Sunday, March 27, 2011

Dinghy Dongs

We’re in the Turks and Caicos – arrived early yesterday morning and waited most of the day for customs and immigration to arrive and clear us in. They work grudgingly on the weekends and after hours during the week, but we pay extra to clear in during those hours.

After leaving Georgetown, we made two stops on our way to the T&C – first Calabash Bay in Long Island, where we anchored overnight at this beautiful beach.

We did a bunch of work in the morning, checking the boat over before heading offshore. I pulled Skip up the mast and he checked all the rigging, added running back stays and made our SSB (single side band) cable permanent. We'd earned a break and couldn't pass up a walk on this powdery beach, so we went ashore. We pulled the dinghy up on the beach and gave it a few big heaves to pull it up on the sand. We walked about a mile down the beach and came across a private home tucked back in the scrubby overgrowth. The landscaping was incredible – palms and tropical flowering plants of every kind. The gardeners were there and invited us to walk around. I didn’t photograph the private grounds but this was the entry.

We spent more time there than we’d expected and when we got back out to the beach we saw our dinghy waaaaaaaay out in the water. Not good. We took off running but I was out off breath long before Skip was. Once he got close enough he jumped in the water and started swimming towards it. The incoming tide had floated the dinghy off the beach but the wind was blowing it away from the beach and us almost faster than Skip could swim out to it. There was one other dinghy on the beach whose owner was just walking towards it. As I watched Skip start to struggle I ran towards the beached dinghy waving my arms and shouting like a crazy person to get the owner’s attention. Without hesitation he got in the dinghy, started the outboard, pulled me in and sped out to where Skip was. By the time we got there Skip had managed to pull himself into the dinghy but couldn't talk and was barely able to catch his breath. It was pretty scary and quite possibly the dumbest thing we’ve done so far. We had a perfectly good anchor in the dinghy that we didn’t stick in the sand, thinking we wouldn’t be gone long. One more lesson learned. 
This is where the dinghy started.... it ended up a tiny speck halfway between the boat and the far shore.
We got the dinghy back to the boat, and took our time prepping to go offshore. This means getting everything out of the dinghy, taking off the outboard and securing it to the rail on Saralane, hoisting the small boat up onto the foredeck and tying it down. We lashed down the jugs of fuel and water we carry on deck, stowed everything down below, pulled up the anchor and got under way by mid-afternoon. 

Sunset with cruise ship - on our way toward Mayaguana
The runaway dinghy episode set us back a bit, but we made good time sailing overnight and decided to make a stop at Mayaguana for a few hours rest before continuing on the second night.

How to tell where the land is when you're out in the middle of the water - look for the clouds!
Things are looking up in the fishing department! We caught a small tuna shortly before we arrived at Mayaguana – we had some of him for dinner and the rest of him joined our mahi mahi in the freezer. 

The camera always lies.... 
The tuna looks bigger when I'm holding him!
We usually troll with two lines out – one is a hand line and the other is a rod and reel. We’ve only caught fish on our simple hand line so far. So much for sophisticated equipment.

Our fancy rig - shock cord and 80  test line on the cleat
The frayed half-taped ends of the shock cord really make this rig work!
We’ll spend a little time checking out the Turks and Caicos and keeping an eye on the weather for an opportunity to head farther south.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

More Mahi

I’d like to promise that I won’t post a photo of every fish we catch… but I can’t quite commit to that yet. It’s still pretty exciting. We caught this one today on the way from Georgetown to Calabash Bay at the north end of Long Island.

It’s only our second catch since we started out (not counting the two lobsters we speared a week ago) and we’ve improved a bit on our previous frenzy of reeling in, gaffing, dosing with vodka or rum, cleaning and bagging for the fridge and freezer. The back of the boat looked like a murder scene after the first catch.

Before we left Georgetown we stopped at the fruit and veggie guy’s truck outside a local market. He has a farm in Barraterre at the north end of Great Exuma and he brings his produce to town twice a week. We bought two huge papayas and some fresh tomatoes. Unlike the magic seedless papayas from Tasha’s mama’s tree in Little Farmers Cay these are full of seeds... but they’re just as sweet.

We’re taking off in the morning… there’s a good weather opportunity to make the two day passage to the Turks and Caicos and we’re hoping to be there in time to visit with our friends Jim and Heidi who will be there trying to forget about all the snow back home.

It’s goodbye to the Bahamas for now…. but we’ll be back.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Centerboard fix

Well it's not a very dramatic second part to the cliffhanger.... and the only photos I can use to illustrate are old ones I took when we first got the boat up to New England. (Four years ago?!) Before we put the boat in the water, Skip drilled holes through the keel and centerboard when they were lined up in the UP position... just in case we ever needed/wanted to pin it up. We hadn't planned on having to pin it while the boat was in the water.... just another case of bad planning. So... the holes were there. All we had to do was lift the centerboard up, line up the holes and put a steel rod through it to keep it in place.

This shot shows the back of the keel with my grade school drawing showing the holes and pin placement. Actually the chain under the keel shows where we put the rope before we got a rod to put through the holes. The ends of the rope were tied to the rails on either side of the boat.

The second shot is the back of the keel shown from the side, with a red dot showing the approximate placement of the hole. The center board is hidden up inside the keel, sort of like a sandwich with the centerboard on the inside and the keel on either side of it. Really it's more like a pita... since it's only open on one side!

Seeing these old photos of the boat makes me realize how overdue our before-and-after blog posts are. The bottom is now black and the red stripes are now bright green. I'll move "work on before/after posts" up on my to-do list.

I only have a few photos for this blog because I had a temporary camera meltdown.... it had to do with formatting (or rather not formatting) the card properly and I lost all but these two photos. The first is a cool papaya that Tasha, who runs the small grocery store at Farmers Cay, gave us. It has NO seeds. She said her mama planted the tree that grows these seedless papayas and she gives them to the sailors passing through. It was pretty tasty.

And just to prove that I really am on this trip too (for those of you asking that I hand the camera over to Skip once in a while) here I am lazing in the cockpit on our way to Georgetown. I'm probably asking "What's the f-stop?"

This will be the last post from the Exumas; we're planning on heading out tomorrow. The high winds have had everyone pinned down in the anchorage here for a week and everyone is getting antsy. From the sound of things on "the net" here in Georgetown there are a few dozen boats pulling up their anchors tomorrow and heading in all directions. The snowbirds are heading north now that winter is ending; most everyone else is heading south to warmer and warmer places. We're headed for the Caribbean... with stops along the way in the Turks and Caicos and perhaps the Dominican Republic on our way to Puerto Rico and on to the Virgin Islands.

By the way, I take back anything snarky I may have said about Georgetown and 'the net' here. It was through the network of boaters here that we were able to borrow scuba gear (thank you Shamrock!) and found just the right steel rod to hold the centerboard in position (thank you Solar Eclipse). Our Swedish friends, Martin and Johanna on Snowbird are here too and Martin provided some of the muscle to help us get the board up. Thanks everyone! We couldn't have done it without your help.

Another Georgetown correction: it's not AAG (Alcohol Appreciation Group) as I originally wrote a few posts ago. It's ARG (Alcohol Research Group). Either way, it's a big old party on the beach and we went this past Friday and made some new friends. Everyone brings a dish to share and it's clear that we're all on a budget.... there were a lot of plates of cheese and crackers and bowls of popcorn!

We've said goodbyes to some of the friends we've made along the way, including our Italian friends Alfredo and Nicoletta (and their little dog Trudy) on Jancris. They've been living aboard Jancris for about 15 years and have been really interesting to spend time with. They're headed north for now but told us to keep an eye out for them in the fall or winter in the Caribbean. I hadn't counted on so many goodbyes along the way and it's a little bittersweet.   We're hoping to see some friends that have plans to be in the Turks and Caicos about when we hope to be there (hi Jim & Heidi!) and we'll see some of both of our families in the Caribbean over the next two months.

I don't know what kind of internet access we'll have as we keep moving but I'll post as often as I can. Thanks so much for sticking with us so far!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Saralane goes solar

Having spent the past few weeks bumping around the central Exumas – Black Point, Staniel Cay, Farmers Cay etc, we’re now back in Georgetown. We haven’t had much internet access lately and I’m a little behind with the blog – so this is a long one. Grab your cup of coffee or glass of wine and settle in. I’ll let the photos do most of the talking.

The swimming pigs again! (Aka: bacon on the beach)
Lots of nurse sharks hanging around the dock at Staniel Cay.... 
.... this is why. People clean their catch here and toss back the guts. Shark snacks!
Pretty bougainvillea along the road in Staniel Cay
It's hard to miss this building....
.... but just in case, this sign points the way.
If the blue grocery store doesn't have what you want... you can try the Pink grocery store right next to it.
There’s great internet access now at the school in Little Farmers, and Mr. Jagroo, the principal, who’s also one of the two teachers, encourages the community and visitors to come up to the school and use the connection.

The road to the school
Skip online behind the school
Hanging out on lunch break in front of the school
The older kids' classroom
They’ve been great to us and the kids have become accustomed to us being there outside while they’re in school. We were there one day while they were outside practicing their music lessons and the younger kids put on a little impromptu performance for us. (I didn’t have my camera with me so I shot this with the camera on my Mac.)

They have a few computers at the school and have recently started exploring online lessons for the kids in addition to classroom lessons. This would open up huge opportunities for them, so I'm putting in this shameless plug for the school: if anyone out there has an old internet compatible computer sitting around collecting dust and you’d like it to have a new home…. the school could definitely use it. You can contact Mr. Jagroo directly (by phone 242.355.4031 or email and get info about donating what you have.

Town dock at LIttle Farmers
The post office.... where they have no stamps and can't send mail.
The main reason we’re still this far north is that we decided to add solar panels to Saralane. The panels were flown into Staniel Cay by a company that flies both freight and passengers over from Florida. Passengers get priority over freight so each day we’d check in to see if our panels made the flight. Seems a lot of people were flying in to Staniel so our delivery took a while. Once everything arrived, we got to work.

Like the first night of Hannukah, or Christmas day, depending on your persuasion.
Now what?!
Now we tear the boat apart to get all the tools out and start running wires.

Skip and Steve built a stainless steel frame and attached it to both the bimini frame and the stern rail for extra stability. They created a frame for the panels and reinforced it with aluminum angle and a mahogany beam. Steve's friend Paul helped out too.

Under optimum conditions, our two new 85 watt panels give us 8 to 10 amps an hour. To give some perspective to the numbers – our fridge draws about 4 amps per hour and runs less than half the time. The fridge is the biggest energy hog on the boat so rather than buying diesel to run the engine to charge the batteries… we’re now charging the batteries with energy we’re getting from the sun. Cool! Now instead of being outside enjoying the sunny days, we sit below in front of the energy monitor oohing and ahhing when the amps go up without the engine on.

Saralane with her new panels.
Solar panels in place we started heading south in earnest. We were just talking about how pleased we were that all the systems on the boat have been working well and we haven’t had any problems. Jinx. As we were sailing through the cut into Georgetown we felt a jolt that felt like a big wave had smacked up under the stern. There hadn’t really been a wave big enough to have caused that kind of jolt but we’d have a pretty energetic sail down and were still mentally in big wave mode. A while later we felt a vibration under the boat that we couldn’t figure out. It came and went and seemed to disappear once we were through the cut and into the anchorage. We dropped the anchor in just under seven feet of water, which is pretty normal for us with our five foot draft, and waited for the wind to blow us back on the anchor. And we waited. And waited. Hmmmm…. we seemed to be stuck. But in seven feet of water? When we only draw five feet? Skip walked to the foredeck and on the way back to the cockpit he saw the frayed end of the cable that holds our centerboard up. That explains the jolt we felt – the centerboard dropped hard when the cable snapped, turning us immediately from a five foot draft vessel to an eight foot draft vessel. The vibrations, we realized in retrospect, we only felt when we passed over a patch that was less that eight feet and the centerboard dragged on the sandy bottom. Cripes.

We still had some daylight left and we rigged a line from one side of the boat running under the hull to the other side and managed to lift the centerboard up enough to clear the sea floor. This is an out-of-the-water-to-fix-it kind of break, but we came up with a temporary solution that will (hopefully) hold the board in place until we haul the boat for hurricane season. This post has gone on too long already so I’ll write up the centerboard fix in the next post. (A cliffhanger, eh?!)

PS - Happy belated birthday to my baby sister Ruth!