Passage from Marsh Harbour to George Town

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Lydia Fell

Feb 26, 2010, 1:49:23 PM2/26/10
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1/25/10 – George Town, Exuma

We are here in George Town at last, after a long period of preparation in Marsh Harbour and excited anticipation, followed by periods of discouragement as encouraging weather windows marched in and out, failing to present.  The waiting seemed interminable, and the relatively cold weather and very difficult internet connections made it harder to be patient, making our arrival here all the sweeter.

As usual, it took longer than expected to mount, wire and test out the chartplotter, GPS and two VHF radios we brought back to the boat from the States to replace either broken or flaky ones.  We spent the better part of a day laboriously feeding a new cable for the VHF down the mast from its antenna at the top, to the new radio at the nav station.  Anything new going inside the mast, which is already crammed with other wires, makes me nervous, but some Corrosion Block with it’s slick lubricants made the job much easier.  We had a broken sink faucet too; a corrosion related death, which will continue to happen so long as we live in a salty environment.  Getting the new faucet in was a pain, but a luxury to enjoy again.

All that done, and listening with bated breath to Chris Parker, the weather guru on the radio every morning, we waited.  Fronts came through Marsh Harbour one after another leaving very high seas in their wake, which I, for one, didn’t want to sail in.

While we waited, Skip and I joined Doug and Kathy Brown on S/V Grano De Oro, and Jim and Linda Evans on S/V Winsome one day, split the rental of a van, and together drove all the way down to the tip of Abaco, visiting Little Harbour on the way down.  Skip and I had walked around Little Harbour when Michael and Fish were visiting us in the Fall, but being out of season, the gallery, where Pete Johnston exhibits his bronze sculptures, wasn’t open.   It was wonderful to spend some time roaming the gallery, and I took many pictures which I’ll get up on the web one day.  His work is simply exquisite, and is made in his foundry in Little Harbour, following bronze forging techniques which date back to Roman times.

We stopped in Sandy Point and had the most delicious lobster lunch at Nancy’s Seaside Inn, which renewed our fervor to catch some lobster of our own, an art we haven’t yet mastered.  On the way home, we found an Atlantic-side beach, where we all spent an hour searching for sea treasure, and came away with pocketfuls of sea glass.  Taking advantage of the van, we made a final stop at a wholesale grocery store, where we all picked up some bulk supplies for our boats.  It was a wonderful and relaxing day together, thoroughly enjoyed by all, and a great respite from the waiting pattern.

As Doug and Kathy mused with us later, it’s a typical occurrence for a small group of cruisers, often strangers to each other, to feel comfortable organizing a day together in a rented vehicle, and spend it sight-seeing and enjoying each other’s company.  The respect and camaraderie shared among cruisers is unique and not something that would necessarily occur in a land-based environment.  It is, I think, specifically because we rely on each other for support, knowledge, and help when needed, that we automatically develop a trust for one another, and nearly invariably, everyone we meet are fun to be with, and interesting to listen to; they all have a fascinating story to tell.

The last front that howled through the harbor took our wind generator with it, which just flat out up and flew away.  How this happens to us is a mystery, and that it’s happened twice in the last three years is as remote a likelihood as winning the lottery.  Skip saw it go, and made a mark on the chart plotter, so that once the winds had died down a couple of days later, he was able to fish it off the bottom of the harbor and soak it in fresh water.  We have hope that the motor is still OK, but the generator blades and housing will have to be replaced.

On February 16th, right after that front died down, we got the OK from Chris to leave and head south.  We motored over to the fuel dock before we left Marsh Harbour, and lost our engine right before we reached the dock in a wind that had other plans for us, calling for some tricky footwork and fast reactions to get secured to the pilings.  Skip spent an hour or so diagnosing the problem, and finally found the air leak into the fuel lines in the fuel polisher.  That fixed, and diesel and fresh water topped off, we sailed in brisk winds south to Little Harbour, near the bottom of Abaco, protected all the way by the islands between us and the Atlantic.  It was a gorgeous day and a beautiful sail, and I had great fun with the new chart plotter and it’s superior navigation program over our previous one, which was very much older.

At 4 pm and without incident, we sailed through the cut outside Little Harbour into the Atlantic Sea.  For an hour or two, the sea state wasn’t too bad, but as we moved out of the lee of Abaco, it became very rolly with the wind and seas on our stern quarter.  We continued to sail off our rhumb line, heading South instead of SE, trying to improve our point of sail, necessitating a tack later in the trip.  I went below to bed at 6.30 pm that first night, just as the wind was dying, which left us doing an incredible amount of wallowing in the swell, and made it uncomfortable enough that I dozed intermittently, at best.

My mother will remember well what trying to sleep in a berth is like when sea conditions are rolly.  Small and large intestine alike skate up and down your abdominal cavity, crashing into your diaphragm or bladder, depending on the direction that gravity dictates.  As I lay there, trying hard to relax (which is very near impossible when your muscles are automatically bracing to attempt equilibrium), I wondered if this intestinal massage might actually be good for me – sort of like rolfing.  I still don’t have an answer to that, but certainly it doesn’t seem to cause any harm.  Meanwhile, I’d been taking Stugeron, a fabulous sea-sickness medication which can’t be bought in the US, every six hours, and it worked well.  No problems there.

We changed shifts when I got up at 11:30 pm that first night, giving Skip a break.  At this point, we tacked and headed due East, again endeavoring to keep the wind and the waves on a comfortable point of sail.  The roly-poly improved slightly – enough that Skip got some sleep, and I took my watch with Portia, working the rudder, trying to keep the boat as stiff as possible.  

In conditions like this, there’s usually a lot of noise going on.  Sails flap when the wind dies, and crack full again when it picks up.  Halyards slap against the mast, the boat creaks and groans, and for the first 36 or so hours, Portia doesn’t like any of it.  She settles down in a seat in the cockpit for the duration and immediately stops eating and drinking.  She doesn’t cry, and she isn’t afraid necessarily unless the noise level gets unbearable.  On this trip she was a good and true sailor, and her job of keeping us company, giving us someone to talk to and a warm body to hug in the middle of the black, moonless night was very well done.  She’s such a good girl.

At 4.30 am on the morning of the 17th, I woke Skip and we swapped places.  Climbing into the same warm spot in the bed that he’d left for me was comforting; the cockpit was cold enough that I’d had on a sweatshirt and a blanket over my lap.  This time, I was already feeling physically tired from the effort of maintaining balance and constantly bracing myself, and sleep came quickly.  Along with the sleep came the hallucinations so common for cruisers making passages.  The auto-pilot, ever chirping in the background as it hunt-and-pecked our heading, started sounding like a chicken who announces her laid egg.  I didn’t have the Russian Orthodox Male Voice Choir that often accompanies my sleep under way (with the most gorgeous harmonies I’ve ever heard), but I did have a constant chatter of people, sometimes giggling, sometimes arguing, and loud enough that I thought that perhaps this was what it must be like to be schizophrenic.  I was awake and back up in the cockpit three hours later, and we immediately tacked again and headed South down the backside of Eleuthera.

With the absence of our wind generator, and with all the navigation equipment running, it was time to turn on the engine to recharge the batteries.  The engine purred to life, and fifteen minutes later simply stopped.  Not to worry; the sun was rising higher in the sky, we have solar panels, and Skip would see to it after his nap.  Meanwhile, we’re flying along on a handkerchief of a jib and the mainsail only.

My daughter, Jessica, asked me the other day, “ So, Mom … you basically sail to a nice island, and then work on the boat until it’s fixed enough to sail to another island, where you do it all over again?”  Yes, that’s about it.  Any cruiser will tell you that “Cruising” is boat maintenance in exotic locations.

The seas were building in 25 knots of wind and more, and the boat was beginning to surf down the waves, and yaw at the bottom.  We were on a beam reach at this point, so I wasn’t concerned with anything other than the sheer power of the sea.  Just watching it was alternately terrifying and euphoric; either way, my heart was often in my mouth.  The boat, as always, was doing well, charging South at over 8 knots, ploughing through the waves like a freight train.  Within a couple of hours, we slid into the lee of Eleuthera, and while we still had the wind speed, the seas calmed down considerably.  This was good; easier motion to work in the engine room for Skip, and I saw an opportunity for some quality sleep once that was accomplished.

The engine failure turned out to be a loose fitting around a fuel hose; more air in the fuel lines.  Skip found and cured that one quickly, and I went below to take another nap. 

I was dreaming of riding my horse, Banker (who was my dearest love when I was a kid and kept me out of a great deal of trouble in my teens) at a horse show.  We were in the show jumping arena, and as I sat in the saddle, I reigned him in, collecting, collecting, and then surging forward before going airborne over the fence.  The jumping course was endless, and I woke up, worn out from the exercise, and felt the boat leaping and galloping her way down the Atlantic.

At about 6.00 pm we sailed through the pass between the southern tip of Eleuthera and Little San Salvador, and adjusted our course for George Town, Exuma.  I watched an immense cruise ship which had been anchored off the beach at Little San Salvador carefully make way back out to sea, presumably headed to Nassau, or Lucaya, or perhaps Miami during the night.  I thought about the people that see the Bahamas from cruise ships, and realized that they have no idea of what the Bahamas were really like, only stopping at either commercial ports, or beaches with deep draft channels dredged for their access.  Of all these beautiful islands where we’ve had our wonderful adventures and enjoyed the sight-seeing, only Nassau (where we stopped only to check in with customs last year) could accommodate the cruise ships.  In order to really see the Bahamas, I’m convinced, you have to do it by boat.

Skip took the first watch as we continued to fly across the Exuma Sound during the night, unable to slow the boat down with winds still honking off our stern quarter and rough, choppy seas.  I took over at 11.30 pm and smiled when I finally saw the lights off the Exuma chain of islands as we got closer to George Town.  I did a lot of singing that night, with Crosby, Stills & Nash, Amos Lee, The Beatles, Coldplay, Bob Marley and Dave Matthews.  (Thank you again, dear children, for my IPod, and for downloading such a great selection of music for my listening pleasure!).  Portia didn’t join in, but she’s a very attentive audience, and she never criticizes my intonation.

At 3.30 am on the 18th, I woke Skip and we hove-to about five miles outside the entrance to Elizabeth Harbour off George Town.  “Heaving To” is a nautical term given to intentionally positioning the sails to oppose each other and the wind direction, causing the boat to cease making forward motion.   This is a really simple way to describe it, because effectively, the boat continues to slip sideways, but much more slowly.  Putting the boat “in irons” is another way to describe the same maneuver, except that this is usually done unintentionally and under different circumstances.  The purpose of stopping the boat was so that we could enter Elizabeth Harbour in daylight to avoid any of the many coral heads in the area.  When you need to stop the boat, and you’re in water so deep that you can’t throw out an anchor, this is the only method.  There are good waypoints marked on the charts, and we followed these in at daylight, but there was no point in taking chances.

And so, we arrived off Stocking Island around 8 am on the 18th, exhausted and weary from the rough trip, but thrilled to be here at last on a beautiful sunny, warm day.  We dropped our anchor off Volley Ball Beach, and took a 5 hour nap.  Four hours later, we went back to bed for another 12 hours.

It’s been exactly a week since we’ve been here, and we’ve met many old friends from last year, as well as new ones.  We’re both doing yoga on the beach in the mornings, and I braved my way out to the volleyball court with Skip this year, having never touched a volleyball in my life.  I’ve only played a couple of games, usually embarrassing myself thoroughly in the process, but some afternoons I’m happy to walk, or find a quiet spot on the beach to read my current book,  “Life and Death in Shanghai” by Nien Cheng. 

This is a borrowed book from a lovely cruising couple anchored nearby, and a true, horrifying account of one woman’s persecution in her own country during the late 1960’s.  I can’t imagine living in the sort of conditions that the Chinese endured during the Proletarian Cultural Revolution (and all the other Campaigns) during the reign of Mao Tse-tung.   Their level of personal suffering, in any capacity you can think of, is very nearly unbelievable to me while I am sitting on my boat, flying the American Flag, in azure water off a pristine sandy beach in the Bahamas, watching friendly manta rays swim by.  I was a teenager in Guernsey when the Cultural Revolution was going on, and I can remember my mother watching the news and being aghast at what was happening in China at the time, but it didn’t mean anything at all to me then, running around a wonderful British island, free to roam and wander its 45 square acres in a crime-less society.  I can’t imagine ever wanting to flee my country for my own safety, and knowing that I wouldn’t be able to if I tried.  Of course that leads my mind to think about the millions of people in this world that are still, for one reason or another, trying to leave their countries.  It just doesn’t seem possible that in America, for all it’s present economic and political woe, anyone would ever have to run for their lives.

I’ve been pretty critical lately of Life in The States, as I see it briefly whenever we go back ashore.  Shame on me.  It’s still the greatest country in the world, and I’m embarrassed to admit to being reminded about that by reading Life and Death in Shanghai.

On a brighter note, there’s a boat here in George Town which is laden with donated goods to take to Haiti.  Her crew are doing a lot of that boat repair I referred to earlier, waiting for a fleet to join which is on its way here from Key West, en route to Haiti.  God Speed to all of them.

Be well and happy.

Love, Lydia

S/V Flying Pig
Morgan 46 #2
"The only way to live is to have a dream green and growing in your life - anything else is just existing and is a waste of breath."
Ann Davison
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