We are approaching the western end of the Dominican Republic, Haiti. We have been at sea now for three days as of 13:00, begin our fourth day at sea. With 400 miles under our keel we are about 150 miles from the halfway point of our voyage to Florida.
Brenda feels fine with no particular sign of seasickness. Yes, it’s been quite calm, but she is better on this trip than I have ever seen her, ever.
For me, now three days into the trip, I am settled in and am not all that focused on how long a trip this will be. I do find that it is the second day that is the toughest, as I am not into the routine, and much of the rest of the trip is still ahead of me. WE ARE GOING TO BE AT SEA FOR HOW LONG?
As good weather forecasts are not possible beyond about 5-6 days, and that often proves to be wishful thinking, we are now at a point in the trip where whatever was predicted when we left the USVIs is now “subject to change” and that is exactly what is happening now.
A low pressure system, at first feared to become an early season tropical low, is forming in the Gulf of Mexico and will surge to the NE over the weekend, crossing Florida and the waters of the Gulf Stream and Bahamas, bringing strong north winds and intense thunderstorms to the area at just the time we would be arriving in Florida waters which is not good.
As our trajectory would bring us to that area just as things get really bad, we have had to make other plans. For just about every trip I have made, the second half of the trip, and often just a few days after leaving port, turn out being a lot different than forecasted and this trip is no different.
What has caused things to be so difficult for cruisers this spring is the fact that convenient stopping points are closed and once at sea, there just isn’t anywhere to stop along the way when the weather gets bad.
As part of the Salty Dawg Homeward Bound Flotilla, a representative of the group has been in touch with the Bahamian government with the hope of offering support for cruisers that need to stop and rest of make repairs, something that was forbidden in the country as a result of Covid-19.
A tiny door was opened last week when the government of The Bahamas agreed to allow cruisers to stop at a number of designated marinas with the plan of taking on fuel and staying for a single night.
That was a good first step but problem with a plan like that is the nature of the Bahamas as a cruising area, with many complicated cuts and islands that are really only transited during daylight hours so even their offer to stop once, just wasn’t realistic. To cross the Bahamas safely takes a few days, with stops each night. And, if you toss in passing fronts, a single night in a marina just isn’t helpful.
So, back to that nasty low that we will collide with if we don’t divert somewhere to wait a few days while the weather sorts itself out. As we make our way west, we pass a number of great harbors in the DR and Cuba, all of which remain closed to cruisers.
One Bahamian island that we will pass very close to is Great Inagua, the most southern island in the chain. It is not often frequented by cruisers because of it’s remoteness and exposed anchorages. The island is low, very arid and has little tourism. In fact, the largest industry on the island is the Morton Salt Company that collects sea salt in shallow ponds that cover many square miles on the island. Seawater is pumped into the ponds and the sun evaporates the water leaving abundant salt that is scraped up and packaged for sale.
Anyway, the last time Brenda and I passed Great Inaqua was on our way south to Cuba and while we were going to stop and anchor to break up the trip from Georgetown Bahamas, we opted to keep going because of weather. So, here we are years later, planning to stop and this time, for weather as well. I expect that we will have to stay there through the weekend and perhaps leave on Tuesday, maybe Monday to continue our trip to Florida.
I am not particularly keen on stopping for a few days as the harbor can be rolly when the wind is from any sort of northerly direction which it will be for a day or so before we arrive tomorrow, Friday, afternoon.
By the time we drop anchor, we will have covered half of the distance to Florida and it will be time for a rest. While the govt has agreed that we can stop there, and for more than a single day, we will not be permitted ashore and will be confined to Pandora. As I understand it, we will not need to clear in and should just fly our Quarantine “Q” flag. That’s fine with me as I no more want to be exposed to the locals than they to me.
On another subject, I have used the phrase “cruising is boat repair in exotic places” over the years and today was no different. Earlier this morning, as the overnight wind began to die, I started up the engine to get moving and to charge the batteries, that were low after a night running all the instruments and refrigeration. Pandora has a particularly large alternator designed to provide rapid charging to her large 1,000 AH battery bank. This alternator, unlike on most boats, is mounted separately from the engine and is powered by a power take-off that runs from a shaft out of the front of the engine. That shaft turns a large pulley that has two belts connecting to the alternator itself. I had noticed that the belts were squealing a bit when a peak, near 200A load was put on the alternator and had made a mental note to replace them. Well today, one of the belts broke and the second was slipping like mad and making a loud squealing sound. Immediately, I knew what had happened but did wonder if perhaps it was a bearing on the alternator. I turned off the engine immediately and took a look. It was the belt fortunately, the alternator was fine.
Fortunately, I carry spares for the belts and knew exactly what to do. However, getting the remaining belt off and loosening the bolts holding the belts in tension in a very hot engine compartment turned out to be quite a sweaty chore. When the belts slipped and ultimately broke, the friction of the slipping belts on the pulley had made it so hot that even a light touch left a burn. Working around the hot pulleys was quite a chore, and left me with a few small burns from even the lightest touch.
It took some doing and about two hours, but I was able to replace the belts and get things running again. Oh boy, was I glad that I had the spare belts. For the record, I had checked before leaving the US last fall to confirm that the belts in the parts bin were the correct size. I also have a spare alternator, just in case.
So, here we are, motoring slowly along with about 1.5kts of wind on an oily calm sea and a lazy 2′ swell from the east, with about 130 miles to go until we make our unplanned landfall.
Next stop? Forget Florida, make that Great Inagua. Wouldn’t you know it, we finally settle into life at sea and we have to stop?
Let’s hope the locals re friendly.