Ship's Log               s/v Uliad 

December 1

   Marsh Harbor quickly grew tiresome to us.  Probably because of the loud Karaoke bar noise every night.  I'm pretty easy going, but a man can only stand so much Kenny Rogers.  So off we went for a short 6 mile sail over to Hopetown on Elbow Cay.  So close, yet so far away.

   Hopetown was founded in the late 1700s by British loyalists who were pretty much run out of the USA during our revolution.  As a reward for their loyalty, the British crown gave them land in the Bahamas.  Hopetown is a quaint little harbor, surrounded by adorable little houses painted in a pastel hues and trimmed in gingerbread styles.  The architecture looks good enough to eat.  And sticking up out of this sits a stately, candy cane striped lighthouse.  Surround all that with lush, green tropical vegetation and the whole town looks like one big Easter basket.  The streets are old and narrow--only foot traffic and golf carts travel little lanes with names like "Sweetie's Lane, and the grossly overstated "Queen's Highway".

   It seems like every other home we walked past was for rent by the week.  And as we watched Emmett run around and play with the other kids at the waterfront playground, I couldn't think what a great place this would be to anyone with young kids wanting a quiet beach place to take a vacation.  Consider that my recommendation.  Black and white kids were all hanging around after school and playing together in such honest friendship, each in their British, American, or West Indian accents--you'd think this was a scene from some sort of world peace and harmony documentary.

   We wandered around and had seen all the sights within an hour or so...even climbed to the top of the lighthouse for a great view of the Easter basket from above and beyond out to sea.  Light houses in the USA have pretty much all been automated.  They consist of an electric bulb on a pole nowadays.  This one is still run the old fashioned way:  a kerosene lamp is lit at sundown, and every two hours all night long, the light keeper winds a giant Fresnel lens which slowly spins its light out to sea.

   The result is so much more aesthetically pleasing.   Back on the boat tonight, the stars are out in full splendor above, while the Hopetown light beam slowly turns.  The beam swishes by, and then you can see it rolling around out into the distance.  It is peaceful and comforting to just sit and watch.  The warm breeze blows past, the boat gently rocks and the surf noise provides a distant background accompaniment to this beautiful scene. 

     Hopetown LighthouseHopetown, as viewed from top of light house



December 2

  "Sheesh, just two days after hurricane season, and now what's up with this!" exclaimed Emmett as we bounced across 5 foot high waves this morning.  He was right, November 30th is the last day of the official Atlantic hurricane season, and what was up with this?  The weather report had been calling for a sunny day with a gentle 10 knot breeze out of the east.  As a result, we got up early to go through a narrow cut between the reefs out into the open Atlantic Ocean and then turn right for a 20 mile sail down to Little Harbor.  Instead we found 25 knots of wind roughing up the waves for us.

  Once through the pass, we went ahead and sailed down to our destination and at least with all that wind it was a fast passage.  By noon we had the hook down just in time to duck below to hide from, yes, rain.  This was not supposed to happen today!   Bad weather can be disastrous to us.  Not just an "oh no I forgot my umbrella" type disaster either.  High winds and waves can make it impossible to even get through the cuts and back to shore.  Wind shifts can turn a nice anchorage to an uncomfortable place, or even cause your anchor to drag and push the boat aground.  So whatever we plan to do, whether it be moving the boat, or leaving it even for a few hours to go ashore requires consideration of the tides, the weather forecasts, the time of day, the distance to travel, and of course the nautical chart (map). 

   So each day, for me, starts with tuning in the official marine forecast from the Bahamian Weather Service.  Since the Bahamas covers such a wide area, it is transmitted on single sideband radio, which has the ability to broadcast a much further distance than AM or FM radio.  Trouble is, the BWS seems rather under-funded.  Their forecasts are pretty brief, and sometimes shockingly wrong, as we were discovering today.  So we supplement by forecasts from the (USA's) National Weather Service, and a computer generated forecast called a GRIB file that pops up over our electronic charts.  Then we have to compare and try to decide who is right.  Today, nobody was.

   I think my problem today was expecting more from the forecasters.  This isn't the USA anymore, that's for sure.  And as we started heading out the pass and seeing higher winds and whitecaps, I tended to minimize the situation, since I "knew" what the forecast had told me it was supposed to be.  Once we were out in it Kathleen suggested we turn around, but I wasn't too excited about going back through that rough cut, and I kept assuming that the weather would soon change back to what it was supposed to be.  So we had a rather exciting sail this morning.  And I learned a new lesson about weather forecasting out here, and in retrospect, I was glad to have paid for this lesson with only a few hours of nausea and anxiety.



December 3 


   In navigating through the Bahamas, there are a few places where you just have to stop and wait however long it takes until the weather allows you to move on.  The first place this happens is the first time you set out; the gulf stream crossing from the USA to the Bahamas can be a real nightmare if you don't wait for calm seas.

   We have now reached another one of those places.  We are holed up near Little Harbor, Abacos, and waiting to move south.  Once we leave the pass through the reefs here, there is literally no place to go to hide from bad weather until we have travelled 50 miles to the Cays just north of Eluthera.  Yesterday was definitely not the day.  Today the winds are a bit calmer, but we can still see big surf pounding the reef out near our pass.  And waves of rain sprinkles pass by every few hours. 

   Stuck on the boat, we read, clean, bake, catch up on home school lessons, watch DVDs, and wait.  Gathering weather information becomes a serious hobby if not an obsession on days like these.  At this point, it looks like our next opportunity to move on will be tomorrow morning.  But we'll see.  Too many rough days at sea and I'll have a mutiny on my hands! 



December 4 

     That one bad weather report really had Kathleen rattled.  She did NOT want another day like that out on the water.  Especially given that our next passage was going to take all day.  And no matter how I felt, or what the weather man said was going to alleviate her anxiety about it, given the proven utter unreliability of both.  Most of the sailing/navigating decisions had been pretty much left up to me on this trip.  I'd been the one gathering weather reports, scouting out the charts, etc.  I enjoy that stuff.  Problem is, that until a weather man comes by our boat, that leaves the blame squarely upon my shoulders when things don't work out as planned.  I had been feeling the heat for our last passage decision.  Time for a new organizational chart here.  So I've started bringing Kathleen all that information each morning and let it be her final decision as to when and where we go.  I had resigned myself that we might stay here a while.  Which is kind of out in the middle of nowhere.

    Finally yesterday, the winds had been calm all night.  Through the binoculars I could no longer see surf pounding the rocks out near the cut.  It looked good.  Kath wasn't so sure.  "Those seas don't just lie down in an instant.  It probably takes days for the waves to calm down."  I nodded quietly and offered her the binoculars.  "I think we should hear what they say on the 8:15 radio net from Marsh Harbor."  We waited and listened.  "Oh, jeez, they mentioned a chance of THUNDERSTORMS!  I do not want to be out in the middle of a thunderstorm!"  I glanced up at the sky, now without a single cloud, and bit firmly on my tongue.

   Anxiety building, left eye twitching...I could see she didn't much care for the weight of this responsibility either.  I quietly set about making the boat ready, just in case.  Around 9:15, Kathleen blurted out, "Alright FINE, lets just f---ing go."

   I burst into action.  I almost complained that it was now too late to leave if we were going to get there before dark, but decided against it.  If I tried to veto Kath's first big navigation decision now...well, she was already pretty irritated right now.  Off we went, steaming out the cut a half hour later to be greeted by calm seas.  What little wind there was came from right behind us and we ended up motoring the whole way across.

   7 hours later, we pulled into a little natural harbor on the south side of Royal Island.  We put down the hook just as the sun was setting.  And then it started raining.  But we were here and it was a safe, comfortable crossing.  We celebrated with dinner and a screening of "Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets", which Emmett had been begging to watch ever since we finished reading the book. 




December 5 

     We've become quite the snob when it comes to anchorages and beaches.  Surrounded by all this beauty, it can be easy to notice the imperfections.  This morning we awoke to this lovely, protected bay.  Up on the hill sat the ruins of an old mansion.  I suspect it was probably beat up in a hurricane and some wealthy owner who had grown bored of this trinket felt it not worth the repair.  Meanwhile, the gardens and flowers and palms surrounding the place still look fabulous.  Nice, we agreed, but it has bugs.  We each awoke with a couple no-see-um bites so we're unimpressed.

    On the far end of the bay a ferry barge is unloading equipment and supplies for a new resort that is being built.  The place isn't finished yet, but already you can tell it is going to be pretty posh.  And so the circle of life continues in the Bahamas:  Someone builds a gorgeous Shangri-la hideaway and spares no expense.  At first it's awesome, but pretty soon the place gets older and the upkeep is really expensive.  It gets rented out to bring in some income.  But the older it gets, the less desirable, you know?  Eventually a hurricane comes and levels the place.  Money's tight and it all gets abandoned for years.  Then some other guy buys the place and starts building a new tropical paradise.  You see each of the various stages all over the place.

   So between the insects and the fact that way in the distance we can hear construction equipment, we've decided we deserve better than this and we're moving on today.  We had planned on going to Nassau but talked ourselves out of it after hearing about crowds, traffic, noise, crime, and the like.  But now we're talking ourselves back into it.  That's the fun part of sailing, every day you can wake up and completely change your plans. 

   The trouble was, Nassau ended up being nearly straight up wind.  And the wind kept building all day.  So we spent another long day out on the water tacking and motoring.  We tried to stop half way at Rose Island, but couldn't find much shelter there to spend the night.  So now we were left with the choice:  a rolly, rough anchorage tonight, or push on to Nassau and pay for a marina slip.  Kath and I both agreed to the latter.  We ended up with another twilight arrival.  This time to the Hurricane Hole Marina which lies in the shadow of the giant "Atlantis Resort and Casino" on Paradise Island.

   Hurricane Hole turns out to be a tiny basin filled with mega yachts.  After calling ahead on the radio to reserve a slip, we are directed to dock stern to into a berth that sets up a cross wind condition for the landing.  I thought about asking for something else as the wind was nearly 20 knots.  In fact, as I write this, it seems just plain dumb to me that I didn't.  At the moment, I was feeling pretty good about my boat handling skills... after all we've been full time cruisers for two months now.  Hindsight I guess.

   So you can see where this story is going, right?   I start backing up, but the wind keeps catching my bow and pushing us crooked so I can't get into my slip.  After two or three tries, we agree to go bow first into the slip rather than stern first.  And here's where the big mistake came.  Rather than backing up wind to go find room to turn around, I think maybe I can spin the boat hard right here in the basin.  Big mistake.  The wind keeps pushing us down and we end up flat against a couple of pilings on the far side of the basin.  At least I'm not flat against a 20 million dollar mega yacht. 

   The good thing about being around mega yachts is that they are filled with deck hands and servants who will have a LOT of extra polishing work to do if some scrappy sailboat smashes into them, so we are quickly surrounded by a half dozen guys and gals helping push us off.  We pulled away and managed not to scratch anyone's paint except our own (Thank God!).  As we pulled out of the basin to turn around and make another attempt, Kathleen seriously suggested that maybe we should just run away and go anchor somewhere.  But this time with coming in bow first it all went smoothly (Thank God!).  So having made out grand entrance, we're now safely tied up in a place that looks like a set for "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous".  We look like a dog turd in a field of flowers.

   But tomorrow's another day.  We'll go see the sights and spend some money, have a nice meal and a drink and maybe go shopping.  That always helps. 



December 7 

    The Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island is one of those places to see once before you die.  Yes, it is a great big resort.  And like most great big resorts it has crowds of people and it is filled with clever ways to extract the maximum amount of money from each tourist.  The casino, I noticed, had a sign out front to remind patrons that gaming was forbidden by minors, government employees, or citizens of The Bahamas.  "Wow", I thought, "they really don't want any locals round here." 

   But it is also an amazing piece of architecture, with dozens of swimming pools and beaches interlaced with aquariums, and shark tanks and such.  You can stay for two weeks and never have the same view twice from your beach lounger.  Just don't jump in the wrong pool!

Emmett with Leopard SharkThe Ericksons at Atlantis Resort, Paradise Is

   We had a great time wandering around the grounds and looking at all the marine exhibits.  The only disappointment was the complete lack of any sort of guide, sign, or method of explaining what sea creatures you were looking at.  It was sadly clear that all these amazing aquariums were there as decorations, not as a zoo.  We went to watch the 4:00 feeding of the manta rays and pumped that guy full of all the questions we could think of.

   By late afternoon, some heavy rain squalls blew through, and I was once again glad of my good timing to be in a marina.  We waited out the storm in the hotel lobby and blended in with the guests.  I signed Emmett up for "Christmas Crafts" and then we all went to family Bingo.  Emmett won a nice backpack, and Kathleen won an Atlantis travel folio, so we had almost broken even on our lunch and bar tab by now!. 

   So we were starting to feel good about Nassau...or at least the suburb across the bridge called Paradise Island.  But across the harbor we could hear the frequent wail of police sirens, and the front page of the local paper talked about how Nassau had just tied their all time murder record for the year.  So there's definitely another side to this town that we chose to ignore, enclosed in our little fancy marina.  I wondered what the folks on the other side of the harbor thought as they looked across back at me.  At some level there must be a certain resentment of the white tourists and their little playground over here.  And then came the marching band.

   They started up around 10 pm.  Somewhere across the narrow harbor, amongst the warehouses and ship's loading docks loud horns and drums began to wail.  The same song..going on and on.  Around midnight, Kathleen woke up with a horrified look on her face.  "Who is that?  Don't they know what time it is?  Aren't you going to call the manager or something?"  By now I had wandered the docks and determined that the source of this infernal racket was somewhere across the water.  In retrospect, the post Christmas Carnival Parade was coming up, which is quite a grand spectacle, I understand.  And what better place to practice than after hours in an industrial warehouse district.  Pointing their instruments out to sea so as not to bother the neighbors.

   But at some level, I also wondered if that Bahamian band didn't look across the harbor and see Paradise Lost, not Paradise Island.  A place no longer for them, a land of opulence and wealth that denied entry to it's own people.  Unless you were applying for a lawn maintenance position, that is.  I could imagine a young trumpet player across the darkness who could see the dim rich lights which illuminated all the giant mega-yachts around us.  And I could just see him fill up his young lungs, point carefully at us, and BLOW!



December 9 


    We left the following morning.  The fancy marina and all the overpriced restaurants were killing our budget!  And I don't think any of us could handle another night of band practice.  Our next stop is the Exuma Cays.  To get there requires a 30 mile passage across the Exuma bank.  The whole trip is shallow water, and the last few miles are littered with coral heads poking up just shallow enough to do some serious damage if we were to hit one.  So rather than kicking back with a cold drink and a good book, we took turns on lookout on the bow.  By sunset we were safely anchored off Allan's Cay.

   There is a little beach on Allan's Cay blessed with sugar white sand.  It lies protected from the winds and looking out over an idyllic lagoon.  It seems like the kind of perfect little place that someone would have long ago snatched up for a resort or a private get away but for one thing.  Lizards. 

   Yes, Allan's Cay is home to one of only a few remaining natural populations of the West Indian Iguana.  And let me tell you, they seem to be thriving here.  The perfect little beach is filled with these fat, ugly lizards out sunning themselves.  Based upon their behavior, I'd say they are getting fat off of treats thrown by passing yachts.  As soon as they heard our outboard engine more iguanas came running out of the brush onto the beach.  Emmett squealed and refused to get out of the dinghy.

   I waded ashore, and after demonstrating that they would not swarm all over me, we finally convinced Emmett, armed with an oar, to step ashore.  I think we counted around 30 of these prehistoric beasts.  They were fun to watch for a while, but we ultimately decided against spreading our picnic blanket here. 

Allan's Cay Iguanas on Beach


December 11

  A short sail south of Allan's Cay lies Norman's Cay.  This was once the home of infamous drug kingpin Carlos Leder.  To learn more about his career smuggling cocaine into the USA back in the 1980s, just rent the movie "Blow".  His airstrip, his radio tower, and a crumbling, abandoned mansion still stand here.  (Remember what I said about the life cycle of the Bahamian mansion?)  Carlos Leder is still in prison.  The land has been sold out and someone is trying to start a little bar and guest house out by the airstrip. 

   In the lagoon lies a crashed twin engine airplane that Emmett was mightily impressed to go snorkeling on.  The cocaine has long since been emptied out of the fuselage, leaving lots of room for tropical fish to have moved in.

   In other news, we have started to get blasted with what is predicted to be about 4 days of high winds.  We're a little exposed here so despite the colorful history of the place, we're going to have to move on and find some shelter.  Carlos, wherever you are today, helluva place you had here.  I bet you miss it. 



December 12


   After a boisterous beam reach in 20 knots of wind we arrived yesterday afternoon in Warderick Wells.  This island is the headquarters of the Exuma Land & Sea park.  This Bahamian National Park consists of about a half dozen cays and the surrounding waters.  They make a good effort to keep it all as much a pristine wilderness as possible.  No fishing, lobstering, collecting shells, etc. while here.  The anchorage of Warderick Wells is a well protected, shallow bay with a long snaking deep channel that curls around inside.  As a result of the different depths, the bay looks like an artistic swirl of the most amazing colors of vivid blue shimmering in the sun.  Truly an amazing place...I hope our photos do it justice.

   We pulled in by mid afternoon, tied onto a mooring ball and just sat and marveled at this amazing place--far enough away from anywhere to remain so pristine and undisturbed.  Absolutely stunning!   I made conch scampi for dinner with a nice glass of wine and it only added to the perfection of this moment.  Decadence, as a way of life, suits us just fine!

   On top of the island lies "Boo-Boo Hill".  On top of the hill is an eclectic collection of signs hand crafted from driftwood.  The tradition here is that each passing yacht makes a sign with the boat's name and plants it atop Boo Boo hill to mark their passage.  So all morning the three of us crafted a sign out of a scrap piece of plywood and Emmett's tempera paint.  The result of our efforts now sits proudly on Boo Boo Hill.  I wonder if we'll come back to look for it some day?

   This evening one of the cruising boats organized a cocktail party on the beach.  It was BYOB and a snack to pass.  So I took the rest of last night's conch and made a curried conch salad on toast crudités.  Or, we decided, one could call it "crusty conch".  In any event it was a big hit at the cocktail party.  But then the competition for best hors d'ouvre included "spam on a stick" and "popcorn". 

   The weather remains very windy...enough to whip up seas that are unpleasant at best.  We are stuck between Tropical Storm Olga to our south, and a high pressure ridge to the north.  As a result there is a whole lot of air moving very fast, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.  So we'll be staying here for a few days until things calm down.  Not that we're complaining or anything.

Leaving our mark on Boo Boo Hill


December 14

   After being holed up for 4 days on a mooring in the Exuma Land & Sea Park, we're starting to get a little nervous about making it to Georgetown on time.  My brother flies in there to meet us on the 17th, and my Dad a few days later.  After listening to the weather yesterday, we realized that there really isn't going to be any GOOD weather to get there in time.  But today's weather is at least less BAD.  We slipped our mooring line right after the morning weather report and waved goodbye to all the boats we had met these past few days.  Then started motorsailing upwind in the lee of the islands toward Georgetown.  About a half hour after we left, another boat called us for a condition report.  Things weren't too bad:  2-3 foot seas and 16 knot winds.  Pretty soon about 4 more boats were also following behind us.  We felt like such bold trend-setters!

   Then just to keep the day interesting, the engine quit about an hour later.  Now we were trying to sail upwind into 18 knots and things were getting a lot less fun.  I diagnosed a clogged fuel filter.  I suspect that 1/4 full port side fuel tank sloshing around dislodged a bunch of gunk.  So I spent the next 45 minutes contorting myself around a hot diesel engine trying to make everything right again.  Changing the filter is the easy part.  There are two, so all you do is switch a valve to the new one and you can change the clogged one at your convenience.  The hard part comes in that the strong suction created by the engine's fuel pump begging for fuel will suck air into the fuel lines.  And it won't start until you get the air out of the fuel lines. 

   Some genius, I now learned, put the lift pump on one side of the engine where you have to pump a little finger switch.  On the opposite side of the engine are two little screws that must each be loosened while pumping the fuel lift pump to bleed out any air bubbles.  So now I'm trying to hug the hot engine--pumping away with my left index finger while operating a wrench with my right hand, all the while sailing up into 3 foot waves! 

   But I got the job done.  Victory was made even sweeter by my gal's shriek of joy when the engine fired up again.  I emerged from the engine room hot, sweaty, and greasy to find that Kathleen and Emmett had been doing a great job of keeping the boat moving in the right direction.  And by 1:30 pm, we had reached our goal:  the little town of Black Point on Guana Island.  We found a beautiful, well protected harbor waiting for us.

   I took a swim to rinse off the last of the engine dirt and found a curious nurse shark inspecting our anchor.  And a remora hitching a ride on our hull.  I gotta get these two together. 


December 15


   Black Point is the kind of place you imagine a distant, isolated Bahama Island settlement to be.  Walking down the pier, you are first struck by how quiet everything is.  Only the sound of the wind rustling the palm leaves disturbs the silence.  There are dusty dirt roads, chickens foraging in yards, and local residents sprawled out under the shade trees.  If there was a gold medal in relaxation, the event would be dominated by the Bahamians.  Only white tourists and chickens wander around in the heat of the day.

   Most settlements like this seem to eek out a living that is as thin as the sandy topsoil.  Fish are caught, baskets are woven for the tourists, and a few lucky men get government jobs here.  You don't make much, but then you don't have to work too hard, either.  Any ambitious youth have long since left for Nassau or beyond, and the folk that remain seem quite content with what they have here.

   The first question that comes to mind for a hyperactive American here is, "what do they DO all day?"  In the absence of long work hours, electronic entertainment, or a need to keep up with the neighbors, what the residents of Black Point have mastered is the art of conversation.  This settlement has a well deserved reputation as being one of the friendliest places a stranger could ever come to visit. 

   Kathleen, Emmett and I took a stroll down the one street and were met with a smile and a friendly hello by anyone within earshot.  Soon Emmett was off playing with 4 local boys about his age, and we were chatting with Mr. Robinson, a warm and charming retired supply boat captain.  He soon recommended us his Granddaughter's restaurant "Laverne's Cafe" for the best food in town.  And later, as we were feasting on a cheeseburger and Grouper Fingers, Mr. Robinson wandered in to check on us and spent the rest of the evening chatting us up. 

Kathleen and Mr. Robinson--Lorraine's Cafe

   After finishing in the kitchen, Laverne sat down to join in the chat.  Then her mother, the local baker joined us as well.  (Although she refused to sit down, claiming a need to check her oven frequently.)  Laverne proudly showed us her new Internet room addition to the restaurant that she and her husband had built.  Shrewd move.  Nothing pulls in the sailors these days like a place to plug in their laptop.  But alas, only one of her three computers was working.

   Now I'm no computer expert, but after such a warm welcome and a few beers for courage, I volunteered to have a look at Lorraine's ailing computer.  Things didn't look good.  There were some serious problems with the operating system and it wouldn't boot up.  I ended up reformatting her hard drive, then reloading Windows for her.  As I explained the problems, Lorraine gave me the same "Deer in the Headlights" look that Kathleen gives me just before she says, "Whatever, Steve.  Just make it go." 

   As best I could figure, they set up their internet cafe, but never put any antivirus software on their computers.  So it didn't take long for a malicious virus to start wiping out the hard drive.  What would folks way out here on this island know of computer viruses?  How foreign it must seem that someone across the ocean would reach in and hurt their new computer just for kicks.  Lorraine might see no reason to go anywhere, but the world was now coming to her.  Even to tiny Black Point.

   The following morning I promised to return and finish loading and updating windows and repairing the hard drive.  "If I'm not here, just come to the side door here.  I always leave that open."  Oh Lorraine, Lorraine, if only you could leave your computer's side door open like that...but you just can't.  I begged her to buy and download an antivirus program right now, but she seemed unsure.  Maybe a measly $40 for me is a pretty big chunk of her budget. 

  Lorraine's husband was a mason by trade (at least according to the certificate on the wall), but I could see him soaking up everything I was explaining.  He had built this whole building, and he could build a computer network, too.  I had no doubt of that.  Before I left, he was asking how to password protect his Wi-Fi Signal to keep out freeloaders.  Yes, Uriah, you do understand that the whole world isn't like Black Point, don't you?  So we got everything up and running again.  I don't know if they'll buy the anti-virus software or not.  This electronic world is so new, so foreign to folks who are used to entertaining themselves all afternoon by sharing stories under a shade tree beside the road...maybe malicious viruses just don't fit into their sort of world.  And let me tell you, that sort of world is a nice place to spend some time.



December 16


  While working on the computer at Lorraine's Cafe, a large group of sailors came in for lunch.  Some of this group I had met back in Warderick Wells; they in turn introduced me to a few other cruisers.  This is the way it you travel along, you keep bumping into others travelling along the same path.  You keep meeting new folks, too, not knowing when your paths will cross again.

   We all sat around chatting and the topic quickly turned to the weather and subsequent travel plans.  This is always on the forefront of a cruiser's mind.  I know it is mine.  Then the topic turns to everyone's "adventures", which is nothing more than some crisis or disaster--now seasoned by time and perspective.  It is always nice to know that we're not the only ones facing these trials.

   The next day's weather was a bit uncertain.  The winds were predicted to be strong, but shift gradually throughout the day.  So if one sailed on the east side of the islands, the open ocean out there could be rough, but conditions might get better as the wind shifted and the islands offered some protection.  On the other hand, one could sail along the shallow bank on the west side of the islands, which might give better protection early in the day, but things could deteriorate if the wind shifted.  Nobody seemed certain.  A few boats were just going to see how things looked in the morning.  A few clearly just planned to follow everyone else. 

   When some one asked me, I had to admit that we already had a plan:  "We're going to get an early start, head outside, and go all the way to Georgetown."  "We've got family flying in on the 17th, so we're just going to go for it and hope for an early wind shift."  My certainty of plans seemed foolish to some, and appealing to others.  Several boats asked that I radio them with a condition report in the morning so they could make up their minds.

   Morning came, and as soon as it was light enough to see our way out the pass, we motored out and found five foot waves and 18 knots of wind.  Rough, but doable.  At least for us.  We were motivated to be in Georgetown in time to meet my brother's flight.  Most other boats decided on the inside passage, but one other larger boat followed our lead an hour or so later.

   As the day wore on, the wind shifted just enough for the seas to settle to about 3 feet.  We made good progress all day and after reporting back the improved conditions, a few other boats found a pass to come outside as well. But most were too far back to make it all the way to Georgetown by now, they were going to stop at Farmer's Cay overnight and go the rest of the way the next day.  By 3pm we were in Georgetown Harbor...We had made it!!  And the following day, a front came through and those other boats had to sail through rain and blustery winds all day to get here.  One guy had problems with his transmission and had to be towed into the harbor. 

   I wish I could claim some clever skill in weather forecasting or years of experience, but the reality is, there is still nobody who can predict the future.  So we meet and gather in bars and cafes wherever boats anchor and exchange ideas, tell stories, and share this common bond.  It is an international fellowship, a stew constantly being stirred as we all move about. 

   And Georgetown is a place where many of us come to rest.  Each season, hundreds of boats from around the world anchor here and create a floating community in this harbor, nearly matching the local population at its peak.  Many folks come down every season, then sail back up to Florida or the East coast for the summer, only to return here year after year.  Others relax here for a few weeks and move along.  The majority seem to be recently retired couples, but there are families like us, and younger folks, too.  Em is thrilled to find kids to play with.  Some have described Georgetown as "summer camp for grown ups".  Indeed there are volleyball games and poker tournaments, beach church services and bonfires.  All sorts of wholesome frolicking on the beaches.  We're a little unsure if we'll like this or not.  We generally prefer quiet, out of the way places to hyperactive resorts.  But I'm optimistic that we're going to like this scene.  There's something that seems different here, and I have to think that it is this sailor's brotherhood/sisterhood.  We come and go in different directions, but here we are all, figuratively, in the same boat.



December 18

   When reading books over the past decade with titles like "How to Sail Around The World", there were often strong admonitions against trying this until you had first mastered important skills like bleeding your diesel engine's fuel lines or rebuilding your outboard engine's carburetor.  I admit to foolishly sailing off without experience in either of these.  I just packed some spare parts, tools and repair manuals and figured I'd get around to these sorts of things when the opportunity arose.

   And only a few days after walking myself through how to bleed the fuel lines I found myself facing the "opportunity" to learn how to clean the carburetor.  We had just had this done in Annapolis by a fully qualified outboard shop, but now the exact same symptoms had reappeared.  The dinghy's motor only ran with the choke half way out...and weakly at that. 

   So out came the "How to Repair and Maintain Your Outboard" book.  I studied first the chapter on what exactly is a carburetor and how it works, and then graduated to the three pages explaining how to clean out a carburetor.  Of course the photos were for a completely different model, but gradually I figured out what was where.  After disassembling and removing the device, I was then instructed to paint it all over outside with clean gasoline and then take it apart, washing each piece in turn in gasoline.  When Kathleen protested the odor this created in the cockpit, I explained the alternative of rowing to shore from now on.  She didn't say anything more.

   After cleaning it all and (hopefully) putting everything back together, I found that the outboard now idled well, but wouldn't run wide open.  Another careful inspection of the book and my carb revealed that I had not disassembled and cleaned the main jet that fuel comes through when the engine is wide off it came to rectify that.  After each cleaning I blew out all the channels with compressed air (cleverly obtained from our scuba tank and a nozzle), reassembled it all, and tried again.

   Success!!  The motor started right up.  I took the dinghy out to do a victory lap around Uliad.  But as the dinghy bounced over a wave, I heard the engine cough.  A few seconds later came another sloshing wave and the outboard died.  I glided back to the side of the boat, tied off, and thought for a minute.

   Peering down into the gas tank, my suspicions were confirmed.  A pool of brown sediment swirled around at the bottom of the tank, stirred up and swirled around with each big wave.  I guess I should have stopped to consider exactly why my carburetor was getting dirtied up in the first place.  So after swapping to a clean tank and topping it off with clean fuel from our extra supply jug, I once again removed the carburetor.  Only this time as I pulled it off the outboard, I heard the faintest plop and looked down to see the white plastic gasket that goes between the carburetor and the intake manifold slowly drifting down into the deep blue sea.

   Now I've dropped enough things in the water to know not to hesitate at this moment.  I plunged my arm down to grab it and when it remained out of my grasp, I kept reaching headfirst right off the back of the dinghy.  About four feet down I caught up with the gasket.  As I surfaced it occurred to me that I was still holding the carburetor in my left hand.   So I proceeded (while dripping wet from my little swim) to tear apart the f-ing thing for a third time, rinsing off the salt water, cleaning in all in another clean pan of gasoline, blowing it all out with compressed air, and then putting it all back together.

   By now, I'm getting pretty good at it.  In fact, if an industrial arts teacher is out there trying to think up a good method for teaching students how to clean a carburetor, I would recommend they follow my example.  And I am here to tell you, nothing flushes away the bitter taste of such a debacle from your mouth like hearing your outboard motor roar to life on its first pull. 



December 22

    My brother Mike arrived to share Christmas with us, followed shortly thereafter by my Dad and his friend Faye.  With the extra hands onboard, we decided to sail up to the Emerald Bay Marina for the night to take on fuel.  After our last marina docking adventure in Nassau, we decided the extra help would be worthwhile.  Plus it was a fairly calm day and the portside fuel tank was nearly empty.  We had a nice reach up to Emerald Bay and just as we approached the harbor, Uncle Mike caught a little baby tuna.

   Emerald Bay Marina is part of The Four Seasons Resort down here, and after living the "do it yourself" lifestyle for the past few months, we couldn't quite get over the service that Four Seasons is famous for.  Whatever we needed, the staff would do it.  The showers were immaculate and well stocked with shampoo, shaving cream, and even SPF 15 sunscreen.  (A nice touch!)  The laundry was free, the crew lounge was plush.  We walked over to the resort and found that to be equally as fabulous.  People were paying 3-400 per night for a room at the resort, but we could moor the yacht and use all the facilities for a mere $68.  Nice!

   Of course they made up for it.  I purchased 170 gallons of diesel at $4.70 per gallon down here.

   The following day, after a trip to the gift shop and the market for last minute Christmas preparations, we anchored off the resort's beach near a reef ledge for some snorkeling.  We had heard that the over development of this area and cutting of all the vegetation on shore had led to erosion that had subsequently smothered all the coral reefs.  But we also heard from another boat that had found some lobster there.  We found both were true.  Much of the reef was in rough shape, but new corals appeared to be struggling to emerge on the old coral heads.  And we found three lobsters including one monster that proved to be a generous meal for two.  After sailing back to Georgetown, we grilled up lobsters with garlic and butter on the grill with fresh bread and salad.  Life is good.  So very good.

Steve, Mike, and our dinners


December 23


   As we anchored off Hamburger Beach in Georgetown last night, we ended up swinging a little close to another boat whose crotchety captain soon glaring at us.  I decided not to fight fire with fire.  No I prefer to fight fire with water.  Or beer as the case were.  Emmett and I dinghied over with a bucket of cold ones and smiled and offered our best assurances that I would be watching our swing carefully throughout the night and certainly move our boat if we appeared to be at any risk of bumping into each other and oh by the way would you like a nice cold beer?  He emerged with a scowl, but soon warmed to our earnest smiles and offer of beer.  This was a sailor, after all.  By the time we left we were like old buddies and he had to tell me a few tales of the egregious anchoring acts committed against him in the past.  I just smiled and agreed and assured him that I knew just how he felt!

  With a few beers left in my bountiful bucket of good neighborliness,  Emmett and I headed off to one other boat.  I had spotted Dream Catcher near shore as we pulled in.  Although I had never met Tom and Amy onboard, I felt like they were already old friends. This boat, you see, has been cruising the Bahamas for years and keeping a web page about their adventures similar to mine.  (They are at  I had been a regular reader for years.  And as I told them when we pulled up, there were many long dull days at the office over the years made a little bit brighter by reading what Tom and Amy had been up to.  So I promised myself that if we should ever run into them, I should at least buy them a beer for many hours of good reading.

   The crew of Dream Catcher turned out to be gracious and welcoming hosts.  We shared some conversation and a beer while Emmett played with the two ferrets they have on board.  And if they thought I was some sort of weirdo stalker, both Tom and Amy were kind enough to keep that thought to themselves.  Beer...what a marvelous ambassador of goodwill!



December 25

   Christmas Day in the Bahamas.  We started the festivities last night with a church service on the beach that was put together by some of the cruisers.  We all gathered around a campfire around 7pm, sang some carols, and  listened to the seasonally appropriate verses.  The driftwood on the fire crackled in accompaniment to a few guitars, and the sea pines rose up around us to the stars above more grandiose than any cathedral.  The services were followed by potluck desserts spread out on a nearby picnic table.  It was a very memorable church service made all the more remarkable by the fact that this was the only religious ceremony I have ever been to in my life in which it was perfectly acceptable to bring along a few beers and sip them openly throughout the services.

   We returned to the dinghy to find that the outboard wouldn't start again.  After about a hundred futile cord pulls, I pulled off the cover to find that I hadn't tightened one of the carburator mounting bolts very well and now it had rattled loose leaving the carb half dangling in midair.  I wonder how we got to the dock with it like that?  Fortunately another cruiser named Skip offered to tow us back home. 

   Back on Uliad, presents appeared out of bags and various nooks in the boat and were laid out in the pilothouse for morning.  Santa managed to find the boat OK and delivered  Emmett a new skim-board.  Kathleen got a new digital camera and a DVD player (such a gadget-lover, she is!) and Steve got a 12 volt power supply for his laptop and a fresh supply of books. 

   Gifts for our guests were mostly gleaned from gift shops along the way:  a Bahamian watercolor scenes calendar, a shell photo frame, pottery espresso cups, etc.  Nothing fancy, but also not the kind of things you could just run out to Target for, either.

   After presents, I went out to fix the outboard one more time...It went really smoothly.  I'm getting very good at it with all this practice.  Kathleen made brunch and after lazily digesting everything in the shade of the cockpit, we eventually got bored and decided to go find an underwater cave we had heard about.

   Right near Volleyball Beach is a cave whose entrance is only about 10 feet deep.  A bunch of snapper, angelfish, and French grunts make a home out of the opening so it made for a nice snorkel.  Many years ago Jacques Cousteau and his gang came here and explored nearly 200 feet into this cave, but without specific training in cave diving techniques, we were happy to just swim around the opening and look at the fish.

   Here's a photo of the Christmas tree we had this year--decorated by Emmett with home made ornaments and seashells:

Emmett's Christmas Tree

   We ate a big pot roast from the pressure cooker for dinner with a nice bottle of red wine and then all went to bed early.  The Junkanoo festival starts tomorrow very early so we better get our rest now! 



December 27


   Junkanoo is a festival whose origins date back to the era of slavery.  Apparently the tropical plantation slaves were given one day off each year--the day after Christmas.  Folks down here disagree as to whether Junkanoo is an old African word, or if it is derived from "John Canoe", the slave who once had the courage to go and ask for a day off in the first place.  In any event, it is an amazing celebration!

   If you only got one day off a year, you'd want to make the most of it.  In keeping with that Junkanoo begins around 3 am.  So we dragged ourselves out of bed and took a 15 minute dinghy ride across the harbor beneath the starlight.  As we tied off at the dock, the crowds were already milling about in the darkness.  We took a spot along a low wall.  The whole town was here, from elderly matrons in their lawn chairs, to school kids who looked surprisingly chipper considering the time.  Everyone was wearing smiles and greeting friends and neighbors (and strangers) with hearty Merry Christmases. 

  Junkanoo is kind of a parade, kind of a talent show, kind of like Mardi Gras all rolled into one.  A series of teams march down the street composed of elaborate floats and costumed marchers, dancing girls, brass bands, drums, and a sort of cow-bell chorus bringing up the rear.  Also included in the entourage are guys telling the crew when to stop and when to start moving again.  A couple folks with rolls of duct tape skitter about, ready to step in and repair any wardrobe malfunctions that might occur.  Judges outfitted in neon T-shirts and clipboards walk along with furrowed brows making tally marks occasionally.  And police officers in their finest dress blues complete with golden epaulets, brass buttons, tall hats, and bamboo riding crops wander back and forth in their own sort of parade making certain that nothing stops the Junkanoo parade.  It is hard to come up with words to describe the costumes, so I'll just have to post photos for you:

Junkanoo DancerBig Head guy at Junkanoo

   This wandering show is serious competition, with teams secretly working on their floats and costumes nearly all year.  The enormous costumes seem to defy the laws of engineering and are studded with lights and rhinestones designed for maximum pizazz in the dead of night.  The beads of sweat were already heaping up on the brows of the guys carrying the giant costumes by the time they reached us.  They too sparkled.  And they couldn't just turn on the showmanship in front of the judges stand...the judges marched along with them, clearly watching out for any diminishing enthusiasm!

   The themes of the floats centered around Africa, emancipation, and the like.    After the first crew had marched southward down the street, the second group of contestants came back up northward.  And so they went back and forth through the night, their displays twinkling, their instruments playing, whistles blowing, and cowbells clanging in frenzied rhythms.  Then, so as to get everyone back where they came from, each team marched an encore back the other direction.

   By now, the sun was coming up.  Bystanders began choosing their favorite teams and marching along behind.  Emmett's eyes were rolling with exhaustion, and all of our thoughts were drifting toward our bunks back on Uliad.  We wandered back to the dinghy with our ears ringing from the cowbells.  And after getting back to the boat, we all partook in another cherished Bahamian tradition: a good long nap in the shade. 



December 30


   My Dad and his friend Faye left for home shortly after Junkanoo.  We moved the boat a few miles south to where we heard there was some good snorkeling.  After several days of that, we had to reposition ourselves back closer to town as my brother Mike leaves tomorrow for home.  We got an island hiking trail map and set off today to circle the southern half of Stocking Island.  As we often do on Uliad, we got a bit of a late start and then ended up having to double time it back the last mile or so to beat the darkness.

   It felt good to get out and stretch our legs after all the rich Christmas meals and lounging around this past week.  And now it feels even better to lounge around on the boat again after such an ambitious hike. 


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