Photo Essay: Allen Cay, Bahamas

After anchoring for a night off Highborne Cay in The Exumas, we decided to head 5 miles north to Allen Cay where an unusual species of iguanas are the islands’ main inhabitants.

We’ve been known to get stuck in places to do boat repairs, but in the case of Allen Cay, we decided to stick around for one more night so we could do some more of the snorkeling, swimming to shore, feeding iguanas and barbecuing under the stars that we did on our first day here.

There’s a nasty cold front moving our way, though, which will make this calm-looking anchorage rather uncomfortable by Saturday night, so we’ll need to duck into Highborne Cay Marina for protection before then.

But before we go, we’ll swim to shore to feed the iguanas just one more time…

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Hideaway, happily anchored by the beach.

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The welcoming committee of Leaf Cay.

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Feeding lettuce to the eager iguanas.

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The natives were very curious about us.

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“Oy! Did you get me in the picture?!”

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This guy trailed behind me all morning like a puppy dog.

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The iguanas’ beach-front property.

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The water’s a little chilly, but too pretty not to go in.

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Spying on Hideaway from an island hilltop

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Live, pink conch were scattered all along the beach.

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Pulling right up alongside happiness…

Captain’s Log: Nassau to Highborne Cay, Bahamas

When we left Nassau to head from Porgee Rock to Highborne Cay, about 35 nautical miles away, the only worry we had was the minefield of coral heads our charts showed on the Yellow Bank about halfway across.

We were inclined to take the long route around, just to be safe, but then we met a cruising couple in Nassau who’ve sailed down to the Bahamas each year for 17 years, and they told us not to worry and to just go straight through the Yellow Bank. According to them, the coral heads were highly visible and easy to avoid if you arrived at mid-day with the sun overhead.

I was a little on edge, though, as we approached the Yellow Bank because I could see a number of sailboats had decided to go around it, rather than through it, and because I had no idea what I was looking for.

But, before long, we realized our friends were right; you couldn’t miss them. The coral heads appeared as big, black splotches on the clear, blue water, each of them about 15 feet long. The only way you could actually hit one of them, was if you weren’t looking for them.

In the end, there was nothing to worry about. We sailed smoothly the whole way with 12 knots of wind and arrived to our little anchorage off Highborne Cay in the Exumas well before sunset. The only disappointment for me was not catching fish on the way. But, hey, at least this time we didn’t lose a fish.

And once our anchor was set, we settled into the cockpit with some wine, a home-made pizza on the BBQ and nothing around us but a few other boats and the stars overhead. It felt like we’d cashed in our chips from all those cold, torturous months sailing south.

There’s that saying, “Sometimes it’s a little better to travel than to arrive.” On this particular occasion, though, I’d have to disagree.

I couldn’t be happier to have finally arrived.

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Ryan, on the look-out for coral heads to avoid.

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The tell-tale black splotch of a coral head.

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Tasha, setting up the fishing rod.

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Hideaway, anchored at Highborne Cay, Bahamas.

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I’m thrilled to have finally arrived to the Exumas.

Marine mechanics: Women’s work

It’s a shame that more girls aren’t trained as marine mechanics because, frankly, with the tiny spaces one has to maneuver in to work on a boat, most men, with their big, cumbersome frames, just aren’t built for it.

The job we tackled on Monday, after putting off boat work to celebrate my birthday all weekend, was to figure out why our fuel gauge wasn’t working.

I’d gotten on the Catalina 34 site and Cruiser’s Forum to ask how I could figure out whether the problem was with the fuel gauge on the instrument panel or the sender float in the fuel tank. I got a lot of advice on how to figure this out, along with the guess that we had a bad sender float, and if that was the case, it was more trouble than it was worth to replace it.

I relayed this to Ryan and he looked at me like I’d just suggested we live without a fridge because that would be easier than fixing it. “That’s ridiculous!” he said. “It can’t be that hard to fix. Besides, we’ll learn something.”

Which is Ryan’s motto for everything we tackle on the boat: “We’ll learn something.” And, granted, this has been true for everything so far. It’s just that it often conflicts with my motto, which is: “Don’t work too hard.”

Since Ryan wasn’t happy to settle for living with a broken fuel gauge, we set to work pulling off the instrument panel in the cockpit to access the wires behind it. The plan was to test the wire connections and work out which item was broken.

And once we worked out it was, indeed, the sender float, the next job was to empty out the back berth (our junk room/food pantry) and take off the panels exposing the tank so we could get to the sender float and the wires running back to our instrument panel.

Now, this is where I come in. Because, like the time we had to remove the heat exchanger from the engine, and the time we ran wires from our solar panel to our battery monitor through the back of a small hanging locker, we’ve found that Ryan — with his broad, rugby player’s shoulders — just isn’t able to squeeze his upper body into tight spaces and use both hands to tackle an intricate job. I, on the other hand, can shimmy my small frame into just about any space on the boat.

For example, removing the heat exchanger required me to hang half upside down in a hole under the back berth so that my shoulders and neck sat on the the hull while my legs and hips were above my head on the berth. In this position, with a flashlight in my mouth, I could use both hands and a screw driver to remove the heat exchanger.

And when we wired the solar panel, though Ryan was able to reach the wires in the back of our hanging locker with one hand, he was unable to also get his other hand in to crimp the wire connector. I, on the other hand, could shimmy my shoulders almost completely into the locker and use both hands to do the job.

Accessing the fuel tank, by comparison, was a piece of cake. I simply squeezed myself into the 3-foot-high space at the foot of the back berth, under the cockpit, where our fuel tank sits behind a removable panel. With a flashlight in my mouth, and my arms squeezed into the space above the tank, I removed the screws on the sender float. The only problem was that, being inexperienced at mechanical work, I hadn’t yet worked out that the five screws around the edge of the fitting held the gasket in place, while the center screw held the float to the fitting… and also kept it from falling into the tank.

I worked this out quickly, though, when I unscrewed the center nut and then shouted, “Noooooo!” as the sender float slipped away from the gasket and kerplunked into the tank. I looked at Ryan sheepishly, and could tell he was trying really hard not to say, “That was really stupid.”

Luckily, I saved the day with some electrical wire and a fish hook. Though our fish hook has yet to snag us a fish, it’s now revered for having retrieved our sender float from the fuel tank.

And once we had the sender float in our hands, we could wire it up directly to the instrument panel and indeed confirm that when we moved the float up and down, the needle on the instrument panel didn’t move. Which meant the sender float was definitely the problem.

Within an hour, though, Ryan had returned from a nearby marine store in Nassau with a new sender float. So we wired it up to our instrument panel and voila! The needle moved!

Now all I had to do was crawl back down to the fuel tank and install the new float without dropping it in the tank this time. Note to self: Don’t remove the center screw.

If I do say so myself, my installation job was much quicker and more professional than my removal job. Which I think means I’m improving my skills. And thanks to having small shoulders, I only got a small crick in my neck and no major bruises.

I’m trying to take more of an interest in the mechanical workings of our boat, even though I feel that some things are beyond my comprehension. Like AC and DC electrics. But then again, Ryan has no more training in this area than I do, so it would be unfair to assume he should do all the mechanical work just because he’s a man.

I’d be wiling to venture, though, if more women were trained as marine mechanics, the male mechanics of the world would find themselves up against some tough competition. We ladies are just better built for it!

installing new fuel tank sender float

Squeezing into tight spaces is easier for me than it is for Ryan.

Bahamas birthday bash at Atlantis Marina

Don’t quote me on this, but I think you know you had a good birthday when you hugged a NYC celebrity and fell asleep under a craps table while your husband raked in a wad of money to buy Burlesque show tickets with.

Granted, Skipper Bob didn’t recommend Atlantis Marina at $4.50/foot. But, then, the exorbitant-for-the-Bahamas price didn’t seem that crazy considering $4.00/foot back in New York would have bought us some pretty unimpressive amenities like barely tolerable bathrooms, a luke-warm trickle of a shower and definitely no swimming pool. In fact, I’m guessing we’d have moved aboard a long time ago if marinas in the Northeast boasted water slides, lazy rivers, swimming pools, jacuzzis, free towels, aquariums, casinos, boutiques, trendy restaurants, a swanky fitness center, hot showers, and a Starbucks. Did I mention the fitness center and Starbucks?!

Sure, it sounds like a cruise-ship-turned-marina but, hell, what’s wrong with that for a few days?!

I’m guessing we got our money’s worth out of Atlantis. They’ve probably never seen two “yachties” use so much hot water. The only problem was that the other yachties on their 60-foot catamarans and 120-foot power yachts never returned our enthusiastic waves, which I thought was rude.

“They don’t know you own a yacht,” Ryan said, pointing out that I’d been wearing the same faded shorts and t-shirt for the last two weeks while everyone else looked like they just stepped off the plane from L.A. ready to hit the club.

Which was an indicator that it was time to pull our fancy digs out of the hanging locker and dust off the mildew. After all, it was my birthday.

So, we kicked off the weekend with a workout session at the fitness center, dinner at a restaurant on the beach and then we headed back to Hideaway to do a You Tube study of “How to Win at Craps” (videos 1, 2, 3 and 4).

Neither Ryan nor I could care less about gambling, but when we found ourselves in Vegas a few years back, we thought we’d at least give it a try, and limit ourselves to $200. The problem, though, was we quickly got bored with the mindless button-pressing of slot machines and the unsociable Black Jack and Roulette tables and therefore couldn’t see the point or the appeal of gambling. So we gave up when we were about $20 down and went home.

On the way out, though, we passed the craps tables, which had crowds of people shouting, cheering and generally having fun, and we thought if there was anything we should try, it should be craps. But we didn’t want to go at it without an education. So the next night we gave ourselves the same $200 budget, watched some You Tube tutorials, and hit the tables. And by the end of the night, we’d had an absolute blast, got drunk for free, met some interesting people, and made $80.

This year, we figured we’d try the same. But we had an even steeper challenge since I’d spotted a poster in Atlantis advertising Dita Von Teese’s Burlesque show on Saturday night with none other than Murray Hill as the MC. I’d seen Murray Hill host a Burlesque show in SoHo, New York a few years back and he/she (a cross-dressing female) hilariously stole the show. It was guaranteed to be a good time, but the tickets were kind of pricey at $100 a pop. So we vowed that if we made at least $100, we’d buy tickets for Saturday night’s show.

Turning $200 into $300 was no easy challenge, though. And the thing about those free casino drinks is that they make them tame and tasty at the beginning of the night. But the longer you linger at the table, the stronger the drinks get, until you’re practically drinking rubbing alcohol in a cup. But you don’t care anymore because you’re two sheets to the wind, so you keep drinking and – as the casino hopes – betting money foolishly. Unless you’re Ryan, that is.

Though I have the tolerance of a Korean man (tell tale signs: face turns red, starts giggling and Gangnam Style dancing, then falls asleep where currently seated or standing), Ryan has the tolerance of a Russian General (gets more energetic and decisive as the night goes on). So while I apparently sat on the floor giggling, then curled up into a ball to sleep under the craps table, Ryan started raking in $15 chips by the handful and raising a ruckus cheering on the preppy college kids who were rolling all the right numbers.

Ryan also wisely moved me over to the slot machines, where he propped me up on a seat like the dead guy in Weekend at Bernie’s so the casino wouldn’t make us leave, and ran over now and then to wake me up and stash chips in my pocket so he wouldn’t spend them.

And while Ryan was busy winning money off the dice rolls of a lucky college kid the croupier had nicknamed “GQ,” I got up to use the toilet. Which is when I saw Murray Hill and Dirty Martini (a New York burlesque performer) sat on the Atlantis casino throne having their pictures taken.

Hopefully they were just as drunk as I was because I immediately ran up to Murray Hill and babbled about how I loved his show at Corio in NYC and that my husband was playing craps RIGHT NOW so we could win enough money to go see them and they just HAD to come meet him RIGHT NOW. And then I gave him a hug, which is the kind of thing you only do at 2 in the morning.

And though Mr. Hill and Ms. Martini wouldn’t come with me back to the craps table, as fate would have it, we’d meet them again the next night anyway.

After all, by the end of the night, Ryan had won himself $260 and a rather drunk date to a Burlesque show. And that was just the beginning of the weekend…

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Atlantis Marina attracts some incredible boats

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Cleaned up for a fancy dinner at the Ocean Club, Nassau

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A painting I would love to own: “The Mall” by Jane Waterous, hanging in the Ocean Club

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Walking off our birthday hangover in Atlantis Water Park

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Atlantis Resort

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The aquariums all over Atlantis are fascinating

“You got spooled!”

With our engine finally working as it should, we made our (hopefully) last and final plans to get to Nassau, Bahamas to celebrate my birthday on Friday, February 1st.

We were planning to leave a day earlier to go down to Cat Cay and anchor overnight before heading across the Great Bahama Bank, but as we’d now lost a day to a leaking coolant hose, we needed a new route, and preferably a short cut. Which we found through Barnett Harbour just south of Turtle Rocks, allowing us to cut east across the bank in mild, southerly winds, hopefully carrying us over to Nassau before the winds came round to the north.

Once we got onto the bank, any worries we had about messy waters dissipated, as we motor-sailed smoothly at 6.5 knots in 12-knot winds. And once the winds got up to 22 knots, we cut the engine and sailed on a beam reach at a nice 6.5 to 7.0 knots.

Cutting through 10-15 feet of clear blue water, I could see every rock and piece of algae on the ocean floor, which didn’t worry me as much as fascinate me. I was used to it now from our week in Bimini, where the water was so clear I could see old rum running bottles lying on the harbor floor. But now, instead of scanning the floor for rum bottles, I was looking for fish.

Yet there wasn’t much of anything out on the bank. No boats, no birds, no fish, no land. Just an endless expanse of topaz blue. So we sat back in the cockpit, put our feet up, lathered on some sun screen and reminisced about the good old days on the ICW, when we were wrapped from head to toe like mummies, taking turns to sit by the camping heater, wishing the scenery would change to distract us from the fact that we were freezing. Thankfully, we knew back then that there were warmer, prettier waters somewhere in our future.

The only worry for today was a narrow section on the NW Channel passage flanked by shoaling, which we were told was marked by the NW Channel Light. Except, as far as we could tell, the channel light no longer existed, or at least it was submerged. And since we’d be arriving in the dark we decided it was best to anchor just off the channel and make our way through the passage at first light.

So, at 7:00 am Thursday morning, we were up and raring to get to our destination. And with calm waters and 58 nautical miles of deep blue ahead to Nassau, we thought we’d experiment on the way with our new dolphin fish (mahi mahi) lure and troll our line behind the boat.

With no action whatsoever on the line all day, though, I’d pretty much forgotten we were even trying to catch a fish. Which would explain our complete lack of a game plan for what happened next.

About 5 miles from Nassau, Ryan heard a buzz-click sound he didn’t recognize and looked behind him to see our fishing rod bowing towards the water. “Fish on!” he screamed.

I ran up into the cockpit and towards our rod, which was spinning line out the back of the boat much faster than I could think. I stood there, watching, trying to remember what Von, our fishing guru, had told us to do once we’d hooked a fish. I seemed to remember him saying to let the line run for a bit and then reel it in, the idea being that I should tire the fish out before trying to pull him on board.

I looked at Ryan, hoping he’d have some advice, but he was a mirror image of me, standing frozen in place, staring at the spinning reel, trying to decide what to do. And while we both stood there, mouths agape, watching the spool of fishing line grow smaller and smaller, it suddenly disappeared. No line, no hook, no lure and, most importantly, no fish.

We looked at each other in disbelief and I smacked myself in the forehead. “I can’t believe I didn’t stop the line!” I shouted, horrified with myself.

“We got a fish!” Ryan exclaimed, looking delighted.

“We didn’t get a fish; we lost a fish!” I said, smacking myself some more.

“No, but I mean, this is great! This means we can get a fish!” Ryan said, still smiling.

“But we don’t have a fish,” I shouted, frowning. “I just stood there, like an idiot!”

I didn’t know whether to cry or laugh. “I thought the line would be tied off and it would just stop! But it disappeared!” I whined.

Ryan patted me on the back, smiling. He seemed pleased enough with just the prospect of catching a fish, while I was lamenting my loss and ineptitude.

But, together, we scrolled through our mistakes and our should-haves in this ridiculous situation… like we should have stopped the boat, we should have grabbed the rod, we should have tugged on the line, we should have locked the reel off and we definitely should not have just stood there staring at our fishing rod like it was going to reel in, pull up, gaff, clean and fillet the damned fish for us. We should have done something! Anything!

But so it was. Somewhere out there, there’s a really really big fish (as are all the fish that get away) with a brand new lure and a spool of 50-pound test strung from its mouth, swimming around Nassau laughing at us.

Luckily, we had time to get over our fishing disaster before we pulled into Atlantis Marina, our destination for my Bahamas birthday weekend, though. We were busy eyeing up our kitschy, glitzy weekend hideaway as we made our way through the canal that led to what looked like a waterfront Las Vegas. The weekend game plan was to enjoy a gluttonous amount of casino cocktails, water park rides, Starbucks, craps tables and shimmying our tiny, grungy-looking sailboat between the sparkling multi-million-dollar mega yachts.

And just as we were docking our humble “yacht,” we looked over and saw what was probably the second smallest boat in the marina — a sport fisher called Knot Yet, whom we’d met on Facebook, but had never met in person. So when Kerri and Ean came over to give us a hand with our lines, we quickly introduced ourselves and told them our sad fish story.

“Oh no! You got spooled!” Kerri said, laughing.

I just nodded my head sadly and said my birthday shopping trip would have to be to a tackle shop for some more line and a new lure.

Happy birthday to me and one damned lucky fish.

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Ryan, on Hideaway, just trying to blend in with the yachties.

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A different kind of marina than we’re used to.

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Mighty Mouse, hanging loud and proud amongst much fancier dinghys.

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?

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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.

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

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

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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.


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