Monday, July 16, 2012

Now THAT was a Shakedown Cruise

We've  finally made it to the last installment of our " big boat-delivery" story.   This has been quite an odyssey for us.    And we never intended for this  to turn into another 'sailing blog'.  There are plenty of those around, including a few pretty good ones .    After this post, maybe we can get back to the "island lifestyle" blog that this one is really supposed to be.   We're hoping that having this boat will improve our blog content.     For example, we can now travel to more remote areas of the Turks and Caicos and spend the time it takes to properly explore places we couldn't visit in a one day trip.  We can branch out to visit  other countries.  Once we get the boat fixed up the way we want it, the sky's the limit.  And speaking of skies... we also now have a pretty good platform for some unobstructed sunrises.

I surely do wish that I could come up with a way to show y'all  the tropical night sky at sea when the only illumination in sight is starlight. It's pretty amazing. An incredibly complex array of totally uncountable stars stretching from horizon to horizon. It's that same strange feeling one gets looking at the unpolluted sky in any extreme wilderness.   Humbling and awe inspiring, actually.  Standing there with my mouth hanging open feeling about the size of a speck on an ant's  toenail.   If you turn all the lights on the boat off, and just wait a moment for your eyes to adjust, well it's hard to describe the effect of just this small portion of the cosmos.  And then imagine multiplying that by two for the half of the sky that we cannot see. It's a big universe when bobbing around in the ocean at night on a little boat.  And all boats get pretty small at some point.  But to get those photos from a moving platform is not going to be a simple thing.  Maybe a video would work.  We can look into that.  Always trying to improve, and besides that it might be justification for a new camera.  You know me... always up for an excuse for a new gadget.  I can claim I have an obligation to our advertisers.  (You guys ARE clicking on the ads, aren't you?)

Our last blog episode  ended as we left  New Providence and our mixed Nassau experiences far behind us.  We were sailing for the Exuma Cays.    I've marked out our whole trip on this Google Earth image.  The lightning strike thing happened behind Chub Cay.  You can see that we were almost half way home when the boat got damaged.   And with Murphy aboard, of course most of the places where we could have gotten help and support in fixing the damage were already behind us.   We were not about to turn around and head back to the USA.  We were headed for the Far Bahamas, and beyond.  They're also referred to as the Out Islands.   And while there are definite changes after leaving the USA and arriving in the Bahamas there is another, even bigger change once you leave Nassau.   South of Long Island you start to realize how much you are now on your own.  No more nice safe marinas.  No more shopping centers.  The infrastructure gets real thin, real fast.   If you get into trouble out here, you're pretty much on your own.   As my grandfather used to tell me, 'if you get your tail caught in a crack here, there's nobody else but you can get it out".  In today's world, how often are most of us really ever very far from help?  We tend to think in terms of cell phones and response times.  The ocean changes all of that.  There is no cell phone call.  There is no response time outside of your own.    Is this what taking responsibility for your own life and safety feels like?

I probably should have put that Google Earth image up earlier to make it easier to visualize where all these places are located.  It's easy to write "We got hit by lightning just north of Chub Cay" , for example, and of course WE know exactly where that spot on the earth is located.  In fact I doubt either of us will ever forget it.  And things definitely changed for us at that place in space and time.  We tried to buy a replacement GPS in Nassau on New Providence Island (next to the "Albany" pin on the chart) but couldn't find one.  I did manage to buy an outrageously priced VHF radio and a clamp-on antenna in Nassau, though.  So at least we had VHF communications again.   That comes in real handy sometimes even though VHF range is very limited on the open sea.  We do have a single side-band radio on the boat, too, but so far it hasn't been worth much from a practical standpoint.   I know a lot of the frustration there is operator error, and I've been through the operation manual several times.  We had hoped to be able to use it for weather forecasts,  but so far it's been useless to us.  We've yet to even overhear a conversation on it, much less a coherent forecast.   Weather information would be a good thing to have when in a sailboat in the Bahamas in hurricane season.  We planned the trip to stop in 'hurricane holes' as much as was reasonable but those dry up once you leave the Exumas.

From Nassau, we headed roughly east across to our next planned stop for the night at Highborne Cay.    If you look at that image again, the Exumas are the long skinny chain of beautiful little Bahamian islands that stretch for over a hundred miles SSE of Highborne.   I looked them up on the internet to see how many islands there are, and read that there are 365 islands in the Exumas.  Wow.  A island for every single day of the year.   Most of them are uninhabited.  The Google Earth image I posted really doesn't convey this very well.  The scale is too broad.  If you can, you should load up GE yourself and take a closer look and zoom in on  a few of these places.   I could do it here, but would end up with a coffee table book instead of a blog post.   There are just so many beautiful places to sail in the Bahamas.   We were sad that we were on a schedule.  We could happily spend months in the Exumas alone.  In fact, we plan to.

It was pretty smooth for the first part of that Nassau-Highborne leg.  La Gringa went forward to secure the lines and fenders before things started bouncing around.  And bounce around, they did.  There's our new, temporary VHF antenna clamped to the cabin top rail.   I haven't yet assembled what it takes for me to climb the mast to the very top and fix it right, and I'm not talking about hardware.  Funny how temporary fixes can tend to become permanent solutions.

And I know that by now even our regular non-boating blog readers will know that the cloud bank up ahead signals the location of an island.   Highborne is only about 35 miles ESE from Nassau.  That doesn't sound like far, does it.   Try thinking of it in sailing terms, though.  Six hours at this speed.  It's like moving a small three bedroom condo on a bicycle.

The wind picked up and it turned into a much rougher crossing than we had planned , but I think I've already whined enough about that. We can show you a little bit of it. This is what the shallow water on the White Bank looks like when you get the wind from the NE at 18-20 knots. You can see from the water color how shallow it is, and the 4  second wave period is kind of punishing when that chop is coming at you nearly head on.    This wasn't our idea of a fun ride after the first few hours:

Did you see those two coming at ya?  It wasn't interesting after the first few.  And the fun factor fell off real quick, too.  I kept reminding myself that I've often heard that 'the boat can take a lot more than you can'.  This, at least, was good to believe.

We got beat up a bit, but were still able to make pretty good time by sailboat standards and arrived at Highborne in mid afternoon.  We were really glad to sail into the lee of the islands and out of that chop.   That was the good news.    The bad news was that when La Gringa radioed the marina  to arrange a slip for the night, they told us they were full up.  No room at the inn.   We motored on up close enough  to see for ourselves.   Yep, looks just like a small marina chock full of boats.   Dang.   No comfy dock plugged into electrical power within walking distance of a restaurant for us.

That photo  has one of the BTC (Bahamas Telecom, or BaTelCo)  towers in it, over on the left hand side.  These are spread throughout the islands presumably within line-of-sight of each other for the country's microwave communication net.  We were glad to see these, as they sometimes have some basic sort of wi-fi setup.    We were told that they all did, but we found that not to be the case from a practical standpoint.  Maybe it was just bad timing or coincidence, but we were lucky to be able to even get cell phone connection, even when within sight of a   tower.  They have a lot of system problems.  Still, when it worked, it did work.   At least in this part of the Bahamas.

Okay, so we couldn't get into the marina.  We saw this as an opportunity we'd been looking forward to.  Our first official anchorage.   Oh, we'd put the anchor down and raised it back up a few times. Twisted Sheets has this manually operated windlass on it.  It's not like just pushing a button and watching a motor haul your anchor up for you.. It's a rattly, noisy thing to let chain fall from it, and someone has to work a lever back and forth to winch the anchor back up.  Fun and an upper body workout at the same time.  So we'd practiced before leaving Melbourne.   Now, we got to do it for real.

And it was easy.  There were already several other boats anchored outside the Cay, and the charts said that it was a good spot with good "holding".   For you non-sailors, that means that the bottom is a good one to stick an anchor into.  This whole anchoring thing is a science in itself.  Most experienced sailors carry different anchors for various bottom conditions. Hard bottoms, grass, sand, rock, they all have different characteristics.   Twisted Sheets has four different anchors on board, for example.

We dropped the most used one.  Which also happened to be the one already rigged up, and it also happens to be one of the best all-around anchors for these conditions.   And finally, after weeks of waiting, we were anchored in the calm tropical waters next to a small island in the Bahamas.   We immediately broke out the snorkeling gear and jumped overboard.  

As is my usual  habit, I swam over to take a look at the anchor  before getting too far from the boat.  Water visibility was wonderful, and it was warm and comfortable.

The drag mark is because I put both engines in reverse and pulled the heck out of it to make sure it was getting a good bite into the bottom.  It dug itself in pretty well.

This was the first time I'd used the Olympus camera in two months. I confess that I forgot that the setting that is good for underwater ( above) is not so good for distance shots in the air ( below).  But you can get the idea.  That's the first time we ever swam away from Twisted Sheets and left her alone on the hook.   That bump in the middle of the photo is the nearest rock to worry about, by the way.

I would have taken more photos, but the bottom here was pretty bland.  Sand and sparse grass.  With this being a designated anchorage on the charts, I would imagine every single square meter of this bottom has been looked at by snorkelers a few times.   What makes it good holding ground for anchors also makes it pretty nondescript for underwater scenery.    I did spot a suspiciously clean looking conch shell, moving along the bottom in a decidedly un-conchlike manner.   Conch move in little jerky movements when they get their single claw dug in.  They move like a one man game of leapfrog.  And they leave a trail where they drug the shell through the sand.   This one was floating daintily over the bottom, tip toeing,  with no jerky movments, and no drag mark behind it.  I went over to take a look, and found out that this is actually the mobile home of one of the biggest hermit crabs I've ever seen. You can just see his claws disappearing as he freaked at my shadow and slammed the hatches.

I noticed that the full grown conch shell he had appropriated for his home did not have a hole knocked in it.  I guess that means this is not one that was taken by fishermen, but died a natural death.   Of course, the term "natural death" has a wide definition in the ocean.   A  shark's definition of what constitutes a perfectly natural death might not be the same as yours or mine.

While we were flippering around I took a look at the rudders, props, and keels of Twisted Sheets.  We hadn't run over anything on the way down, but had been sitting on the soft, flat bottom south of the Berrys. I wasn't expecting to find any scuff marks, and didn't.  I realize that this looks pretty shallow in the photo, but we were anchored in 7-9 feet of very clear water. Plenty of room for a boat that only draws a little more than 3.   The anchor and conch shell photos look clearer because I dove down near the bottom for them.

We had a nice calm night on the hook, and were ready to get started for the rest of the trip home in the morning.

We decided to go through the cut between islands and make our way down the eastern, or windward side of the Exumas. This turned out to be another of my mistakes, in retrospect. (If one learns from one's mistakes, I must be near my PhD by now)  We had 18-20 knot winds on the port bow, and it made for an uncomfortable ride with a lot of slamming.   We should have taken the inside route, in the lee of the islands.   And we considered it, but that route involves a lot of GPS waypoints, shallow water, rocks, and coral heads.  We had a fairly bad recent experience sailing down the lee side of Bahamian islands, and thought the open, deep water was  safer.  It was better wind for sailing, but rough on us and on the boat.   We found out later that we opened up a previously repaired crack in a forward bulkhead.

After a nice long day beating into the wind we were really glad to get to Compass Cay.  La Gringa radioed the marina, and we were told they had room for us.   We held position in the wind and currents for over an hour while they kept delaying us, telling us they were busy tying up other boats.  When we finally got the go ahead to come in and tie up, we discovered that they expected us to snug up behind a big sport power boat, with about 12-15 ft. of dock available to tie to.  This would have left over half of our boat sticking out into the channel.   We told them to forget it, and decided to go anchor again for the night.   Basically, we have nothing good to say about the Compass Cay marina staff, so I will shut up about that.   Besides, anchoring didn't worry us.  We'd just had a very pleasant night up at Highborne.   This is the marina at Compass Cay.    We don't intend to ever see it again.

It was getting late in the day by the time we anchored, and we picked a spot behind a small island nearby called Pipe Cay.  We had some difficulties this time around.   The cranking lever got stuck in the windlass and I had to disassemble the whole thing to fix it.  What a pain.  But we did get it apart, fixed, and back together okay, and had another decent night.    The next morning we decided to again take the outside route down to our next stop.   The forecast was for the same winds as before, but we had a shorter day planned, so we were not too worried about a few hours of rough seas.

Getting out of Compass Cay was one of the most tense times in the whole trip. We had to get through a narrow cut, going into 6-8 foot waves caused by the shoaling.  We were barely making 3 knots when the port engine suddenly quit.  Now we were trying to get out to deeper water while getting slammed by the waves, and the wind and thrust of the starboard engine were causing us to drift toward the rocks off to our left.  Watching our speed, I was seeing numbers like 0.3 knots as the waves would stand us up and the wind got under the boat.   If the starboard engine had stopped at that point we would have been in fairly serious trouble.  We would have had to get the jib out really quick and hope we had enough room to either fall off to the south, or turn around and sail back in through the cut.

It's never going to come close to conveying what this was like on that morning.  It all seems so simple now.  But the blue line here is pretty close to the path we took from our anchorage out Joe Cay cut:

Please notice that the suggested path goes blank through an area labeled "Intricate Ledges". Notice "Strong Current".  And then, of course,  the narrow spot between the hard rock shoreline and "Breaks".    I wish I had some photos to show you how close we came to those rocks, but I was busy steering with one hand and eating the fingernails off the other, so didn't think to actually go looking for the camera.  It got real busy out that morning.  And that's all I'm going to say about that.

The starboard engine never missed a lick, though, and as we got into deeper water I saw the speed pick up to a couple of knots.   When we could turn south, we had enough room to put up the sails,  just north of where it says "Scattered Coral Heads..." ( sheesh!) and from then on things were okay.    I needed a reason to buy myself some new underwear, anyhow.

See?  We even had a rainbow to look at.

It seems to hold true that the water never looks as rough in a still photo.  Especially looking downwind, where you can only barely see the backs of the breaking waves.

But it was rough, and this was our third day in a row of pounding into the seas.  As we got clear of the cut, to the point where I engaged the auto pilot and prepared to finish my breakfast of fingertips and cold coffee,  I started having trouble with the steering. The auto pilot couldn't seem to hold the course. I turned it off and steered by hand again, but even I had a hard time with the boat constantly trying to turn to the left.

La Gringa finally figured out the problem.   The pounding had broken the weld on one of the wind generators support masts, and the entire thing was trailing in the water behind us.   She was able to get a line on it, and secure it to the boat.   Then she took the wheel while I managed to get it up out of the water.   The drag of the wind generator in the water behind us had been what was causing us to keep turning to the left.   This is what it looked like after we managed to get it tied to the boat again:

It wasn't until later that we realized that this could have been part of the problem getting out of Joe Cay Cut. 

Ah, nice blue tropical water sailing. Nothing like it.

After a day of this we were really, really glad to be able to turn downwind and into the Cave Cay cut.  This little private island and marina is like an ocean oasis.  Beautiful floating docks, and we were the only transient boat there.   We had the whole place to ourselves.

This is what Cave Cay Cut looks like from the ocean side.  We only have to sail between the rocks.  But then, there's nothing new about that.  We would expect nothing less after the morning we had.  Sailing between the rocks is one of the basic requirements of successful  small boat handling, I think.

And this is the entrance to Cave Cay marina.  It's a cut through the rock, into a beautifully protected little harbor.  The docks are a hard turn to the left after you get through this opening.

When we were tied up, and relaxing, La Gringa showed me one of the tomatos that had been hanging in one of the little net hammocks we use to store fruit and veggies.  The same pounding that broke the wind generator loose had also forced the tomato through the netting.  We ate it anyhow.

(Note to self:   We need finer netting if we're going to keep doing this.  Or tougher tomatos.)

We wanted to stay at Cave Cay, but the weather was holding, more or less, and we still had a long way to go. We were having a lot of electrical power issues, and I strongly suspected one of our alternators was broken.  The nearest place to even have a chance of buying parts was at our next planned stop in George Town, on Great Exuma.   We needed to keep moving.  

The wind had moderated a little the next morning.   It dropped to about 10-12 knots, which was good.  It came around from the South, which was bad.   No sailing today, we had to make the trip on the engines alone.  We were still having issues with the port side diesel.  I knew it was getting air into the fuel line from somewhere, but I spent a lot of time going over every section of hose and had not been able to find it.  The engine would run for an hour or two, and then stop on us.  I could go below and purge the air out of the injectors, and it would do the same thing all over again.  I ended up replacing every single piece of fuel line on the boat.  This took about thirty seconds to type.  It took me days to do, working in the evenings after everything else was fixed.

But I get ahead of myself.  This is the trip back out of Cave Cay the next morning, with an almost benign ocean awaiting us:

The Cave Cay cut is really the last easy cut through the Exuma chain going south.  There are a few more, but they get pretty tricky on the shallow side of the islands.  This one is pretty typical.  It's not a problem to navigate through it in calm weather.  There are rocks on the left...

And rocks on the right:

Before moving on, I wanted to show you a Google Earth image of the marina at Cave Cay.  Isn't that a sweet little place to duck in out of the weather?

The red lines are our aproximate path into and back out of the marina here.  I did this for the entire trip, just to get an idea of how far we actually traveled on this voyage.  It worked out to be about 1,010 miles from beginning to end.  It actually was probaby a little more, but  I didn't add in the sailing we did with Rick, Brad, and John up in Melbourne.

The trip from Cave Cay to Great Exuma was a lot easier, although we still got pounded by waves on the bow from time to time.  We passed more of the cuts through to the other side of the chain.  Some of them were pretty attractive.  I was imagining how one could get into trouble trying to navigate these islands without a good chart.

And the constant pounding continued.    We learned to cope with it. Little things, like using cable ties to hold your lunch plate down so you can eat.   I think the vibration is apparent in the image:

The winds had diminished, but we got hit by a line of squalls just about ten miles from our destination.  Ho hum.  What else is new.  It would have been nice to have a working radar, though.

Finally, just north of Great Exuma, we passed  Lee Stocking Island, and these rocks, called the Three Sisters.   The squall was almost past us by this point.

And Lee Stocking Island is another one of those places that brings back memories to me from an earlier life.  Back in the late 80's (I think) I was at the Caribbean Marine Research Institute on that island.    I was there to track the submarine that they were using for a television special.  It was totally different from my typical assignment.  Very laid back. If you ever come across the National Geographic special called "Sylvia Earle, Portrait of an Aquanaut", I was there.  And am in some of the scenes, come to think of it.  And I was flying right seat in the Beech Super King Air that buzzed the boat "Undersea Hunter" at the end of the program.  Of course all that was back when I was young, knew everything, and was ten feet tall and bulletproof.  All of that has long been changed.

We finally made it to the Emerald Bay marina on Great Exuma.  We were determined to try to fix our alternator issues, and if we had to stay a few days to do it, well, we were prepared for that too.  After tying up the boat, once again I was down in the engine rooms with a flashlight between my teeth.   This time, I took the camera.

We were hoping for a couple of nice days to get rested up and get things repaired on the boat.  There is an auto parts store in George Town, and we rented a car for the day.  The people at the store were very helpful, but they did not have the parts we needed in stock.  I guess I really didn't expect them to, but you know how that goes.  Hope springs eternal.   Either that, or it rolls downhill.  I forget my metaphors.

The weather kept us on edge the entire time we were there.  We think we have contracted the same neurological disorder that Dooley the Distant exhibits concerning electrical storms.  Now, every time we see a flash of  lightning, both La Gringa and I cringe and start shaking. If we start the drooling part, someone please send professional help.  In fact, don't wait for the drooling, we're close enough.

This is what the skies looked like over Great Exuma for most of our stay there.

The upside of this sojourn was that the staff at Emerald Bay were some of the nicest, most helpful people we met on the entire trip.  I wish I had taken a photo of Shane MacKenzie, who gave us a lift to the local restaurant every evening in a golf cart. In the torrential rain, thunder and constant lightning.  With a name like that, one might expect him to be a red headed white guy in a kilt.   One would be as wrong as one could be.

We did manage to pick up some provisions in George Town, and got ripped off for $ 40 by the propane dealer who didn't fill the tank we left with him, but charged us for it any way.  Oh well.  We were lucky to get the tank back at all.  Once again, the good folks at the marina made some calls and lo and behold, it showed up. La Gringa even tipped the guy.   @%#*&%#!!

We had to press on, and our next stop was a run across to the north end of Long Island.  It was another short day, and the weather was calm again.   We did have to enter Calabash Bay in another squall, but we were getting used to that sort of thing by now.

We worked our way up to the north end of the bay, and found a perfect place to anchor the boat.   The clouds cleared up, and we were treated to a glorious sunset while we grilled Bubba Burgers on the boat.

It was a wonderful anchorage, and we got the best night's sleep that we'd had in weeks.  I still think back fondly about that anchorage.  That was the last nights sleep we got on the rest of the trip, in fact.

There was a functioning BTC tower within range, and we were not only able to get a weather update, we actually got internet access for a while.   It's amazing the things you take for granted, until they become a rarit.  La Gringa called the Flying Fish Marina down in Clarence Town to see if we could reserve a slip for the next night, but just our luck, they were full up.    We had some decisions to make.  Either hang around Calabash Bay for another day and night.....which was an attractive option to be honest... or make a trip across to Crooked and Acklins Islands. This would mean a full day and then a full overnight trip, across open water.   I guess you know which we chose.   We were looking for home.  We decided to go for it.

Getting around the north end of Long Island is a bit of a challenge, as the reefs are way out away from the shoreline.  Off in the distance is Cape Santa Maria.  I know it's tough to see, but there on the bluff there is a monument to Christopher Columbus.  This is as close as we got to it.  If you looked at the charts you'd understand why.  The reef extends way out at this point.

The trip across was great.  We had clear skies, big slow rolling seas, and a wind on the beam.  We were doing 7 knots with the sails up, and had the best long day of sailing yet.  Life was good.

We were out of sight of land for a big part of it, but could tell by the distant squalls where the other outer islands were located.

La Gringa even had plenty of time to rig up a fishing lure to pull behind the boat.  It was really nice to have a smooth sunny day of nice sailing, for a change. 

I strung up a hammock to try out for napping later, since we planned to be awake all night.

And I would like to tell you how well that worked out.  But the truth of the matter is that it didn't work out well at all.  The motion of the boat set the hammock swinging too much to be safe, or comfortable.   We took it back down, and will just have to try it again when the boat is anchored in calm water one of these days.   Somebody please tell me that there are calm days ahead.

I don't have photos of that night, or the next day, or the next night. We had planned to be at a small stopping place called Atwood Harbor, on the tip of Acklins Island at dawn the next morning. My plan was to anchor the boat, and for us to get a few hours sleep, and then make our way over to the next stop at Mayaguana during the daylight hours.  It didn't happen that way. 

What happened was that we made great time, sailing along at over 7 knots.  We made much better time than we had planned for, that we passed Atwood Harbor (our planned rest stop) at 03:00 in the morning instead of at dawn as we had anticipated.  There was no way I was going to try to take the boat into this little harbor in the dark for the first time. It's a small place, and there are no facilities there. What could we do? Well, we decided to keep going. It was really the only choice.

We sailed past the Plana Cays shortly after dawn, and then turned down , crossed the Mayaguana Passage, and worked our way through some more horrible squalls into Abraham's Bay on Mayaguana in the mid afternoon.    We anchored the boat within spitting distance (almost) of another BTC tower at the little settlement there.  Batelco was down, with no cell phone signals.  Color us surprised.   We didn't want to take off for the final push down to the Turks and Caicos without a weather update.  We do have a single sideband radio on board Twisted Sheets, but I had given up trying to get anything useful out of it.  We needed just a few minutes of internet access.  

La Gringa managed to get about two hours of serious nap in while I made one more try at locating the source of the air leak in our port engine fuel supply.   And, believe it or not, sitting here after 36 hours of sailing with no sleep, I finally found it.  It was a small, hidden hose clamp that I could only tighten by feel.  I won't go into too many details, but the clamp was too far down the hose and wasn't squeezing it onto the barb.  Simple thing.  So many problems.  But after finding this, we had no more engine problems due to fuel issues. The sound you might imagine hearing here is me knocking on wood.

La Gringa woke up from her nap in the late afternoon and tried BTC one more time, and hallelujah, she got through. They were back in operation, and we had internet!  That's the good news.   The bad news was that the weather forecast was the same for the next three days, 20 knots  from the South East, or in other words, almost right in our faces.   We were pretty glum.  We really did not want to sit at anchor at Abraham's Bay for three or four days.   And there was no guarantee that the weather pattern would be any better in four days.  

We fired up the gas grill and were cooking dinner, when we suddenly looked at each other and said... let's just go for it.  We can do this.  Another overnight, and we'll be home.

By the time we got the boat ready to go it was dark.  The anchor windlass broke when we were pulling the anchor up.  La Gringa did an outstanding job driving the boat five miles out of Abraham's Bay in the dark.  She's pretty amazing sometimes.  Well, usually, come to think of it.

We set a course for Sandborne Channel, the western entrance to the Caicos Bank.  We got pounded by the oncoming seas again all night long.  I was approaching exhaustion, and needed some sleep.  La Gringa took the watch while I tried, but between rain squalls, pounding waves, and electrical problems, sleep was impossible.  We determined that our batteries didn't have enough juice to run everything we wanted to run, so we were down to just our low power LED mast lights, GPS, and autopilot.   We watched the battery voltage dropping from 14, to 13, to 12, to 11, to 10 volts....  I fired up our little Honda generator, and used that to power the battery charger.  But the generator kept stopping.  And still, the voltage kept dropping, although the rate of decline slowed.   We started seeing big ships crossing our path, as we were crossing shipping lanes in the Caicos Passage, and it was very, very nervous out.  One time I tried to call one of the larger ships on the radio to be sure they saw us, but the radio would not transmit.  It said "Low Power".   So I went out into the rain and used our handheld spotlight to shine at the ship, and to illuminate the side of our boat.   We'll never know if they saw us and altered course, or if they just blindly kept going and were unaware of us.  In either case, they passed behind us.  It was a real, real long night.

Shortly after dawn on the third day of sailing, West Caicos passed to our right.  This was an extremely welcome sight.   A familiar place, after two months of nothing but strange.

As the sun came up,   we saw the battery voltage drop to 9.8 volts.   The auto pilot was making funny noises before dawn.  The radio didn't work at all.   Isn't it amazing how long it takes for dawn to come when you're praying for it?   The generator ran out of fuel around 08:00. But by this time, we could have navigated our way home blindfolded.

West Harbour/Osprey Rock looked like home, too.

You can probably tell that we were still getting clobbered by the wind and waves in our face.  We were doing 3.5 knots at this point, and yet we still managed to pass a small monohull motoring in the same direction.

I finally realized where Turtle Rock got it's name....from this direction it actually looks like a turtle, sort of.  If you squint your eyes and hold your mouth just right..

We pulled into South Side Marina at midday.  Bob was there to grab our lines and help us tie up.  As an added bonus, the crew of the schooner Star of the Sea was in and we got to visit with some old friends for a few hours.   After hearing some of our story about the lightning strike damage, Capt. Bob handed me a spare VHF radio for the boat.   And you KNOW you've got  a good story when missionaries start giving you equipment.

We had friends from the USA who were looking after our other life for us while we were off playing sailors.  It's not good to let houses, automobiles or dogs  unattended for long in a tropical climate.   Something invariably goes bad.   This was our first time with people staying in our house while we were away from the island. It seems to have worked out very well.  We knew the house was being looked after,  they had a free place to stay and vehicles to drive for an extended tropical holiday, and Dooley the Delighted.... well he got spoiled silly.  The little booger is now on a first name basis with half the restaurant waiters on Provo.

They met us at the marina and after we cleared Customs and Immigration we were free to step ashore.  We had been gone almost seven weeks, and there was a joyful reunion as La Gringa and Dooley spotted each other.  By the time I remembered to grab the camera, most of the initial excitement had settled down as everyone caught their breath.  Oh my gosh it was something to behold.  Running up and down the dock.  Leaping in the air. Squealing, tail wagging, hugging, kissing..... Dooley and I had never seen La Gringa act like that before and could just watch her in amazement.  Then she finally  sat down to catch her breath and released him   so he could run over and tell me hello, too.

Since leaving our last nights sleep in Calabash Bay, we had been up for 54 hours.   My opinion is now that this is too much.   I don't particularly ever want to do that again, but it's also nice to know that the two of us can handle it if we have to. 

Of course the dog immediately appropriated the boat and explored every nook and cranny that he could get to with the hatches closed. And the S/V Twisted Sheets is now officially Dooley authorized.

He did want to know where I planned to install a fire hydrant.

We were very glad to be at South Side Marina, and to have a place to keep the boat just a short drive from the house.   We noticed that Bob has been making great progress on the new restaurant/bar on the hill.

We've got a great slip location, with a convenient place to park the Land Rover right near the boat. With some marinas there's a long walk involved in carting things to and from a boat.

It's convenient as we have a lot of  modifications  and repairs to make. And repairs have all become a whole lot easier now that I have access to my workshop and tools, have transportation, and know the local suppliers for hardware and materials. There are a lot of DIY fixes and modifications in our future but I'll save all that for future posts.  Sprinkle one or two in, here and there.  Since we got back we've probably taken another five or six hundred pounds of stuff off the boat.  Stuff we didn't use and don't want to haul around.  I would estimate that Twisted Sheets is probably at least 1,200 lbs lighter now than she was when we bought her.  She's floating several inches higher in the water, that's for sure.

We are now in what will eventually become our 'home' port.   I write 'eventually' because for the short term we had to bring the boat in on a cruising permit.   This means that it is only temporarily in the country.  In three months, we'll have to either extend the cruising permit ($300) for another three months, or leave the islands and go cruising somewhere else for a while.   We're actually okay with that.  We have a pretty big list of places to go live on a sailboat until the government here works through some desperately needed financial changes.  They have announced that there will be a revision of all the import duties in April 2013.  We hope that we will be able to then officially import the boat and change the hailing port  to Providenciales, TCI. Having a home base here with a cruising sailboat has been our dream since the beginning.  

This whole experience has been pretty intense, by our normal lazy laid back tropical life standards.  Counting the time it took to get the boat purchased and to make the trip took us almost seven weeks with the delays and problems we went through.  We had originally thought it would take us about a month. We were living on the boat continuously for 40 days.  It's become very familiar to us.

And we loved it.  We can hardly wait to get things fixed and changed, and get back aboard for our next adventure. 


Unknown said...

Very cool you two! I was in Exuma a few months ago on a 7 day kayak eco trip. I was most certainly feeling the vibes when we stopped at Lee Stocking Island for a few hours. I snorkeled all around the cliffs south of the institute just like I did as a kid. There were sites around CRMC that Stan Waterman loved to dive. Glad you had a good journey.

Okeebc said...

Dooley is going to love his new boat! I am really excited for you guys. I have always loved reading your blog and the new boat will be a great addition.

Tate said...

So glad you guys made it back with the boat. Enjoyed this post.

thepiratedoc said...

Glad you are safely home ... looking forward to more of the Twisted Sheets Chronicles. Don't you just wish it wasn't hurricane season?!?

Anonymous said...

boy you got that right. We are not getting too far away from home base for the next few months. Would not want to spend a storm in the catamaran, although this model has an excellent reputation for being a tough old boat. We're thinking there's enough good stuff to do within a day's sail of Provo until autumn.

John S. said...

After all the trials and tribulations, I am thrilled to read you ended up loving the boat and experience. You certainly did not have a blissful Bahamanian cruise for your first outing!

Wonderful blog even if there was a fair amount of pain mixed in the the fun. Can't say the 54 hours of sleepless slamming sounds like a good time.

Looking forward to more laid back cruises with minimum mechanical snafus.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic story. So well written from start to finish you'd think it was fiction. From calm in the begining to excitement in the middle to touching at the end. Such a nice ending coming home to Dooley. Nothing better on this planet seeing a dogs reaction when coming home after an extended leave.

I take it the VAT issue coming up is the main thing with importing it proper? Is the age of the boat the same aspect as the age of a vehicle determining the duties?

If anything it gives reason to cast off and go exploring every three months.

Sounds like the boat despite it's rattle and shakes is solid as a rock when required to accomplish the mission. Just rip out all the modern crap, stick with a couple sails and a sextant and that's all you'll ever need heh. Check into sat phones days are long gone when it was like 15 dollars per minute. They're comparable to cell phone plans today including data transfer. Highly competitive with a couple of competing operations around.

Boat looks great, exactly as described a cottage on the water. Big room and relaxing. Can just picture a calm days pulling into coves parking and camping on the water where every you want. Diving for lobster, conch, fresh fish, firing up the bbq eating the freshest of the fresh like a king gently bobbing in the ocean.

How were the sea legs after 56 hours? Did 24 days at sea a long time ago, recall making land fall and going out to a fancy resturant for dinner and literally slowly teetering over sideways in the chair until somone caught me.

Can see in Dooley's eyes he's enthralled with the boat, saying to himself no more wind missing up my hair, no more spray while I'm trying to snooze on the outrigger, and definitely no more confounded loud engine noise anymore.

Real question though, so what happens if and when a hurrican does come that way? Pull the thing onto land and tie it down and hope for the best? Or move it one of the canals and tie it up? Ins't Cooper Jack still empty/unsold. Is that considered a hurrican hole though it looks quite big.

Lastly the poor Landy's bumper area looks like its rusting to hell. Why is the body still looking so good and just that region rotting? Paint difference or something else?

Keep the stories coming including the boat/sailing stories on this blog, no need to separate them, it's now part and parcel of the whole island experience/living.

Anonymous said...

We've already arranged with the Caicos Marina to haul the boat in case of a hurricane. We even paid them a month's dry storage in advance to be sure we have a spot. Since that is only about three miles away from South Side Marina, we can have the boat at the travel lift literally within hours of a Hurricane Warning.

Now the Land Rover(s), well what you are referring to is what LR calls the Rear Cross Member. It's steel. Replacing those is a common thing on old Defenders. This one is only seven years old, but it lives in this environment. This place eats steel. IF you notice the steel strip above the license plate, that's gone too. and the steel frame that holds the front doors and windshield, is also going away at a good clip.

We're planning to have the frame cleaned and sprayed with some waxy stuff to try to get another couple of years out of it, but sadly, it's days are numbered unless we want to put big money into it.

We think about what we will do when it's no longer worth it. Sad, really, as the mileage is low and the turbo diesels are strong. Both vehicles have the same problems.

Right now, my vote would be to replace it eventually with something from the US that I can easily order parts for. IT would need to be thoroughly rust proofed and that would have to be renewed on at least a yearly basis. I have thoughts of a pipe of spray nozzles hooked to a water pump to drive over every time we bring it home and, store it in the garage. The four door Jeeps with a hard top would be my first choice.

As for sea legs, if you were falling over in a restaurant, were you by any chance just getting off of a monohull?

Anonymous said...

Boat was a shallow draft high speed container carrier actually :-)

I'd think you'd make a killing selling both of the LD's for parts in the US. Dismantle whatever percentage is required to ensure it's no longer considered a working vehicle, stuff a 20'FCL and ship it to the US. Or disassemple there and sell piece meail (higher profit margin but PITA logistic wise).

Jeep's an idea,I've seen a couple newer models there. I got an 80's Wranger (4.2 258) and a brand new 2012 JK(3.6 pentastar). The 4 door is 2007 + with the 3.8. I honestly can't be sure what to suggest for there right now. Brand is has something like 50 + computers running it fly by wire system that if something goes wrong no chance in hell anyone on TCI is trained to diagnose it. Same I assume for 2007-2011 3.8's though they're tried and tested and definitely more reliable towards '10 and '11 (brand new '11's are being cleared out 2 to even 5% under invoice). But they're just as sophisticated as the '12's. Older than those, again depends on what carb. fuel injection etc. such a range of them but absolutely parts galore and dirt cheap. Can haved the whole body made of fibergalss even and never worry about that rusting ever again. Isn't there a rental co. there that rents new(er) Jeeps? Never investigated but if so is there a network or certified / authorised something (shop.mechanic) on island?

What about just waxing them, fresh water clean then wax the whole things. Got to be a simple solution for salt air vs cars out there.

Jeff said...

Mr and Mrs Gringo-

Long time follower (THT days), first time poster....

This last post of yours had me on the edge of my seat. Kudos to both of you for making it through one hek of an adventure. Already looking forward to your next post\adventure.

Be safe and enjoy your new ride.

Jeff - swifty on THT.

satbeachbill said...

Loved the post. As you told the story, it's as if I was right there with you.

I know the jittery stomach feeling when approaching strange marinas on a sailboat. I used to own a 25' Piver trimaran that I sailed out of Melbourne,Fl for several years.

Really looking forward to your net blog entry.


Jon said...

Gringos - great post and just in time too as I was beginning to exhibit Dooley withdawal symptoms. Thanks for taking the time to share the big adventure and glad you're home safe & sound. Well, safe anyway.

I have a '98 Jeep Wrangler. Easy to work on, simple and bullet proof. I'm not sure the newer cars (even Jeeps) would hold up well in TCI. It seems they're all too gizmoed up these days with electronic this and flimsy that.


Anonymous said...

I so thouroughly enjoy reading this blog. I find myself sometimes checking it mutliple times a day to see if there is an update. Time after time I am told by those who I love very dearly ... don't get a big sailing boat ... but after reading these adventures ... troubles and all ... I think my my hearing is getting selectively worse.

Bearcruzer said...

Wow Byron and Polly, I have not spent much time at the computer lately and was so excited and overjoyed to see the dream you talked about with us more than 2 years ago finally come to fruition. The Catalac was one of the boats we looked at when we were looking for our liveaboard a few years back. I caught up with your challenges bringing her home. Wow, sounds all too familiar. I'll drop you an email to share some stories and DIY boat stuff. So great to see you all safe and happy back on the island.
Love to you both, Crystal and Michael s/v Dancing Dolphin

Anonymous said...

Glad you guys had a safe trip back home..What a great adventure for the two of you to share. Thanks for sharing it with us through your blog...I do hope you have many more adventures to post here for your fans to read about..

I also hope Dooley will forgive you both for leaving him for so long..Just get that fire hydrant installed on the boat for him. Then he will be fine..Fair winds and calm Seas your way...Cheers..

eleighj said...

Greetings from Spring,TX: two questions being as I am slowly talking the wife into a sailboat.

1. What happened to the airstream?

2. With the wife being a violinist; how does the moisture affect the violin that I saw in the picture on the previous blog? Issue with the wife.

Color me envious!

Anonymous said...

Hello Ed from Spring, Texas. I know exactly where that is, right down the road from my family home in Cypress.

We still have the Airstream. It's in storage in Colorado. I've been trying to find a place to rent a tow vehicle for it up near Denver or Fort Collins, but so far no luck.

The humidity is fairly constant here and in the Bahamas. This means wood doesn't expand and contract to the same degree that it does in places where the humidity varies widely from season to season. We don't see wood opening up in the winter and swelling up in the summer. It just doesn't move much at all since the moisture content of the air is pretty stable. But if your wife was really concerned, maybe she could pick up an inexpensive violin for the boat, or even one of the synthetic electrics.

Jim said...

Greetings from Pennsylvania !

Just wanted to say thanks for writing. Your new blog posts are something I look forward to reading (ps. I like the DIY segments).

One note on Jeeps. I've had several, run each for many miles, and loved them. But, PA winters and road salt have proven to be the enemy of their frames and floorboards. Some sort of undercarriage treatment is needed for longevity.

If you do manage to find a vehicle that's really rust resistant on it's own, please let us know !

Peace !

Anonymous said...

Thanks. I have another post ready to go, well, almost. But I was just looking at it and it's ALL DIY. I need to find some tropical type photos to spice it up a bit.

As for vehicles I haven't seen anything yet that's really rust resistant other than those cars being build in Jamaica. There are a few of those here. Fiberglass frames and bodies! But they're pretty ugly, and I can't imagine us pulling a boat down this road with one.

what I like about Jeeps are that I can get parts from the US quickly, with many at NAPA here. There is a good aftermarket for jeep parts and accessories. And the frame is easy to get to if I put in my framewasher idea.

The ideal jeep for us would be a used one that someone put a fiberglass body on. If the sprayed the frame with bedliner, even better!
Downside of all new automobiles, the computer reliance makes them hard for an owner to work on. I'm like a shade tree mechanic with no shade trees.

Jim said...

I looked-up those "Island Cruisers" and have to agree with your assessment.

I guess you could add some decorations to distract from the appearance (maybe a peace sign, flames, or a giant Dooley face on the hood). Then, just tow a john boat - lol !

Oh well - "rust never sleeps ..."