Friday, December 19, 2014

Idiots in Paraiso

This is NOT a Wahoo.
We dodged a bullet last week without realizing it. Some of you fishermen may have recognized that the fish we caught was not, at all, a wahoo. It was a Barracuda. And, some of you fishermen would probably know that the Barracuda is, like, the poster-fish for Ciguatera – a dangerous toxin-based food poisoning that is acquired by eating infected reef fish. We were unaware of our mistake until the oldest son pointed it out to us after reading the blog post. We could easily have contracted the debilitating illness which has long term neurological effects. Not to mention the fact that we would have been way out in the ocean with both of us useless and, potentially, fatally ill. We can’t believe how stupid we were.

We spent the morning sort of shaky and nervous, looking for any signs of problems. Tripping on the steps, forgetting what we were doing, any twitch or weird pain had us thinking we were poisoned. Realistically, the signs would have shown up in the first 6 – 24 hours and we would have been sick as dogs. In keeping with the spirit of this blog, I reveal all of our foibles in all their glory. Feel free to think we are idiots. We certainly do.

As if that wasn’t enough to make us feel totally incompetent, here we are in Samana, (pronounced samaNA) Dominican Republic where no one speaks English. Oh sure there are a few folks at the marina that communicate in English – far better than my Spanish would ever be. They can put together the words to tell us stuff but they do not understand when we ask questions. But, for the most part, no one speaks any English. We have become dependent on the ‘Spanish for Cruisers’ book and a translator app on the iPhone.

Fear of incompetence has always been a significant personality driver for both Junie and me so this really hurts. We are both kicking ourselves for not working on this issue before we started this trip. Especially for me since I had made a commitment to learn Spanish and just kept putting it off. Oh well. Nothing to do now but muddle through it. I suppose we could consider it a Spanish Immersion.

We met some people, here at the marina, that have been living in the DR for many months. Bill was headed downtown and offered to take us along so we could get an exposure to the environment. And what an exposure it was. As I mentioned before, the marina complex is isolated from the ‘real’ world.

Junie relaxing on the veranda.

Life at the marina.
Once you pass out of the gated entrance, you are in the real DR. Motorcycles and scooters were whizzing past on the road - with multiple people on most. There are junky minivans, overflowing with people.  The road quickly transforms into the main street going into town. The number of people, motos and motocoachs (three wheeled things) grows exponentially. The noise gets broader and deeper as the shops, stalls and stands pack the sides of the street. It is crazy. I am sure that our wide-eyed tourista faces accurately reflected just how amazed we were.
Life in Samana

We were very grateful to Bill for sponsoring our introduction to town. He offered to just drop us off and let us find our own way back to the marina. Or, he could circle back to get us after he finished his business at the Tax Office. We, very quickly, accepted option B. He dropped us off and drove away. Our first stop was an ATM to get some DR pesos. Second stop was a small bakery for a couple of empanadas – ordered with gestures and a few words we knew. Third stop – ice cream! That is where Bill caught up to us again about 30 minutes later and escorted us back to the marina.

Two days ago, we had arranged for someone to come and look at our refrigeration. Once again, mostly communicated with gestures, a few words, never quite clear if all was clear, everybody smiling and saying ‘OK!’. But, yesterday, our friend showed up with the refrigeration guy. He spent about an hour diagnosing, topped up our refrigerant, charged us $40 and everything is great again.
Every cruiser will tell you that, by definition, this lifestyle means ‘working on your boat in exotic places’. In keeping with that theme, yesterday we sanded down the teak bow pulpit and all of the teak cap rail forward of midship and added a coat of varnish. Of course, that prompted a round of ‘Que! No trabaja por me?’ from the boat boys looking for work. Actually, they seemed pretty impressed that we were out doing the work ourselves. They told us afterwards that it looked ‘Bonito!’

We will take our Spanish immersion to a new depth over the next few days. We are leaving SeaClearly here at the Marina de Puerto Bahia and flying back to Richmond for Christmas. The first step was to get straightened out with Immigration. Fortunately, the young lady there also had a translator app on her phone.  Gotta love technology. This visit to Immigration is a necessary step due to the fact that we arrived to the country by private boat. The boat is, really, the entity that gets admitted to the country. You are just attached to the boat. For us to leave the DR to fly to the US, we need to be ‘dis-enrolled’ from the boat to enter the DR as people-entities. Then, we go to the airport and leave the DR. When we get back, we enter the DR at the airport, as people-entities, then come back here to be ‘enrolled’ to SeaClearly again. Interesting.

Tomorrow, we have to go back into the town of Samana to get bus tickets and some traveling cash. On our own. On Monday morning, we need to get into town again, somehow, for the 8:00 am bus for a 2 ½ hour ride to the south coast of the DR to Santo Domingo  Airport. Oh, and the bus doesn’t actually go to the airport so we have to switch to a taxi at some point. How much for a taxi? Depends on what you negotiate. But negotiate it before you get in, they say. We can hardly wait to see how foolish this trip makes us feel. Hey, at least we don’t appear to have any neurological disorders.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Bail Out

Monday late. Well,actually, Tuesday early. One thirty in the morning. We have spent the last 24 hours pounding into the east winds mixed with a north swell. Not big waves or the large, gentle swell we had a few days ago. This is just snotty. We were supposed to be seeing north winds, becoming north-north-east. It should have been a close, but pleasant, reach sailing towards Puerto Rico. Granted, it was an unusual weather window but it seemed to be there for us. But, the forecast never unfolded as predicted. What we got was a fast shift from north winds on Saturday and Sunday, quickly through north-east and, then, directly east. Just what we didn’t want.

So, here we were, in the 31st hour of bashing into the waves. Two and a half days into a four day trip. We had finally abandoned any hope of sailing because the wind was right on our nose. SeaClearly handles all sorts of crappy weather but this is, by far, her least favorite. You could almost hear her saying, ‘You know you can change direction, right?’ The cabin down below was a wreck. Stuff you thought was tied down and locked into place was now out on the floor. Dishes were sliding back and forth inside the cabinets. The waves from the east slapped at the hull. The swell from the north rolled us back and forth. Sometimes, we would get into a building harmonic – roll, roll,rolllll, dip a rail into the water and pick up a zillion gallons of seawater and send it cascading down the deck towards the stern. In the daytime, you laugh and hold on. At night, it is less fun.

The trip started out pretty good. We left Southside Marina at noon on Saturday when the tide was almost full. Even at that, we bounced on the soft sand in mid-channel just after clearing the inside marker. No big deal. Except that waiting for the tide had delayed our departure until noon. We had already cleared out with customs and immigration the day before. We could have left early in the morning if we had deeper water. Still OK though. Our plan was to get out onto the Caicos Bank and sail east until dark and drop anchor somewhere.

That part worked great. As soon as we cleared the marina approach and got to better water, we got the sails up, shut down the motor and sailed at good speed across the beautiful, clear water of the Banks. The water on this day was the best we had seen it there in the Turks and Caicos. We really hated to stop when conditions were so ideal but the thought of crashing into a coral head (and then having to explain why you were stupidly sailing across the Banks in the dark) overcame our enthusiasm. About an hour after sunset, we moved slightly off of the charted routes and dropped the anchor in 16 – 18 feet of water.

We were up very early on Sunday. We cranked up the engine, hauled the anchor and made the last 12 miles to the east, past Six Hill Cay and out into the ocean. Junie already had a fishing line out as we cruised over the drop-off. Before we even got the sails out, she had hooked into a fish. A Wahoo! About 36 inches. The cedar plug was performing as advertised. We hauled it in and I got the job of whacking it, dragging it over to the side deck (where the drains are) and fileting it. We got plenty of fish out of it. 

Then we settled in to sail. That went very well until late in the afternoon when the wind did its first clocking from north to north-east. But, we were encouraged – thinking that we would soon make an eastward turn and this would be a great wind direction. But later, by the time we made that turn below Mouchoir Banks, the wind had started moving around more to the east. It seemed to follow our turn in order to keep blowing directly from where we were trying to go. 

Junie was having better luck at fishing than we were having with sailing. As we came off the edge of the aforementioned Mouchoir Bank, over another drop-off, she caught another, almost identical Wahoo! This one, we let go.

By Sunday night, the squalls started. Each one gave us a small burst of hope because the wind would switch back to the north for a little while. Sure, it was pouring down rain and blowing 25 knots but at least we picked up some speed. We had the full mainsail and genoa out at about midnight when some bigger squalls showed up. I was scrambling to lose some sails and touched 7.8 knots Speed-Over-Ground, with a serious angle of healing. Junie heard the racket from down below and came out to help me drop some sail. And that was the beginning of the end of our dream of sailing all the way to San Juan.

The wind continued to blow from due east - the typical Trade Winds, just not what we expected or needed. All day Monday, we bashed along. We kept the staysail up for some stability and motored. But the wind conspired to keep the sail flapping uselessly and was tough on the sail. So we rolled it in. We were also using diesel at a much faster rate due to the endless crashing into waves.

We had not seen any other boats all day. When a large pleasure boat came over the horizon, it showed up on AIS. Not on radar. Well, it was bumpy and rolly and they were pretty far off. Just before dark, a cruise ship popped up. Not on radar. Great. We are miles from anywhere, bashing into waves, it is getting dark and we can’t see a cruise ship on radar.

Now we are into Monday night. We burn, roughly, one gallon of diesel per hour. Our tank holds 67 gallons (more or less). We had 4 five gallon jerry cans on deck. We conservatively plan to make about 5 nautical miles per gallon. Theoretically, we had enough fuel to motor the entire trip. Although, we were probably not getting great mileage. We began to question whether we had enough fuel. Would we need to dump the cans into the tank? And, how well was that going to work given the pounding, the waves and the squalls? But, we kept going. The squalls kept coming and the ride was no fun. Neither of us could sleep in the cabin because of the noise and the motion so we slept in the cockpit. We were getting tired.

Finally, at about 1:30 am, after stressing over it for a while, I woke Junie up. She was sound asleep on the starboard cockpit cushion, tethered in place, unconsciously holding on to the combing (the side wall of the cockpit) despite the bumpy ride. Once she shook off the sleep, I said, “Look, this is becoming stupid and dangerous. We need to do something else.” We talked through it for about 15 minutes while the waves grew some more. We knew that if we kept going towards San Juan, we were looking at, at least, another 36 hours of the same thing – maybe slightly better, maybe slightly worse. The forecast was already out the window so, who knew? We might come up short on fuel and we had lost our radar. That puts us one twist of fate away from calamity in my calculation. We could turn back towards the Dominican Republic and expect a downwind ride and it was only 60 miles away. We could be there by first light. Decision made.

The next time the wind dropped below 25 knots for a few seconds, we spun SeaClearly through a 60 degree turn to starboard to bring the seas off of our stern quarter. She settled in after a couple of waves, we adjusted another 20 degrees and the world went calm. The difference between the bashing we were taking a moment before and this following sea after the turn was amazing. Instantly, we knew we had made the right call. 
Time to bail out. Our track tells the story.

Almost immediately after making the turn, our InReach buzzed with a message from son Jeffrey. Basically, 'What's going on?' Nice to have someone keeping an eye on you. He started doing some research for us and texting back information. And, since he is technically adept and works for a  satellite imagery group, he knows how to work the internet and a map and squeeze information out. Much appreciated when you are feeling sort of alone and wondering what to do next.

Sure, now we had some logistical problems. We had not counted on going to the DR. We had flight arrangements already made in San Juan (thank you, Aimee! Look forward to seeing you.) and we might not make it there in time. But, it was still the right call.

Cruising into Bahia Samana
Land Ho! DR in sight.
Morning approaching the Samana Peninsula

At sunrise on Tuesday, we were entering Bahia Samana headed for a marina up the bay. The scenery is awesome. The following seas, that had been rising high overhead behind us since we made our decision to turn, started to subside. After many weeks in the flat Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos, the hills and mountains and the green yet rugged coast of the DR is quite a sight. We laughed at ourselves because we had been so adamantly opposed to coming here. We should have known that fate would drive us here somehow. The ride up the bay got smoother and smoother until it was like glass. The pounding in the night was a fading memory.

Dropping the Turks and Caicos courtesy flag.
Raising the yellow quarantine flag that
lets everyone know that we have not cleared into
the country yet.

Approaching the town and port of Samana.
Our destination marina is about a mile to the left.

Since we were showing up unexpectedly, we called the Marina de Puerto Bahia on the phone, believe it or not, and confirmed that they had room. No es problema. Oh, S%#t. I have failed miserably at keeping up my Spanish lessons and now, here we are, arriving in a country where I really need it. Now, this marina is somewhat removed from the realities of the actual town of Samana. It is a gated resort-ish, condo, restaurant complex west of town. Never-the-less, it became immediately obvious that my lack of Spanish skills is mirrored by their lack of English. They came out in a dinghy to meet us and guide us into the fuel dock (which we did, somehow, communicate that we wanted over the radio).  Of course, they are not just doing this to be nice. Tips are the way of life here. Only one of the guys is actually associated with the marina. The other guy is just there to ’help’ – and to offer to wash and polish your boat for a reasonable fee, tie up the boat, find you a ride, whatever. OK.
Regardless, they got us fuel, they got us into a slip, they got their tip, they got a job washing the boat.

On to the next step in entering the DR. We waited for the government representatives to show up at the boat. Four of them came. Navy, Intelligence, Customs and Immigration. They were all very pleasant. We had to pay a fee of $94 to Customs. Or Immigration. Not sure. It was mentioned that we could also support ‘the program’ with a donation if we cared to. Being tired, stupid and unsure, we ‘donated’ $20 which, apparently, supported the Intelligence guy since he put it in his pocket. Funny. He was the one guy who had done nothing in the form-filling-and-stamping process. Then, they all left. And we were in another country. Welcome to the Dominican Republic!
SeaClearly - looking at home in the DR


This post is a recap of our visit to the Turks and Caicos. Really, only one Caico – Providenciales. Provo. We had opted to go to the south side of the island, to South Side Marina, to set us up for our next leg. First, I would have to say that I might not go back to South Side Marina. Despite having a few issues on arrival, the marina experience was OK.   But the location was not conducive to getting around Provo. With our draft, arriving and leaving requires timing the tides.
I will say that Bob and the staff went out of their way to be nice. The Wednesday we arrived they sponsored a potluck dinner up at Bob’s Bar. While the obvious reasoning is to get you to the bar, it did provide the opportunity to meet some other folks and tell stories with our slip neighbors - Ken and Sylvianne from Sylken Sea,  Rand and Ellen from Golden Glow, Polly and Byron from Twisted Sheets. Bob even provided free ice cream. He does seem to have a pretty good handle on cruiser priorities.
Ken and Sylvianne on Sylken Sea

The next day, Ken and Sylvianne were planning to rent a car to go exploring and invited us to go along. Nice! We ended up splitting the cost of a rental car from Scooter Bob down in Turtle Cove. I had read about Scooter Bob on several blogs so it was cool to go there with Ken to pick up the car. Bear in mind that in the Turks and Caicos you drive on the left side of the road. Always a challenge to remember. I have done that before in a few places and, remembering an incident circling a round-a-bout in London for 3 or 4 complete revolutions before I could get out, I let Ken drive. We went back and picked up Junie and Sylvianne and took off.

First stop- snorkeling! We picked a spot that indicated reef snorkeling access. We already knew that the water was a bit confused. Both Sylken Sea and SeaClearly had made the trip into the area on huge swells from the north – highly unusual for these islands. When those huge swells hit the north reefs, the effects are astounding. We had seen the breaking waves rolling and crashing ashore from 2 miles away when entering the Sandbore Channel to the south. As a result, the normally protected, quiet Grace Bay was turbulent, choppy and had a lot of seaweed. The reef itself, in this spot, turned out to be fairly unhealthy and a little sad. So, our snorkeling trip was short and disappointing.
Beach action. That could be me working the kite.
You can't really tell from here.

Lunch view

We moved on to lunch at a resort up the beach and felt better – fairly shallow of us, I suppose. The island was built up and had far more services, people and infrastructure than I expected. Ken and Sylvianne, who had last been here over 10 years ago, were amazed at the growth. They experienced quite a boom here during that time, apparently. It is almost reminiscent of a cruise ship stop yet there are no ships or facilities here. It is strictly resorts and residents.

Rumored to be effective.
Soon to be tested.

We rode around the island for a while longer and decided we might just as well return the car since Ken and Sylvianne were leaving the next day and we didn’t need it. While at Scooter Bob’s, Junie bought another fishing lure. This time, with Ken’s supportive agreement, it was a cedar plug. Junie has been looking for one of these as they are rumored to be a great bait.

The next morning, Sylken Sea pulled away from the dock to start their trek to the Dominican Republic. We started our trek to Graceway IGA. Bob provides rides to folks like us and even hooked us up with a propane refill while we were shopping. The IGA is, by far, the nicest grocery we have seen since leaving the US. We were dazzled by the selection and quality. Not dazzled enough to ignore the prices. They are just about double from what you would see in an average US store. Of course, the 46% import duty accounts for a lot of that. Still, we were glad to get a real shopping trip and bought a bunch of stuff.

Late in the afternoon, we had scheduled the gentleman from Customs to come back to the marina to clear us out on this Friday afternoon rather than make him come out on Saturday. After all the formalities, we had a great conversation with him and learned a little about him – including his island nickname. It seems that everyone from the islands of the Turks and Caicos has a given name that, basically, disappears once a nickname has been bestowed upon you. As he said, “Even your mother forgets your real name after a while”. I won’t reveal his nickname but it was fun. He also cared for the K-9 officers for the Customs Department and had to go by to feed his dogs on the way home. Pretty cool.
Women Who Sail

Saturday. Morning of departure. All we did was sit around waiting for the tide to come up. There wouldn’t be enough water for SeaClearly until noon. So, we sat. We settled up the bill, prepped the boat for sailing and waited. Polly showed up in her ‘Women Who Sail’ shirt for a photo op with Junie in her WWS shirt before we left. This is a cool group comprised of some amazing women sailors and boaters and they have an outstanding website which I am not allowed to peruse. I can, however, submit questions and get advice through my woman who sails.

With that, our visit to the Turks and Caicos comes to an end. We are off to Puerto Rico!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Georgetown and Beyond!

Georgetown. What can I say about Georgetown? It is the cruising destination for many people. There are so many organized activities here during the winter season that it has been called ‘Cruiser Daycamp’ – Yoga on the beach, volleyball tournaments, dinners, etc. We are still a bit early for the crowds so most of these things have not started up yet. I am relieved. I hate that crap. I am an antisocial introvert at heart so I would prefer not to be pummeled with interactive experiences.

Georgetown is also a decision point for many cruisers. Once you reach this point moving south, you have to choose whether or not you will brave the big ocean to go further into the Caribbean to the Turks and Caicos, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, on and on. As such, Georgetown also has earned the nickname of ‘Chicken Harbor’ because many cruisers decide this is far enough.

For us, it was a very necessary stop for provisioning and regrouping. We had waited out a very windy period in the Exumas. We had been anchored out, with limited access to groceries and laundry, for many days. We were out of clean clothes and cookies. Time to get to civilization. Georgetown has stores (yes, plural!), restaurants, laundromats, banks and fuel. Not that we have used much fuel but we did want to top off our tank with diesel from the jerry cans on SeaClearly’s deck and then refill the cans before we moved on.

We arrived around noon on Friday, December 5. That left us plenty of daylight to get into town and have a look. We probably looked a little dazed walking down the street. As I mentioned in the last post, this is the biggest town we have seen in a month. It is still a ridiculously small ‘town’ but, comparatively, Georgetown is quite the metropolis. The amount of traffic - cars, trucks, even big trucks - and the number of people was kind of overwhelming. We kept walking out into the street like a couple of lost country folk. 

Of all the things Georgetown has
to offer, the only picture I managed
to get was the laundromat. You have to
love a laundromat with navigation
charts on the wall.
The next day was errand day. Due to the expected resurgence of northeast winds, we chose to anchor behind the islands on the east side of Elizabeth Harbor. We were, very effectively, out of the wind down behind the hill. Unfortunately, we were also about as far from the actual town as we could be – about a mile and a half. 

Now, at home, when you have errands to run, you jump in the car. Living on a boat, your dinghy is your car. The Family Truckster.  The trip to the town can be a very wet ride. Or the trip can be canceled due to weather. On this Saturday, it was only a tad wet and rough. Which was good considering that we had, at least, two trips to make. Trip One – bank, laundry and garbage. That’s one dinghy full. Trip Two – diesel, outboard parts, bakery, wine, lunch, groceries. Bearing in mind that each trip to town involves getting into the dinghy, loading up everything you need to take, motoring across the harbor, entering into Lake Victoria through a stone tunnel, docking the dinghy, dragging all your stuff around with you and then back again. Needless to say, this pretty much filled up our day. By the time we got back from the second run, the sun was low in the sky and we were beat. But we had a cheap bottle of Malbec  and some new food to make the evening enjoyable.


It was a good thing that we squeezed our errands in on Saturday because the next day was, as forecast, back to really windy. A trip to town would have been miserable. So we stayed on our side of the harbor, in the wind-shade of the hills. We dinghied around the corner from our anchorage to, what will soon become, the center of activities here in the Georgetown Cruiserville – Chat n’ Chill CafĂ© at Volleyball Beach. We were the first customers to order food when they opened. We each got a conch burger – a fried patty of ground conch on a bun – and side orders of peas and rice (never ‘rice and peas’) and cole slaw. And flies. Not fries, flies. A million of them. We were, literally, covering our food with napkins between bites. We were blowing on each forkful just before taking a bite to make sure you didn’t  - well, you get the picture. We kept hoping that they would deliver someone else their meal to distract, at least, a few of the hoard. Not a great lunch.

Idle volleyball courts. Not idle for much longer!
The cruisers on the east coast have been stuck due
to weather but they are not far away now.

Chat n' Chill Cafe.

A hike over the island...

Sunday, we spent riding around in the dinghy, going to the beaches, hiking over to the oceanside and swimming in the clear, warm water. We had the place to ourselves every place we went.  It was a very relaxing day. The kind of day that reminds you just how lucky you are. the ocean.
Junie on a tree swing by the sea.

A dip in the calm water on the
protected side of the island.

By that Sunday, we had also resolved that we were moving on. An absolutely benign weather window was coming that would allow us to make it to the Turks and Caicos. We probably would have to motor all the way and might not get to sail at all. But, it would knock down a bunch of miles and get us below the effects of the weather patterns coming off North America. We had to take the opportunity.

Monday morning at 9:00am, we were anchor up and headed back out to sea for a 48 hour run. Around the top of Long Island (not New York’s), down the east coast, across the top of the Acklins, past the western tip of Mayaguana and onto the southern bank of the Caicos.

The first day went very smoothly. The first night was a beautiful full moon so it never really got dark. We saw several container ships. Junie saw a couple of cruise ships. And the swells started. A Swell Event they call it. Somewhere up in the North Atlantic, several days of north winds had built up a lot of wave energy. Hundreds of miles later, it arrived at the same place we were.They came in the night, quietly, when you couldn't see them so clearly. You could see the evidence though. When I came out of the cabin at midnight, Junie mentioned that the cruise ships were disappearing behind the waves. Hmmm. Throughout my watch, the swell continued to build. In the moonlight, I could watch as SeaClearly rode up high above the world and I could see the horizons. Nine seconds later, all I could see was a wall of water going away in one direction while another wall of water rose up to my right. It was not uncomfortable or scary. Just awesome.

The swells continued all the next day. It is hard to describe how big they look. How powerful and mellow at the same time. Not rough at all. In fact, Junie put out her handline to fish and, almost immediately, hooked up with a Mahi Mahi. We decided to release it rather than deal with it. 

As we passed the Plana Cays, the effects of huge swells hitting rock islands was pretty amazing. There were towering plumes of spray and turquoise water surging up the north-facing shores. We started to wonder what our approach to the reefs around Caicos might look like in the morning if these swells followed us all the way there.

The second night, we were a little ahead of schedule so we needed to slow down in order to arrive at the Sandbore Channel in the daylight. In the middle of the night, I saw our wind speed indicator showing 10 – 12 knots from our stern quarter so I unfurled a head sail, shut off the engine and very effectively slowed down. It was peaceful while the breeze lasted. Which wasn't long.

We entered through the reef onto the Caicos Bank on Wednesday at mid-morning. We could see the waves crashing across the reef just to our north but the entry was gentle. We pulled down our Bahamas courtesy flag that had been flying from our flag halyard for over a month. We replaced it with the yellow 'Quarantine' flag that indicates that we have not yet cleared into a new country - the Turks and Caicos. We were headed for Southside Marina and needed to be there at noon to catch the high tide to get in. It is a shallow, tight channel. 

The scene of the incident. If you can't see the rock,
don't feel bad. I couldn't either.
As we got close, I got on the radio with the marina. Bob gave us specific directions to go past the last green marker until our stern was at least 30 feet beyond the mark before turning hard left to line up into the marina. As I, standing at the wheel, came even with the marker I looked ahead and thought, ‘This cannot be right’. I started to turn but I was already too slow. SeaClearly took a hard smack on the rock ledge at the far side of the channel, bounced left and scraped again, and then settled back into clear water. How I suddenly missed the soft, muddy bottom of the Albemarle Sound.
We pulled into the marina fuel dock and had a few tense moments with the marina staff - for about the next three hours. I couldn’t believe they had given me such bad direction. They were not apologetic. I was mad at myself for not recognizing the danger sooner.  I am never very forgiving of myself when I make a mistake. While we waited on the fuel dock for customs to come to clear us in, the marina guys agreed to assign us a slip that we had picked out and then proceeded to give it away to another boat. It was a very bad start to our stay at Southside Marina.

Junie used the GoPro on a pole to examine SeaClearly’s wounded keel. She has a scrape but it seems to be just a flesh wound. We made it all the way from North Carolina to the Turks and Caicos before we hit bottom for the first time. The day slowly started to get better. We ended up in an OK slip right next to the folks that got our originally assigned slip. We, immediately, got along wonderfully with them. We realized that they were the trawler that had been tracking near us two nights ago and that we had contacted on the radio. More on Ken and Sylvianne later.

We finally settled down, made nice with the marina guys (because, what choice do you really have?) and took a moment to look around. We are in the Turks and Caicos!

Now, it is Friday again. We have had some adventures here on the island of Providenciales and made new friends. Those topics deserve a post of their own so I will get back to them some other time. But, as usual, we are always looking ahead. We checked our weather apps the other day and saw a nice sailing opportunity coming soon. We asked our weather guru, Chris Parker, if he saw the same window for sailing from here, in Provo, to Puerto Rico. His response-‘Wow, those opportunities are hard to come by, but, yes! If you leave the Turks on Sunday you will have north winds that should allow you to sail all the way.’ How can we pass that up? 

We are a little nervous. The trip will be, roughly, 72 hours over 400 miles of open ocean. The 'bail-out' ports are few and a long ways from anywhere on our track. We will pass over sections of the ocean that are 25,000 feet deep. Most cruisers skip the north coast of Puerto Rico because it can get rough. But, we wanted to go to San Juan. So, we are.

So it looks like San Juan for Christmas. How crazy is that?

Friday, December 5, 2014

Galliot Cut to Georgetown

The moon was setting in the west over Little Galliot Cay when the alarm went off at 4:30 on Thursday morning. It was a dull orange as it sank out of sight leaving the last bit of night very dark. We had moved here, to anchor in the lee of Galliot Cay, the night before in preparation for a run down the Exuma Sound to reach Georgetown.  That means leaving the protected side of the Bahamas Bank and going out through a ‘cut’  - an inlet / outlet between the shallow banks and the deep sound. Practically every cut along this stretch of the Exumas is labeled on the charts with a warning. Something like, ‘Strong currents, often rips on ebb tides, use caution in strong east or north winds and swell, breaking waves.’ And, the previous week was all strong winds from the northeast so the seas were not likely to have settled down much. All just very encouraging.

We checked and re-checked our multiple weather sources and most of them finally seemed to come to agreement. We should see winds of 15 – 18 knots gusting to 23 with waves around 7 feet becoming 8 – 9 feet as the day went on. We are either getting braver or dumber because we decided to go.  Mostly, we were tired of waiting around and it looked like a good – not great – window on Thursday. 

Dinghy on deck
In preparation for the trip, we hoisted our dinghy and strapped it to the deck up in front of the mast. This is much safer out in the big water instead of having it hanging off the davits at the stern. 

We also rigged our storm trysail. It is a smaller, very strong sail that you use instead of the mainsail in high winds, just in case the more pessimistic weather resources (the ones we ignored) turned out to be right in their prediction of higher winds and waves. The trysail has its own track mounted on the mast beside the normal mainsail track so either can be available depending on conditions. We assumed that this would be overkill and did not expect to need it. But, it never hurts to be prepared. On Wednesday, we sailed from our anchorage north of Farmers Cay down to this spot near Galliot cut (in 18 – 23 knots of wind, with the trysail, for practice) in order to stage for an early morning exit at slack tide when the current should be at its least.

Galliot Cut. We were anchored - well - pretty much
on the little anchor shown on the chart. The cut is at
the bottom right. It looks friendlier on paper.
Galliot Cut does have some current. We dropped anchor about noon on Wednesday so we could watch a tide cycle. From our sheltered spot behind the island, we could see the current rolling in the inlet. And, we could tell when it was going slack. Therefore, we thought, in the morning we can get up before sunrise, raise the anchor, motor out into the channel, watch until the current went slack, and leave. Simple.

Neither of us slept very well. The current this close to the cut moved SeaClearly around on her anchor. Sometimes, the current overcame the wind and we sat sideways. I was nervous about dragging the anchor even though we had a ridiculous amount of chain out.  Junie had her own nervousness that kept her awake. But, the night passed and we were soon waking up to the alarm and the setting moon.

Junie had made blueberry muffins the previous night so we had those with, what I believe to be, the last of the Starbucks Frappuccino that we save for passage days. We shift into departure mode. Engine on at 5:00 am. Instruments on. iPads on. AIS on. Execute ‘Ready for Sea’ checklist - a full page and a half of stuff. Anchor light off. Nav lights on – not that there is anyone around to see them. We are all by ourselves. The sky starts to brighten a little in anticipation of the sunrise.  Junie heads to the bow, in the dark, with her cool headlamp on to wind up the anchor. Anchor up at 6:02 am.
We spun around to deeper water and motored toward the channel through the cut. 

Now you get your first view of your path. The ocean is restless. There are breakers on both sides of the quarter-mile wide cut – some crashing against the reefs and rocks, others rolling right down the center as 4 foot swells. The good news is that the current seems to be at slack. The bad news is that this is probably as good as it is going to get.  We do the ‘Are you good?’, ‘I’m good. Are you good?’ confirmation of agreement to go and crank up SeaClearly for running the cut.

The swells get deeper and SeaClearly rides up and glides down. She is a big girl and the weight helps the ride. In the center of the cut, the waves get confused. They slap at you from different directions and the currents tug at you.  The ocean rises from depths of several thousand feet to about 20 feet deep so it really compresses as it approaches the coast. The swell gets steeper and steeper as you go out. Some of the swells grow into breaking waves at your bow, or beside you, or sideways, or across the stern. I add some more power to overcome the feeling that the rocks on the left are closer than before. Then Junie says, ‘Thank you June Bug’.

June Bug.She taught us a lot about the ocean.
Jeffrey riding shotgun on a calm day in the canal.
It takes a moment to register. Then I catch the meaning and the significance. We have been here before. June Bug is our Grady-White fishing boat. Our first boat. We took that little boat out through the infamous, nasty Oregon Inlet back home in the Outer Banks many times. She was our education in running inlets. We knew what we were in for today because of her. We knew that we had a few hundred yards to go and we would be out in the ocean, away from the tumultuous cut. We just needed to keep tracking, pay attention to the currents, watch out for sneaky waves and we would soon be out. And, soon we were.

We got exactly the weather and seas that we expected. Which is to say that it was an interesting ride. SeaClearly loves this stuff. We did not do a lot of climbing down into the cabin during the trip due to the constant motion which makes it unappealing and, sometimes, dangerous to be walking around. It is gorgeous trip down the coast. The waves crashing against the rock of the islands is breath-taking. Although you are sailing along in 800 feet of water, you are not very far from the shore so the view is spectacular. Looking back at Galliot Cut from a distance, it appears fairly serene. We know it isn’t. And, as the tide begins to flow out, it will be much worse than we saw.

Wave pictures never tell the story so I'll just
give you a pretty one instead.
You fall into a rhythm once you get your direction set and the sails trimmed out. There is not much to do since it is only a 6 hour trip on, basically, a straight line. The ocean is entertaining with 6 – 8 foot waves with the
occasional 10 foot – on top of an underlying swell of about 4 feet. So it is like a big undulating surface with waves added on top. Sometimes, the waves appear huge because you are at the bottom of a swell and the bottom of a wave trough at the same time looking up 10 – 12 feet. Then they roll under you and you sail on.

Of course, the ocean has its own sense of humor, too. Once in a while it will toss a wave at you just to see you startled when you are suddenly soaking wet. Or, as in Junie’s case when she turned her back to the wave as it broke towards the cockpit, have it hit you square between the shoulder blades and knock the wind out of you. Never take the ocean lightly. And, apparently, never turn your back on it.

Anchored in Elizabeth Harbor near the monument.
The passage went smoothly and we arrived at Conch Cay Cut, just north of Georgetown, 6 hours later and near slack tide as planned. This cut, however, is wider, has much less current and no drama. We sailed into Elizabeth Harbor gracefully and worked our way into the inner anchorages. Eventually, we dropped the anchor near the hill with the stone monument (don’t ask me what the monument is for, I have no idea). 

More beautiful Bahamas scenery, more new colors of blue and – a town! We have not seen a town with more than about 8 cars for over a month. We needed to hoist the dinghy off of the deck, get it in the water, get the motor on and fix the gas line but we were already headed the mile across the water towards town by 2:30 pm. 

View to the left. Not bad.

This is a milestone for us. Georgetown is a sailing mecca in the Bahamas and a real cruiser destination. We have read about this place for years. It is also our last stop in the Exumas.

Our next stop is not definite yet but may be Long Island - or, maybe, not even be in the Bahamas. Tales from Georgetown next time!