Turks & Caicos - and More

Copyright 2005 Jack G. Ganssle

Monday, June 20, 2005

A beautiful day, nearly windless, few clouds. Voyager's 28 year old diesel has been pushing us along for days, it seems, assisted at times but a bit of sailing. We're into the rhythm of the trip and of the sea. Marybeth has been working on her projects, I've been writing, navigating and repairing things, and we're both gobbling up books at a frightening rate.

Sailing to Bermuda

We're bound from Bermuda to Grand Turk, a week-long 740 mile run. After leaving Baltimore June 4 Voyager sailed to the Bohemia River prior to the C&D canal for the night, and thence to Cape May where we anchored again. At the fuel dock a boat with two very serious-looking guys were instructing a pair of couples in the art of ocean sailing. I wanted to go over give a real lesson, like "don't go cruising till you've been upside down in a hot engine room at night changing a fuel filter in 15 foot seas," but I'm sure that's not part of any seamanship school's curriculum. Which is a darn shame.

Sailing to Bermuda

From there a short 5 day hop to Bermuda… that stretched frustratingly to 7 days since the wind blew incessantly from the east, more or less on our nose. We tacked… and tacked… and tacked again. When the wind fell we motored the rhumb line… and then tacked more when faced with more than 8 or 10 knots. Voyager spent just 2.5 days in Bermuda, not really enough to catch up with things, before leaving again.

Marybeth in our newly-refurbished dingy in Bermuda

Us in Bermuda

Last night we saw the first ship since Bermuda; today another, a cruise ship, passed our bows 12 miles off. Since it's too hard to keep a watch with just the two of us, most nights I set up a guard zone on the radar. Anything approaching within 10 miles sets off a klaxon. The system eats too much power but works fabulously.

I tried fishing today. One strike by something big tore all the line off the reel. Another ate through the line altogether. I figure losing two sets of gear means it's time to stop fishing for a while.

Yesterday Marybeth had the rod out. Just after reeling it in a huge Blue Marlin started leaping out of the water a hundred feet astern.

There's been little sealife visible, other than the usual hoards of flying fish and plenty of Portuguese Men of War. Man of Wars. Men of Wars? Whatever. One pod of 50 dolphins did come over to play, but that's about it. Willow tells us on our nightly radio chat they saw two whales.

Despite the incessant motoring we're fat on diesel fuel. I did a lot of work on the engine this year and on the Bermuda run we found consumption has fallen to .31 gallons per hour. So Voyager has something like a 1000 mile range under power in glassy seas. But the thought of that much motoring makes one want to gag.

Since we don't steer (or do much of anything else, for that matter, whilst at sea) the autopilot has been working hard. The thing (pair of things as we have a complete spare) is on its last legs. Two tiny pins that are uber-critical failed in one unit. I put the spare on duty and made new ones from a drill bit, using the angle grinder to get the polished finish needed on the bearing surfaces. The wind vane works great though… but can only steer when we're sailing. We do have another backup system that couples an old, small, autopilot used on tiller-steered boats to the vane, but haven't broken that out yet.

Otherwise, the boat has been working very well with few problems.


Wednesday, June 29, 2005

We're anchored off Grand Turk, rafted to Willow, having arrived here on Thursday after a 7 day passage from Bermuda. It was an easy trip, though we motored rather a lot (130 hrs). The weather was beautiful till the last day when squalls and rain hindered our progress. Marybeth and I were both sort of sick of the passage. Turns out we'd been underway 16 of the 19 days since leaving Baltimore. We really needed a couple of more days to relax in Bermuda, but a weather window had opened that was just too good to ignore.

Grand Turk

Scott has a new measure of distance to Bermuda – it's about 1900 songs from Baltimore, as he ran his new iPod continuously the entire way. We ran our Dell MP3 player, too, but only when sailing, and never at night. I find music annoying when counterpointed by the rumble of the diesel.

The two ocean passages have been less fun for me than in the past. The poor winds – non-existent and on the nose – are more a hassle than a challenge. Banging into a head sea simply sucks. I keep telling Marybeth we should sail around the world, downwind in the trades, but that's not an option for many years. By then I may be so fed up with the north-of-30 flukiness to have much long-distance desire anymore.

We anchored off Government Dock to clear in, a normally-simple process that occupied several hours. Customs wasn't interested; they directed me to the Harbormaster, though indicated the wrong building. There I filled out the usual forms. One line demanded Marybeth's signature. Yes, the officer admitted, only the captain is allowed ashore till the vessel is granted pratique, so it's quite illegal for MB to be there to sign the paperwork. She had no idea how to resolve the Catch-22; I quite blatantly forged the signature and all was fine. Except for the needed clearance from Immigrations; she directed me to a building on the south side of the island. A long stroll there in the tropic sun, only to find out that Immigrations can't do the work; only the Immigrations office at the airport to the north can. More sweaty strolling and I met Rhonda, the airport officer, who apparently had never heard of ocean-going sailboats. "You spent 7 days on a boat from Bermuda? I don't believe it!" Rhonda, too, required a forged Marybeth signature, but also needed a copy of a form. The airport doesn't have a copier. Nor a fax machine nor scanner. She directed me to Immigrations on the south side of the island, the same office that blew me off earlier, where they did indeed have the sophisticated office machinery needed to dup a form no one will ever read.

Graham, Sue and Ben arrived two days ago. Joe left yesterday –he was great crew for Willow, and a delight to have around.

We've been SCUBA diving once on a wall just astern of the boats.

Grand Turk is small (6 miles north to south) and barren. The people are incredibly friendly and will often stop without asking to give us rides as we walk along the road. Cockburn Town (pronounced "Co-burn Town") lies off the bow of the boats and is the island's largest settlement. It's a lot of… nothing. A small collection of business and houses, really, it's sleepy, hot, dusty and interesting. With a population of just 2000 people this capital of the entire TCI is rather a small outpost in the country's far east. Oddly, there's a cruise ship dock under construction. A single shipload of cruisers will disgorge more people than the population of the entire island. I hope the cruise industry doesn't do to Grand Turk what it has done to Bermuda.

Feral donkeys possibly outnumber the human population here. Walking is correspondingly hazardous. I'm reminded of an Echinoderm named "the Donkey Dung" sea cucumber.

The museum is surprisingly complete and interesting. It describes the Molasses Wreck in good detail, and has quite a large display about John Glenn, who arrived here right after his famous flight. The islanders are quite proud of Glenn as he put the place on the map. There's even a full-scale replica of his Mercury capsule just outside the airport.

The mail boat arrived yesterday so we, and most everyone else on the island, went to Cee's market for food. There's no milk to be had, but we did reprovision with some needed items.

Saturday Marybeth, Joe and I walked to the south side of Grand Turk for a fishing tournament. A very popular event attended only by locals, food, beer and entertainment created smiles on all the faces. The catch was auctioned off. Since we didn't have a bag to cart the fish home we just watched, but returned the next day via dingy to procure dinner. The ideal fish – a 10 pound tuna – came on the block and we won the auction for $21… though at one point Marybeth bid against me! A young toothless and much-scarred Haitian offered to clean it, but his extremely dull knife turned the butchering job into a butchery. Regardless, tuna steaks on the grill that night sure tasted great.

Fish Auction on Grand Turk

We can't find water anywhere. The first day here a torrential downpour gave us showers. Voyager turned on her water catching gear and topped off all of the tanks; we then collected some for Scott. Early this morning a small shower yielded a few more gallons. Marybeth used the water collected in the hard dingy to do laundry.

Nat has a bad ankle sprain so we're worried about how he'll cope when he arrives (with Ally and Devin) Sunday. Graham has sinusitis and is on heavy meds, but he's fortunately able to manage compressed air. We old farts are perfectly healthy, though.

Friday, July 01, 2005

We spent last night off Gibb's Cay, a few miles to the East of Grand Turk. Gibb's is uninhabited, by people, at least. We came to swim with the large number of Southern Sting Rays found in the shallows off the beach. They're quite friendly and accept gentle rubs, and will even bowl over the unwary swimmer. The adults later dragged chairs ashore and enjoyed birdwatching near sunset with a couple of bottles of red.

Stingray at Gibb's Cay

Us on Gibb's Cay

We're now anchored off Salt Cay, a half dozen miles due south of Grand Turk. 50, 80 or 100 people live here, depending on whom you ask. The mean of these estimates is 76.7 with a standard deviation of 20.54, which is good enough for me. A single diesel generator provides all of the power needed for the island.

Dinner ashore last night was both tasty and earned us a few new friends from the community. Debbie the ex-pat who has now been voted a "belonger" runs the small stand that passed for a restaurant. She came here for the SCUBA and never left. Michelle has a place on the southern end of the island, and commutes from California. Her photos were recently featured on the cover of a glossy magazine she proudly carries rolled up in her voluminous mu-mu. Anyo runs the dive shop; I hope to see him later today to get our tanks filled.

Salt Cay, like so many of these islands, was developed for salinas. The place is so hot, and so flat, it's a natural place to extract salt from seawater. Three areas in each salina evaporate water from the sea. The first is just seawater. After a few weeks the salt concentration doubles; windmills pump the resulting "brine" to the middle area. Later the solution, now called "pickle" goes to the third and final evaporation pond. Salt rakers (people with crude wooden rakes) break up the crusty white lumps and package it for shipment. Today there are no working salinas here. But the Turks were largely settled by Bermudians building a fortune in salt, and the abandoned salinas occupy large tracts of land. Hundreds of thousands of rocks were shaped into the walls that line the salt ponds, all assembled by hand labor.

Salt Cay Salinas


A Montage of Salt Cay Pictures

This morning Graham, Scott, Ethan and I dove on the wall. It's deep – we hit 100' and could have gone much, much further given less common sense – and life abounds. One huge lobster perched in his reef hole. A porcupine fish swam off unconcerned. Numerous quite large groupers had Graham and I wishing the Hawaiian Slings were legal here. Both Trumpetfish and Coranetfish abounded, as did the usual reef denizens. A single Moray eel slithered through the crevasses.

Ashore the overwhelming feeling is one of unrelieved heat. The sun bakes you from above and the reflected sun from the white salt road bakes from below. Interestingly, there's no use of air conditioning here other than one small government office. In Grand Turk A/C was everywhere, with the dial usually cranked down to the artic setting. So the island is utterly silent, the quiet occasionally broken by a passing car or braying donkey.

Most houses appear abandoned. There are few opportunities for people here. After grade school all the kids go off-island for their education and many never return. Half the people are over age 60 and are retired. But all are very friendly, offering a wave or kind word at each meeting. I would like to stay here longer, but we're chasing arriving kids.

Debbie, in addition to running the eatery, owns the SCUBA shop and sells real estate, sort of like the Pooh-bah character from the Mikado. She says that despite the abandoned appearance of many places, all of the houses on the coast are owned by wealthy Americans who plan to fix them up and rent them out, or use them for winter homes.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

We sailed – or rather motored – the 20 miles across Columbus Passage yesterday to South Caicos. Today Devin and his girlfriend Ally arrive for a week. I'm hoping they bring a Sunday NY Times.

Graham practicing Celestial at South Caicos

South Caicos Sunset

We spoke with Nat yesterday. He has elected to stay home. He broke an ankle bone and pulled two liniments a couple of weeks ago playing basketball. A few days ago an MRI showed more damage than expected, so he's now in a hard cast and isn't allowed to fly. Everyone is greatly disappointed about missing him, and we're hoping he's taking good care of the injury. Marybeth is flirting with the idea of flying to Boston, though she knows there's really nothing much she can do for him. If she decides to go I'll probably just singlehand back to Baltimore, as being down here for a week or two without her sounds dreary. And with Graham's car now immobilized, him driving the barely-mobile Paseo, I could at least help get his microbus back on the road.

South Caicos offers numerous dive sites, which we're all looking forward to exploring. Hopefully we can get fills here as two of Voyager's four tanks are empty. 1400 people live here; one book claims these are the friendliest people in the entire TCI; another calls them sullen. I haven't been ashore yet, but Graham and Ethan tried bar hopping last night and returned chastened and a bit frightened by some of the locals.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Sullen. The second book nailed the islanders with this single word. Despite the tiny population, which suggests they all know each other, Marybeth and I observed that they don't even greet each other on the street. A picture of Cockburn Town would be a marvelous illustration for the dictionary entry "squalid," though it's clear that it's not entirely poverty that's the cause. They trash their own island, tossing garbage and letting their houses crumble into splinters. The people seem to be of recent DR and Haitian extraction speaking Creole and pseudo-English. Too many faces have the stupor of heavy drugs.

For us the attraction is the snorkeling and diving rather than the land, but we can't seem to get tank fills, which is a darn shame. Graham and I dove a twin-engine plane wreck in 50' yesterday which was fabulous, with very large pelagic fish hiding under the wings and a fuselage-full of exotic reef species. I'd love to take Marybeth there, but we're out of air. Admiral's Aquarium, a buoyed snorkeling site, has a fantastic number of protected (damn!) conch, lobster and fish. One shark buzzed by while we swam there yesterday, and today the Rosenthals had close encounters with 3 others. I've been working, writing articles, but Marybeth and I will snorkel there again later today.

Devin and Ally arrived today after their own adventure. The plane out of BWI was late. They missed their connection and spent last night in a hotel in Provo. The morning plane took them east to Grand Turk and then west to here.

The dearth of tank fills, a rolly anchorage, and impending kid boredom has led us to decide to quit this place early tomorrow and head to Providentiales ("Provo"). It's a long sail, some 45 miles, across the shallow and coral-infested Caicos Banks. We're leaving early to have a favorable sun angle to read water depths and see shallow heads, and even more importantly so the kids can sleep through some of the long, and to them, boring trip.

Friday, July 08, 2005

We left South Caicos Tuesday, and had a great sail in strong winds across the stunningly-beautiful Caicos banks to Provo. We mostly sailed under just the genoa across the horrifyingly shallow banks. It's quite nerve-racking to see the depth sounder and knotmeter reading similar or even identical values hour after hour. 5.8 feet, 6.2 knots. 6.1 feet, 6.1 knots. After a day of rolling heavily downwind we arrived at Caicos Shipyard Marina in the late afternoon.

Willow Passing Us on Way to Provo

Voyager Under Sail to Provo

And we're still there, three days later.

Hurricane Dennis decided to sweep along south of Hispaniola, bringing gale-force winds to the Turks & Caicos. This marina is totally protected and utterly safe, so we've hunkered down here for a few days. Our rented right-hand-drive 4WD SUV has taken us all over the island, so at least this has been a chance for a lot of exploration.

It's amazing how much Provo has changed in the last four years. Leeward Highway is now paved for most of its length (though not at our end of the island), and for quite a distance is a divided road with two lanes going each way. New lampposts and telephone poles line the road. Construction is everywhere; unfinished resorts sprout like palm trees.

Of course the Palm Cove Highway which we take to the marina is still a rough, unpaved ditch. Anything over 40 km/hr is suicidal; even at that speed the passengers need their seasickness pills. Some spots are so bad they're best navigated around 5 KPH. Which is great fun, for a while. While driving alone to collect some of our contingent at the Grace Bay beaches I picked up a hitchhiker on this road. Albert looks like an emaciated rasterman, and is building a fence around a stunning new home, one that must be worth $5m. A delightful companion, he told me of being born on Grand Turk and leaving there for the opportunities of Provo. I couldn't take him all the way; he asked for a dollar to catch the bus ("I don't get paid till Friday.") Of course I gave it to him, thinking of the incredible disparity in wealth between this man who's building a home, and the mogul who will someday occupy it, no doubt for just a few weeks a year.

Today we considered sailing to Malcolm Roads on Provo's far west coast, famed location of the Tiki Huts. That's a 28 nm sail, some 5 hours, but winds this morning were still very strong, force 7 and more. The plan was to send those who weren't keen on getting their brains beaten out to the coast by car; skeleton crews on the two boats would do the actual sailing. But was the anchorage there tenable? A few of us drove there via roads that would be nearly impassible without the 4WD this morning for an on-the-spot look. The Tiki Huts are gone, replaced by a fence and more construction. A strong ground swell swept in from several directions, a sure-fire nauseator for all but the most hardy sailors. So we're still at the Shipyard. To entertain the kids we sent the 4 eldest to Club Med for the day, and Scott, Sue and Ben are off doing aquatics somewhere. I'm taking the afternoon off, writing a bit, reading, cleaning up, and generally chilling in the stifling heat.

Unhappily we're pretty well sentenced to spending tomorrow night here as well, since four of the crew fly out Sunday and we need airport access. I'm fine with hanging out, but hope the kids don't get bored. Perhaps some of us will go on a boat dive tomorrow.

Marybeth flew to Boston yesterday afternoon. She planned to drive to Middletown to stay with her brother, but wasn't able to get through to them on Scott's satphone. No doubt they were astonished at 11PM last night when she showed up. She hopes to return here Tuesday, though of course we have no idea where we'll be at that point. I'm missing her already and hope to talk to her tonight.

With just myself and Graham aboard Voyager is a bachelor boat. Willow is a refugee vessel hosting 5 Rosenthals and Ally packed cheek to jowl. We keep offering to take a kid or two but since there's no rain the extras sleep on Willow's deck. When we're underway I fear they'll be intercepted by the Coast Guard as an immigrant boat sneaking out of Haiti.

Later… the kids are back from Club Med. They had a great time. Too great? Windsurfing. The bar. Lunch. The bar. Hobie cats. The bar. Swimming. The bar. Yet Graham is clearly dead sober. I'm conflicted about this whole TCI/drinking experience. We decided that here we'd follow the law… which means at 17, in the TCI, you're old enough to drink. The kids have been great; enjoying the new freedom without overindulging. Yet I worry about the lurking the Irish genes. And I'm sending Graham off to the University of Bourbon Street, uh, the University of New Orleans, in 6 weeks. If I can't trust him in this relatively controlled situation, then his college career is doomed. So I chose to trust excessively here. But it's complicated.

Teenagers are so hard and confusing. But Graham has been a complete delight. He revels in the hard work. He looks for ways to help. When the genoa sheet tangled in a morass of chain and line from the second bow anchor, he lowered, raised, lowered again, and raised again that large, hard and flogging sail in a force 6 wind. He's the anchor guy, managing 200 feet of heavy and dangerous chain without a complaint. When we need fuel he's the first with the jerry jugs; he's the guy slogging 160 pounds of SCUBA tanks into the dingy as we're off for fills. Parenting teenagers is incredibly hard, but so rewarding. I'll miss him more than I can say when he flees to college in a few short weeks.

Ethan and Graham Discussing Particle Physics

As I write the dingy's engine roared into life and Graham and Ethan are off to a sunken tug to explore and dive off the upper deck 15 feet into the water. Graham invited, then dared, then begged, me to dive off with him yesterday. Climbing to the top deck, slanted at a 45 degree angle was fine. But jumping out over the dingy held little appeal. It was so important to him I reluctantly acquiesced. Sure, it was fun, but middle age leaves me with enough of a wealth of these experiences. Sometimes balancing the checkbook is enough of a thrill. Or opening that letter from the IRS.

We did find the tug's logbook, and it enticingly describes how the "Caicos Bank" spent her last (logged) days in Portsmouth, VA waiting for a new engine in 1998. Yet here she is wrecked 1500 miles away. In 2001 we were in the same marina, and remember her sunk then. What happened? The engine room is under water and we can't tell if there's a propulsion plant installed. Yet her liferaft was serviced in 1999. How intriguing and odd.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Marybeth returns this afternoon from Boston. I talked with her briefly yesterday; it sounds like things in Boston are OK, though on the satphone it's hard to get much detail. I can't wait for her return.

She's coming in accompanied by Emily, tropical storm #5 of the year, which is expected to hit hurricane strength tomorrow. She's currently south of us, though the projection shows her moving northward. We could be in the path. 5 tropical storms in July so far is unheard of. My hurricane plots show an average of one per every other year over the last 110 years. And it's only July 12th. We'll wait a day or two and see where she goes before making decisions.

Since writing last we sailed to Sapidilla Bay, just 8 miles from the Shipyard, where we anchored for a couple of days. The four kids left us there. I was sorry to see them go. Now Voyager feel empty as I've been alone.

While there I took the dingy to South Dock, Provo's main shipping terminal. Two sailboats from Haiti were there, one tied up, the other anchored, in the very rolly roadstead. They seemed held together by luck and good hopes more than any sort of structural material. The masts were tree trunks – horribly twisted affairs about as straight as a pretzel. The crew waved with big smiles; I wonder why they return to that poor country trip after trip.

Yesterday we sailed to Malcolm Roads, where the Tiki Huts were before development engulfed even this remote corner of the island. We had a fast, great sail. As always, I'm astonished at crossing over the Caicos Banks into deep water. In the course of a yard or two the water goes from green to deep blue.

I called Kristy; she sounds happy as a clam. We had an unusually delightful chat. Her whole being is occupied with her sleep-away Summer Stock program that keeps her dancing all month.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

Wow – time flies. The summer's vacation nears its end. Willow is northbound with Scott and Bill Gaal to the Chesapeake. Voyager is abeam of Samana Cay in the Bahamas (which is visible 5 miles off), bound from Provo to Rum Cay. We'll arrive there tomorrow morning for a day or so of diving and exploring. After that, we're going to Long Island, to Cape Santa Maria, for one reason only: conch chowder. There's a restaurant there that serves the best we've ever had. So that's a dinner stop only before we go… somewhere. Not sure where yet.

Marybeth came back from Boston. Nat is coping; he's managing to do the important things like make it to class.

From Malcolm Roads we sailed to the delightfully-named Leeward Going Through on Provo's eastern end. There's lots and lots of tourist support there. Boats incessantly roar by, loaded with pale people bound for picnics and snorkeling. And roar they do; no one does anything less than full speed through the anchorage, making it a rolly place indeed. The one exception are the Pirate Cay boats that ferry the rich folks to their private estates there. These captains slow early… and are astonishing boat handlers. It's a delight to watch them dock in impossible wind vs tide situations. Some of the passengers are clearly beautiful people of some sort (I wouldn't recognize a star if he went supernova ten feet away). One such boatload had an enormous amount of baggage with the requisite bevy of giggling babes.

Then we sailed to a beautiful but narrow anchorage between Dellis and Fort George Cays. A couple days there diving, snorkeling, beach combing, and chilling, and then we left to get Scott's crew back to the airport. And ran aground. Again. And again. The bar at the mouth of the area was impassible. Voyager got off each time. Then Willow hit, hard, and got stuck. We anchored Voyager and I went off in the dingy, put out a kedge anchor for Willow, and sounded a channel using the boat hook and a GPS. But it was only 4 feet deep, less in a few places, so we waited a couple of hours for the tide. After that, no problem, but there was no chance of getting to Turtle Cove Marina (near the airport) before dark, so we returned to Leeward Going Through.

Near Fort George Cay

Making a Living in Paradise

Sue and Benjamin got off next morning via taxi; Bill arrived the following day. The plan: leave! We got up in the morning to be greeted by torrential rain. Yippee! Our tanks were dry but we filled them all.

The rain ended, Scott and I went ashore for jugs of diesel and to clear out. Then we heard rumors of a hurricane forming right over the island, something not terribly hard to believe given the odd weather. In the ensuing pow-wow, bolstered by downloaded weather faxes and the like, we decided to head for Turtle Cove. It's a good hurricane hole, and we wanted to spend another day here evaluating options.

That night Tropical Storm Franklin formed just over us. The extra day spent hanging around proved worthwhile.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

At anchor, Rum Cay, a delightful little island of 60 souls. It's 200 miles from Provo, a 48 hour run stretched a bit as we sailed slowly the last night, desiring to arrive here after dawn. The treacherous fringing reef was much easier to negotiate than the cruising guide suggested.

The Rum Cay School

We walked around Port Nelson, the only settlement here. Folks are very friendly. The streets are paved and in surprisingly good condition. Those leaving town are the usual limestone dirt. Traffic is brutal – perhaps 2, maybe even three cars went by, drivers all leaning out with a happy wave and a kind word.

The one school is for all ages.

Being Sunday the few (well, 2) shops are closed. Toby's Bar was open, so we stopped in for a beer. Toby has the coldest beer on the island – he keeps it in a freezer. A pair of Kaliks dissolved the dust and dissipated some sweat. It's hot here. Toby appeared to be on his 5th or 6th Heiniken of the morning but responded to our inquiries.

A few years ago I added mechanical refrigeration to Voyager so we no longer chase ice at every port. Yet… ice is nice. Though we can make it, I surrendered the freezer for keeping meat. At the moment there's about 8 days worth frozen. Vodka and grapefruit juice is fine neat, but those few tinkling cubes bring a hint of civilization to these parts. And just a little ice now and then reduces our energy consumption quite a bit. So now we chase ice again, not so frenetically. In pursuit of that goal we dingied to the marina. We failed in that mission.

But in the (air conditioned!) office a young American deeply-tanned women was hunched over the counter, waiting for some decision from the person on the other side. She's terrified of flying, she told us, but needs to get back to Florida. The weather looks shaky. The fellow invited me behind the counter to look at the weather map, downloaded in real time from the ‘net. We tracked Franklin's cloudy arms as they've spiraled across the islands. In my infinite wisdom I told her that things looked fine to me; for sure the airline will be running, despite perhaps some bouncy convective activity for a few hundred miles. The fellow looked up at me and said "airline? No airlines come here. I'm the pilot. I've got a single engine Cessna and am deciding if I should take this charter or not."

We slinked out the door.

With some guestimating of reef coordinates, and then GPSing our way to sea a bit in the dingy, and then eyeballing the water we found fantastic snorkeling in 20-25 feet. This is the clearest water of the trip so far. A veritable army of Ocean Triggerfish patrolled the reef. One large Southern Stingray hovered on the sand. When I went down to get a close-up picture he buried most of himself in the sand, leaving just his tail and eyes exposed. One Nassau Grouper could have fed us for a week had we brought the Hawaiian Slings… and the skills to use them. Skills that have eluded me.

A very large Barracuda followed us. I swam up for another close-up picture. Baras are always curious; this one especially so. We were suddenly done with snorkeling for the day.

On deck this evening the only sound is the waves breaking on the reef 200 meters away. This is a truly beautiful spot.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

We're back in Maryland now, having arrived here Monday afternoon this week.

After Rum Cay we sailed (motored) to Long Island, anchoring off the Santa Maria resort. Santa Maria was our main impetus for visiting the Bahamas, since two years ago we found the the best conch chowder, well, anywhere. Dinner was again a delight, and the chowder again magnificent.

The Beach at Santa Maria on Long Island

From there we sailed (motored) 200 more miles to Marsh Harbor on Grand Abaco Island, a convenient place to provision and clear out of the country. We arrived at night and immediately secured an air-conditioned hotel room – with HBO! Marina life in Marsh Harbor redefines the meaning of "hot," so a little bit of hotel comfort meant a lot to us.

The next morning we called Customs to clear in, sort of a bittersweet affair as there's a $150 charge, yet we're ready to leave. But Customs didn't come down to the marina as they promised. Another call at 10; one at 12; another at 1. Finally, a very apologetic officer arrived at 3, took the cash, and, still chagrined, drove us to the bank.

We provisioned, but by now it was too late to leave, so consumed another night of HBO and air conditioning, some great but not Santa Maria quality conch chowder, and left the next morning.

And returned an hour later. I had forgotten to buy oil.

As we cleared over the reef we saw a small boat towing an inflated life raft in. Numerous other boats were involved in some sort of rescue, one that appeared to have saved the mariners. Not sure about the boat, though.

For 24 hours we enjoyed a glorious sail, covering 135 miles from noon to noon. I computed an arrival date assuming a 6 knot average… or maybe 5.5 knots. But then the wind died completely. We motored… and motored… and motored. Then a current bucked progress, slowing us to 1.5 to 1.7 knots over the bottom. One day we eeked out 55 miles noon to noon.

And we motored some more.

Sunset at sea

Where's the wind???

Moorehead City appeared 5 days after leaving Marsh Harbor. We didn't stop there, but carried on up the ICW for 3 days to Norfolk. Despite the hot weather we enjoyed the Waterway, as always. Norfolk was a sea change, a jolt back to the real world, a busy intersection of ships, city, and boats everywhere.

From there 31 hours of motoring (of course) brought us to our slip in Baltimore. We covered 3200 miles since leaving two months before, under power for at least 2000 of those.

The trip was a lot of fun. We're happy to be home, to re-engage with the realities of life, but already miss those wonderful beaches, great diving, and quiet evenings.


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