Ship's Log               s/v Uliad 


January

 

 1

   The St. Francis Hotel hosted a New Year's Eve party down here.  Each boat was asked to bring a plate of hors d'oeuvres and the hotel sold the drinks.  We had a chance to catch up with some of the other sailors who we had been ignoring while we had family in town.  A contingent of cruisers about our age all seemed to drift together after a while, though sadly nobody else with children. 

   There have been a few kids on the beach lately, but most are tourists--here for a week and then gone.  Hopefully more family boats will arrive soon.  In the mean time, Emmett has developed a close friendship with a group of three stingrays who hang out near the conch salad stand every afternoon looking for handouts.  After some stern instructions about safety around these creatures, he happily spends an hour or two each day feeding them conch guts and sitting in the shallow water while they glide around looking for more.  I'm still trying to figure out how to get the tourists to pay him... because he usually has a pretty good circle of folks gawking at him after a while.  We've started calling him the "Dances with Stingrays" and "The Ray Whisperer".

 

 

January 3

 

   One thing that has been really rewarding on this trip has been to watch the changes in my son.  Before we left, Emmett was the typical TV watching, video game playing, short attention span kid.  On our last drive out to Uliad in September, I remember him entertaining himself with hours of PlayStation Portable, Gameboy, and DVDs on the laptop.  But somewhere along the way, the darned things just weren't always charged and the supply of 110 volt electricity is rather limited. 

   Books started getting opened.  And when Mom or Dad were too busy to read to him, he started figuring that he may as well try to figure out what was going to happen in that next chapter all by himself.  Soon he was finishing those books and moving on to more.

   Without electronic entertainment, other light bulbs have begun to turn on inside him as well.  Rather than asking Dad to set up the Hot Wheels Track just like the box cover shows, he will sit in his room sketching out his plan for his next awesome track.  Followed by more time spent building it.  A "diary" appeared on his shelf, complete with its own padlock drilled through the outer edge of the notebook.  A sketch book is slowly being filled up...that is if the creations don't end up adorning the walls of his cabin.

   Yesterday, stuck on the boat all day due to winds and rain, he drew out an entire mini shuffleboard court, taping sheets of paper together.  Quarters stood in for pucks and straws were taped together to make the pusher sticks.  So Emmett and I spent a stormy afternoon on the floor playing his home made shuffleboard game.  I thought to myself how if you stop buying a kid dubious entertainment, he will creatively start making his own.  I don't know for sure if it is, but it somehow seems healthier for him.  There's something about seeing him working things out for himself that is so reassuring to a parent--to see that your boy can discover...can think...and come up with such clever little creations.  When he's laying on the couch watching Spongebob, you're never quite sure.

   Back in our old life, it was all too easy during a busy day to rely on the "electric babysitter"--as we came to call the DVD player.  "Only an hour or two a day!" we reassured ourselves.  But that ambitious, creative spark just wasn't there like it is now.  And those times that we did sit down as a family to play a game, I remember catching myself thinking of other things I really should be doing.  I'd start glancing at my watch wondering, "How long, Steve?"  "How much quality time is enough here before you can get back to all those important chores waiting for you?"

   These days I still have important chores popping up all the time.  The list, however, never seems quite as long.  I'm not out saving lives or seeing 40 patients in a day.  I'm spending my afternoon happily playing shuffleboard on the floor, with Emmett's little home made game where we giggle while trying to slide the quarter into the impossibly small 13 point circle that he has written off to the side.  And I wonder if maybe I've got a light bulb in me that has turned on as well. 

 

 

January 6

 

   We've been sitting at anchor in front of Volleyball Beach now for days as a band of windy weather has stalled out on top of us.  Some other boats reported gusts as high as 40 knots last night on the radio.  The air temperature has plummeted to (and don't laugh Midwesterners) below 70 degrees!  We all had to dig into the back of our shelves and pull out sweatpants today!  

   By late afternoon, the winds had calmed down a bit, and we were running low on a few groceries, so Emmett and I decided to brave the trip across the bay to go to town.   Kathleen has always said that the two most difficult things about cruising for her were going to be leaving behind her dog, and lack of steady access to fresh cold milk.  This past week has been hard on both counts.  Mike brought a whole bunch of new photos of Lucy to make Kathleen lonely for her dog.  And between the limited holiday deliveries to the local grocery, extra people in town for the holidays, and now this storm, the market has been out of milk for over a week now!  In the interim, we have boxes of Ultra heat treated milk that can sit on a shelf for months...but it has a slight cooked taste that my wife refuses to ignore.

   So today, we saw the supply ship docking across the bay at the government dock.   Between my own boredom, and Kathleen's milk cravings, we decided it was worth the effort.  We made it to the store just as a stock boy came out the back with the first case of fresh, cold milk!!  Then, on the way to the checkout, two other people commented, "look!  they have milk!"  Not wanting to get trampled in a stampede, we made our purchases and hurried back to the boat.

   The ride back across the bay proved to be trickier.  We were now going upwind into 2 foot waves, which are enough to splash over the bow if you hit them just right.  After a few bracing salt water splashes, we managed to get home with our treasure and all enjoyed a nice cold glass.  Wisconsin, when you tromp through the snow tomorrow to go start the car in the bitter morning cold, just say to yourself, "At least we have milk."

 

 

January 8

 

   For those of you who have been waiting with baited breath for the latest updates from Uliad.  I apologize.  Shortly after Christmas, I had a major hard drive melt down here on my laptop.  The sad truth is that, between the heat and humidity and salty air down here, electronics tend to have a short life.  I knew this before we had left and had a whole plan figured out to buy a spare hard drive for back ups so if this ever happened, I could simply pop in the new hard drive and keep going.  I even ordered it!  But there was some sort of screw up with my order and it never arrived on time, and the whole plan just sat on the back burner until a week or so ago.

   I felt like a complete idiot.  Now I'm reasonably handy with computers, so I really figured I could bring it back to life somehow.  Nothing doing.  I hooked up our back up laptop to the internet and researched the problem, trying several solutions...nothing.  Finally, I decided to call for help.  My Dad's advice was to just wipe the operating system and start over. 

   The local expert among the cruisers down here thought he could help.  Tom used to own a software company and worked for DARPA before selling out to go cruising.  I didn't want to sound like the average clueless sailor who comes up to Tom on the beach saying "Can you help?  My computer won't work?"  So I tried to ask a single question about the effects of a repair installation, but Tom quickly offered to come over and have a look.  He couldn't get Windows to boot either, but he did have a drive imager back on his catamaran so he took the laptop back to his secret laboratory and returned the following day having reinstalled Windows, then put back much of the original data.  Today I've been spending the rest of the day re-installing everything else.

   As you can imagine, I promptly re-ordered the back up drive and will pay closer attention to this in the future.  We did end up losing all of our old emails from this debacle, so for those of you who sent us email recently, I apologize for not responding...please re-send the email! 

   Yesterday, the weather finally started to clear.  Em and I went in to the beach and played for a while.  We hiked across to the windward side of the island which was still getting pounded by some pretty heavy surf.  Glad we're anchored over here and not out sailing over there! 

   Today, we ended up with a pretty full social card:  In the morning we made a batch of blueberry muffins and went over to visit Tom & Amy on Dream Catcher.  They have two ferrets on board that Emmett has been begging to go visit.  Then after lunch our friend Jack stopped by so we sat in the cockpit and caught up with him.  Then this evening, somebody organized an impromptu cocktail party on the beach.  So we stood around and chatted with a few other folks there before driving back to the boat at the late hour of 7pm.

   Now tomorrow they're talking about more wind coming back again.  The nice thing about all the wind is that our wind generator really gets busy, so you can run appliances, computers, and what not with relative impunity on board.  So I'll probably either bake something or drone on more on this blog.  Stay tuned to find out which!   

 

January 9

   Every morning here our day starts with the "cruisers net".  This is a brief, informal radio show on the VHF radio.  Someone gives today's weather forecast, followed by a chance for any local business to advertise to us.  Then any boat can chime in to announce whatever they want.  So there are lots of people looking for some certain boat part, wanting to share a cab somewhere, trade DVDs, or just wanting information about something.  After you make your request, you're supposed to stand by on a channel after the net to wait for someone to call you back.  Everyone here listens to the morning net, so it also turns out that the best time to contact someone is right after the net.

   This first hour of the day when everyone is calling everyone on the radio is therefore an eavesdropper's delight.  One can (and many do) listen in and find out who is having engine problems, who is heading back to the states, and pretty much what everyone in the anchorage is doing today.  Which is why we try to avoid talking after the net whenever possible.  I just cringe at the HIPPA confidentiality violations about to occur every time someone calls for Uliad with a medical question.

   Yesterday morning on the radio net the call went out from the St. Francis Hotel that they would be having poker night.  For $5.00 you could join in the Texas Hold Em tournament at 6pm.  Now I'm not much of a gambler.  But in need of something to do, I decided around 5 o'clock to give it a whirl.  If nothing else, I didn't want to embarrass myself, so I decided I should at least know how to PLAY Texas Hold 'Em before I go. 

   About 20 minutes of internet research later I'm motoring over to the St. Francis, where I note that the dinghy dock is quite full already.  Everyone else is already sitting down and they're about to deal their first hand.  They look serious.  There is one seat left at what I hope is the beginners table so I introduce myself and try to remember what I had just read.  The pace is fast, so I have to learn pretty quick. I'm pretty sure our dealer has worked a table in Vegas by the way he handles the cards and chips.  The two guys on either side of them also look like they know what they're doing.  They each wear a classic "poker face".  A mean poker face. 

   The bets go up as the night wears on.  And lo and behold, I still have chips.  I win a nice pot here and there and next thing I know I'm sitting at the final table with a bigger pile of chips than most of the others who are left!  I don't know if at this point I started thinking, "What the heck?  I can afford it.", and started betting after poorer hands, or did luck just catch up with me.  My chips melted away faster than the ice in my diet Coke.  But I did manage to hang on long enough for a few others at the table to lose their chips first.  I ended up in third place out of the 24 players who started out.  I stood up and shook hands and stepped back to watch the final two duke it out.  The bankroll guy came up and handed me a crisp $10 bill--third place prize money.  Cool!

   And so, with an old Kenny Rogers song humming in my head, I drove back across the harbor late at night.  (OK, it was 9pm)  Take out the two bucks for the Coke and I was exactly $3 richer than I was motoring the other direction!  This could be the start of something big!  Why, next time I go to Las Vegas, I'm going to get me one of them Player's Cards!

 

 

January 10

 

   I took the dinghy across the harbor yesterday to drop off some garbage and get some groceries.  It is always an interesting adventure to go to the grocery store down here because you never know what you will (or won't) find.  Occasionally the supply boat doesn't sail from Nassau due to weather.  Sometimes the produce looks and smells too nasty for us to consider it.  And it's basically a small shop.  What's on the shelves is what's there.  And when the owner runs out of, say, spaghetti...he places a call for more and it arrives when it does.  Until then the island must make do. 

   So the cruisers laugh and consider it a successful trip if you can cross off more than half the items on your grocery list.  So this trip to the grocery store I was pleased to find that the produce looked fresh and plentiful.  I loaded the cart with as much fruit and vegetables as I thought we could reasonably eat in time.  Then in the very next aisle...no soda!  There was literally not a single can of Coke, Pepsi, Sprite, or whatever.  There were several lonely cases of root beer on the back of an empty pallet.  Kathleen was going to be upset.  She really wanted some more Coke!  I splurged on a pint of fresh strawberries for her instead.  And maybe a box of pop tarts just to be safe.

   Back on the boat with our bounty, we decided to invite Herb and Carol from the boat "Utopia" over for brunch.  They have been travelling roughly the same itinerary as us down the Bahamas, so we have gotten to know them fairly well.  Carol is a life long Floridian who insists that this is the first adventurous thing she has done her whole life...jump on a boat with her friend Herb and cruise to Georgetown and back.  She is certainly catching up on all that adventure, because Herb seems to have a new ordeal to tell us about every time we see him.

   The first day out of Florida, Herb flipped the wrong switch on  his watermaker and blew that out.  When we first saw him in the Abacos Islands, he couldn't get his anchor to set...and couldn't dive down deep enough to check it.  In the Exumas, he drove into a sand bar.  Then while trying to back off he got a rope caught in his prop which nearly sucked the 20 foot motorboat that he tows around underneath his boat.  He nearly tore off his swim platform on the back of his boat in this debacle. 

   Since hearing these stories, we have heard from a few other boaters in the harbor about Herb:  "Oh yeah, last year I remember he was always on the radio looking for help with some boat problem."  He seems like another accident waiting to happen.  Lately, Herb has been trying to catch a shark.  He baits a big hook and drops it down on chain at night from his boat.  And several times now he has been woken in the middle of the night to a horrible thrashing and pounding noise that he swears sounds like his transom is being torn off.  And each time he pulls in his chain to find that his hook--6 inches long and thick as an electrical cord--has been snapped or bent out straight.

   Herb has lots of shark stories and I cringe every time I hear them.  Sometimes I cringe at the mere foolishness of doing something like baiting sharks in an anchorage where people swim and play...other times at the lack of any environmental concern on his part.  He's definitely of a different generation. 

   Yet I like Herb.  He's always got a story to tell, that's for sure.  He's a charming 60-ish guy with an Austrian, Schwarzenegger-like accent.  He's sexist in a non-threatening way and it is fun to watch how this pushes Kathleen's buttons.  They arrived 30 minutes early to brunch, bringing Emmett his very own kid-size conch horn to blow.  (There seems to be a tradition among a number of cruisers down here to blow a conch horn at sunset--a tradition Emmett has been very excited to join!)  I did my best to ignore the fact that this conch shell was clearly beneath legal size to catch and shared Emmett's enthusiasm.  After a few toots that sounded like a flatulent goat, I had to remind Em that the conch shell would be an outside toy...and at sunset only.

   So we all feasted on fresh fruit salad, pancakes, and quiche.  We heard about Herb's latest misadventures and marveled how Carol still managed to paste a smile on her face each day.  We congratulated them for finally getting their watermaker up and running again and thanked them for the melodious conch shell.   And then, Herb heard that we're planning to go to the Jumentos Island chain and decided that perhaps he'd like to follow along in his boat, too.  I pondered all the mishaps that seem to follow them wherever they go and tried to decide if that would be a good thing or not!

 

 

January 13

The winds and seas have calmed down here, so for the first time in several weeks, I was able to get out on the reefs to do some spearfishing.  I went along with Ollie, a Canadian who has been coming down on his boat to Georgetown every winter for years.  Several cruisers have told me what a great free-diver Ollie is, so I thought if nothing else, I could watch him and learn a few things.  We took off right after the morning radio net and soon we were bouncing around in the 2-3 foot waves left over from the last week's wind.  We snorkeled over some pretty reefs in 25 feet of water, but didn't see much of anything to shoot except for a few Nassau Grouper.  They seemed to know that the grouper season is closed right now and took great pleasure in taunting us.

   We moved down the reef a ways to look for a better spot.  After more fruitless searching, Ollie came up with a nice lobster on the end of his spear.  He gestured that this guy's wife was also down there, so I followed his directions and found a slightly smaller lobster right where he told me to look.  But further searching was fruitless. 

   Finally at our third stop, I dove down and spotted a big fat lobster hiding under a rock.  But he didn't look quite right...DANG!  It was just an empty lobster shell.  Lobsters grow by shedding their exoskeleton whenever it gets too tight, so occasionally you'll find a big empty shell like this after that has happened.  But whoever used to live in this skin must be around here somewhere!  We poked around and looked in every little hole and cave we could find on the craggy coral.  And within 30 minutes we had 4 more lobsters in the dinghy.   Ollie took his three and I grilled the other three in foil and served them with melted butter and a side of linguine with cream pesto.  DEElishus.

   This morning, the waves had calmed a bit more, so Emmett, Kathleen and I headed back out and found a fabulous reef to snorkel over.  The highlight of the trip was a pair of cownose rays with 5 foot wingspans that glided around and swam with us for about 10 minutes or so before flying off into the blue.  These gentle giants are so graceful to watch, we could have spent all afternoon with them.  Turtles, rays, and dolphins...these are the three creatures that give the sea a friendly face to us.

   But the day was getting late, and we had to get home.  Tide was low, which exposes more shallow areas.  I considered this as we sped along and I was just thinking to myself, "we're heading straight toward the setting sun and I can't see the depth of the water in front of us."  Just then I felt a lurch as the skeg on the outboard bounced over some sand.  I reached back and flipped the motor into neutral just as we skidded to a sudden halt.  I had driven us straight onto a 6 inch deep sandbar.  Kathleen, who was riding astraddle the tube near the bow, went flying off the front and was now wiping off a face full of sand and salt water.  She stood up and by the expression on her face I knew that I was now in for a good ass-chewing.  I kicked the motor up and noted that the prop seemed fine.  Kathleen walked calmly around the boat.  I thought she, too was wanting to know if the motor was now going to be able to get us home.  "The prop's fine", I said reassuringly.

   "The PROP?!  What about is your WIFE fine?!!!"  Uh-oh.  Wrong thing to say.  I backpedaled the best I could but in the end I had followed up one dumb move with another and for a while Kathleen seemed ready to walk back to the boat.  We plodded along with me towing the dinghy in knee deep water.  We found a few sand dollars and a remarkably quick moving white starfish.  Emmett and I will look him up in the book later.  We drew names in the sand and played tic-tac-toe.  Out here, all by ourselves, we really do depend on each other.  For everything from boat chores to keeping watch, to being a partner for tic-tac-toe.  Holding a grudge is something that we just don't have the luxury of.  The sun dropped lower.  I held out the painter to the dinghy and offered an apologetic smile.  Kathleen rolled her eyes and said, "try not to kill us this time, OK?" as she climbed aboard.  And together the three of us drove off (very carefully) back to our little floating home.  I kept my eyes on the road.  But I'm told that it was a beautiful sunset.

 

 

January 15

 

   If an alien flew down to study earthlings, I think one conclusion they might make is that beer and music are somehow necessary for the survival of human society.  Think about it...you'll never find a town throughout the countryside that's too small for a dingy working man's bar and its inevitable jukebox.  The same is true in the Bahamas; and when the average blue collar joe in Georgetown needs a cold one at the end of the day, he goes to The Edgewater.  This place seems to always have a couple loud talking, disreputable looking blokes sprawled out on the front porch.  At night the volume rises and echoes across the town lagoon over to the dinghy dock.  Just loud enough to occasionally teach Emmett some new expletives.

   It's not the kind of place that a white tourist is made to feel welcome.  So I discovered when I ordered a beer there while waiting for Em & Kath one afternoon.  Not that my reception here was much different than we get at a lot of places.  The Bahamian customer service standard usually goes something like this:

   Walk into store, stand at counter.  Bartender/store clerk avoids eye contact and continues to talk on phone/work on computer.  Stare politely, consider whether a presumptive throat clearing is in order.  Finally after about 60 seconds of demonstrating that the clerk/bartender is very important/busy, he/she ambles over looking quite tired and unhappy that your presence now requires physical activity on their part.  She/he then usually says, "can I help you?" in a tone of voice that makes it quite clear that they're hoping the answer is "No".  Ask for what you need.  Wait while clerk/bartender slowly wanders around looking for requested item.  ("Hmm. Beer. Beer.  Do we have any beer here in this bar?  Oh, wait, I think I saw some in the cooler just 5 minutes ago!")  Pay.  Time nearly stops now while clerk pauses to carefully consider whether you might just wander off and not bother waiting for your change...

   Now I'm not one to think everyone in the world should be required to drink the Wal-Mart employee's kool aid.  On one hand it's rather refreshing to find a culture that doesn't let itself get all caught up with doing a really really good job at work in hopes of maybe getting the employee of the month parking spot someday.  But I've heard plenty of griping from American visitors who just can't understand what they're doing wrong.  I relaxed a lot when I started noticing that the locals get the same surly service as I do...unless they're good friends.  Which in an island as small as this one, they inevitably are.

  But anyway, despite the supply chain problems noted at the grocery store, nobody seems to ever run out of beer.  And every night at the Edgewater, the locals go through a lot of it.  And the one night that the tourists seem to get up the courage to go join the regulars there is Monday night for the "Rake and Scrape."

   Rake and Scrape is traditional Bahamian music, usually played on home made instruments.  I understand that in the age of ipod downloads and all, there's not many places left in the islands playing rake & scrape any more.  So we thought we'd better check it out regardless of the language on the front deck.  Tradition rules at The Edgewater.  They even still have sea turtle on the menu.

   We arrived to find a small band in the corner consisting of a guitar, two drums, and a saw.  One drum appeared to be fashioned from an oil drum.  The other I don't know what.  The saw was played by scraping a screwdriver against the teeth to produce a rhythm.  Then in the back there was a white guy with bushy eyebrows playing (I kid you not) a bass made out of a stick, a string, and a wash tub just like I remember from the Hee Haw jug band.  Or did I see it on Fat Albert.  I can't remember, but damned if the thing didn't really work!

   The beat was as intoxicating as the beer and soon Emmett was up dancing with some blonde leggy gal in her 20s, only to be joined by some dude who must've been about 70 who busted a move that could only be called "The Orgasm".  It consisted of they guy getting down on all fours like he's about to do a push up, then suddenly vibrating his pelvis at a speed you wouldn't expect from that old a guy.  Thankfully Emmett didn't try to copy it!  The scene went on and on.  New guys showed up and took over for a drummer when he needed a break.  Another guy comes in and stars adding lyrics on a microphone.  I'm told that the jam session goes on late into the night, with the dancing getting increasingly fervent and suggestive by both sexes. 

   But it was already way past Emmett's bedtime, so we didn't stick around to see that.  Emmett tried to protest as we set off for home.  "Not to worry", I told him, "Wherever we go in this world, we'll always find more beer and music." 

Here's Emmett checking out the washtub bass with his dance partner:

Emmett with Rake & Scrape Band

 

 

January 16

Just as our sailboat is our home, our dinghy is our "car".  While we used to jump in the Volkswagen any time we needed to go somewhere, we now jump in a 10 foot long inflatable with a 15 hp outboard motor.  And ya gotta have reliable wheels, man.  So I've spent a fair amount of time over the past few weeks trying to pimp my ride.

   First there was the previously documented carburetor problems.  All solved now at least until the next tank of bad gas comes along.  Next, we really needed more power to get up on a plane.  I had noticed this declining since we started cruising.  By Christmas time, any more than one person in the dinghy meant that we just couldn't gather enough speed to get up on a plane...which meant very slow trips to town with a bow that constantly looks like it is popping a wheelie.  So my solution was one of these horizontal wings that you bolt onto the cavitation plate to provide extra lift.  I went to the beach with my cordless drill and some wrenches and about an hour later I had it all installed.  While I was at it, I thought maybe there is some water in the hull slowing us down.  There's a little plug at the bottom of the transom to drain it.  This meant hauling the boat even farther up the beach so the waves won't keep trying to fill this hole, but my efforts were rewarded with a long stream of water pouring out when I removed the plug.  It turns out that the little screw mechanism that assures a tight seal of this drain plug was no longer working.  So that got replaced and the dinghy is now much lighter in the water.  That little fin must do some good, too because I can now get up on a plane at only about half throttle!

   Emmett is thrilled.  My speed junkie of a son can now hoot all he wants as we go screaming past all the lesser dinghies in the harbor.

   But any readers who recall my last set of wheels I drove will know that the car must not only go fast, but also look good.  In that department we were still sorely lacking.  Several years of grime had accumulated on the tubes and the rubbery coating was starting to wear off wherever things rub on it.  My attempts to scrub the boat clean may have improved the color but only worsened the peeling topcoat problem.  My dinghy now looked like it had a bad desquamating rash.

   So my final deed was to apply a new topcoat to the tubes.  Top coat paint is this special rubberized paint that can stretch and flex when it's dry.  To put it on, I first had to clean the boat with detergent and fresh water, then with acetone.  Then I spent the better part of the day laying on about 4 coats of this stuff.  The end result is far from perfect, but a whole lot better than when we started.  And did I mention that we can go really fast?

 Painted Dinghy

 

January 18

   Kathleen has been laid up in bed for the past few days with some sort of intestinal bug for the past few days.  If you don't want to hear the gory doctor-y details then please proceed to the next paragraph!  She's been having some diarrhea for a while now, but lately it has started to include nausea and some bad stomach cramps with it whenever she eats.  A few days of an antibiotic didn't help so now were moving on to think that she may have picked up some sort of parasitic infection.  A quick consultation with my travel medicine textbook has me thinking cylcosporum...the symptoms fit.  So now we're on to a new round of antibiotics and hoping for the best.

   Meanwhile, we've been thinking that it is time to move on.  Georgetown has been lots of fun, but we're ready for something new.  We will continue island hopping to the south and east of here until we get to the Dominican Republic, where we hope to stay a while and tour inland a bit.  We're also looking forward to the much lower food prices in the DR so we can restock the galley.

   There are some longer passages and rougher seas between us and the DR, though.  So before we go anywhere, we really have to get Kathleen healthy first. 

 

 

January 20

 

   Well, Kathleen was up and out of bed for a short while today...that's a good sign.  No diarrhea for a few days now, but still having some bad stomach cramps occasionally when she tries to eat.  I thought Em and I might get her to shore for a walk or something--she hasn't been off the boat for about a week since this all started.  But the exhaustion took hold after being up for a while and she vetoed any further travel beyond her cabin. 

   Meanwhile, Emmett has been having the time of his life.  Several new boats have showed up with boys close to his age on board.  So every afternoon spontaneous play activities erupt on the beach.  While the kids run themselves ragged swimming, swinging from ropes in the trees, and chasing each other around, the parents tend to congregate at a picnic table and drink beer.  Hey, its hot at that picnic table in the afternoon sun!! 

   With the budget being rapidly depleted by $4 beers and long afternoons, today Emmett and I went snorkeling instead.  No luck with the spearfishing this time.  I did see a monster of a black grouper, but before I could hunt him down he crawled down into a dark hole and I couldn't see him anymore.  So we came back empty handed, which is probably just as well since a grouper feast would probably not have sat well in Kathleen's stomach right now.  Dinner consisted instead of (frozen) shrimp fajitas.

   Meanwhile on the beach, I understand that there is now some doubt as to whether I actually have a wife on board.  Got to get her healed up!

   Since a picture tells a thousand words; let me show you a couple interesting sights of Georgetown.  Here is the computer shop:

Georgetown Computer Shop

Not exactly the most high-tech looking place, is it.  I was a bit leery to look for delicate electronics in a building that looks like a chicken coop, but when in Rome... They didn't have a part I needed for my laptop, so for better or worse, I ordered it and had it shipped FedEx.  The package took less than a day to get from Utah to Nassau.  But according to FedEx's online package tracker, it has now been sitting at their office in Nassau for 4 days.  Everything slows down once you reach the islands.  Even Federal Express.

   Speaking of chickens, here's a nice package of soup that I found in the market:

"Cock Soup"

   Anyone hungry?  I note that they proudly mark in the corner that this is "Authentic Jamaican".  But I have no knowledge as to whether Jamaican cock tastes any better than another.  But it is "spicy" and who doesn't prefer their cock to be spicy?  I wish I had a package of this spicy cock soup a year ago to serve at one of those office potlucks.  I can already hear the ladies at the clinic in Wisconsin howling and blushing. 

   So knowing all about the healing properties of chicken soup, and thinking that this might be a close substitute, I came home from the market the other day and offered to make a nice tasty bowl for Kathleen.  My earnest offer won only a half a smile from my wife as she lay doubled over in bed.  "No thanks," she moaned weakly, "I have a headache".  Hey, I tried.  It's not my fault if she doesn't get better. 

 

 

January 22

 

   Kathleen returned to the land of the living again yesterday, even without the soup.  We had been planning to leave G-town as soon as she felt better, so now it was time to get ready.  We set to work cleaning up the boat and stowing everything to be ready for sea.  It seemed like an ominous task at first, but when your whole house is as small as ours, it didn't take long.  By noon we were pretty well set to go except for some last minute groceries and saying goodbye to all the new friends we had made down here. 

   We headed for the beach where there tends to be an impromptu beach party for all the cruisers every day.  I played a few last games of volleyball.  Kathleen relaxed in the shade and talked with friends.  A few dog owners started pumping her for dog training advice and she met a woman from a power cat (Silk Road) who was also a social worker and also was married to a guy named Steve.  Well, this was enough in common for them to talk all afternoon and soon Kathleen was wondering out loud whether we should push back our departure by a few days.

   Such is the pull of Georgetown.  It is a hard place to leave.  There is always another cocktail party, dinner invitation, poker night, or something coming up that might be really fun to go to.  Which is part of the reason why so many boats go no farther than here every year.

   But somehow we managed to shake ourselves away.  The weather was right and we have many more islands to explore.  I took a quick swim to wash off the sand and noted the seaweed starting to grow on the hull.  Time to get this stone rolling again.  I scrubbed the prop and hoped that speed through the water would take care of the hull where the antifouling paint gave my little moss garden only the most tentative of holding.  One quick run to town for fresh produce and, thank heavens, a couple cartons of milk.  Kath & Emmett made the social rounds to a couple more boats then I winched the outboard onto the stern rail, raised the dinghy onto its davits, and set out the jacklines and harnesses.  We were ready to go at first light!

   I set my wristwatch alarm for 6am.  By 6:30 the sun was rising as was our anchor.  We had an easy sail for the next 7 1/2 hours to Conception Island.  This little island was one of the first places Columbus found in 1492, and probably hasn't changed much since then.  It is an uninhabited nature preserve, covered with brambles and rimmed by pretty strips of sandy beach.  The water here is amazingly clear.  As we approached, I could look 50 feet down and see the coral heads gliding by.  The sand is soft as powder under your feet, and miles of it await your stroll.

   Stretching north of this island lies Southampton reef.  Snorkeling over it, large pillars of coral rise up, gridded by sandy streets below.  It feels as if you were gliding over a city whose residents include some enormous thuggish-looking grouper lurking in the shadows! 

   Conception Island is the sort of place that makes dreamy eyed men go out and buy expensive sailboats.  It is a pristine, unspoiled paradise that you can only go to in your own boat.  And when you do, you will have it all to yourself. 

 

 

January 26

   Last night Kathleen was reading a book in her cabin when she was sure she was hearing voices.  She finally popped her head up to look around and, sure enough, a German boat had sailed into the anchorage in the dark and was in the process of anchoring right upwind of us.  The forecast was for wind and squalls tonight, so I wasn't very happy with them being right where they could drag down on top of us if the winds picked up.  After a brief discussion on the radio, they moved just slightly further away.  Despite some strong winds and rain, everyone's anchor held just fine.  The weather forecast today was predicting the winds to soon shift to the west.  Our anchorage is pretty exposed to west wind, which means it is time for us to move on.  Besides, the spell of solidude had been broken.

   We sailed about four hours across 8 to 10 foot rollers to get to Rum Cay.  Shortly after the anchor was down, Emmett's 9 year old friend Daphne from the trawler Windbourne  (curiously named, since as a power boat they are not bourne by wind, they are bourne by diesel) dingied over to see if Em wanted to play.  They had left Georgetown a few days before us and were sitting here waiting for weather.   Soon two kids and four parents were all strolling around the streets of the tiny settlement here and having a good chat.

   By late afternoon, Daphne had decided that Emmett should come over for a sleepover on her boat, leaving Kathleen and I to a rare childless evening back on Uliad.  We watched a rated R movie, ate tuna melt sandwiches, and went to bed. 

  

 

January 28

 

 

   All night, we felt the slow, rocking roll of the ocean waves working around the point and into our anchorage.  Back...and forth.  Back...and forth.  It is calming and peaceful when the waves are small;  it is the rhythm of a rocking cradle...the rhythm of making love.  We both slept in today and I laid in our cabin for the longest time just letting the boat rock us into a trance.

   Eventually the radio crackled to life:  After the sleepover, we were invited over to Windborne for sunday brunch.  The kids had prepared a "party" complete with an Egyptian theme (a homemade Cleopatra outfit for Daphne, a Mummy with Skull head for Emmett, pin the tail on the mummy game, the works!)   It was quite the production.

   Kevin and Monique are travelling with their daughter Daphne for 2 years through the Caribbean.  It sounds like they'll be travelling roughly the same path as us, so the kids were excited to hear that they'd be running into each other again.  After a while, Kevin and I decided to try our luck spear fishing out on the reef, but as we were riding the dinghy back to get ready, my wallet disappeared.  I remembered having it getting into the dinghy, so the only possibility was that it fell out of my back pocket and out of the boat.

   So I started snorkeling the quarter mile between the two yachts.  Nothing on the first transit.  Swimming back, I decided to zig zag back and forth across the sand.  I found an old anchor...nice, but not as nice as my wallet, which was soon lying in about 8 feet of water, exactly half way between the boats.

   Victorious in my search, Kathleen set about drying out my credit cards and money, while Kevin and I snorkelled over some fabulous reefs.  Much of the coral is dead here, but the giant elkhorn structures are absolutely amazing.  We each shot a few triggerfish; I got one small black grouper.  Around 4pm, I was swimming the grouper back to the boat when I saw that the blood from the fish had attracted two small (3 and 5 feet long) reef sharks to the area.  Time to go home!

   By the time we got the fish cleaned and I dropped Kevin back on his boat, the wind had picked up.  Those west winds had arrived with a vengeance, turning that gentle roll into some wild pitching onboard.  Tonight Emmett hosted Daphne over here for a sleepover.  We had "make your own burrito night" followed by a showing of  the DVD "Robots" with popcorn.  A good time was had by all, despite the rough waters.

 

 

January 29

 

   It was an epic battle; man vs. fish.  And for the longest time, we didn't know who would win.  It all started a few miles east of Rum Cay.  The morning weather report seemed to show that yesterday would be our last opportunity of fair wind for quite a while.  So a few hours later we were bounding along at 8 knots across 8 foot swells offshore.  I had set out two trolling lines in hopes of catching us dinner.  We still had some triggerfish and grouper filets from the previous day's spearfishing adventures, but hey, there's not much else to do on a long ocean passage.

    Suddenly, the starboard reel sang out as line was spooling out at an alarming rate.  I ran back and cranked up the drag, thinking either my line is going to break, or this fish is going to swim away with 300 yards of monofilament trailing along behind him.  Miraculously, the line held.  If it were a guitar string, it could now play a pretty high note.  Kathleen reeled in the other line so it wouldn't tangle and set the "fishing bucket" within easy reach.  The bucket holds all the stuff we need to land a fish: gloves, gaff hook, filet knife, and rum.  (A splash of rum on the gills of a flopping fish does a remarkable job of instantly settling him down.)

    After 30 minutes of pulling with all my might, I had gained no ground.  This was a big fish.   Occasionally I'd get enough slack to pull about a half crank in on the reel.  Then the fish would give an extra kick and take some line back again. Kathleen, ever the optimist, began to opine somewhere behind me that I would probably just have to give up and cut the line.

   Never.  Emmett and I had recently read Hemmingway's "The Old Man and the Sea", and suddenly, I was Santiago.  I would bear any pain.  I would kill this fish or die trying!.  We slowed down the boat as best we could in the rough conditions.  45 minutes had gone by.  Still no progress.  I tried to think about how tired the fish must be getting to bend my rod so much.  I wondered what kind of fish it was.  Could it be a great marlin, like Santiago?  It never jumped, like dorado or sailfish will; nor did it dive like a tuna.  It just swam and swam, fighting every inch I tried to bring in.

   After an hour of fighting, my arms and hands were aching.  I tried to find a way to change hands or positions, but a fishing pole is really meant to work only one way:  left hand on the pole, right hand cranking the reel.  With all my remaining strength, I could twist about one half turn at a time.  This seemed to pull in perhaps three inches of line.  I wondered how long it would take to pull in all this line three inches at a time.  And then occasionally the fish would muster some extra strength and take away some of my hard fought gains.

   Finally after an hour and 15 minutes I started making progress.  My hands were so tired by now, though that I hardly had the strength left to reel in an empty lure.  I understood why Santiago kept wishing he had the boy with him.  I wished my brother was visiting and could take over for a while. 

   90 minutes after the first strike I got a gaff into a giant wahoo.   These fish are legendary for their fighting ability among sport fisherman.  They are one of the fastest swimming fish in the sea, which explained why he nearly stripped all the line off my reel.  This one weighed in at around 35 pounds and was over 4 feet long.   His giant mouth was wide open as I finally reeled him in, acting like a big parachute through the water.  That wasn't helping things any.

   I was exhausted and ready to just go to bed.  But first I needed to butcher the beast and put him on ice.  I made filets out of the front half of the fish, and steaks out of the back half.  The amazing thing about wahoo and tuna is that they are almost entirely made of muscle.  You can just slice them up like a loaf of bread and get steaks.  Well, OK, like a loaf of bread with a spine running down the middle.  There must be about 25 pounds of meat that came off him, though.  So I made note to Kathleen that, at $10/pound for fresh fish, I have certainly paid for all the expensive fishing gear I bought before we left!

Steve and his wahoo

   The rest of the crossing to the island of Mayaguana was uneventful.  I didn't put the fishing lines back out due to the fact that our freezer is now completely full.  Somewhere around midnight we crossed south of 23 1/2 degrees latitude.  This imaginary line is also known as the Tropic of Cancer.  It marks the farthest north the sun goes in the summer of the northern hemisphere and the official demarcation of "the tropics".  So despite all the palm trees, sandy beaches, and drinks with umbrellas in them, we are only now officially in tropical waters.

 

 

January 30

 

   Growing up in Minnesota, we'd stop and buy bags of sweet corn from the back of a pickup in the late summer.  I'd learn later that sweet corn is one of those foods where freshness is everything.  If you could buy it right next to the field where it grew, and cook it up on the same day it was picked,  fresh sweet corn was unbelievably good.  With just a little butter and salt, we'd sometimes make a whole meal of just this--stacking cob after empty gnawed off cob on a big platter in the middle of the table until we couldn't eat any more.

   Down here, they like sweet corn also.  I've seen frozen cobs in the grocery, and chunks of it floating in the local soup.  Of course it's not the same.  I wonder if a Bahamian would still eat it if I could bring them a meal of the real, fresh stuff.   Then again, when I was growing up in Minnesota, I believed that the epitome of fancy dining was Red Lobster.  I begged Dad to take us there so I could have a big juicy lobster tail with melted butter that looked so good on TV.  Red Lobster gets much of its lobster supply from the Bahamas, where divers on small skiffs pluck them from the reefs and offload to the freezer on the mother ship.  After a few days, when the freezer is full the ship steams back to port in Spanish Wells, towing five or six little boats along behind.  The tails are processed, put in warehouses, and shipped in bulk to Florida, where I suspect they sit in another warehouse until that restaurant next to the Burnsville Mall calls for more.  By then, that lobster tail is not quite the same as it once was.  But we were Minnesotans; we didn't really know the difference.

   Shortly after arriving in Mayaguana, Kevin from Windborne motored over to see if I wanted to go spear fishing again.  I really wanted a nap, but rumors of lobster here lured me away.  An hour or so later I returned with the biggest lobster I've caught yet:

Big Lobster from Mayaguana Is.

   A few hours later still, that lobster was grilling away just a few hundred yards from where he used to live.  But we also had a ton of fresh wahoo to eat, so I also threw a filet of that on the grill.  Resting at anchor with the sound of the waves crashing on the reef in the distance, we feasted on grilled lobster and wahoo until we all felt ready to burst.  There is nothing, and I mean nothing quite like a really fresh grilled lobster while sitting under the warm tropical stars.  But if there were some magical way to get a really fresh ear of August sweet corn here, it would have gone with it nicely.

 

 

January 31

 

    The weather windows to travel seem to be few and far between as we venture further out into the southeast corner of the Bahama Islands.  We sailed here to Mayaguana on a brief stretch of favorable winds and now wait for the next.  Sailing into the wind involves a longer zig-zagging course.  It also involves pounding right into the waves.  Who wants a slow, uncomfotable ride?  Especially when the alternative is lounging around and snorkeling on the most amazing reef we've found yet.  This is the beauty of travelling without a schedule.  We can always do whatever is easiest, most fun, cheapest, or whatever our motivation happens to be at that particular moment.

   The reef here is absolutely spectacular.  Along with the all variety of colorful tropical fish, I've seen green turtles, huge grouper, nurse sharks, bull sharks (!!), flounder, and even three very old looking cannon lying on the bottom.  I imagine some Spanish galleon or British privateer probably jettisoned their cannon here centuries ago to try to lighten ship and get themselves off the reef.  It only speaks to the remote isolation of this place that they have not been discovered, raised, and put in a museum somewhere. 

    Mayaguana is a long island covered with scrub--the Easternmost outpost of the Bahama Islands.  The native population of about 400 souls is spread out across three settlements.  They fish a little, raise chickens, and hang out in a big shaded gazebo in the middle of the town square that seems to have been erected solely in recognition of the fact that the citizens need a shady spot to lean back and chat with each other.  I wandered the town for 10 minutes (thats how long the full self guided tour takes) before stopping at the gazebo to ask where I might spend my last fourteen Bahamian dollars.  With warm smiles and great excitement at having a task before them, a group of 8 locals pointed out the restaurant, the market, and the general store--all within eyesight of here and all looking like non-descript homes on the outside.  Why paint a sign in front of your business?  There are so few people here that everyone knows your business anyway.  Then again it's not like they've got something better to do than put up a sign.

   And so are the people of the Bahamas, so brilliantly adapted to doing what is necessary on these hot, salty islands and avoiding whatever is not necessary.  So capable of enjoying the moment yet ignoring the longer term health of their environment.  So warm and gregarious in interpersonal relationships yet so often aloof and grouchy in commercial transactions. 

    Tonight we will set sail for the Turks & Caicos Islands and say goodbye to the Bahamas.  We'll leave around midnight and arrive around dawn to take advantage of the early morning calm to help us navigate the reef entrance there.  After all, we don't have any cannon to jettison.

 



                           


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