Weather, SSB and the 21st Century

We’re lucky that our French buddy boat, Senara, wanted to travel with us from the Bahamas to the Dominican Republic for a few reasons; (1) Captain Morgan was great company, and (2) he had a satellite phone.

And if it weren’t for Morgan’s sat-phone, we wouldn’t have had any access to weather reports in Little Inagua, where we waited for the right weather window for our crossing to the Dominican Republic.

Throughout the U.S. and the Bahamas, we’d had regular access to weather information via the internet and sources like PassageWeather.com, Zygrib, Pocket Grib and Wunderground.com, to name a few of our favorites. Mostly, though, we’ve preferred to download weather gribs using Zygrib on the computer, or Pocket Grib on the iPad because (1) we can update the reports any time we want, granted there’s internet, (2) we get fairly accurate forecasts for up to five days, (3) we can study the gribs offline, and (4) they don’t require a degree in meteorology to read.

But in the back of our minds, we knew we’d find ourselves in a situation eventually where we’d need to get weather forecasts and couldn’t get internet access. We just didn’t know what the best tool would be to have in those situations.

Most cruisers have recommended that we buy a single-sideband (SSB) receiver, which costs about $100 and would supposedly give us weather forecasts anywhere in the world, as long as we are tuned into the right frequency at the right time. And, being susceptible to peer pressure, we followed their advice. But in all honesty, with the technological advances of the last few decades, we couldn’t understand how the SSB hadn’t become obsolete. After all, GPS had so quickly become an essential household tool, existing in phones, watches and computers. So, surely, in the years since World War I, someone must have developed something more advanced than the SSB?

It turns out, they had. It’s called a satellite phone. And yet the SSB lingers on as an old-school necessity. For some reason, cruisers cling to the SSB the way my father clung to the vision of Beta-Max video players, long after the rest of the world had converted to VHS. Gosh-darned-it, he’d spent good money on that Beta-Max, so as long as we had “Karate Kid” and “Back to the Future” on Beta-Max tapes, I would watch those movies until someone either invented DVDs, or I left home. Whichever came first. End of discussion.

But unlike our Beta-Max machine when I was a kid, our SSB has never actually worked, though we persisted in trying to get Chris Parker’s weather reports in every port from New York to Nassau. And all we got was something that sounded like muffled Morse code transmitted from the moon.

A couple we met in Nassau even tried to help us out by using their SSB transceiver to transmit to our radio from just two boat lengths away. But all we heard was, “Bzzzz wah WAH wah WAAAHHHH bzzzzzz.”

I was so determined to make it work, though, that I threw out our first SSB and bought a second one after reading the Amazon.com reviews for the Kaito KA1103 SSB receiver. According to the reviews, “even ham radio operators love it.”

But ham radio operators must have some kind of secret decoder to understand transmissions like, “ssshhhh northwest ssshhh Sunday bzzzzzz front ssshhh west at bzzzz knots.” Because it didn’t matter if we ran the antenna up our mast, if we stood on the bow pointing our radio at the sky, or if we smacked the SSB on the deck whilst cursing 20th century technology like SSBs and fax machines, wondering why they refused to die like their relatives, the cassette tape and the rotary phone.

It was clear the only thing our SSB was good for was raising our blood pressure at 6:30 in the morning, the ridiculous hour at which Chris Parker supposedly transmits forecasts…though we wouldn’t know for sure, since we’ve never heard him.

Our SSB-certified friends in Nassau encouraged us to keep trying, though, arguing that no cruiser should travel without an SSB. “We heard this story once…” the wife said. “…About a captain who’d had a stroke on his boat off the coast of Mexico. His wife used the SSB to ask for help on the net and a ham radio operator in Vancouver picked it up and got them the number of a doctor in Mexico. The SSB saved his life,” she said earnestly.

But, all I could think was, “What, do we live in the age of telegrams? If that woman had had a sat-phone, she wouldn’t have had to bounce some message off the atmosphere hoping that someone on the other side of the world might hear it in the middle of night and help her. She could’ve just Googled a doctor and called him. Right from her sat phone. Pronto.”

But what about the cost, you ask? It’s true, satellite phones aren’t cheap at $1500 new with an additional $750 for a year’s worth of minutes. But it both receives and transmits, whereas an SSB receiver only receives. If you want an SSB transceiver (which can transmit and receive), it’ll cost around $4,000 including the installation and a boat-specific set-up, not to mention that you need special certification just to use your transceiver.

So when Morgan showed us his Iridium satellite phone, which he uses to make phone calls and download weather grib files in a matter of seconds anywhere in the world, whenever he wants, we nearly fed our SSB to the sharks on the spot. And we decided to look into getting a sat-phone for ourselves.

After all, a sat-phone isn’t fixed to a particular boat; you can take it with you backpacking, fishing or onto your next boat. Plus, it’s portable and it’s from the 21st century.

What more could you ask for?

iridium-satellite-phone-9555

Portable Iridium 9555 satellite phone, which can be used for phone calls, internet, downloading weather files, updating your blog, etc., with no installation, for about $1500.

Icom MC710 SSB

*For more info on price comparisons, www.macsailing.net posted this helpful info in 2010. It appears the prices haven’t changed much since then.

Spearfishing in Little Inagua, Bahamas

With absolutely nothing on the island of Little Inagua to entertain us, we entertained ourselves by exploring the water around it and trying our hand at spearfishing to see if we could catch ourselves some dinner. We were inspired by our last fishing trip to Hooper’s Bay, where we watched our friend Brian spear two lionfish and a lobster while Ryan and I mostly flailed around, scaring the fish away.

Except this time we didn’t go home empty handed. I speared my first fish, which turned out to be too small to eat (I swear, the fish shrink as soon as you get them out of the water), and I caught a 2-pound parrotfish, which turned out to be the perfect dinner-sized fish. And our friend Morgan speared another parrotfish, and a brown-spotted fish we think we identified as a rock hind.

All in all, it was a successful day, made all the more so by a few things I learned on our last outing, as well as some new tricks I picked up this time around:

  • It’s better to fish without a wetsuit. I was less buoyant this time, making it easier to dive and swim along the ocean floor.
  • It’s very difficult to spear fish in open water. If you can find fish sitting under rocks or in coral heads, they’re much easier targets.
  • Once you’ve hit a fish, push the spear in deeper to keep the fish from wriggling off the spear. I learned that after losing two fish.
  • Lift the fish immediately out of the water after you’ve speared it so as not to attract any sharks.
  • After 4 or 5 catches, it’s probably a good idea to move on to another area in case any sharks picked up the scent.

That last lesson was learned at the end of the day when Morgan spotted a shark nearby and we decided we’d rather go home with dinner and all our limbs. But the sharks must have known they’d get their fill sooner or later because 5 or 6 of them suddenly appeared and circled Hideaway while I cleaned our day’s catch and threw the guts overboard.

So I guess we all got dinner that night — three lovely fried fish for us, and a load of entrails for the sharks. Needless to say, though, there was no after-dinner swimming in Little Inagua.

cleaning fish on deck

The messy job of cleaning fish is best done on the foredeck.

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Morgan, using his fishing book to try to identify his fish.

descaling red snapper

Before gutting my parrotfish, I descaled him…

descaling fish on deck

…which was a messy job

gutting fish on deck

But not as messy as gutting the fish…

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…which was disgusting

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All that mess got washed overboard with a little sea water…

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…which brought on the sharks

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Time for a swim?

fried snapper dinner s:v hideaway

The best part is — once all that cleaning, gutting and cooking is done — you get to eat!

Sailing the Bahamas: Long Island to Little Inagua

For me, there’s a certain rhythm to traveling by boat; an ebb and flow of movement that requires periods of stillness to balance out my universe.

Whenever we’ve stayed too long in any given harbor, I start itching to unfurl the sails and make headway towards the sights, sounds and smells of a distant, foreign land…any land. And I always feel relieved when we start moving again, like I’ve scratched a hard-to-reach itch.

But then, after several days of constant movement, sleeping for 3 to 4 hours at a time and operating at a 30-degree angle, all I want to do is park our floating home in a still harbor for while. Just to be still.

Then my satisfaction ebbs, and after weeks of squeezing sight-seeing in between boat repairs, I start itching again for the quiet solitude that comes with manning the helm on a beam reach in 15 knots of wind. And the pattern repeats itself…

After three weeks in George Town, I started to feel that familiar itch again, though I should have felt nervous about embarking on what would be our longest passage to date (240 nautical miles from Long Island to French Cay, Turks and Caicos). But perhaps George Town had numbed my nerves; I was so eager to move on, I would have sailed out into a storm just to gain some distance.

Luckily, that wasn’t necessary, as we’d watched the weather carefully and made plans with our friend Morgan on s/v Senara to sail together to the Dominican Republic as soon as the winds clocked round to the north. And together we agreed on a course to French Cay, where we hoped to anchor and rest for a few days until the winds could take us further.

The night before our departure, though, I dreamed I was on a trampoline, being launched into the air by Ryan’s old rugby teammates, who were jumping up and down near my head. Then I woke up and realized the V-berth was my trampoline and it was the boat that was bouncing, not a bunch of rugby players.

Apparently, I was the only person who got any sleep that night. Ryan woke up at 1 am when unexpected winds turned Calabash Bay into a washing machine, and Morgan spent the night resetting his anchor every few hours as he dragged closer and closer to Hideaway.

As tired as we were, though, the sooner we got out of the rolling waves and set our sails to a beam reach towards French Cay, the better off we would be. So, as Hideaway’s bow was lifted and yanked underwater while Ryan held on and screamed into the wind and spray, we wrestled the anchor on board and gunned the engine out of the harbor.

Just as we expected, once we rounded the headland and trimmed our sails for a beam reach, the winds calmed down to a sane 10 knots and we hummed along the glassy waters at a comfortable 4.5 knots. All I had to do was set the autopilot and sit back with a cup of tea and some podcasts to entertain me through my night watch.

Except the winds didn’t continue to blow from the northwest, as forecasted. They started blowing from the northeast, which meant it became harder and harder to point Hideaway towards French Cay. So, after 24 hours, we checked in with Morgan and decided rather than motor, we would head further south towards Little Inagua, an uninhabited island at the bottom of the Bahamas chain. That way, we could continue to sail on a beam reach and we’d still get a few days’ rest on anchor while we waited for the winds to come around to the north again.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned on this trip through the Bahamas, it’s that smooth sailing only happens when you give up control and go where the wind wants to take you, when it wants to take you. If you’re rigid about your schedule and your desired stops, you may find yourself beating into bad weather, causing you and your boat a great deal of stress.

So it seems appropriate that, as we tried to depart the Bahamas, we were forced to alter our course and sail to one last stop in this beautiful island chain for the sake of a peaceful journey.

As the saying goes, “You can’t always control the wind, but you can control your sails.”

The only reason we found ourselves at Little Inagua was because the wind took us there. And, to me, that’s as good a reason as any.

senara sailing hideaway sailing blog

Morgan, trying to trim his sails to beat Hideaway

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What a difference a few hours can make…we went from 6-foot seas to this.

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Where’d the wind go?

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Charlie, enjoying the calm sailing.

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Long passages often come with beautiful sunsets on the open water.

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Our last stop in the Bahamas: Little Inagua.

For more pictures of Turf to Surf sailing the Bahamas, visit our Photo Albums on Facebook.

Photo Essay: Long Island, Bahamas

Since Long Island Bahamas has a relatively large population (4,000 people) compared to other islands in the Bahamas, we expected to see a string of developed townships as we drove through in our rickety rental car. But we were surprised and delighted to find that Long Island was as remote and sleepy as most of the other islands in the Bahamas.

With virtually one road running through its 76 miles of narrow island stretch, we set out to see as many sights as we could as we drove from top to bottom, using our Lonely Planet travel guide as a compass. Most of what we visited were long stretches of beautiful, secluded beaches, the number of which nearly rivaled the number of liquor stores on the island.

But where there are so many beautiful beaches, it seems appropriate to find just as many spots where you can enjoy the view with a stiff rum drink in your hand. Cheers to that…and the lovely sights of Long Island captured in this photo essay.

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We had a long walk down the beach to find breakfast and a rental car.

long island bahamas santa maria resort

The resort around the headland from Calabash Bay looked promising for breakfast…

santa maria resort long island bahamas

…and the Santa Maria Resort turned out to be a picture perfect stop

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We drove along the coast in search of the famed pink sand “Love Beaches.”

dean's blue hole sign bahamas

We didn’t find any pink beaches, but we did find the world’s deepest blue hole: Dean’s Blue Hole.

free divers deans blue hole long island

Ryan, Kerri & Macara (m/v Knot Yet), and Morgan (s/v Senara) watched as pro free divers tried to break records.

free divers long island deans blue hole

We kept out of the way of the free divers as their crew filmed them.

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Morgan from s/v Senara contemplated jumping in with the free divers in his underpants…

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…meanwhile Kerri and her daughter Macara searched for shells on the beach

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Macara, showing off her beach finds.

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Macara, overseeing the day’s catch in Clarence Town, as the fishermen came in.

clarence town bar long island bahamas

We enjoyed sundowners on the docks in Clarence Town before heading back north.

Click here to see more photos of our road trip on Long Island, Bahamas, on Turf to Surf’s Facebook Page.

A little land adventure on Long Island Bahamas

With only one day to explore 76-mile-long Long Island Bahamas before pushing on to the Dominican Republic, Ryan and I decide to make the most of our last stop in the Bahamas by renting a car with our friends on m/v Knot Yet and s/v Senara.

Our first day on Long Island, a local shopkeeper informs us there is a car rental about 3 miles down the road from our secluded anchorage in Calabash Bay, in the north of Long Island, and though no one knows its opening hours, she assures us it’s probably going to open some time the next morning.

So, the following morning, we beach our dinghy with four and a half passengers on board (one is an eight-year-old), and Ryan and I head out to the road to thumb a lift while our friends wait for us at the bar in the nearby Santa Maria resort.

We are picked up right away by two nice Bahamian boys who drive us to William’s Car Rental. But, unfortunately, when we get there, the place is locked up and empty. As the boys drive off, leaving us by the side of the road, they assure us they’ll let William know we are there, waiting. “Don’t worry,” they say. “I’m sure he’ll be back.”

So we sit down in the grass and wait patiently for William. After all, we’ve learned nothing happens quickly in the islands. But after an hour of playing fetch with William’s friendly guard dog, we start to wonder if maybe William has taken the day off. So we flag down the next car we see and explain to the driver that we are hoping to rent a car, but since the place is closed, could he give us a lift to another car rental?

“Oh, you need a car?” asks the driver, turning off the ignition. “I can help you with that.” And off the stranger walks toward the locked-up shack at the end of the driveway, jingling a set of keys and opening the door.

“Are you William?” Ryan asks.

“No, I’m Steve.”

Ryan looks at me and I shrug. I guess it’s feasible that on an island of only 4,000 people, everyone knows each other…and maybe everyone also has keys to all their friends’ business establishments?

“How much is it?” Ryan asks.

“Seventy dollars for twenty-four hours,” says Steve.

“What do we get for seventy dollars?” Ryan asks.

“That,” he replies, pointing to the only car in the driveway — a dusty, gray Nissan Sentra with tinted windows and a broken antenna.

Ryan looks at me and I shrug again. “Do you want to see my license?” Ryan asks.

“No, that’s okay,” says Steve, handing Ryan a set of keys. “Just bring it back tomorrow with a full tank.”

That’s it. No security deposit, no forms to fill out, no photocopying of our driver’s license. Steve doesn’t even ask us what our names are. He just hands us the keys to someone else’s car in exchange for $70 cash.

And, just like that, we are free to roam the island from top to bottom in a car that belongs to someone named William, who may or may not know we have his car.

But thanks to William, whoever he is, we have a fabulous day exploring the sights of Long Island Bahamas. And like the mindful tourists we are, we drop the car off outside William’s locked fence with a full tank of gas, leaving the keys in the ignition. Because, again, there is no one around for me to inform that I have returned their car with a full tank, like I promised.

It just goes to show how trusting small communities can be. And the communities here in the Bahamas are no different.

To see photos of Long Island Bahamas, visit Turf to Surf’s Long Island Photo Album on Facebook.

A lesson in spearfishing

Before we left New York back in October, Ryan did a lot of research into island life and what “water toys” we should have on board for our trip.

We didn’t own any snorkeling gear, since it wouldn’t have been much use in the brackish waters of the Hudson River. So, before we left, we bought ourselves some flippers, goggles, snorkels and wet suits so we could explore the underwater world of the Bahamas.

We also said we’d buy a fishing rod, so we could learn to catch our own food. But rods can be expensive and we didn’t want to start with fancy fishing gear since it seemed, with our lack of experience, that we’d be more likely to break or lose a rod than catch a fish. So we held off on buying fishing equipment until we hit the flea market in St. Marys, Georgia, where a local fisherman taught us a few basics and sold us a used trolling and bottom fishing rod for $35.

Whatever possessed Ryan to buy a spear, though, I have no idea. I just know that it arrived in the mail one day, along with our snorkeling gear, and Ryan was beaming like a little boy when he took it out of the package. It was like watching Ralphie open up his Red Rider BB Gun on Christmas morning in the movie A Christmas Story. “We don’t even know how to fish,” I’d said at the time. “And you think we’ll be able to spear our dinner?!”

The idea still seems ludicrous, since it turns out our fishing skills didn’t improve much even after we bought a rod. The possibility of spearing a fish seemed about as high as catching a fish with our bare hands. So, for the past five months, there sat our unused spear, hanging out beside the pile of shoes it turned out I would never wear, until we met up with our friend Brian on s/v Rode Trip in George Town. After confessing that we’d never even tried our spear, Brian offered to take us out and show us how to use it.

So, on our last night in George Town, we weighed anchor and moved Hideaway over to Hooper’s Bay so Ryan and I could chase the pretty fish in circles around a reef and watch them swim away while Brian expertly speared two lionfish and a lobster.

It looked like Ryan and I were going to need a lot more practice at this skill. So, over our lionfish, lobster and pasta dinner on board Hideaway with our friends from Rode Trip and Senara, I consolidated a few things I learned from Brian about spear fishing:

  • Wet suits make you more buoyant and therefore hinder you from swimming deep into the coral to go after fish. Note to self: Leave the wet suit behind next time.
  • Lionfish have no predators, so you can swim right up to them and line up a shot without fear of scaring them away.
  • You want to be about a foot away from the fish when you shoot. If you’re too close, the spear will just push the fish away. You need some space for the spear to gain momentum and pierce the fish.
  • Lionfish are poisonous, so you have to be careful not to touch the spines on their skin. 45 minutes after they’ve died, though, the poison also dies and then they are safe to touch and eat.
  • Lionfish are overpopulated in the Bahamas, so it is encouraged to kill and eat them. Which is fantastic because they are delicious.

Our spear fishing skills are about as poor as our rod fishing skills, but like any skill, mastery requires practice. And experimentation.

So, we’ll keep on practicing and experimenting until we get a fish on board ourselves. Until then, though, we’ll keep our fridge stocked with plenty of food. Because if we had to live off the sea alone, I’m pretty sure we’d starve.

spear fishing lionfish turf to surf

Brian (s/v Rode Trip) with his first catch of the day, a lionfish

lionfish spear fishing sailing

Brian’s spiny lionfish catch

lobster spear fishing turf to surf

Brian with his prized lobster catch

cleaning lionfish spear fishing turf to surf

Brian waits 45 minutes for the poison in the lionfish’s spines to die, then he starts cleaning the fish.

cutting off poisonous fins lionfish fishing

Brian uses scissors to cut off anything spiny looking, just to be safe.

lobster spear fishing catch turf to surf

Brian, getting ready to show me how to clean a lobster

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Cooking up Brian’s lobster…yum.

Heritage Festival: George Town, Bahamas

As much as I enjoyed the George Town Cruising Regatta while it was on, I have to admit that once it was over and the cruisers rally to Long Island shifted most of the long-term “stayers” away from Elizabeth Harbor for 10 days, the anchorage took on a very different feel. A much more relaxed one.

The voices that bickered with each other on the Cruisers Net every morning and filled the air waves with warnings (“Please make sure you secure your dinghy to your boat; we’ve had a lot of dinghies wash up on shore”), reprimands (“The boats anchored near the orange buoys need to move; you’re too close to the channel”), and concerns (“The town dumpster is full and I don’t want to pay $2 to drop my trash off at the yacht club…”) fell quiet for the first time in weeks.

Since our arrival, we’ve been fascinated with the stream of information each morning on the Cruisers Net — some of it useful, some not so much. For instance, we got lots of great advice on how to fix our dirty fuel tank. But, at the same time, every morning we’d listen to the same voices from the same boats congratulating each other on a job well done in this tournament or that contest, welcoming their niece who’s visiting for a week on Spring Break, or saying good-bye to their aunt who just left because unfortunately she had to get back to the States to file her taxes…though she really wished she could stay longer…because she met so many nice people here and is really sad to say good-bye… (Good lord, get off the radio already – we don’t know your aunt!)

Why would this information be broadcasted over public radio, you might ask? I have no idea. I would say it’s just part of the unique experience of being in George Town. And, mind you, I could choose to turn off my VHF any time I want and ignore the chatter… but then I’d miss out on all the weirdness. And that, too, seems to be part of the George Town experience.

But once the boats in Elizabeth Harbor thinned out and there were fewer organized activities being announced on the net, it turned out there was still plenty to do. We found ourselves meeting up with cruisers walking around town, comparing outboard motors at the dinghy dock (Ryan’s favorite pastime) and hanging out at random bars for the local “Rake and Scrape” music nights.

Which is how we learned about the upcoming Heritage Festival in George Town this past weekend…though none of the Bahamians knew exactly when it kicked off on Saturday. “Around 8 or 9,” they said. “I think.”

It turns out Bahamians love a good party, and to them a good night out includes Bahamian beer, rum, food and music. So, at the Heritage Festival, they made sure you got plenty of $2 plates of conch fritters, endless $3 Kalik beers and ton of hip-shaking Bahamian music blasting into the wee hours of the night.

And it wasn’t just a party for adults. Every Bahamian kid in town was running wild Saturday night, climbing on stage, eating BBQ ribs, getting scolded by their moms and dancing up a storm while their parents guzzled their Kaliks.

Hell, it was the best party in town…and not just for the Bahamians. We, too, drank our fair share of Kaliks and ate enough ribs to sink a boat. The only difference was that I didn’t hear twenty speeches at 8 a.m. the next morning thanking the George Town Bahamians on the Cruisers Net for the excellent party they threw the night before.

But after that party, I’m sure most Bahamians were still in bed when the Cruisers Net came on. I know I was.

turf to surf hideaway sailing george town bahamas

Ryan’s loves him some Kalik beer.

heritage festival music george town bahamas

Not to mention live music.

george town bahamas heritage festival

And don’t forget the dancing! m/v Knot Yet rips it up with s/v Hideaway.

heritage festival 2013 george town bahamas

No one’s quite as enthusiastic as this guy, though.

music heritage festival george town bahamas

All in all, a good night out.

post-line-divide

To see more of Turf to Surf’s travels in the Bahamas, visit their Photo Albums on Facebook.

Bahamas Detour: Fort Lauderdale Supply Run

My whirlwind weekend in Fort Lauderdale was supposed to involve just two days of West Marine shopping, Apple computer repairs, staying with friends, possibly getting a hair cut, and returning to George Town with all the spare parts we needed to comfortably head south immediately upon my return.

But when Ryan called to say the weather forecasts showed we probably couldn’t leave for another week, I wondered if I shouldn’t use my air miles to fly back to New York and find a new person to manage our rental property. Our log cabin in the Catskill Mountains had been a worry for us because our rental agent hadn’t returned our phone calls or emails in over two months and we hadn’t gotten a single booking during that time.

So, it was a busy week bouncing around Florida and New York, but the extended stay was worth it. Sure, I saw more of Wal-Mart and the Fort Lauderdale West Marine than I did my loved ones, but I was successful in picking up $1500 worth of essential parts and supplies, hiring the perfect manager for our rental property, catching up with my friends in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and Albany, New York and I even spent a day with my parents. Since my dad recently fought and survived a rare and aggressive blood cancer, spending time with him has become increasingly important, but also more difficult since we’ve sailed away. My trip home was a welcome opportunity to see my family.

The problem I faced at the end of my hectic week, though, was how to lug my body weight in supplies to the airport and onto a plane barely large enough to carry mail, let alone passengers with over-sized cargo. And the other problem was how much all my extra luggage was going to cost me.

Fortunately, luck was on my side. When I dropped off my car at Fort Lauderdale Airport, an Avis employee saw me struggling with two over-sized bags, a backpack and a large fiberglass panel and offered to drive me to my terminal then drop my car back at Avis for me. I could have hugged the man on the spot.

Checking in to United Airlines was a different story, though; I was shocked to find out I’d have to pay $400 for any bag over 50 pounds. Since my suitcase weighed 80 pounds, I needed to find a way to make 30 pounds disappear. And fast. My flight was boarding in 20 minutes.

So I got down to business and did what every desperate, over-loaded traveler in the airport does when they’re faced with luggage surcharges; I pulled all my bags open and tore the packaging off everything I’d purchased. And then I pulled out my spare duffel and crammed it full of 24 package-less fuel filters. Once my carry-on duffel reached 30 pounds, I handed my 50-pound suitcase, 50-pound duffel bag and my fiberglass panel to the check-in clerk and walked away with my backpack and an enormous “carry-on” full of fuel filters.

I knew what was coming to me when I reached the security gate, though, and I felt bad for everyone in line behind me. There was no way my duffel bag was going to pass through the X-ray machine unnoticed. And sure enough, my bag was pulled aside for a search and I was asked a lot of questions about why I didn’t check the bag (“These are very delicate parts,” I lied), why I had so many fuel filters (“I live on a boat”), why my bag smelled like fuel (“I accidentally spilled fuel cleaner on it”) and whether the fuel cleaner was flammable (“Absolutely not,” I lied again).

I was thrilled to be subjected to just a few questions and sideways looks, though, before being allowed to board my flight to George Town with 24 fuel filters in an essentially flammable duffel bag. It all could have gone much worse.

Now I just had to get through Bahamian customs in George Town without paying import taxes. When I arrived, though, all I did was present my cruising permit and I was waved through to my taxi in no time at all.

I admit that just a week ago I was thrilled to leave our cramped little Hideaway and fly to the States for a much-needed break from boat life. But after a week of exhausting land life, I was now thrilled to be back on the boat, surrounded by the aquamarine waters of the Bahamas again. And while I was away, Ryan even varnished Hideaway’s floors, making it look newer, more spacious and more inviting than ever before.

It seems my trip home wasn’t merely a successful supply run. I can honestly say I’m ecstatic to be back in the Bahamas. And on a boat that is ready to sail south again.

Now, for that weather window…

united airlines flight george town bahamas fort lauderdale florida

My tiny plane from George Town to Fort Lauderdale.

view of exuma cays from air

View of the Exuma Cays from my airplane window.

exuma cays bahamas from the air

The water looks incredible even from the air.

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Melody (s/v Vacilando), Emily and me catching up over a bottle of Nassau Royale

provisioning hideaway sailing

My heap of supplies from the Fort Lauderdale West Marine.

Photo Essay: Chillin’ in George Town, Bahamas

Turning up to George Town Bahamas for the annual Cruising Regatta felt a little like rafting up to a Carnival Cruise Liner or docking at a holiday camp for vacation.

There were announcements every morning at 8 o’clock on VHF channel 72 letting you know the schedule of activities and events for the day, along with general announcements like, “The George Town dumpster is now full. Please keep your garbage on board until it’s been emptied,” or requests like, “If anyone finds a pair of Costa del Mar sunglasses on Volleyball Beach, could you please call Seas the Day on channel 68?”

This would be followed by “Boater’s General” announcements, which included shout outs for parts or advice (like our own plea, “Hey, does anyone know how to clean out a fuel tank?”) and then the Oscar winners’ speeches like, “I’d just like to thank everyone who participated in the scavenger hunt yesterday. It was a big success and we couldn’t have done it without you. Also, thank-you to Joan on Seas the Opportunity for baking the cookies.”

All this organization and radio chatter after weeks of being on our own and practically ignoring our VHF took a little getting used to, but George Town’s busy schedule of events turned out to be just the excuse we needed to procrastinate from cleaning out our fuel tank. So instead of fixing our engine problem upon arrival, we spent the first few days of the Cruising Regatta hanging out on Chat-n-Chill beach, watching the opening day festivities, eating conch and walking up and down George Town’s main street.

Here is my photo essay from those first few days, before we fled the bad weather and anchored behind Red Shanks Cay.

cruising regatta 2013 george town bahamas

Opening Night of the Cruising Regatta: The “No Talent Show.”

cruising regatta george town bahamas 2013

“Above-water Synchronized Swim Team.”

chat-n-chill bahamas george town

The cozy Chat-n-Chill Bar, where you can get BBQ ribs or a stiff rum punch.

AJ fresh conch salad bahamas

During the show, I noticed this guy serving up fresh conch salad on the beach and couldn’t resist.

conch shack AJ chat-n-chill bahamas

AJ was happy to show me his method…”First you hammer a hole in the shell and run a knife along the back…”

fresh conch bahamas

“Then you pull out the conch…” (He let me do that part.)

AJ conch shack chat-n-chill beach bahamas

“Then you cut off the tail and the skin…”

fresh conch george town bahamas

“…and then his eyes…” (What? Conchs have eyes?!)

conch salad shack bahamas

“Then you chop it up with some peppers, onions, tomatoes, lime, orange, salt and pepper.” So good!

george town bahamas anchorage

Kidd Cove anchorage – the nearest anchorage to George Town’s dinghy dock.

elvis water taxi george town bahamas

Elvis Water Taxi comes in handy when the seas are choppy and you have a long way to travel.

george town bahamas water taxi

George Town Water Taxi dock

george town bahamas main street

George Town may be the biggest town in the Exumas, but it’s still small with one main road.

george town bahamas water

The water is as beautiful here as it is in the rest of the Exumas.

red shanks cay bahamas

Storm approaching over Red Shanks Cay – we missed the regatta sailing to hole up here for a few days.

post-line-divide

To see more photos, visit Turf to Surf’s George Town Bahamas Photo Album on Facebook.

Fuel filters, tanks and pumps, oh my

When we first started cruising, Ryan and I noticed some distinct differences between Hideaway and the boats of experienced cruisers:

  1. Most boats had much larger anchors and much more chain than we did.
  2. 9 out of 10 boats had a Honda eu2000i generator on board. Yet we didn’t.
  3. Jerrycans on deck were a tell-tale sign of a cruising boat. But we didn’t have those, either.

We’d done our research before refitting Hideaway with the essentials for our long trip south, but it seems you can’t always anticipate every single need. Some things required a little “time on the water,” as they say, and rubbing elbows with other cruisers to figure out.

By the time we left Annapolis, we’d replaced our Danforth anchor and 20 feet of chain with a 44 lb. Rocna and 100 feet of chain. And we slept much better for it afterwards.

By the time we left Vero Beach, we realized our solar panel would never cover our power needs and we couldn’t rely on motoring every day to top up our batteries. We needed an efficient and reliable way to charge our batteries without exhausting our engine. So, after asking a dozen cruisers their opinion, we bought a Honda eu2000i generator in December and called it our Christmas present to ourselves.

The jerrycans, however, kept us wondering all the way to George Town, Bahamas. I suggested to Ryan a few times that we just strap a few jerrycans to our deck and figure out later why everyone has them. But he isn’t one to follow an example without questioning it. “Why would we need so much spare fuel when we’re never more than 24 hours away from a fuel dock?” he asked. Plus, we had three 5-gallon jerrycans in our lazarette, which seemed like plenty. Maybe all the other cruisers were preparing to do much longer ocean passages than we were?

When we pulled into George Town with no engine power, though, and we narrowed the possible problems down to a bad batch of fuel or a dirty tank, we finally realized what the jerrycans were for. Cruisers filled them up so they could filter their fuel before putting it in the tank. We hadn’t even considered this, since we were so used to clean fuel in the U.S. Whoops.

Luckily, though, with 300 boats anchored around us and an active cruisers net on the VHF every day at 8 o’clock, we got plenty of advice on how to deal with a dirty fuel tank.

First Ryan and I got down to changing our fuel filters – we have a primary Racor filter, which we could see had collected black crud, so this was a likely culprit for our loss of engine power. It was just unfortunate that changing our Racor required four hands and a great deal of cursing.

The next thing we did was drain the fuel out of our tank and filter it into jerrycans (Aha! So that’s what these things are for!). We weren’t exactly sure how to do this with the tools we had on board, so we were grateful when our friends on Moonshadow lent us their electric pump, a Baja filter and some advice on how to go about the process of cleaning the tank.

It was a learning experience, like every repair we’ve done so far. It’s just that the problem with “learning” while at anchor is that it requires pulling everything out of the innards of the boat and stacking it up in our living space until the project is finished. For about two days, our boat looked like it had vomited its guts into our lounge and cockpit, making me cranky and frustrated that there was nowhere to sit. Boat work has a way of making me see Hideaway as a tiny, claustrophobic life raft, rather than a compact but comfortable home.

The other problem with learning as you go is sometimes you’re nowhere near a West Marine when you realize you have a large and infinitely growing shopping list for parts and tools. And then the question is always (other than “Where will I find this stuff?”), “Where will we put it all?”

By the time we finished the fuel cleaning job, our scrawled wish list looked like this:

And that was just the beginning. Once we decided we needed parts for our fuel system, the shopping list began to extend to things we needed for our continuing trip south, like:

And the list continued to grow while we wondered how we’d get all this into the Bahamas without paying a fortune in shipping and taxes.

Then Ryan had an idea. We could use our air miles to fly one of us back to Fort Lauderdale, fill up a shopping cart at West Marine, and use our cruising permit to exempt us from paying the 40% import tax on our already expensive shopping list.

And with the boat looking like it had been tipped upside down, shaken, then turned right side up again, I barely hesitated before blurting out, “I’ll go!”

Problem solved. Fort Lauderdale, here I cooooome!

racor fuel filter

Ryan with our dismantled Racor filter.

dirt in racor primary fuel filter

The black stuff that came out of our fuel filter.

hideaway sailing blog catalina 34

The disaster that results from working on Hideaway.