for an overhaul, but the courier rate was nearly $ 500 each way and in my opinion, it just didn’t make sense to spend any more money on this pump.  I wanted to start anew, with a different product.  Perhaps after I’ve removed it and had a good look with a magnifying glass, I might be able to say more. Perhaps it has a hairline crack in the bronze housing or one of the mounting holes?  I have to give Kobelt, the manufacter, credit though for interacting with me to try and track down the source of the problem – although it produced no tangible results.  After the new parts arrive, the next challenges will involve fabricating a new mounting bracket and to hunt all over the island for hydraulic hoses, plumbing fittings etc.  Most of what I need should be here, but the trick is to find it.   

Since we’re still in Nassau (and expect to be here until end January), I should say what we’ve been doing for the past 3 weeks.  We did put up two strings of solar powered Christmas lights that we bought last year at a Boxing Dale sale, and Diane just took them down today.  Of note, Diane made a wonderful Christmas (Turkey) dinner and we hosted our friends Merritt and Sandy (who we met in Beaufort North Carolina and happened to be anchored in Nassau).  Then, there is the Junkanoo festival (carnival, with lots of colourful costumes) that takes place on 26 December and 1 January.  In each case, Junkanoo starts at 0100 and goes on until 1000 or later the next morning.  Neither of us could muster up the energy to stay out all night, so we compromised by leaving the boat at 0700 to catch the remaining parts of the New Years Junkanoo.  The photos don’t do it justice, and I wish that I had recorded some video clips because the music and the drums stir up a lot of energy and you just have to be there to experience it.  You also have to appreciate that none of the “floats” are motored.  They are all carried by one or two people, or have small wheels (lawnmower size) and are pushed by one or two people.  There is a steep competition and the costumes cannot be used in two different Junkanoo parades 

Another thing that we have discovered is that the copyright laws right here in the Bahamas are quite a bit different than that in North America.  We walked into a video shop (in a mall) with the intention of renting a current movie.  We discovered that they don’t rent movies at all but were quite happy to sell us copies of first run movies for $ 5 – $ 6 apiece.  We’ve had lots of local fish, including Grouper and Red Snapper, bought from local fishermen both at the market and at dockside.  I shouldn’t complain about the weather because I know that our friends and relatives living in Canada and Europe are suffering from a cold winter.  With the winter cold fronts moving in down here, we tend to get high winds.

1 January 2010

We have been trying to resolve a leaking Kobelt 7012 hydraulic helm pump for nearly 10 years.  Well, in truth, we were “living with and observing it” for 9.5 years, and in the past 6 months have grown more aware of the problem, as it gets worse.  The rest of the hydraulic system is tight / leak-free, but the helm pump itself continues to weep oil (which costs $ 47 / litre in Nassau) – even at dockside.  I have made the decision to replace the pump with another brand.  I have not yet decided whether that it is feasible to have the parts shipped to us in Nassau and replace it myself, or return to either Freeport Bahamas or Fort Lauderdale to get the work done.  Diane and I talk about it “hourly”.  We definitely won’t continue South to the Exumas until this system is reliable.