Signs of change in Bimini

We had a tight 24-hour weather window coming up to cross the Great Bahama Bank, during which the winds were forecasted to blow from the southeast, then the south and come around to the west before hitting us from the north, by which time we wanted to be safely tucked into Nassau.

With our new heat exchanger installed, we figured we’d take the boat out for a little test run before leaving, and if all went well, we’d head down to Cat Cay to anchor and head across the bank at first light. That plan was derailed, though, when the engine overheated and we found coolant on the floor of the engine compartment. The culprit was a faulty hose clamp, which we were able to fix, but meant returning to Bimini to anchor and formulate a new plan to get to Nassau.

Since we’d gained one more night in Bimini, though, we thought we’d venture away from Hideaway’s galley and into the streets to find some authentic Bahamian food. Which is how we found ourselves seated in the locally popular CJ’s Deli, a shed-sized hut by the beach that had just enough spare room for us to sit down with some conch fritters and whole fish, but not quite enough room to also open the beer fridge parked behind our stools. So as we shuffled out of the way of the fridge every few minutes, we got talking to some of the locals, who were yelling abuse at the television, as the results of yesterday’s referendum were being announced.

The talk of the town for the last week was the upcoming referendum, which the locals had told us was to legalize the national lotto. But, as it turned out, the referendum was really for all gambling in the Bahamas – the lotto, online gambling, etc.

So when the results were announced on Bahamian TV as a “no,” along with a government mandate that all online gaming establishments were to cease operations immediately, the whole of CJ’s Deli started shouting at the TV and each other in a blur of sing-songy, dropped-consonant Bahamian English. It was hard to decipher at first, but if you imagined yourself speaking English with your tongue suspended in your mouth, not touching your teeth, you could almost make out what they were saying.

“Wha we gon do?! How I gon play mah numbers?!”

“And how bout da web cafes? Thee mo-fockaz be takin jobs!”

(Owner picks up phone) “I know, baby, you gon hafte stop yo gambling and start drinkin now!” (lots of laughter)

“I tell ya, ner go gens da church. Ya go gens da church, ya gon be shut down,” says a Bahamian police officer, picking up his conch burger and fries.

We laughed at the jovial ruckus going on around us while we chowed down our $3 conch fritters. And the longer we watched and laughed, the more the small crowd in CJ’s started aiming their jokes towards us to make us laugh more. And as they started drawing us into the banter, they switched from speaking in a blur of Bahamian to something more like textbook English for our benefit, and started counting for us on their fingers the number of internet cafes that would be shut down as a result of the referendum, and the number of jobs that would be lost. They reckoned around 3,000 jobs in the islands were doomed.

Ryan asked them what would come of the casinos in the Bahamas.

“Oh, the casinos, dey fine for you folk to go in. You is tourists. But Bahamians can’t go in. Nuh uh. We used to have our numbers. But no more!”

One patron took a swig from a mini bottle of whiskey and said, “Da Bahamas is a religious country. So da government don’t like us gambling because da Bahamas peoples is wild. We wild!” He took another swig and laughed.

We thanked the owner of CJ’s for the fantastic fish fry and poured ourselves out onto the streets with the rest of the patrons taking fried fish and conch burgers home with them.

We’d been in Bimini for a week now, but since we were hell-bent on lightening our crippling provisioning load by eating our way through it, we almost missed this experience.

So even though we have enough food on board to feed a family of ten for the next three months, we vowed to make sure we got out to the local markets and non-touristy restaurants often enough to make sure we got to mix with local islanders. After all, that’s what we’re here for, right? To experience new things, meet new people, see how people live, and eat new foods. So much local culture revolves around food; it would be a shame to miss out on the fun just because we stocked enough canned chicken and pasta to take us to the moon and back.

Just getting lost somewhere new is a treat, since we have to talk to people to find our way around, and since being on foot means plenty of time to look around and notice things. Like these comical signs in Bimini, which seem to follow a rule that all establishments need slogans in quotation marks.

These signs, in particular, gave us a chuckle, while some of them left us confused as to what services were being offered:

gospel church sign bimini

Signs the Bahamas is a religious country. “No Cross, No Crown.” Eh?

mucka mucks sign bimini

Something in this shop is “gonna make you a star.” Just not sure what.

trev inn marketplace sign bimini

We haven’t reached our goal yet, but when we do, you’ll have service!

get it right car repair sign bimini

No idea. “With the “Paper”? Really. No idea.

phone card booth bimini

A phone card booth without phone cards. Just a booth.

phone card booth 2 bimini

But if there were phone cards, what would they cost, exactly?

no dumping sign bimini

No, seriously. NO DUMPING.

Hook, line and sinker

Ryan and I have been threatening to fish ever since we left New York back in October. We kept putting it off, though, throwing out the excuse that we didn’t own a fishing rod.

Then we found ourselves a mentor named Von at the flea market in St. Marys, Georgia, who sold us a rod for $35 and sweetly gave us some free lures and lessons in tying fishing line. And for his patience and generosity, all he asked in return was that we send him a picture of our first catch.

That was November. And every month that’s gone by that I haven’t sent a photo to Von has weighed on me. He was like our Mr. Miyagi; he gave us wisdom and coaching, and all we had to do was be his Karate Kid and make him proud. Except we never once tried out our fishing rod in the two months after we met him. If the Karate Kid never waxed on and waxed off, clipped Bonsai trees or practiced chopping bricks with his bare hands, he wouldn’t have made Mr. Miyagi proud either.

You may be asking, if I felt so guilty, why didn’t I just trawl our fishing line off the back of the boat and see what we could pick up, or cast a line while we were at anchor one night? For crying out loud, it can’t be that hard. Just throw a hook in the water!

I don’t have a good excuse, really. For a while I said we didn’t have the right lures (too big) or the space to clean a fish on deck (really?), but in reality I think it was just fear. I had no idea what we would do once we got a live fish up on deck, and I was pretty sure we would have to kill it, which didn’t sound like a lot of fun.

turf to surf bimini fishing

As you can see, I’ve already perfected my awkward-rod-holding technique.

In my mind, rather than pull up little two-pound dinner-sized fish, I thought with our 50-pound test line, I’d find myself locked in a death match with a 40-pound tuna, conflicted simultaneously by wanting to eat sushi and not wanting to bludgeon a massive, writhing, beautiful monster on Hideaway’s foredeck.

And the book I bought, The Cruiser’s Handbook of Fishing, didn’t do much to put me at ease, either. I opened it up to the section on “Stand-Up Outfits,” which is similar to our rod and reel, and it said, “This arrangement allows the fisher to move freely around the boat as needed during the battle; for example in response to a sudden, fast, sustained change in direction or depth on the part of a strong fish.” I’m sorry, but did that say “battle”?

All I wanted was a two-pound, maybe four-pound fish MAX. I didn’t want to fight a fish with my last breath like Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea. And what would I do with 40 pounds of fish if I ever got it on board anyhow? Even Charlie and Celia can’t eat that much fish. If I had 10 more cats on board, they couldn’t eat that much fish.

So you can see the shape my fears took when it came to fishing. Probably not dissimilar to the irrational fears I had about sailing and boating when I first started, actually.

However, being docked for a week at the Bimini Big Game Club — where Ernest Hemingway himself came to fish marlin, and where I was surrounded by guys in t-shirts emblazoned with bonefish — got under my skin. And the clincher was coming up on deck to find two men fishing right off our dock, next to our boat. And here I was trying to avoid fishing in what appeared to be the sport fishing capital of the Bahamas.

Finally, I couldn’t take the guilt anymore. So I poured a glass of wine and at about eight o’clock on Saturday night, when all the fishermen were at the bar and couldn’t see me fumbling with a rod I’d never used, I announced to Ryan that I was going fishing. I had no idea how I was going to catch a fish, but I put a hook on the end of my line and I dropped it in the water.

Two hours later, Ryan came out to check on me, and by this time I was sitting on the dock with my legs dangling over the water because, as it turns out, fishing is really boring when you don’t catch anything. Luckily, I had enough wine in my cup to amuse me while I sat by myself in the dark, though.

But Ryan had a better idea and managed to grab a fisherman from a neighboring motorboat and asked in his best English accent if the fellow wouldn’t mind giving me some pointers. Ryan was probably thinking I was either going to catch a fish, or I was going to end up really drunk and bored.

And it turned out our new friend Al was just the mojo we needed. He took one look at the enormous trawling lure I had on my line and disappeared into his tackle box. When he emerged, he was holding a set of tiny hooks and lures called Sabikis and he showed me how to tied them on and tug them through the water.

Two hours of dangling a line with a big, fat hook on the end and nothing. Five minutes with some Sabiki lures and I yank up a little fish Al called a “Goggle Eye.” I’m not sure if that’s the scientific genus and species, but it definitely had big ‘ol goggle eyes, so the name worked for me. We threw him back in and I pulled up another four fish just like him.

Finally, after Al retired for the night, I pulled up a one-and-a-half pound jack, which looked just fat enough to eat. And since it was my first fishing success, my philosophy was we had to eat it. It was probably good luck or something.

I did manage to hook one more fish that night – my seventh – but when I yelled to Ryan to come look, he could see that whatever it was had bent my rod beyond what was comfortable. This was no one-and-a-half pounder. I had no idea what to do or how to pull the thing up, so I made what was probably a classic rookie mistake and I started trying to reel him in. And the tighter my line got, the more my rod bent.

Before Ryan could tell me to give the fish some slack, the line snapped and I was left with no fish and no first-time-lucky Sabiki lures. The fish took it all, hook, line and sinker.

I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get a glimpse of whatever was on the end of my line, but the truth was I wasn’t ready to be traumatized by a big fish just yet. My one-and-a-half pound appetizer-sized fish was plenty for now.

As for fishing, I was hooked. The moment my line pulled and I discovered I’d pulled up dinner, I felt a primal sense of satisfaction. In a way, it was similar to the excitement I feel when I realize we’re traveling by wind power alone. It’s like I’ve stepped just a little closer to total self-reliance, developing skills that I’ve only read about in survival guides. It feels very empowering. I can almost see why sports fisherman are such fanatics about wearing t-shirts and visors with fish all over them. Almost.

The second best moment of the day, though, was when I got to email Von with a picture of me with my first catch. Wax on, wax off.

bimini jack fish big game club

This one’s for you, Von!

jack fish filleting bimini

Filleting my little jack fish

bimini big game club fish cleaning station

Not a bad spot for cleaning fish.

turf to surf travel blog

Making a meal out of my jack fish with egg and bread crumbs.

fish tacos hideaway sailing blog

The end result after catching, filleting, de-boning, de-scaling, breading and frying: fish tacos!

Need a new part? Don’t worry, mon!

If you’d told me a week ago that for $25 we could order an engine part from Fort Lauderdale at 9:30 am and it would be in our hands in the Bahamas at 4:30 pm the same day, I would have either told you to “shut the front door,” or I would’ve forgone all those last-minute trips to West Marine back in Fort Lauderdale. Or at least I wouldn’t have worried so much about getting boat parts in the islands.

Since I can’t be sure that our situation was typical, though, I won’t venture quite that far. Perhaps I should say, instead, if you’d told me a week ago that I would be able to identify almost every part of our diesel engine (and take most of it apart), after spending six years knowing only where the coolant and oil goes, I’d have definitely told you to shut the front door.

But so it was.

We suspected something was awry with our engine when we left for Bimini last week. And our hunch was that the problem had surfaced as a result of loading down the rear end of our boat too heavily. We just couldn’t figure out how, exactly, that would have resulted in the engine spitting hot sea water onto our cabin floor.

And to confuse us further, when we returned to Fort Lauderdale, after aborting our first attempt to cross the Gulf Stream, we couldn’t seem to recreate the same problem. Which had us perplexed.

Luckily, though, I posted our engine questions on that trusty boating forum we call Facebook, and our many boat-savvy friends responded with lots of possibilities.

So, as it went, the conversation between me, Ryan and the internet played out a bit like an episode of House, except with mechanics and total amateurs (i.e. us), rather than doctors. And instead of a whiteboard, we had my Facebook Wall to scribble all over.

FB Friend: It sounds like you might’ve blown a hose?

Me: Nope, it’s not a blown hose. I checked them all.

Another FB Friend: Check the cockpit scuppers and anything else that could be draining around the engine.

Ryan: But if that were the problem, the water would be cold. This water was hot. And salty. So it must have been after it went through the engine.

Me: This is just a wild theory, but is it possible that all the weight in the back could have pushed water back up through our exhaust?

Another FB Friend: We used to get seawater in through our exhaust if we ran our engine over 1800 RPMs.

Ryan (thinking): Maybe? If the water from the engine were being pushed back into the boat, that could be hot. But I think there’s a valve to prevent that from happening. Also, we regularly run the engine at 2200 and this has never happened.

Me: Could the exhaust valve have gone bad under pressure?

FB Friend: Have you checked your engine zincs?

Me: The engine has zincs?

FB Friend: Indeed it does.

Me (to Ryan): Did you know the engine has zincs?

Ryan: I know the prop has zincs.

Me: Where’s the service manual? Really? It says the zinc’s in the heat exchanger. What?! How could we not know this?!

Amazingly, with that one, tiny question, we snowballed towards a realization. And the theory that resulted, is this:

  1. There was no sacrificial zinc left in our heat exchanger to combat salt water corrosion (and we don’t know how long we were without one).
  2. The “walls” separating the coolant from raw water in the heat exchanger were probably hanging on by a thread, but were still functioning.
  3. When we loaded down the back of Hideaway and took her out to sea, the pressure created by the exhaust being submerged in water (and not allowing water to escape freely) caused the walls in the heat exchanger to finally break down.
  4. At that point, coolant began mixing with salt water and running through the engine. The overflow then released excess hot salt water from the engine out onto our floor.
  5. Which explains why, when I drained the heat exchanger, I got salt water and not coolant. The coolant had been mixing with salt water and diluting it when it shouldn’t have.
  6. The reason we couldn’t recreate this when the engine was idle or cool was because the heat exchanger is only engaged when the thermostat kicks in to say the engine needs cooling.

All of the above dictated that, though our engine ran cool all the way to Bimini, when we arrived and found salt water on the floor of the engine compartment, we knew that we hadn’t fixed the problem back in Fort Lauderdale at all. We thought if we redistributed the obscene weight of our provisioning, then we would relieve the pressure off our exhaust and all would be well. Unfortunately, though, we believe the damage was already done.

What was really mind-blowing, though, was that we managed to track down a distributor of our exact Sen-Dure Heat Exchanger, a $300 part, in Fort Lauderdale. And though the salesmen at Jerry’s Marine weren’t the friendliest, and it took a lot of coaxing to get them to pull our part out of inventory, in the end, they did what we asked them to… which was to deliver the part to a local airline in Fort Lauderdale who had already agreed to cargo ship the part to the Bimini Airport for a mere $25.

And though, on Friday, the Fort Lauderdale-based Pioneer Air Service said they could probably get the part to us on Monday afternoon (which we were more than thrilled with), they called us back to let us know the part would be at the airport that day at 4:00 pm. And could we come pick it up today? What?!

So, we dropped what we were doing, hopped on our bikes, took a ferry (and by ferry, I mean a 10-passenger boat) over to South Bimini, and cycled down the island’s one dirt road. Along the way, just to be sure, we asked a few people for directions, resulting either in someone smiling and shouting “That way, mon!” or looking at us sideways, smiling and perplexed that we should need directions to anywhere along the island’s only road.

When we got to the airport after about 5 minutes of dusty cycling, we encountered a building the size of a small apartment, sign-posted as “Bimini International Airport.” Ryan went in with his cruising permit to prove he didn’t need to pay taxes on this particular import because it was for repairs, while I stood outside guarding the bikes and watching as a low-flying plane buzzed the parking lot, causing the taxi drivers and deliverymen standing outside to erupt in laughter, cursing and waving. This was definitely not JFK.

But just like that, with a bit of Bahamian friendliness, we had a new heat exchanger in hand, and we were free to hit the local Beach Club on South Bimini for a few Gombay Smashes to celebrate before heading home.

Who knows if it was the Gombay Smashes or just us being on Island Time, finally, but we didn’t hurry to get our new heat exchanger in the next day. Instead, we went out and chatted with the fishermen hanging out at Bimini Big Game Club, watched the bull sharks have a feeding frenzy around the docks where they cleaned the day’s catch, and poked around the engine to see what we needed to do to flush out the salt water… whenever we got to that.

It was nice not to be in such a hurry anymore. Sure, we busted our engine and that was no one’s fault but our own. But we learned so much in the process. What was formerly a frighteningly cryptic hunk of metal and rubber hoses, was now completely demystified.

And, sure, we had a new heat exchanger that needed installing before we could go anywhere.

But relax, mon. We’ll get to it.

heat exchanger corrosion hideaway sailing

Corrosion due to salt water

bimini international airport turf to surf

Ryan, looking pretty pleased, with package-in-hand

sen-dure heat exchanger

Our new heat exchanger!

Boat Bits: Port Visors

In the same way that suburbanites compare their homes to their neighbors’, as cruisers, we’re always looking to other boats for ideas, inspiration and – for those that are way out of our league – some insight into how “the other half” lives.

As a result, we’ve acquired a good many useful items on Hideaway that we would never have known existed if it weren’t for meeting other cruisers. Like our Coleman Propane Camping Heater, which got us through more cold nights on the ICW than I’d like to count, and our Honda eu2000i generator, which turns out is a cruiser’s must-have, as it’s been essential for keeping our batteries topped up at anchor.

So when we saw our friend Brad installing some handy-looking plastic visors over his cabin portholes back in Vero Beach, we just had to ask him where he got them. We’d been having some trouble keeping Hideaway ventilated when it rained, so these doo-dads looked like they might come in handy in the hot, rainy tropics.

Our Port Visors were bought online at Seaworthy Goods and we’ve been carting them around with us since we left Vero Beach, waiting for a time when we weren’t tackling so many big boat jobs at once to install them. And since we’re hanging out in Bimini with very little boat work to do while we wait for our new heat exchanger to arrive, I thought I’d get this little project out of the way before lunch so I could at least feel like I earned my Gombay Smashes at Friday Happy Hour.

What’s so great about these Port Visors?

  • If you forget to close your portholes, your boat won’t get wet! (We’re always forgetting to close them).
  • Ventilation is key in hot weather. Yet when it rains, we find ourselves having to shut the boat up to keep the water out. Now, with these Port Visors we can have rain cover and ventilation!
  • They provide shade from the sun so the boat stays relatively cool.
  • They look great! At least I think they do. But we don’t have those fancy metal portholes I often envy on other boats, so I was happy to cover up our plastic ones.

And, as an added bonus, the company is owned and run by two monumental sweethearts, Robert and Paula Biles. Just have a look at the lovely note they included with our receipt. These guys understand customer service, that’s for sure.

So now that that job’s out of the way, it’s time to hit the beach! I know, it’s a tough life.

P.S. – If you ever see us lurking around your sailboat/motorboat/catamaran, it’s probably because you have something interesting on your boat that we’re dying to ask you about. Not because we’re creepy. Well, maybe it’s both.

seaworthy goods port visors

Thank-you note from the owner of Seaworthy Goods.

hideaway port visor installation

Port Visors come with adhesive strips, so they simply stick on (and hopefully stay).

hideaway sailing blog installing port visors

Putting extra pressure on the adhesive joints to make sure they REALLY stick.

Photo Essay: North Bimini Bahamas

As we take apart our engine on the beautiful island of Bimini Bahamas, I remember that cruising is defined as “working on your boat in exotic ports.” But, for us, it could also be defined as “enjoying exotic ports while waiting for marine parts to arrive.”

It turns out, having arrived to Bimini Bahamas despite our engine troubles back in Fort Lauderdale, that our engine really does have a problem. And it turns out that the neighbor we ignored back in Fort Lauderdale (you know, the one who was telling us our heat exchanger was bad while swilling his wine?) Well, he was actually right. Our heat exchanger is bad. We just weren’t ready to hear it while our engine appeared to be working fine.

But the good news is that we located our exact heat exchanger at Jerry’s Marine in Fort Lauderdale for $300 and we’re able to get a local Bahamian airline to cargo ship the part to us on Monday for a mere $25.

We’ll be posting more on our engine shortly, but as we don’t have a heat exchanger in hand yet to install, and since we’re happily stuck here in Bimini, there is nothing left to do, really, but run and cycle around the island, go snorkeling, lay on the beach, have barbecues, eat fresh conch salad and drink rum cocktails. Tomorrow we may even do something really strenuous, like go fishing.

Doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Don’t tell Ryan, but I’m actually thinking that if we’re lucky, maybe that part will arrive late. Like on Tuesday or Wednesday. Think of all the not-working-on-boat-repairs I could do until then!

For now, though, here’s a little photo essay of the tiny island of North Bimini…

conch by the sea bimini

Conch pile behind Joe’s Conch Shack, Alice Town.

Joe's conch shack bimini

Must come back here for some conch salad.

alice town bimini

The colorful walk into Alice Town, Bimini.

turf to surf bimini bahamas

We found that blue Bahamas water everyone raves about.

boat run aground bimini

This Florida boat didn’t fare so well getting in the channel.

turf to surf sailing blog

The conch and lobster salad is to die for!

north bimini beach turf to surf

We cycled to the top of North Bimini and had this beach all to ourselves.

north bimini beach bar

…and this beach bar

bimini beach bar rum

“Something with rum, then?”

rum cocktails bimini beach

“Yes, please, I’ll have another.”

tasha turf to surf bimini beach

Just hangin’ out on a secluded beach with some conch.

post-line-divide

To see more photos of Bimini, visit the Bimini Bahamas Photo Album on our Facebook Page.

Sailing Video: Hideaway’s Bahamas Passage

I’ve mentioned before that our tiny little Go Pro Hero 3 video camera blows my mind. But the truth is, I don’t really know how to use this amazing piece of technology for all it’s capable of.

We all have to start somewhere, though. So experimenting with video footage on iMovie with a big glass of wine at the ready (for troubleshooting purposes) was my job for the evening.

The result is this little sailing video of our Gulf Stream crossing and Hideaway’s first landfall. I may not be the next Sofia Coppola but, hey, give a gal some time!

Gulf Stream Crossing to Bahamas Turf to Surf Sailing from Tasha Hacker (Turf to Surf) on Vimeo.

Music: “Glory Box” by Portishead

Passage to the Bahamas: Take two

“It sounds like you killed your heat exchanger. You’re probably chucking coolant straight out your boat. You’re gonna need a new one,” was the unrequested diagnosis from a stranger standing on the foredeck of a neighboring boat with an over-flowing goblet of Chardonnay in his hand.

“Yep. He knows his engines,” his wife said, nodding.

Ryan and I didn’t ask anyone for their opinion, but we seemed to attract a few while we talked through our mechanical diagnoses on deck, analyzing why the engine might be over-heating while idle.

We figured the problem had to be related to the heat exchanger since I’d just replaced the zinc and drained the coolant the day before. But we’d replaced the coolant and didn’t appear to be losing any coolant now. So we were a little puzzled. In six years, our engine only ever over-heated once. And that was because we’d sucked some reeds up through our intake in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene.

“Shit. A new heat exchanger? Does that mean we can’t leave?” I asked.

Ryan shook his head, ignoring our neighbors, and said, “We probably just need to bleed the system since we changed the coolant.”

“You shouldn’t need to bleed the coolant,” piped our neighbor again. “Whaddya got there? A gas engine?”

Normally, we like chatting to other cruisers, and we welcome advice from handy boaters when we’re doing repairs. But Ryan was looking up at me from the engine compartment with daggers in his eyes. It was the look of a man determined to cross the Gulf Stream in T minus five hours and he wasn’t in the mood for any negativity. Least of all from a stranger who’d never seen our engine and hadn’t been invited over to help.

According to the weather gribs we’d been studying, a 24-hour weather window of 3-5 knot northerly winds had opened up and we planned to ride those glassy seas all the way to Bimini without turning back this time. But to do that, we needed to know our engine was fully functioning and that we weren’t going to find a puddle of hot water on the floor.

Thankfully, after a few more engine starts, the temperature dropped and the coolant and heat exchanger seemed to be doing their jobs again. So, we sighed with relief and said good-night to our neighbors before they could say anything more to upset Ryan.

“We’re off to the Bahamas!” I exclaimed, and high-fived a happier, more relaxed-looking captain.

And that we were.

Once out of Fort Everglades inlet, we were relieved to find that, unlike the washing machine of waves and wind we experienced when we went out three days earlier, this time we had a northerly breeze of 5 knots and calm, flat seas for the first few miles out of Fort Lauderdale at 2:45 am. Exactly as predicted. So we motor-sailed towards Bimini at 6 knots and set a course for 148 degrees, as recommended by Skipper Bob to compensate for being pushed north by the Gulf Stream‘s 5-knot flow.

We’d agreed to check the engine an hour into our journey, and as long as we weren’t leaking water, we’d carry on. We still weren’t completely sure we knew what happened to the engine during our last passage attempt, but the problem didn’t repeat itself this time around. So, onward we motor-sailed.

Normally, on overnight passages, we do watches of 2 hours on and 2 hours off. But Ryan had thrown back a Red Bull and felt perky enough to take on the first 5 hours without a break. So I went down below and slept like a baby while he set out in what looked like calm seas.

It was only when I came up into the cockpit after sunrise that I found Ryan in his foul-weather gear, drenched in rain and hand-steering because the auto-pilot had failed in 20-knot gusts while he surfed down steep waves in northerly winds. Which is exactly the kind of weather they say you shouldn’t cross the Gulf Stream in. And it was exactly the opposite of what was predicted in the weather forecasts.

Luckily for me, when I took over the helm around 7 am, the wind had calmed down and calmer seas had returned to provide a less eventful journey. That is, until the 20-knot winds and sheets of rain returned about two hours from Bimini, despite the fact that the forecasts showed no more than 5-knot winds and clear skies the whole way to the Bahamas. I wondered then, since this was the second time the forecasts were wrong, if weather around the Gulf Stream is simply too fickle for predictions to be accurate even 6 hours in advance.

When I first spotted trees in the distance, Ryan was fast asleep down below, so I shouted “Land Ho!” to the cats, who’d crawled up into the cockpit to escape the nausea that comes from being down below in rolling seas.

And just as we’d read, as we pulled up to Bimini, the depth dropped from 1000 feet to 10 feet within minutes and the water turned from a dark, navy blue to the clearest, sharpest aquamarine.

Hundreds of tiny fish jumped out of the water as we pulled into the north channel, as if to get out of the way of the boat, probably trying to dodge our hull as we bucked from side to side in some worryingly choppy waves.

We’d been told to enter the Bimini inlet with caution, as it had shifting sands and a narrow channel. But when we called the marinas the day before for local advice, they all said the markers were abundant and clear, there was 14 feet of water in the channel and, “There’s nothing to worry about, m0n. Come right in.”

In reality, however, there were only two markers – a red and a green – marking the entrance to the channel and then nothing more. We ended up staring at our charts, studying the change in water color for depth and following the reverse paths of boats we saw coming out of the channel in order to feel our way in through depths that dropped as low as 8 feet while the waves threw us from side to side, not really knowing how far we were from the shallows.

For this reason, we were glad to be arriving at 1:30 pm in broad daylight. If we’d arrived in the dark, I’d never have been comfortable navigating blindly up that channel, no matter how many times the locals said, “Don’t worry, mon.”

But we made it in, despite the lack of markers, and before we knew it we were docked in the Bahamas, at the Bimini Big Game Club.

3 months. 1500 miles. Years of dreaming. This was Hideaway’s first international landfall and we were positively giddy. We knew we’d put our boat under a lot of stress, but she always just took it and carried on.

“This is why I couldn’t listen to that guy,” Ryan said. “We know our boat. And we know our engine. She’s not failed us yet.”

And with that, Ryan put on some smart clothes, checked us and the cats in to customs, and got us a 130-day cruising permit. It was official: we were in!

So, we popped the bottle of Prosecco we’d been saving for this occasion and raised our Bahamian courtesy flag while grinning from ear to ear.

We’d put Hideaway to the ultimate test and she passed with flying colors.

And as far as we could tell, this was just the beginning.

Check out this post to see a video of our Gulf Stream crossing.

hideaway sailboat bahamas arrival

This flag has been on board for months just itching to make its way up that halyard.

hideaway turf to surf arrives to the bahamas

Time for some bubbly!

Bimini blue waters turf to surf

We’ve heard about the color of the water here, but oh my…

Sail FAIL

We checked the weather gribs, consulted with other cruisers, loaded up the boat with food and 12 Bota Boxes (the equivalent of 48 bottles of wine), took Hideaway out for a pre-Bahamas shakedown, gave the cats their motion-sickness pills, bungee-corded the bikes down, filled up with diesel and water and, finally, settled in for what was going to be a brief, restless nap before departing.

Looking over our provisions, I couldn’t tell if we had too much or not enough, since I kept thinking there were still things we needed more of. For example, I wanted to pick up a few more containers of cat litter and maybe another 5 boxes of wine, since Total Wine delivers and, hell, you can never have too much wine, right?

But Ryan had nightmares of water reaching our foredeck because of the added 1000+ pounds on Hideaway and was waving his hands, exclaiming, “No more! We’re going to sink the boat!”

And so I had to be content with 12 Bota Boxes and a crap-ton of stuff I wasn’t even sure we knew how to cook with. (What does one do with tomato paste anyway?) Either that, or Ryan was going to start insisting that I had too many shoes onboard. And I didn’t want him getting any ideas about off-loading my accessories.

The plan was to depart our anchorage in Fort Lauderdale at 1 am and head across to Bimini in South-Easterly winds, hopefully arriving in no more than 11 hours. We wanted to get to Bimini in early daylight hours so we could navigate the tricky channel entrance with good visibility. And to do that, we needed rest. Except it was impossible for me to sleep with an acid brick churning in my stomach, causing me to run to the head every 10 minutes.

When the alarm went off at 12:30 am, Ryan leaped out of bed like a kid on Christmas, shouting “We’re going to the Bahamas!!!” While I grumbled an unenthused response and rubbed my bloodshot eyes. I was still exhausted from our day of last-minute boat chores. But we didn’t have the luxury of resting, so we made strong coffees and tried to adjust our eyes to the dark as we made our way out to sea.

Someone once told us that the wind forecast for a Bahamas crossing is more realistic if you add the two numbers together. For example, if 5-10 knots is forecasted, really 15 knots is the more likely scenario.

And, sure enough, the NOAA weather reports forecasted 5-10 knot winds and some waves. But when we got out of the inlet, we were confronted with 15-20 knot winds on the nose and a washing machine of waves bouncing us from side to side. Both cats threw up in the first hour and Ryan and I turned somewhat green, but at no point did we think the seas were the worst we’d ever seen. So we braced ourselves for the ride and carried on.

Then, a few hours into the trip, I went down below to check on the cats, and stepped in a puddle of hot water on the floor. Which, incidentally, was the only time I’ve ever thought to myself, “Man, I really hope that’s cat piss.”

turf to surf Hideaway engine check

Ryan, examining the engine while at sea

Unfortunately, though, it wasn’t cat piss. It was sea water coming from the engine compartment. Which meant we’d only gotten 3.5 miles out to sea when we made the decision to turn around and go back to Fort Lauderdale.

There’s a funny scene in a Terry Pratchett novel, the name of which now escapes me, in which a hired assassin spends hours preparing himself for a job by loading himself up with the gadgets and weapons he needs to make the kill. And when he’s finally ready and gets up to leave, he promptly falls over because of the weight of all his weapons.

turf to surf hideaway v-berth provisions

The V-berth, after schlepping all our provisions to the front of the boat

We’re not sure, but we think that’s what happened to Hideaway. We loaded the boat’s rear end up with so many goodies that when we finally got her out to sea, she couldn’t function properly. Our theory is she was weighed down so heavily in the back that her exhaust pipe got pushed under water, causing the hot sea water from the engine’s heat exchanger to get pushed back up the exhaust pipe and into the boat. Hence the piss-warm water on the floor.

So now we’re redistributing the weight of our provisioning madness more evenly throughout the boat. Which, as you can see, means we’ve taken over most of the boat, making for some temporarily uncomfortable living. But, hey, if it will get us to Bimini, then we can live with it for a few days.

I’m not quite willing to admit my 48 bottles of wine might have tipped the scales to prevent our Gulf Stream crossing this time, but I’d be willing to venture that we maybe possibly bought too much. But if it comes down to it, I’d be happy to throw those 10 cans of tomato paste overboard to lighten our load. Or maybe the vegetable oil.

Just don’t touch my wine or my shoes.

hideaway sailing with cats

Charlie and Celia may need to put up with chaos for a few days

Photo Essay: The ICW in review

The Intracoastal Waterway (ICW), for those of you who aren’t familiar with it, is a 3000-mile waterway system that runs the length of the eastern United States along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts. It’s partially made up of natural rivers, inlets and creeks and where natural waterways didn’t exist, artificial canals and locks were dug, providing a way for boats to pass from Canada to Florida without ever having to go out onto the ocean.

There are some challenges that accompany traveling on the ICW in a keelboat, though, which may include running aground in low tide (some channels are only 5 feet), dealing with restricted bridge openings, shoaling in unexpected places and sketchy anchorage entrances. But it’s a unique experience to see the geography change as drastically as it does between New York and Florida.

And though it’s difficult to completely capture the experience of traveling 1500 miles on the ICW, hopefully this photo essay will give you a little insight into what the journey looked like for us.

turf to surf hideaway sailing blog

After leaving Cape May in October, the temperature dropped drastically.

virginia icw sailing

Often we’d meet and chat with other boaters traveling south.

dismal swamp icw

The Dismal Swamp scenery was interesting for…oh…the first hour. Then it didn’t change for three days.

beaufort north carolina icw

Beaufort, North Carolina is one of the cutest ports along the ICW to anchor in.

icw bridge turf to surf

We ran aground in low tide and missed the bridge opening. So we had no choice but to anchor here and wait…

north carolina sunset icw sailing

…but, luckily, this sunset was our consolation

coast guard north carolina icw

In NC, you’re pretty likely to get boarded by the Coast Guard. Luckily, they’re friendly.

turf to surf sailing icw

Desperate times call for desperate measures…like an umbrella. Maybe Florida will be warmer?

hideaway sailboat rainbow

A rainbow over Hideaway in St. Augustine is a sure sign of good things to come.

florida icw bridges sailing blog

Sometimes we just had to open the throttle to eke through those bridges in time.

vero beach dolphins sailing blog

I’ll never get tired of seeing dolphins. Ever.

hideaway sailing florida icw

Now THIS is more like it! Hello, Florida!

turf to surf fort lauderdale icw

It’s Horsnail. Ryan Horsnail. 007.

On the ICW and becoming less “civilized”

“I’m glad we did it, but I’m not sure I’d do it again,” was my husband Ryan’s underwhelmed sentiments about our trip down the Intra-Coastal Waterway. Which surprised me because for at least two years before this trip, Ryan found every opportunity to bring up the ICW in conversation, either to friends or total strangers at the bar. “Did you know there’s an inland waterway that runs all the way from Canada to Florida? And you can take your boat down it?”

It’s possible that not everyone (myself included) shares Ryan’s intense fascination with the ICW and its World War II naval history. But, regardless, it felt like we’d reached a major milestone when we pulled our little sailboat Hideaway into Fort Lauderdale, having covered roughly 1500 miles between New York and Florida.

And since we’re getting ready to make our crossing to the Bahamas, thus closing this chapter of our U.S. travels, I thought now was a good time to reflect on how far we’ve come, both literally and metaphorically.

In retrospect, what stands out most about the ICW is not so much the scenery (mostly trees), the weather (mostly cold) or the sailing (mostly plus one, minus one on the auto-helm). Or even the dolphins, or the time we ran aground four times in a single afternoon. What seems to resonate most is how those 1500 miles have changed us and prepared us for journeys to come.

Back in New York City, we worked long, stressful hours, like anyone else in a modern-day office job. And because our spare time was limited, whenever we needed something cleaned, fixed, made, cooked or designed, we did what most people in cities do: we paid other people to do it for us. Which means that while we got very skilled at running our own businesses, we also grew very unskilled at doing anything else.

And then we up and left that world, in which we specialized in running schools, and we moved onto a boat, where being a specialist in just one thing was not so useful anymore. Being able to clean, fix, make, cook and wire anything was a much more relevant skill on the boat. And much more useful than, say, building web sites, populating spreadsheets or hiring staff.

But it took a long time for this to sink in. So, for a few months, we were a bit lost in our new world at sea, forever trying to avoid doing things we didn’t know how to do. Which is why, when we stopped in Annapolis to examine our leaky water tank, my first response was to price up a new tank and hire someone to install it. But then I made some phone calls, got some advice, and decided to try fixing the tank on our own. And, as it turned out, all the tank needed was some hypalon patches to stop the leaks and a screwdriver to reattach the newly sealed tank to the water pipes. It was surprisingly easy; it’s just that it took time. A whole day, to be exact; a day which I wouldn’t have been willing to give up to fix a water tank when I lived in New York City.

bladder post repair

But time was something we had an abundance of now. So why were we so reluctant to take on repairing, installing, wiring and jury rigging our own boat stuff?

My guess? A lack of confidence. And also the fact that society is so well organized that we now devote entire days, weeks and careers to one specialization, while spending a great deal of hard-earned money to hire others to do the things we can’t or don’t want to do. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, mind you, because it means we can find an expert in virtually any discipline now. And for society as a whole, the benefit is that the world’s specialists can collaborate to create ever more powerful, more advanced technologies for anything we might need or want. Any time I use my matchbox-sized GoPro, for example, I remember my dad schlepping a 10-pound shoebox of a video recorder on his shoulder to film our family vacations, and my mind is blown. That’s what specialists do: they build stuff you didn’t even know you needed. And I’m the first to say I love my GoPro, iPod, solar panel, GPS running watch, chart plotter, LED lights, and all the other gadgets that make my life a little easier and a little more fun.

Also, specialists are crucial to the existence of a complex division of labor, which is what defines “civilization.” And it is generally perceived that “civilized” societies, such as New York City, are successful because of this division of labor. Therefore, packaged in the positive connotation of the word “civilized” is the assumption that we all aspire to be specialists living in a civilized world.

Yet I’ve come to realize, living on a boat, that it is no longer practical or sensible to hire a specialist every time something goes wrong. After all, there will be times when Ryan and I are the only people we can see for miles. So, in order for us to be truly self-sufficient, we have to become more diversified in our skills and less specialized.

hideaway engine maintenance

A friend teaches Ryan how to service our engine (Photo by Justin Dent)

That’s what the ICW has taught me. That, and we should slow down and take some time to learn about our boat. Which is something I didn’t really learn until Charleston, North Carolina, where we hired a mechanic to service our engine. We were in a hurry to get going and didn’t want to take the time to look up You Tube videos and find the right tools, so we justified our decision by saying, “Just this once. Next time we’ll do it ourselves.”

But when I checked our oil after the engine was serviced (it’s the first item on our “departure checklist”), I discovered there wasn’t a drop of oil in the engine. Bone dry. And when we complained, the mechanic replied, “Oh, I couldn’t find the dipstick.” And to make matters worse, he appeared to have loosened a screw, which resulted in an oil leakage later on down the line. So even though we hired a “specialist” to do a job we didn’t want to do, we had to learn to do it ourselves anyway. So why did we spend the extra money? Why didn’t we just spend the extra time instead, and learn to do it ourselves?

Since Charleston, we’ve gotten better at reflecting on our mistakes. So even though we were nervous about installing our new Solbian flexible solar panel, which involved drilling holes in the boat and running wires to places we’d never run wires to before, we decided it was important for us to go through the process ourselves, no matter how long it took. And luckily, we’ve found on our journey south that there are always sympathetic and more experienced sailors around who can offer the right tools, some advice and a little moral support.

Installing Solbian solar panel

Wiring in our Solbian flexible solar panel wasn’t an easy job, but we did it.

After all, any sailor who has been living aboard for any amount time has learned how to fix things on his or her boat. So we try to take a leaf out of the notebooks of the old salts we meet and learn what they know. Because one benefit of becoming more self-sufficient is, hopefully, we’ll spend less money, which means we’ll be able to keep cruising for longer. Not to mention, we’ll probably enjoy it more, as well, since no one likes the feeling of being dependent on others.

And I suspect that’s really what I’m looking to gain from learning all these new skills, like how to anchor, how to wire a solar panel, how to fish, how to service an engine, and how to trim the sails. I want to know we’re in full control of our lives. That we can choose exactly how we want to live because we’re in no way limited by fear or lack of skills.

If that’s what it means to be less civilized, I’m all for it.