Leaving the Exumas: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly
If you remember last post, we had enjoyed a two week “vacation” in George Town – our southernmost point in the Exumas. We started heading back north up the chain, retracing some of our steps. We ended up back with some of our buddies from the “B to B Fleet” – the group we had ended up with in Bimini and who we traveled with when we did our overnight crossing from Bimini to Nassau. It was good to reunite and we traveled up the coast from George Town with three of the fleet: Amaroni II, Mar-a-Lago and Luna. It was fun chatting with them on the radio and traveling in a pack again. They stopped in Little Farmer’s Cay while we went on to Black Point Settlement. We had sped through Black Point the first time, so we looked forward to exploring a little more this time. We spent four days there and got more acquainted with some of the local businesses and people. We found Black Point to be extremely cruiser friendly, helpful, service-oriented and welcoming. That was the good part of our visit. Ida at the laundromat is the best. It is the cleanest place you’ll find to do laundry anywhere, and it is large for these parts. She runs a great business and now trims hair (which both of us took advantage of).
We bought beautiful bread off of Lorraine’s mother of Lorraine’s Cafe fame. We had fun chatting with some movers and shakers of Black Point while sitting in Scorpio Bar and Restaurant. Another evening we enjoyed a great Happy Hour there with part of the B to B fleet (hey Brian, Jane, Bruce and Claude!). But not everything about our visit was good. We stayed there for four days. We were only going to stay for one or two. But not so fast . . .
Let’s me see if I can take you through the good, the bad and the ugly:
– Bad: our dinghy engine started giving us fits again right before leaving George Town.
– Good: Met up with our friends Bert and Prue on Exuberant and had a lovely evening with them on their boat. Discovered that they have the same dinghy engine and have had similar issued. The two men pow-wowed. Also met up with a couple on Sans Cles who we’d been wanting to get more acquainted with since we have mutual friends and had met briefly at the gam in Annapolis. We had a great chat with them, and they have the same dinghy engine. The two men pow-wowed.
– Ugly: after many hours of maintenance, dinghy engine still not cooperating. After the engine stalled just as we got to the dinghy dock, upon finishing our errands, we started paddling back to the boat (which wasn’t too far), but . . .
Good: A couple came by in their dinghy to see if we needed a tow. I loved how they asked. They said, “Are you rowing because you WANT to or would you rather not be rowing?” That cracked me up. We said it was not by choice, and they took our line and towed us the rest of the way. Come to find out it was a couple that we’d been keeping an eye out for, and they for us, because we have a mutual friend! THAT was a small world moment when we discovered the connection as we approached the boat!
Ugly: While Frank was doing some preventative engine maintenance, he discovered that our raw water pump was about to go. What that meant is that the engine couldn’t be run until we had a new one installed . . . and we’re sitting at an out island in the Exumas with not much around us . . . no marine stores . . . nor marinas . . . no mechanics. Yikes. STUCK!
Really good: He discovered it while we were sitting still. If that thing goes while you’re underway, your engine overheats and comes to a dead stop which could happen at a most inopportune moment, and that could be really, really, really ugly.
Bad: Of all the spare parts we have on board, a raw water pump isn’t one.
We started weighing all of our options including the possibility of heading to Nassau strictly under sail, only turning the engine on at the end to dock . . . which we ended up not needing to do, but we considered it.
Good: One of the B to B Fleet knew that others had had boat parts flown in to Staniel Cay Yacht Club (7 miles away) from Ft. Lauderdale. YES! Thank you for that key information, Brian and Jane!!!!! So,
EXCEPTIONALLY GOOD: We found a marine store in Ft. Lauderdale who had the pump we needed. Then, (after charging us an arm and a leg) drove the part to the hangar where Watermakers Air flies from. It was on the next flight in the morning straight to Staniel Cay Yacht Club . . . and the Yacht Club has a boat that goes to Black Point every evening, and our part was on that boat. We discovered the problem at 10am on Friday morning and had a part in our hands at the dock at 5:30 on Saturday afternoon in the middle of the Exumas. I can’t tell you how amazing and unbelievable that is. The flying/shipping part of the whole deal was only $65 which we thought was incredibly reasonable under the circumstances!
Really good: Frank successfully installed the water pump on Sunday after many hours of grunting, bleeding, bruising and frustrations. We fired up the engine and were filled with glee when we saw the water pumping out of the engine!!!!
REALLY, REALY UGLY: Not sixty seconds later did we discover that the alternator was no longer working . . . a very unhappy moment on Eleanor Q. The alternator was removed to put the water pump on and should have just slid back on, plugged back in and functioned . . . but it did not function. It was a crushing blow.
Good: The engine can still run without the alternator, but –
Bad: Because you lose some important functions like charging your batteries while you’re underway (important, as they run your navigation station tools like GPS, radar, depth finder, etc.) We have backups . . . solar panels help charge, and we have a generator permanently installed. There are ways to work around it for a while, but an alternator is an important piece of equipment that you don’t want to lose. Basically, we ran the generator while we were underway. The generator is located in a cabinet in the middle of the cockpit, so running both the main engine and generator at the same time basically renders you deaf by the end of two hours.
Good: Lots of people tried to help. Frank set about trouble shooting the problem. Jim from Kismet came over to help trouble shoot (after already having to tow us in the dinghy!). Frank got on the radio with other cruisers on the morning nets and THEY helped to trouble shoot. Mike Gozzard, the boat builder, tried to trouble shoot the problems via email.
Bad: Nothing worked. We needed professional help. So, we set off for an unexpected trip back to Nassau. In addition, Frank had been fighting a tooth ache. We decided it was time to go to the “big city” to get some of our issues resolved once and for all.
Good: We stopped back at the Land and Sea Park at Warderick Wells for the night on the way and met up with our friends Anna and Corky on Kabria. They made us a delightful dinner and gave us respite for the night . . . and a ride back and forth between our boats! They were heading south, we were heading north, and this was our point of intersection. We had met them this summer in Newport and have stayed in touch ever since.
Good: We left at dawn the next morning and had a beautiful motor sail for nine hours, ending up in a slip in Nassau Harbor Club Marina. We quickly set to work lining up a mechanic and a dentist.
Good: The dentist took Frank the next day. A filling had fallen out and they were able to replace it on the spot.
Really good: We decided to stop fighting with the dinghy engine since the parts we needed to fix it were not readily available . . . we packed the engine away and will refurb it back in the states and SELL IT!!! Meanwhile, we purchased a new dinghy engine in Nassau . . . six more horse power and eight less pounds, to boot! We couldn’t let the dinghy be the root of ruining the rest of our winter. You have to have a reliable dinghy.
Great: Frank figured out the problem with the alternator BEFORE a mechanic came! It was a large fuse right on the battery bank. He had checked other little fuses, but not this one since he thought that if a large fuse had blown it would have sparked, popped, arced or something. No sign. It was Mike Gozzard that thought of it. And, THAT was a spare part we had on board. Popped that puppy right in, fired up the engine and we had a working alternator again! Great day in the morning!
Particularly good: Coming to Nassau meant I got to see my friends, the Rolle family, again! We had a really lovely lunch with them at the Poop Deck . . . Mr. and Mrs. Rolle and daughter Sharrie came down. That made me happy.
So the little boat, the big boat and the captain are all fully functional again and we’ve set off for the Abacos. We left Nassau Harbor yesterday morning and arrived in the little harbor at Royal Island on the tip of Eleuthra about seven hours later. The morning started out with an exciting ride through the cut from the shallower harbor water to the ocean . . . let’s just say I had never seen the bow IN the waves before, but that part only lasted for about ten minutes and then things got progressively calmer as the wind died out throughout the day.We will make our way into the Abacos and arrive in Hope Town in the next few days where we hope to resume some more vacation mode and move the score up the Outward Bound-Jimmy Buffet Scale closer back to an 8 or 9 and away from the 2 – 4 range that has been for the last nine days. It’s just part of cruising. Every boat we talk to shares similar stories. It is part of what comes with it. Your home floats and is exposed to the elements and takes a beating and requires ongoing maintenance. All part of our first year learnings!
Onward and upward to The Abacos!
Our hope for Hope Town: More Good, Less Bad, No Ugly.
P.S. Since the previous portion was written, we have arrived in Hope Town and are loving it. We have gotten the Red Carpet welcome from some cruising friends who have been here since December. More on that in the next post.
Our Southernmost Point – George Town, Exumas
Our geographical goal was to sail from Northeast Harbor in Maine to George Town in the southern Exuma Islands in the Bahamas. Check. Done. Completed. Another mile stone! We got to the southernmost point in our trip and have turned around to head back north again. That almost makes me sad to write it. We knew this year would go fast, and no kidding on that! But was George Town really going to BE our southernmost point????
We actually got there a couple of weeks earlier than we thought we might! We were amazed! A day after we arrived, I started making noises . . . hey – we’ve got more time than we expected. Let’s go a little further south!! Let’s move out of the Exumas and go to Long Island (seriously, there’s a Long Island). And then we started talking with our traveling buddies and someone suggested , “Hey, then let’s go further east to Conception; it’s not that far!” All of the sudden, it seemed like we shouldn’t limit ourselves to George Town.
But other forces were at play…
1) We were ready for a vacation from cruising. Now, many people think that cruising IS a vacation! And there are moments that are idyllic and vacation-like. But I recently came up with the OB-JB Scale . . . the “Outward Bound – Jimmy Buffet Scale.” If you’re not familiar, Outward Bound is an organization that provides learning experiences in challenging outdoor environments that push you out of your comfort zone in order to build character and develop leadership skills. So I now rate days using this scale. One side isn’t better or worse, they are just different. So let’s call the extreme Outward Bound side a “1” and the extreme Jimmy Buffet side a “10”. (Those can also equate with more stress and less stress days). In these nine months of cruising, I think we’d probably say that 75% of the days are a 6 or below. It is mentally, physically and emotionally challenging and we’ve learned a lot about ourselves and each other. That is a wonderful outcome from this experience! And I’ve likely written more about the 25% than the 75% on this blog. That said, you need some 8s, 9s and 10s on the OB-JB Scale from time to time. Getting to George Town provided an opportunity to stop and enjoy life for a while and to take a real vacation, not just a long weekend.
Let me describe George Town. It is a fascinating place. While some cruisers consider it to be “the” destination, many other cruisers consider it anything BUT. Feelings are very split about the place. At the peak of the season, around 300 boats can be anchored at various points around Elizabeth Harbor, either on the “town” side or across the harbor off of Stocking Island. Some people will anchor there for the whole winter. An entire city of cruisers is created. Some people go there year after there, and so an informal hierarchy has even developed within the cruising community. Stocking Island is the main hub for congregating and activity for the cruisers. There are a few private homes and one resort on the island, but otherwise, it’s like hundreds of American, Canadian, French, British and Australian boaters got picked up and dropped around a private island. Every morning you can tune in to the “Net” on the VHF radio and hear a series of announcements about activities, classes, speakers, sports, basket weaving, etc. They’ve even formed their own Beach Church. There are committees (shudder). There are also lots and lots of helpful boaters, so if someone has a need, they announce it on the “net” and plenty of boaters respond with help at the ready. There are a core of cruisers who are committed to giving back to the George Town community and will hold fund raising events for the local schools, clean the beaches, clear the trails, so it isn’t a parasitic community, and it certainly helps the local economy. It’s a great place to have fun, but you’re going to have a limited Bahamian cultural experience since there are almost no Bahamians on Stocking island other than the ones who work there.
Oh, there are trips into town while you’re there to provision and to take advantage of the many services, so you can get a little taste of the culture while you’re on “that” side of the harbor, but few boats really stay on that side for any length of time.
Each boat has to decide if they like the environment or not. Some use the term “adult day care” to describe it. I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to be interested in being there more than three or four days. Frank was looking to stay put for longer than that. Similar discussions were taking place on Magnolia and Mandala, our traveling companions. What would happen? How long would we stay? Would we head south? Would we go back north? And suddenly, it was two weeks later. Yup, two weeks. Nearly every day we were there, the OB-JB scale showed an 8 or 9. Suddenly, we were playing volleyball on the beach, going to dances (okay, only one dance), hiking, snorkeling, meeting other cruisers, having dinner on friend’s boats every night and making music . . . we were on a two week VACATION! Frank mused that he has never taken a full two week vacation. We weren’t worried about the weather forecast . . . we weren’t poring over charts every night figuring out our next route . . . we weren’t losing sleep over the skinny cut we were going to have to go through the next day and when slack tide is. We were enjoying a little R&R. Frank, who bears the brunt of the mechanical and captaining responsibilities, was especially happy for the break. And suddenly we realized, we didn’t have all that extra time on our hands any more. Two weeks was – poof! – passed.
2) There were also the forces (heart strings) tugging at us to get closer to better internet and airport accessibility. Being so far away from family and with with limited connectivity isn’t easy and we’re ready to get closer to home. We’d gone far enough. We did what we set out to do. It was time to turn around.
This decision came with a price, too. Our compadres on M & M (Magnolia and Mandala . . . we had taken to calling to each other on the radio hailing the “M’s-Q Fleet”) had divergent plans (always had) once we got to George Town. Magnolia was staying in the area through at least the 23rd because friends were coming to visit. Mandala is hoping to keep heading south for a while longer. And so, the difficult day came when we said goodbye to our “water family” and started heading home. Can’t figure out why I’m having a hard time seeing the keyboard right now.
And so, we enjoyed two weeks of 8s, 9s and 10s on the OB-JB scale with our dear friends. Here are some of the highlights.