Hope Town, Bahamas

Anchored at Hope Town

Susan Nakas (my buddy from Colorado State) and I flew back to Marsh Harbour in the Bahamas on February 5. Got in late that day but on the 6th we got groceries at Maxwells, loaded up the boat, put the jib into the roller furling, lifted anchor and sailed to Hope Town. The sun was out and there was a nice brisk 10-15 knot wind. It was upwind for us but we sailed the entire way tacking. The wonderful thing about the Abacos is that the islands are close so it’s easy. We anchored at Hope Town. It’s a sweet island with no cars in the town and a candy striped light house said to be the most photographed harbour in the Bahamas. So, we obliged….

Hope Town Harbour from the top of the lighthouse
From the lighthouse, a view of the anchorage. Willow is the far boat on the right.

Hope Town was founded in 1785 by Loyalist escaping the American Revolution. We found it to be picturesque and we found a good reef to dive on in the ocean side of the island.

Looking out from the cemetery on the reef where we were diving. Dead people always get the most awesome views!

We had a Mahi Mahi for dinner with a salad made with sweet potato, quinoa and arugula.

Mahi mahi with Sweet potato, quinoa, arugula salad.

Alone in the Bahamas, Part 2


I have basically been camping on a boat for a month. Not really camping, but you decide what to call it. Let’s assume that my day starts at 6:30 am like many many other peoples. Even though I may have been up all night checking my boat position and the positions of other boats around me during a relentless gale, or perhaps was up on the deck in my big-whites at 3:00 am trying to find out what was slapping at the mast, or I had to close all the hatches because the Google weatherman had mistakenly inserted a clear crescent moon pictograph instead of an ‘all hell breaks loose’ one, lets just start at 6:30. Six thirty seems like an appropriate starting time for the first day of the rest of my life.  Beginning with a glow at the eastern horizon, a new world record is set for the most continuous days of sunrise. At 6:32 the voltmeter connected to the solar panels rises from 12.55 to 12.56. Even during the darkest dawn, photovoltaic panels  are starting to pluck photons from the universe. On the sailboat, there is a dearth of popular entertainment. I swear, watching the voltmeter climb 1/100th of a volt at a time is as exciting as watching  a Tarheel basketball game, sans video, sans audio, just the score, updated at some non-repeatable interval on my cell phone. So my day starts. Already, it seems like it could not get any better. As I lay on my single-wide 4” foam mattress, I struggle to remember what I left undone from the night before. It has long been my policy to leave something undone the night before that gnaws my craw, something that is so irresistible that laying in bed past 12.60 on the voltmeter would be impossible. After the previous evenings fog of vodka and Diet Coke lift, I see the day ahead of me.  It would start where it ended, with glorious, glorious , sanding. I was repainting the interior of the boat. In preparation, I had started with 40 grit sandpaper. Then , I went over the same surfaces with 80 grit. I had saved the best for today, 120 grit.  Anyone that has sanded before me has likely documented it for its full value, so I will not try to outdo them here. A live aboard sailboat is like a carryon case packed for a three week vacation. Everything is in a compressed state of order. Shifting anything causes disorder. There is only so far to spread out before things start falling into the water. During much of the time, a sleeping surface and refrigerator lid are the only surfaces accessible for living. 

I prepared a breakfast that would sustain me for at least as long  as the skin remained on the tips of my fingers. For breakfast in the old days, I would drive my F-150  up to a metal post and tell it what I wanted for breakfast. I would then move forward to a person behind a sliding window. We would imitate a meaningful encounter and at the next window, if I performed suitably, I would be rewarded with a bagful of packaging and the consumables that I showed moderate interest in. Being a solo sailboat camper means eliminating the metal post, the human interaction, and a passenger seat full of landfill. Though I do have a full time refrigerator onboard, having a varied food selection leads to food spoilage. To compensate, variety is limited and consecutive meals, are made out of ingredients based on their ‘best if eaten by’ date.  Sometimes consecutive meals  are served in the same frying pan, with the same fork, and often the same food. Today’s meals will be BLTs. Tomorrow’s would LT’s  and cheese. Then it will be toasted cheese with tomato and so on, until the fridge is empty and a new cycle starts. I must admit, that in the old days, my drive-thru meals and my meals prepared by people that put thought into what goes into their mouths are missed and missed dearly. 

Unlike the dark hours when I entertain  regrets and self-crimination, the effects of photons striking my solar panels and my retinae send me into fits of accomplishments. Yes, I sanded, but I also painted, coating every surface with sunrise. I took things apart that succumbed to darkness, and I gave them brilliance. If that reflects onto me, and I think it does, then I am better for it. The skin on the tips of my fingers is inversely proportional to comfort I experience when the flotsam and jetsam  of construction is in its proper place, and order is re-compressed. Camping is testing ones ability to make do with less. That  means sleep, comfort, skin on the tips of fingers, and certainty. There is never certainty. From time to time , it is good to ‘camp’. It is so easy to become dissatisfied with our lot in life even while we are living a life of convenience. If you want to remember the gratitude you had when you got your first car, or washer and dryer, try cruising on a sailboat or working on one while cruising.

Alone in the Bahamas

This was written in January, just before “Alone in the Bahamas, part 2”

It is sometimes difficult to explain how I became alone in the Bahamas. It started with a couple of years of complaining about dry cracked winter fingertips and the weather induced co-malfunctioning of joint and muscle. Idle threats of journeying  to warmer climes were a seasonal ritual. Chapel Hill winters are not bad compared to places like Maine, Minnesota, or Boone even. Everyone has a point of reference.  Fifteen degrees above zero is cold enough for me to start preening my sailboat for an imaginary southerly migration. Up until this last fall, every sojourn was a round trip. We were always dictated by the ‘half-way’ point   Every time we reached that point, I would privately lament the 180 degree tack back to our slip in Oriental, North Carolina.  We had many discussions about our homing pigeon sailing.  Maybe instead of returning to our slip, we could advance the boat beyond the forbidden zone and leave it till another weekend when we could return and advance it even further. Our two person think tank determined that logistically and financially that was not doable. That did not stop us from visiting this same idea over and over again. Finally we came up with a plan. Just go. It was really as simple as that. Maybe we would only reach our furthest best or maybe we would reach or furthest best and go beyond. I honestly did not think we would get very far. From the moment we said GO, I left Chapel Hill and spent three weeks preparing the boat. We enlisted the help of two friends as crew to improve our chances of reaching Florida, our halfway point to the Bahamas. Kay had cleared her calendar for a two week period from beginning to end. In the beginning we were not ready, but we left anyway. In the end, we proved we were not ready, but by a good measure of luck and perseverance we made it to St Augustine Florida. We had a blown head gasket, a blown head sail, a broken autopilot, a non-retractable drop-down keel, plus some other maladies. Up until that point, I anticipated that the most likely scenario would be a pigeon move. Willow did not want to go anywhere, forwards or backwards. My fate was decided by Willow. I had to stay with her in situ and feed her replacement parts until she was full enough to move once again.  That coincided nicely with Kay’s next two-week chunk of time off. Even though our pie in the sky goal was to make it to the Bahamas, too many round trips had conditioned me to believe otherwise. Yet here we were, well positioned to make it to our destination. Were we ready to go? No, but we went anyway. It is easy to forget that things did not happen as planned, that what happed became the plan instead of the other way around. Kay’s two weeks came and went, and again, Willow found things for me to do. She kept me bound to her. This time she had me to herself for a month. With that month I made her more dependable, more comfortable, and more beautiful. Kay returns in less than two weeks. After Kay’s next two-week chunk of time concludes, I will return Willow to Oriental where she will be proud of the journey she took and the transformation she experienced. 

And another telling of the Gulf Stream Crossing 12/23/2018

Kay and I started waiting for a Gulf Stream crossing-window on Thursday December 21st, the day she rejoined me on Willow. The weather went from impossible, to small craft fearfulness, and then to teasing moderation. Finally, we sensed a favorable pattern, and brazened it out onto the rippling seas two hours before sundown and three days into our wait . Willow has made very few trips without reminding us of her age, so any trip comes with a measure of trepidation. If either of us thought this trip would allay our well founded apprehensions we would have been wrong. The winds and the waves were in our favor and the autopilot was doing a great job. It was now dark and we were four hours from a rocky passage. 
Our autopilot requires quite a bit of electricity from our batteries. During the day, the batteries are charged with energy harvested from the sun. During the night they are charged with energy harvested from the ground via Diesel engine. Kay noticed our voltage was dropping. I scrummage through my tools while Kay disengaged the autopilot and hand-steered. I discovered that the alternator was emitting a spark from within its iron case. Maybe I could MacGyver it. I had to remove it. Everything is difficult to access on a sailboat. I have become accustomed to being compressed on multiple sides by forces other than gravitational and atmospheric.  I cannot always contort as much as I need to, so I have learned to annex some tools to obviate my limitations.  Kay was piloting off-course through rolling seas because that was the way the wind was blowing. We would need our engine to get us back on course and through the rocky passage. I did the best I could with the alternator, with my limited tool supply. I put it back in and it would work intermittently at high rpm. Most people do not realize that a Diesel engine does not need electricity to run. It just needs it to start. Other things need the Diesel engine, like electronic charts, depth gauges, etc. Only a fool would embark on night journey without these working. Conservation of our batteries and limiting further damage to them would be the name of the game from here on in. We made it through the rocky passage. We made it to a remote island were we laid anchor. The sun came up and it charged our batteries enough to start our engine. We would only be able to do day sailing, until we could get a new alternator and probably new batteries.  We were no where near a place to get these and no where near phone service. Good old Willow. 

Diving and Dragging

Sunset at Guana Cay

We found some awesome coral reefs in the ocean off Guana Cay and spent two days diving on them. The fish and reefs were amazing.

One day we went diving when the wind was strong at our anchorage. It was a westerly wind so it wasn’t strong on the ocean-side where we were diving. When we got back to Willow, it had moved. We talked to a neighbor boat who told us our boat was dragging and about to hit a boat on the dock and several boats pulled it away and one guy got on our boat, started it and put it on a mooring ball. Whew!!! We are lucky those people were paying attention when we were on the other side of the island under water.

After Guana, we made a short stop in Man O War Cay and then headed to Marsh Harbour. Haley and I flew home from Marsh Harbour on Jan. 7. We had a long layover in Nassau that we used it to walk to the beach and eat one more conch salad. Bruce will be staying in Marsh Harbour to, you guessed it, do boat repairs.

An Unbelievable Find

Ever since our Gulf Stream Crossing, we have had battery problems. Not only did we need a new alternator but the batteries are not good and not holding a charge. We think we depleted them too much too many times. This has been plagueing Bruce as he has been trying to figure out how to procure large heavy batteries in the Bahamas. This means that now with the new alternator, we can charge our batteries but they deplete rapidly so we have had to be careful with energy consumption (not charging our devices, using our headlamps, and less cooking) at night when we don’t have solar power.

Well, on January 2 we dinghyed from the boat to Manjack Cay. We were told there was a cool hike from the bay to the ocean. This is an uninhabited island except for a couple who have built their home and a guest home on this island. In the past 28 years, they have also created a utopia plantation with gardens, paths (including the one-mile hike to the beach), piers, ponds, a coconut cracking station, boathouse, garden house etc. On the way back from the beach we were passing near their home and saw this.

Bruce went to the house and met Bill and Leslie. Turns out Bill recently replaced the 12 batteries he uses for his place. Some of them were bad but it’s best to put in all new ones so these were the 12 he didn’t use. There are only 8 in the photo because he gave us 4 good ones that we needed.

Who would ever imagine we would find decent batteries on this deserted island. Are we lucky or what???

Pay Day

Haley arrived on December 30 and brought not only a very needed alternator but also beautiful summer weather.

Important sign at Marsh Harbour Airport

Driving back to the boat in Treasure Cay at 9:30 pm on a road with no lines, lots of potholes and cars driving on the left side of the street was terrifying . I drove and Bruce says never again!

The next few days were filled with beauty, swimming, snorkeling, fishing, and exploring. After our long journey from Oriental NC, we can’t believe we are actually here and this old boat made it all those miles.

Haley examines her catch
Pigs at No Name Cay
Conch salad—tastes better than it looks. We harvested the conch and had this several days for appetizers.
Bruce caught three lobster on his birthday!
Dinner
Ocean Beach on Manjack Cay

Happy New Year

We celebrated New Year’s Day in Green Turtle Cay at their annual Junkanoo, a street festival with music, dancing and very colorful costumes. A gorgeous warm day. Here’s the street scene.

Crazy Junkanoo in Green Turtle

We are wishing all of you a fulfilling 2019!

Green Turtle Cay

After leaving Mangrove Cay, we made a stop in Alan’s-Pensacola Cay and then a quick sail to Green Turtle Cay.

Here are our ongoing problems we are dealing with: 1. The alternator is shot and so we have limited power at night most importantly needed for the fridge (remember the $350 in groceries)?. 2. Our jib is shredded and our back-up jib is light weight for light winds. 3. Our batteries are bad probably because we have run them down too low because of hurricane Florence (power at our marina went off and batteries drained) and other times we ran them too low which we happen to be doing this week with no alternator.

When we got to Green Turtle Cay, we anchored in Black Sound, went to town, cleared customs and had a Goombay Smash at the Blue Bee. Here we watched local basketball talent. We hit another bar, bought some coconut bread and headed back to the boat. The wind was increasing . We were in a protected (from wind) anchorage but the holding was poor. Bruce didn’t sleep much worrying about dragging. We didn’t drag that night but the next morning the wind increased and we dragged. We were able to pick up a mooring ball which was good cause the wind was even stronger (30 knots) the next night.

Windy day!

In Green Turtle Cay we learned that a lot of Loyalists came here during the American Revolution. It’s a very small village with few amenities. Very friendly.

We met other cruisers and did a pub crawl with a group ending at Pineapples for dancing. So fun!

The wind finally is subsiding and yesterday we went to Manjack Cay, and today we are picking up Haley in Marsh Harbour. To do this, we rented a car in Treasure Cay and drove on the LEFT SIDE of the street to the airport.

We are happy to see Haley and hopefully she will arrive with an alternator!!

The Magical Crossing

After spending $350 on groceries and $100 on marine supplies, and spending some fun time on Peanut Island, we saw a break in the weather for December 23. The wind forecast was light NE.

We left at 3 pm. Not sure that was a good time to leave. Most people time it so you arrive on the Bahama Bank during daylight. This would put us there at 1 am. Hmmmm. But it was a gorgeous day and we decided to go for it. We left the busy Palm Beach Harbor and got out into the ocean with NE wind blowing 15-20. To correct for the northerly Gulf Stream current, we were pointing south-east even though our destination was more east. Imagine swimming across a river.

Happy and excited to be crossing the Gulf Stream.

We were flying at 7-8 knots. Swells were 3 feet. So fun! But, I was scared that this would be too much wind/waves once in the Gulf Stream. We were making great time and were happy to have a beautiful sail away from the setting sun.. Not long after sunset, the full moon rose, the wind and waves calmed a bit and I relaxed. Looked like we would have moonlight when we got to the Bahamas. We ate a canned chicken chili and sweet potato/quinoa/arugula salad for dinner.

As the wind calmed, it also shifted to more easterly. We needed to charge the battery for the auto-pilot anyway, so we started the engine and motor-sailed for a bit. Soon we noticed the battery wasn’t charging. Our alternator wasn’t working. For the next 3 hours Bruce worked on it below while I sailed the boat without the engine, going a little further south and more slowly than wanted due to light easterly wind. But it was magical with the full moon and inky waters.

Full moon rising

We made it to the Bahamian Bank at Memory Rock at 2 am. Never saw the lighted buoy, but we made it across the shallow (lowest depth was 7’) and kept motoring east to Mangrove Cay where we anchored in dead calm at about 6 am so Bruce could work on the alternator. I slept.

Anchored in calm waters of Mangrove Cay after crossing the Gulf Stream from a Florida.

Turns out the alternator couldn’t be fixed. Bummer! Luckily we have solar panels that charge our battery during the daylight. Bruce gerry-rigged the alternator on the passage so we got a little charge. Battery power is needed most importantly to start our engine, refrigeration and electronic navigation and also for lights, auto-pilot etc. Can we find one in the Bahamas? Not here. Mangrove Cay is uninhabited and very remote. No cell service here. It’s Christmas Eve and we spent the day swimming, dinghying, and resting from the all-night journey.