All at sea, Part 2
Well, as you saw, we arrived at our friends' anchorage after a leisurely
sail from our anchorage slightly north, on June 10th. We left you as we
joined our friends aboard Flyingfish, anchored in the shelter of Rat Cay,
home to a new contingent of swimming pigs adjacent to Munjack Cay, for
another dinner after a long separation. (Dinners with them are frequent
when we're in the same area, as not only are they very good friends, Sam
likes her cooking exponentially better than ours - on which point I have
little disagreement, other than to firmly affirm that I like what we eat
aboard Flying Pig just fine.)
Full of camaraderie and marvelous food, we made our way back, again,
courtesy of Abaco Marine Uber. (You think I'm kidding? The Mediterranean
has just such a service.
That it's our
hosts, and I made it up before I saw that article, doesn't change matters -
there will soon be Uber available on the water, better than the typical
water taxi in nearly every regard!)
June 11th saw us completing the assembly of our PortaBote, our preferred
Bahamas dinghy. It's made from very heavy high density polyethylene, and
virtually indestructible. It folds into a 4" thick package, 10' long, in
our case, by 2' other than in the taper to the bow, and lashes to our rail
(Pictures: Flying Pig Shakedown 2013-2014/Batteries
when we're under way. The seats, oars and transom store on the stern
(Pictures: Flying Pig Shakedown 2013-2014/Batteries
in a duffel Lydia sewed up from scrap sunbrella fabric salvaged from a sail
cover which had torn in a hurricane.
Once assembled, we went off snorkeling with Flyingfish, skirting the rules,
perhaps, about checking in. However, we were flying our yellow "Q" flag,
and never stepped on shore, so we felt empowered to flaunt our presence even
if we weren't flauting the rules. None the less, we did want to check in,
so we headed down the chain of islands to Green Turtle Cay the following
morning, June 12th, at 8:15.
We're a sailboat, and essentially allergic to running our engine, so we
sailed the relatively short distance. (People rave about the British Virgin
Islands, for their short distances between the various places where, now,
almost universally, you have to take a mooring. They have nothing on the
northern Abacos in the Bahamas. Not a mooring in sight, typical distance as
little as 5 miles, protected water for smooth sailing, and LOTS of great
places to explore empty beaches and ogle - or shoot - seafood. We've done
both - and with no denigration of the BVIs, we're not going back.)
Back to the story, we'd cleared the corner allowing us into the Sea of
Abaco - the protected waters between the small islands (Cays, here) and the
larger Great Abaco Cay - by 8:30 and headed off with a 10 knot breeze at 45°
apparent wind. That is a pretty close reach, but we still managed 5.4-6
knots beating into it - and at that, because of the geometry of our forward
motion, the actual wind was much less than 10 knots. We were very well
balanced - Flying Pig actually sails better close-hauled - as we made good
our travel at 157°T (true, not magnetic) against a heading of 163°T, which
meant that very little slippage was happening as we heeled slightly to
starboard in the southeasterly breeze.
As we turned further in toward our eventual anchorage, we rolled in the
genoa at 8:50, and had the main stowed and the anchor down by 9:15. We both
exclaimed over the perfect sailing conditions and noted that these were days
built for having guests aboard. Nearly no heel, no waves to speak of, and
gentle motion as we glided forward under the power of the wind and the lift
from our sails. A great opportunity, as well, for education on the physics
of lift for younger - or, even, not so young certified flight instructors
who'd never made the connection despite relying entirely on the principle to
Our joy at Flying Pig's performance was enhanced further as, in the little
customs and immigration office in Green Turtle, another cruiser was filling
out his paperwork. He'd arrived slightly earlier and saw our entry to the
anchorage. He observed that ours was the perfect boat for him, and that he
was currently looking. However, he also expressed surprise that we were
able to sail as close to the wind as we did, eventually reaching 30°
apparent wind as we came into the anchorage. Can you guess that we love our
A brief tour of town followed, starting with the obligatory visit to the
home of the Bahamas' invention, the Goombay Smash, at the Blue Bee. We were
disappointed to see that the library's air conditioning was broken, and thus
they were closed until further notice. That could mean anything - it's
island time, mon! - but it's a great place to visit, bring books you've
finished and want to donate or exchange, and perhaps check out others.
The rule in the Bahamas with regard to lending libraries is that you sign
out for them, but they understand that you may well be leaving the area;
returning them, as we did in Georgetown, some years later with Life of Pi,
is entirely acceptable. Things are a bit more relaxed here in the Bahamas
than in the US. Anyway, it will have to be another time; they're closed
until further notice.
The next stop was to the liquor store. We're not drinkers, so the purpose
was to use the restaurant which is ALSO in the liquor store. The $5 burger
is still possible in the Bahamas, as well as the double-decker bacon
cheeseburger for $8. They even lent me their phone to call a local supplier
in hopes that I might find fins and dive boots in my size, as it appeared
that we'd lost them when our dinghy took flight off the dock where it had
been temporarily stored during our electrical upgrades, landing upside down
a few hundred feet away.
After some minor grocery shopping and postcard and stamps procurement, we
headed off to White Sound for the dive shop next to Green Turtle Club, a
marina and restaurant. Fortunately, it was solely rental, and they wouldn't
sell us any gear, because we eventually found our gear buried under layers
of line in our stern lazarette (huge storage bin under the aft deck); I'd
forgotten that I'd put it there prior to the Admiral's concealment as she
emptied the arch of our spare lines!
The next day saw a return trip which, due to our general sloth, didn't
happen until 2PM. As we were headed in the inverse direction, but the wind
hadn't notably changed, we now saw it at 130°-150° apparent on our
starboard. Mostly it was 8-12 knots, but several instances of only 4-6
knots, and occasional gusts to 14. That yielded 5.8 knots SOG at 106°T
against our heading of 125°T, reflecting our slight slide with our lee helm.
(Lee helm is the boat attempting to turn toward the lee side, requiring
corrective rudder to compensate - which, as it's a large area not in a
direct line with the keel, acts as a drag, slowing us somewhat. A racer
would be furiously trimming the sails to make a perfectly balanced boat,
sailing with the rudder amidships. It's possible sail largely by adjusting
sails, rather than using the rudder...)
As our friends had gone on to Allens-Pensacola (two Cays which had merged in
a long-ago hurricane) we continued past Manjack, making a course of 312T°
toward the end of Great Abaco. We watched some impressive rain but none of
it got within 5 miles of us. Lucky Flyingfish, however, got a monster
drenching, putting 150 gallons of water into their tanks in an hour or so.
Because this was just rain, with virtually no wind component to it, it was
merely a bonus to their anchorage.
We on the other hand, saw no rain until 5PM. The thunder was impressive, so
we presumed we'd have lots of wind, and we were soon going to anchor,
anyway, so we struck the sails and turned on the iron genoa - our Perkins
4-154 diesel - in anticipation. We got lots of water, but no wind, and it
was gone by the time we'd put our anchor down at 6:30. Once again, it had
been pretty much a perfect day for a guest sail; the seas were a bit bigger
at 2-4 feet, but we were moving nearly as fast as they were, so it was a
gentle roll when they had any impact at all.
Our dinghy towed marvelously as well, albeit taking on some significant
rainwater. Fortunately, the nature of the PortaBote is that I can stand in
the bow, driving the water forward. The bow is open, so taking a
bottom-cut-off orange juice bottle and using it as a scoop, pushing forward
with the corner of the bottle in the vee of the hull, moves a massive amount
of water out in nearly no time. In short order, it was empty.
We stayed in that area for several days, exploring various dive sites
offshore. I'd not discovered my dive gear before that, so I had the new
mask we'd bought before we left, and a spare snorkel as my only gear. None
the less, I was pleased to see that I could keep up with the others, and
despite my having on a dive skin, which adds flotation to my
shoreside-induced added flotation (I'm overweight currently!), dive to 15
feet without the aid of weights or flippers.
Now that we've uncovered our gear, I look forward to diving as I'm
accustomed to doing: Add enough weight that I don't quite sink, and with my
flippers, easily descend. With my lungs compressing under the pressure, I
become negatively bouyant about 3 feet down, and the rest of my energy can
be conserved for moving around below. Once I need to come up, a few flips
with my large flippers raises me to the point where my chest expands
sufficiently to float me, and I'm on top...
We'd wanted to intentionally beach Flying Pig, so that we could scrub her
bottom. In the past one of the places we'd found worked for us was off
Powell Cay. So, while our friends went to Marsh Harbour for supplies, we
went to Powell on June 17th. We had the anchor up by noon. This was one
of the days when the cruisers' maxim held: There is either no wind, or too
much wind, or it's coming from right where you want to go.
It was a bit of the last two; we were seeing 20-25 knots of wind at an
apparent 0-20° and 2-4' seas. It wasn't sail-able without considerable
tacking, so we motored the small distance at a gentle 4 knots. At 12:30, a
32 knot (well, that was the highest we noticed) squall hit us, right on our
nose, slowing us further. However, by 1:15 it was over, and we'd added some
water to our aft tank, the one we were still using since we left over a week
ago. A little over an hour later, we were anchored, well offshore, to avoid
We just hung out the next day, as it wasn't very nice to go ashore that day,
being even windier than the previous day. However, on June 19th, despite
the continuing 2-4' seas in 15-25 knots, we decided to go ashore to test out
the dinghy and explore the shallow cove on the Atlantic side.
Oops! The dinghy handled the water just fine, but made less and less way
the further we went. Thinking ahead, I headed in a direction parallel to
shore that would put us generally upwind of Flying Pig. Eventually, the
engine died entirely. Fortunately, as seen in a previous log, we had our
oars with us this time. So, I shipped them, and started rowing directly
offshore. As in a Gulf Stream crossing, that's the fastest way to arrive at
a parallel point offshore, even if it's downwind from you. In this case, the
wind was blowing us toward the boat; I didn't want to arrive astern and have
to row upwind, so I just rowed until we were in line with Flying Pig; the
wind took care of the rest of it.
Aside from the oarlocks, plastic this time because the steel ones normally
provided disintegrate in a marine environment, which flexed to the degree I
was concerned that they would break, and worse, their bending made it such
that the oars did not correctly address the water as I pulled, my row was
routine. (I have some greater appreciation for those things, having been a
3-time national-champion rower in college; the oars, let alone worrying
about the oarlocks, were inefficient, regardless of what pitch I applied to
the 'catch' - the point at which the oar goes in the water.)
So, after I did the long-haul (not very much force) style row to a point
directly upwind of Flying Pig, our arrival was generally uneventful, if you
don't count an engine failure as a significant event...
Jumping forward, I called the folks who had worked on it last after I saw
fuel pouring from it as it tried to stall one day later. Taking off the
engine cover revealed that fuel was coming out of the atmospheric vent (to
adjust for varying altitudes) on the carburetor. That, they said, is a sure
sign of some foreign matter in the needle of the float valve. OK -
straightforward; I removed it and cleaned it...
But putting it back on the PortaBote to check it out had another anomaly.
The fuel bulb, which you squeeze to fill the carburetor, would not
reinflate. That's a sign of a clog at the tank side. No problem; we have
two dinghies, fuel cans and hoses. Swap hoses.
Not so fast, bucko. That doesn't do any better. Dang. Back to the
workbench with both of them, and I take off what I expect to be defective
clips which attach to the fuel fitting (one each on engine and tank). OY!
The pipe is completely closed with some yellowish looking stuff.
I'll save you the gory details. But the inside of the line had a plastic
liner; not having that secure to the line, any more, meant that I'd just
jammed the end of it in when I swapped out squeeze bulbs. The tank end of
the fuel line before the bulb was also very stiff, so I abandoned it.
Taking the other end of it off the bulb I'd replaced revealed a similar
situation. But we saw that the adhesive which previously held that liner
was now granular and no longer doing much of any adhesion. No doubt, that's
where the junk in the carburetor had come from.
Judicious cutting, similar to how you'd strip a wire prior to putting some
form of end on it, allowed us to expose about 1/3" of the liner. Cutting it
on opposite sides allowed us to pull those now-flat ends outside the fuel
line and insert the fitting without jamming the plastic into the hose by
holding those flaps securely to the outside of the fuel line. Shortening
the final story, that seems to have done the trick as a few days later we
took the dinghy on a 15 mile round-trip (on which, more, anon).
Back to Powell Cay... We were not in the right time period for grounding
our boat, so we'd have to wait a couple of days before the tide would be at
low in the early afternoon. We drive onto the sand about halfway through a
falling tide, allowing the boat to settle. I then get in with mask and
hookah rig (long hose leading to a dive regulator) and lots of weight, so
that I don't have to work to stay down, and with the tide going out, the
boat doesn't move. A few hours with a scrub brush gets off the small little
layer of slime as well as exposes a fresh layer of the ablative (it's
intended to gradually slough off) bottom paint which repels marine growth.
But it was so "lumpy" we elected to take a pass on troubleshooting the
outboard, this time around, instead doing puttering-type chores aboard. One
small one was to check the water in the batteries, as we'd had LOTS of help
in charging, including some relatively extensive time motoring. Our system
is keeping fully charged. However, some small periods of overcharging (in
lead acid batteries, that's useful in what's called equalizing, but leads to
some boiling of the acids, which later means they need water) led to their
taking a modest amount of distilled water.
At the same time, I got the water pump for the refrigeration going. The
water in the Intra-Coastal Waterway in Vero Beach is so fecund that it clogs
up both the lines and the filter in less than a week. As it's a real
nuisance to get to, we used air cooling only. But now that we had stocked
our freezer and refrigator, there was a higher cooling load; water is very
efficient for carrying off heat, so it was put in service. A few hiccups
with the feed which repetitively required that I bleed the pump later, all
is well and our refrigeration efficiency improved.
June 21st saw us heading to Grand Cay, the northernmost occupied island in
the chain. Technically Walker Cay is occupied, but it's just caretakers for
when the island may be sold. It was essentially destroyed in a hurricane
some years ago, and what at one time was a key billfishing destination is
now in ruins and for sale.
Under way at 8:30, we hoped to make the 60 mile trip in one day. We made
off at 270°T on a heading of 280°T. The apparent wind was at 120° on our
starboard side; being quite downwind in terms of our destination, the
apparent wind of about 14 knots only gave us a little over 5 knots SOG,
under main only. By 8:50, we'd reached the intersection allowing us to turn
further north, having avoided the shoals prevalent in that area.
That put us nearly dead downwind, so we prevented the main to one side (put
restraint on it so it could not accidentally jibe) and rolled out the genoa.
Making 295°T on a heading of 304°T, the wind was at 170° apparent with only
10 knots - yet we plunged along at over 5 knots. Meanwhile we were keeping
a sharp eye on the squall clouds nearby; getting a sudden increase in wind,
particularly if it wasn't in our direction, with our main tied down could
get interesting. Potentially having to make a sail change to the other side
is a bit more complicated when you have to release and corral the preventer
This trip would have several minor course changes, all having to do with
avoiding shoals, but the rest of the trip was pretty much the same, minor
sail changes (including swapping sides with the main to accommodate the
clocking wind) aside. Wind eventually died, and it was plain that we'd not
arrive timely to make it through the very narrow and twisting approach to
Wells Bay, the somewhat enclosed area off the top of Grand Cay. I say
timely, because in situations like this, you want to have the the sun pretty
much overhead, in order to clearly see the bottom.
So, we furled the genoa, which was backwinded by the main sail in front of
it, and motorsailed the balance of our distance to the anchorage outside the
entrance to Little Grand Cay, the occupied settlement of 500 souls. The
anchorage had big surf, relatively speaking, and we anchored in about 12' of
water. As it was over grass, we made extra-sure to prove the anchor buried,
having had to cut through that grass layer to set.
True to form, our 33kg Rocna dug in immediately. And due to the force we
put on the chain leading to it, as we reversed, it had dug deeply. It's
common, when we raise the anchor, to have to spend some time (briefly)
directly over the anchor, shortening the chain in small increments as the
boat bobs in the swell. Eventually, it comes out, but not without a serious
burden of sand and grass. Getting that off is a matter of shaking it, under
water, by bumping up and down with the windlass controls. The remaining
sand washes off as we start to get under way, with the anchor still in the
water. Once it's clean, we seat it for our next launching.
Which was, the next morning (June 22nd), relatively early. Which was
telling, in that we touched once, on the sand opposite the last rocks around
which we'd take our turn into Wells Bay. It was sand, and the touch was
momentary, but we'd have better seen our route with the sun higher. Our
departure at high tide, however, gave us more confidence that our 7' draft
would not impede our progress. Indeed, we saw (that touch aside, and once
off, lots of depth) nothing less than 10 feet and mostly 15-20 feet of
depth. But VPR (visual piloting rules) is common notation on charts in the
Bahamas; this one would have been better for us to take at half tide, but
seeing the bottom...
June 24th saw us do miscellaneous chores, including a long-overdue
defrosting of our freezer, as well as addressing (and apparently solving, as
above) our dinghy motor issues. Once settled, we took it in for a foray on
the beach and it ran satisfactorily. Which was a good thing, because...
On the 25th, we joined our veteran hunters and snorkelers from Flyingfish in
a trip - about 7 miles away - to a major reef a few miles NW of Walker Cay,
the last occupied islands in the northern portion of the Bahamas.
"Occupied" is technically proper, but the only occupant is a caretaker until
(or if) the property is sold.
The reef is miles long, we drifted it. That is, we used the current to move
us, with Sam and I each tethered to our dinghies by long line which we could
let go of in order to dive without the dinghy pulling against us.
The scenery was stunning, but there were relatively few fish. That was
surprising, given that this was part of the National Parks areas which the
Bahamian government has set aside as a no-take (don't fish, take conch,
etc.) area. However, shortly before we got back in our dinghies, I felt
this presence at my left hand. I'd had it just dangling, thumb opposite my
palm and fingers, and a 30-or-so inch long remora had nuzzled me like a cat
asking for a petting.
He'd probably been attracted by my wedding ring - Lydia got scratched as he
inhaled her ring finger. But, turning around to look at him, he approached
me again. Eventually, he "befriended" all 4 of us. Lydia had removed her
ring by this time, but he still was curious. Sam got lots of pictures of
him up close and personal, as he investigated the shiny front of the
waterproof housing to the camera.
Eventually, as we individually each shooed him away, including grabbing at
him or flapping our fins at him, he meandered off. No doubt he was lost,
and looking for another place to attach the laundry-iron-shaped suction
areas in hopes of a free meal as he tagged along. (Remoras typically attach
themselves exclusively to sharks. That he was alone, and moved off, made us
wonder if there was some large shark from which he'd become separated,
nearby. However, we saw no sharks of any size on our dive.
Coming back, we stopped in to Walker's Cay and walked around the area of the
remains of the marina. The airstrip is still functional, and we'd seen an
airplane landing as we came back. One took off as we climbed up the sea
wall to have lunch in the small picnic-tabled gazebo, and there were three
others tied down when we arrived at the end of the airstrip.
Folks still fly in here, to be picked up, presumably, by some other boat,
to - again, presumably - go fishing. So, while there is the remains of a
fueling system there, it's just that - remains; there probably is a tank
underground which survived, but the apparent gear there would have to be
Our perambulations satisfied, we came back to even lower water, making
dinghy re-entry interesting. Fortunately, my 2" shrinkage from my full
height over the years is all in my upper body and my long legs reached a
seat. Once standing on the seats, I used my leg as an intermediate step for
Lydia, and we were off.
Our return to our home was straightforward, if a bit nervous-making, as our
engine progressively got slower. After we'd unloaded all the dive gear,
while Lydia rinsed it in fresh water (leaving salt on your dive gear will
shorten its life notably), I took the dinghy for a ride; it performed as
expected, so I'm hopeful that the slow decline in speed was the increasing
waves we had to climb.
It may also be like single-engine piston aircraft pilots: Get into a
situation where things could get dicey in the event of an engine failure,
and the engine goes into what they call "automatic rough" - which is to say
that the pilot's perception of the way the engine is running is worse than
the reality. Typically, once out of the circumstance, "Surprise!" - the
engine resumes its healthy sounds.
I certainly hope that was what was at work, as it will be a while before I
can get some new fuel line. Replacing the old stuff, with its plastic
sleeve, seems overdue. Both of the bulbs in our two lines are new - one I
had in my spares and the other I bought when our engine was - again - worked
on following a very extensive repair, since I'd noticed that the previous
bulb was weathered and cracked, and, thus, leaking.
As the PortaBote is our preferred dinghy (it laughs at the rocks here, very
common during our snorkeling expeditions, and is light enough to drag beyond
the high water line when we go ashore someplace) for the Bahamas, and our
engine is the maximum weight and horsepower recommended for it, to have the
engine fail on us would be very disappointing. We have an inflatable, with
a different engine, but we much prefer the PortaBote for this environment.
That we've paid, over three different trips to the shop, enough to buy a
brand new one (here in the Bahamas you can still by a 2-stroke outboard - in
fact, they are still the preferred style, particularly in this size range),
is merely icing on the cake.
This looks like a good point to stop, as our intended trip south to Double
Breasted Cay, to dive the offshore reefs there, was aborted due to
relatively high wind, which would result in uncomfortable travel as well as
somewhat challenging snorkeling.
Instead, we'll work our way south to be part of, for the first time (after
longing to experience it for the last many years), what previously was
called "Stranded Naked" - after a houseboat of the same name. The original
sponsors have a page which explains why they are no longer doing the party
) but the spirit lives on, as part of Abaco
Regatta Week Regatta Time in Abaco
. We'll be one of perhaps as
many as 1000 cruisers and partiers, but it's an event we've wanted to
experience for many years; this is the first one in which we'll be in the
Bahamas, let alone nearby, on the appropriate date.
So, until next time, Stay Tuned!
Skip, still in Wells Bay, off Grand Cay, Abaco Bahamas
Morgan 461 #2 SV Flying Pig KI4MPC
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- Dr. Samuel Johnson