Monthly Archives: February 2013

Getting into the Bahamas cruising routine.

It’s Tuesday morning and we just finished a breakfast of French Toast made from Corene’s, that’s Corene of Black Point fame, coconut bread with real maple syrup.  If you think that you have had great French Toast I am here to say that this is better, you will just have to trust me on that.

We are anchored off of the Caribbean Marine Research Center on Lee Stocking Island which puts us within a day sail, about 25 miles, from George Town our destination for this week.  While the facility is closed right now, there are plenty of trails on the island to explore.  Our plan is to head out to the ocean side for some shell collecting and perhaps some snorkeling too.   We were told that these beaches don’t get much traffic and as they are on the ocean side, there might be some good shells to pick up.

So how about a weather report?  I hate to break it to you all but it’s warm and sunny today, not a big change from yesterday or last week for that matter.  Having said that, today the weather router that we use, Chris Parker, opened his 06:30 broadcast with a statement that he hadn’t seen such a great stretch of weather as is in store for this week in a long time.  So, that sounds like things are going to be even better.  I can live with that.

We are hopeful that we will get a good sail in on Wednesday as we make our way the final 25 miles to George Town and Chris’s report today bodes well for a fun time.

Yesterday I tried my hand at fishing when we were offshore.  However, I didn’t get a bite.  Bummer.  Actually, I wondered if I was using the correct lure, one that is supposed to be good for Mahi Mahi, as it just skipped across the surface of the water.  We did see some flying fish skip across the water but nothing bigger.  Even though we were on a close reach and pretty close to the wind, we were doing up to eight knots in quite lumpy conditions.  Perhaps that was too fast.  I don’t know enough about fishing to know if that’s good or bad.   Pandora was a champ and really moved along catching up and passing another boat that was a good deal longer than and we are and nearly caught two other boats that were in front of us.   Had we been out for a longer time we certainly would have passed everyone.   I like this boat.

Brenda didn’t appreciate the lumpiness but did all right in spite of the rocking and rolling.   She was just stunned by the color of the water, a deep cobalt blue.  One of the most interesting parts of sailing here is the constantly changing water color, dependent on the depth.   The shallower the water the lighter the color going from robin’s egg blue and lighter to the cobalt of the ocean.    However, it’s always really clear, that’s for sure.

Yesterday was a milestone for us as we did two ocean cuts in the same day.  These cuts can be treacherous as a massive amount of water flushes in and out twice a day with the turn of the tide.  On top of that, there are often breaking waves and confused seas, more so, sometimes way more, if the wind is opposing the tide.   In some cases, the passes are too dangerous to navigate when there are big ocean swells, strong winds and an outgoing tide.  In this case, you can’t go out at all or risk losing your boat.  These conditions are called “the rage” and it’s not something that I ever care to experience.

As so much water goes in and out of these cuts, they can be quite deep and often have dramatic cliffs on each side.   Brenda took this shot as we exited Cave Cay Cut. Pretty amazing view.   And those white cliffs were a dramatic contrast to the deep blue water.

Perhaps I will close with a shot from our cockpit this morning.  Not a bad view to accompany our French Toast.   For the observant among you, yes those are indeed Christmas lights.  We strung them up in the cockpit last evening to set the mood for our candlelight supper.   Brenda outdid herself with a great menu.   We started with a fabulous tomato mango salsa that she whipped up, scooped up with chips, baked of course.  Followed by sautéed chicken breast and apple sausage ith broccoli with garlic, lots of garlic over pasta.   This was washed down with champagne to toast the close of her birthday celebratory month.   Yes, Brenda gets a celebratory month beginning shortly after Christmas.  Isn’t that the same for all girls?

With less than three weeks into our trip, we are getting into the Bahamas cruising life rhythm.  Has it been an adjustment?  Indeed.  Fun?  You bet.

So, off for a hike, picnic lunch and a bit of shelling.

Racing Bahamas Sloops. Crazy!

Perhaps the best way to begin this post is to say that I am sore.  My arms, back, hands and just about every muscle in my body hurts.  So, what caused this discomfort Bob, you say?   Yes, you guessed it, I sailed on Thunderbird again yesterday for three races.   On top of the muscle sores, I have plenty of “boat bites” (that’s racer talk for bruises thanks to Thunderbird).   Yes, the bumps and bruises hurt but they are totally worth it.  What a kick in the pants.

Yes, and my head hurts a bit too although that wasn’t from banging it into the boat.   It’s well, from banging my head into a Klick,, a local Bahamian bear, actually a number of them.  Having said that, I didn’t have more than a few, so to have a headache from that is pathetic in itself.  You’d think that after so many years of practice I’d do better.

Yesterday was just about the most fun I have ever had on the water.  Having said that, I am very happy that the races are over for now as I doubt that I could make it through another day without serious injury.  I am just too little a guy to be tossed around on these boats for too many more races. Additionally, those who will get into cruise ship or boat accidents may consider consulting with Cruise Ship Passenger Accident Injury experts for legal advice.

So, let me give you the gist of all this sloop racing stuff.  Ok, you start by anchoring your boat along a line between two buoys,  the starting line.  Each boat, and there were nine of them racing, dropped an anchor, actually a grappling hook, and let out enough line to fall back to a spot just below the starting line. Once this is done, and it takes longer than you’d think to make this happen, the race begins.   The lining up at the start is as much a part of the race as the sailing as the captains jockey for the best spot on the line.

Perhaps the most curious of all, although not surprising is that all of the captains cram their boats into the favored end of the line and when there isn’t any more room, the latecomers just pick up and move the starting line buoy so that they can squeeze in. Off we go.  You can see how small the sail is given how windy it was.  Imagine if a full size sail was used?  That’s a really tall mast. I doubt that the United States Sailing Association would encourage the moving of marks.   I guess it’s just a “Bahamas ting mon”.  All the while there is constant yelling from one boat to another about any perceived infraction.   Believe me, there is nothing said here that isn’t done in a raised voice.   At one point I asked our captain just how pissed off this other captain was at us.  His answer was that they were long time great friends, laughed and began yelling back at the top of his voice again.  I’d say that with friends like that I’d be very wary of real enemies.  More on that later.

So, when all of the jockeying is finally done, the boats are settled and the gun goes off.   That’s when all hell breaks loose.  The captain yells “pull boys, pull that F*%#@$% anchor, F&^%$@# pull.  Faster, faster…”.   Three members of the crew pull on the anchor line as fast as possible  and this gives the boats forward momentum so they can get going fast enough to maneuver.   Once the anchor is nearly on board the sail is hoisted up and off everyone goes, on a starboard tack, always to starboard and always to weather. We’re the one with the “9” on the sail. 

As soon as the sail is up, actually at the same time, the long hiking boards called “prides” are put in place.  These are thick heavy wooden boards, 10’ long, that are rammed under the leeward gunwale against the hull of the boat so that they stick way out to weather.  These boards allow the crew to act as ballast.  Without this leverage and weight to weather, these way over canvased boats would capsize immediately and sink.    When you set the prides in place you literally launch yourself out onto the board.  Moving the prides into position is done with such violence that it’s a wonder that they don’t go right though the hull and out the side of the boat.   Believe me, the ribs in that (all of the boats are wooden) are pretty banged up from all the abuse.

This close up of us hiking out on the prides gives y0u a feel for how high up from the water you are.  As the wind was very gusty, we had to scramble on and off of the prides every few moments.  Amazingly, know one fell overboard but some came close.  The rules require you to finish the race with the same number of crew that you start with.  That’s good.

As you can imagine, this sort of violence reeks havoc on the boats and all are in various stages of decay.  There was plenty of evidence of repairs done badly, if at all.  There was also plenty of trash under the small decks including a tool box that was more like a lump of rust than selection of tools.   Not surprisingly, at the end of the races when we delivered the boat back to the mail boat to be shipped back to Nassau, the now soaked cotton sail was just left in a heap in the bottom of the boat.   

The rigging is a mix of stainless wire and a few a few turnbuckles but mostly just eye splices that had thin line laced through to provide needed tension to the rig.  Amazingly, they don’t seem to get dis-masted and in spite of sailing in 25kts of wind, nothing major seemed to break on any boats.   Two boats did sink, something that I understand happens with some regularity to the great amusement of the spectators.  As you can imagine, it’s a bit of a project to re float one of these boats as they have a good deal of lead ballast  which has to be removed, one pig at a time prior to pumping out.

On the first day it was really rough with waves breaking over the bow and running inside the boat on each weather run.  So much water came over the bow and leeward side that a bilge pump is just left running to deal with the incoming flood.  They don’t even bother to have a float switch or any on-off switch for that matter on the pump.  When we were taking on water, which was most of the time, the captain just reached under the aft deck and placed the lead on the battery.  Note that everything is soaked with salt water which is an excellent conductor of electricity.  The few times that I had to connect the battery lead that was always coming loose and was treated to a solid buzz of electricity up my arm.

At one point on the first day we were taking on so much water that the pump couldn’t keep up with loads of water sloshing around in the bilge.  Being the littlest guy aboard I was asked to bail by hand while the guys that had 100lbs on me were hiking out.   They say that the best bilge pump is a terrified guy with a bucket.  However, try as I might, I couldn’t do much to lower the water level since my bucket was only a one quart thermos    After a while I thought to look under the aft deck I noticed that the bilge pump  was working just fine except that the hose was split wide open so that most of the water was just squirting back into the boat.   Duh!  Fixing this problem helped a lot.

Fortunately, in the “tool box”, such as it was, there was a roll, no make that a remnant of a roll of electrical tape so I was able to wrap around the two pieces of hose so that the water was again being pumped outside of the boat, where it belonged.   It’s pretty obvious that the hose won’t be replaced any time soon so let’s hope that the tape holds out.  Perhaps if I am lucky enough to race on Thunderbird again in the future, I will be able to check on my “temporary” repair.  So much for preventive maintenance   Let’s hope that there is a roll of tape available then too.

So, back to the race.  I won’t give a blow by blow, pun intended, except to say that while racing rules are important they are only loosely enforced.   One interesting example was when we were rounding the weather mark neck and neck with another boat, us outside (the correct side) and them on the inside of the mark (the wrong side), with the mark passing between us.   Instead of them re rounding the mark, as required, they just kept going.   No protest was filed, probably because they finished after us. Actually, there was plenty of “protesting” going on but it was more like “street court” between two New York City cabbies in an accident than yacht racing.  Pretty amusing.

Other highlights included a number of close encounters and collisions when boats crossed a bit too close or the end of the impossibly long booms that hang out beyond the transom at least ten feet caught on another boat.  However, the best, no make that the worse, encounter we had was at the windward mark on the second day of racing.   We were approaching the mark with a number of other boats and a boat approaching on a different tack held their course for a bit too long even though we had the right of way.  As we passed  in front of them our boom caught their forestay and pulled them right over  on their beam ends.  This was a bad thing, very bad, as they quickly flooded and headed right for the bottom.   The good news is that the water at the mark was only about ten feet deep so they didn’t have a long way to go.  The rest of the fleet was able to dodge them and continue around the mark.

The crew of the stricken boat were all yelling obscenities at us.  Actually, everyone is always yelling obscenities but it was pretty clear that they really meant it this time.  If we thought that they were pissed, we hadn’t seen anything yet.  A few minutes after the collision  some guy, perhaps the owner of the now sunken boat or at least one who sympathized with their plight, powered up to Thunderbird in a large launch with a 150hp engine, waving his arms and suggesting all sorts of unpleasant things about our mothers and girlfriends.  What seemed at first to be just one more enthusiastic Bahamanian, turned ugly when he decided that yelling wasn’t making his point clearly enough so he began ramming his boat into our stern.  At first it was more of a nudge, a sort of “I am bigger than you are and can prove it”, sort of a bump.   As his rage grew, he tired of this more “subtle” approach and things quickly escalated into his running his the boat between our hull and the boom, which pulled in our rig violently and threatened to break the boom.   At this point profanity really got interesting.   Me, I was having sinking thoughts or worse. The situation was going from bad to worse and it wasn’t looking good for us.  Finally, he backed off.

However, as it turned out, his backing off was more like an enraged bull stepping back to begin a final charge.   So, next he powers up and charges for our beam.  He struck us amidship with his bow rising up over our gunnel as if he was going to run right over us.  I was standing, no make that couching down as low as I could as his bow rose over my head.  Fortunately, he backed off but it sure felt like a near miss to me.

Again, more swearing and disparagement of various family members but he finally backed off for good and sped off on his way, perhaps back to the bar.   Amazingly, no one was hurt and damage the boat was minor.  Actually, there are so many battle scars on Thunderbird that everyone seemed to take the whole episode in stride.

I heard later that the “offender” had been ejected from the course and that was the last it was spoken of.   The whole episode was amazing, actually.   Perhaps most amazing is how quickly everyone forgot about the whole thing.

After the races we took Thunderbird back to be un-rigged in preparation for her to be taken back to Nassau aboard the mail boat.   Then we returned to the party on the beach and what a party it was.   The Bahamians take racing seriously if the size of the trophies are any indication. On top of there were several government officials in attendance all decked out and looking very much part of the yachting set.  It seems that outlandish pants are not unique to the US yachting and golfing set.It was just fabulous fun being  a part of such a Bahamian event with the locals far outnumbering the cruisers.   Perhaps this tee shirt worn by an enthusiastic Bahamian says it best.  I agree the Bahamas are indeed a great country.I’ll close with a photo of the “yacht club”.  And, a nice shot of Pandora from the docks. Our own little piece of paradise.   I’m taking it.

Can you say “hold on like your life, or the race, depends on it?”

Yesterday I volunteered, and was accepted to crew on a Bahamas sloop, Thunderbird, to crew in the regatta.  I don’t have much time to talk about it this morning as I have to head to shore to crew today.

I will say that the wind yesterday was amazingly strong, gusting into the high 20s with seas to match.  These lightly ballasted boats rely on crew to keep the boats upright. As the boats are very heavily canvassed, the crew, some in the 250lb range (there are 5 including the captain) have to hike out on long wooden boards that stick way out over the water to weather.  This means that when the boat tacks there is a mad scramble from one side of the boat to the other, all the while moving these heavy boards to the other side of the boat.

Once in place on the board you, that means me, scramble out to the end of the board to get enough weight outboard to keep the boat from tipping over.  Oh yea,I forgot to mention that these long boards are varnished to a high gloss so that you can slide easily outboard.  That’s good except that the slippery boards also make it really, really easy to fall overboard.  Oh yeah, there are no life jackets aboard.  As you can imagine, everyone holds on like their life depends on it, and it does.

I’ll be writing more about this but for now it’s sufficient to say that this was the most adventurous sailing I have ever done and my arm muscles are sore today from gripping on for dear life all.

As we were blasting to weather, it was a two leg race, one to weather and the other a drag race back to the starting line, we were submarining into each wave with tons, or at least many gallons, of water coming aboard with an electric bilge pump running non stop to keep up with the on-slot.

Of the 9 boats that were competing from all over the Bahamas, many brought to the race on the deck of the mailboat from Nassau, most all were crewed by Bahamians and there were precious few non-locals and a lot fewer little white guys like your’s truly on board.

I have to say that the race, and they only had one because of the very strong winds, was really fun.  I think that it is safe to say that the race was the most fun I have ever had while being terrified at the same time.

Hope to have even more fun, and be a little less terrified today.

Oh yeah, we came in second.  I expect that we would have had a better chance of winning if we hadn’t run aground near the weather mark.  But, that’s another story.

Wish me luck.

Little Farmer’s Cay and all the festivities!

It’s Friday morning here in Little Farmer’s Cay and the sun is rising along with the wind.   The forecast (Have I said that we LIVE for the weather?) is for a cold front to come through today which will bring with it NE winds in the 20-25 range with higher gusts.  Yesterday the winds were just about nil with only a light breeze from the south.  Light winds are not very common here and we enjoyed the respite. Having said that, it was a bit too hot with no breeze to cool things off.  On top of that, horrors of horrors, the no-se-ums were out in force during the Little Farmer’s Cay Yacht Club happy hour.  Can you imagine the inconvenience drinking rum punch all the while slapping at bugs that are so small you can’t even see the little buggers?  Yes, I am sure that you feel our pain.

In the interest of fair disclosure, I should come clean on the “yacht club” thing.  Here, in the Bahamas, a local opens a restaurant and calls it a yacht club and the name is about the only thing that’s like what we know as a yacht club. Having said that, today the LFCYC will really be a yacht club in every sense of the word as they are hosts to class racing for Bahamas Sloops.  As I write this, at 08:00, the mail boat from Nassau, with island music blasting just pulled up to the yacht club dock with a deck load of sloops to be unloaded for the competition.  Today is the kickoff for a weekend of festivities here at LFC and the biggest event of the year in these parts.  I understand that there will be racing, music and plenty of fun for all.  I can’t wait.

The owner and self styled commodore of the LFYC, Roosevelt Nixon (is that a great name or what?) said to me at dinner last night, that if I came to the dock this morning perhaps I can get on board one of the boats for the racing today.  That would be fun.  I’ll have to see what Brenda wants to do.

Perhaps I should sign off for now so I can stick my nose into the thick of things to see what I can do to participate.

Ta Ta and Tally Ho for now!  Off to the races.