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Ch 12 - Cruising the Bahamas

What a mess!  I couldn't believe not a single egg was cracked when Cap and Don picked up the refrigerator.  I would have liked to fix a drink immediately but we had to deal with paperwork first.  From Entering/Exiting Policies of the Bahamas,

"Visiting boaters must clear Customs and Immigration at the nearest designated Port of Entry. As you enter each port, fly the yellow quarantine flag and notify Customs of your arrival. Only the captain is permitted to leave the boat until your vessel has been cleared."

Cap cleared customs without mentioning weapons while Don and I picked up the boat a bit; but before Czar could set one paw off the boat we'd have to take his shot records to the Ministry of Agriculture in Freeport.  We could have done that before we left Florida and saved the time and expense, but we didn't know.  Don stayed with Czar and Ruff Life while Cap and I took a cab to the Big City.

On Grand Bahama they drive on the left side of the road like the U.K.; except the cars also have steering wheels on the left side, which was hard to watch from the back seat. The driver was chatting and pointing things out to Cap in the front, but we were too tired after the crossing and anxious to get back so Czar could get off the boat.

Czar's permit was $10 plus cab fare, but I don't recall the entry fee for the boat; certainly less than $50 or I'd have torn through my journal page while writing.  Fees have since gone up substantially:  running $150 for boats under 35-feet and $300 for anything over.

Most of the cruisers we encountered had stock portfolios and/or retirement funds to keep them afloat, they freely shared; whereas our cruising kitty was dwindling daily without being replenished. We were under $10,000.  After that first cab ride we hitchhiked more often than not whenever we stopped at an island for provisions, and never, ever had a problem.

We would stash the dinghy wherever we could (public docks or tied to a mangrove tree) and start walking inland, leaving Czar to guard the boat. Invariably someone would stop to offer a ride, and since English is the official language it was easy to explain what we needed.  People often took us directly to a store and sometimes returned to give us a lift back to the dinghy; but if not we'd catch another ride, it never failed.  The majority of people refused to accept any gratuity, for which we were most grateful. Bahamians are outgoing and were naturally curious about strangers appearing out of nowhere.  We looked unassuming and were friendly in return, especially Cap, who once caught a ride on a moped while carrying a 5 gallon jug to get some gas for the dinghy.

When we returned from Freeport we joined Don and our neighbors, all of whom were drinking on the dock, minding Czar on board and comparing stories of their horrific crossings from Florida.  Except for the recent wreck outside the entrance to the little bay, our tale took the cake.  By this time my right thigh was entirely black and blue from the Norcold, and the clearly visible 3" dent running crosswise merely enhanced our entertaining story.  Cap refused to take a photo because,  "People will think I beat you."

Note:  As I write I'm comparing old journals, logs, official documents, calendars and even greeting cards kept for posterity; and besides finding minor discrepancies I'm increasingly faced with the fact that my memory ain't what it used to be.  For instance, the Bahamian permit shows we arrived on December 3rd and my calendar indicated the same; but I wrote the 4th in my journal and log book.  By then I didn't much care about dates, since waypoints mattered more than the passage of time.  Let's believe the permit; besides, that we made it at all is what counts. And as to the size of the boat, we couldn't grasp the concept of tons so Cap was thinking 10 for some reason, but everyone we met said it couldn't possibly be...2 tons maybe.

From my journal, December 6th (I think):
"I'm black & blue all over, with a 6" gash on my back, an enormous bruise on my right thigh and an arrowhead bruise on my tailbone pointing down.  Cap's sore like the dickens, and has a pinched nerve which makes steering very painful."
We sent Don home the next day, forever grateful that he came along on the trip.  I couldn't have handled the mast falling over upstairs, and I know his coaching helped Cap gain more confidence; me, too.  He made me feel better by saying, "You should have seen Kelly in the beginning."

Cruising through the Bahamas brought new challenges.  For one, we kept losing the dinghy every time we stopped, because Cap didn't properly tie it to the boat. He'd drape the rope over the crank or cross piece of the davit, then forget about it while getting Czar, me and the groceries aboard; or tie a single, loose knot; or simply drop the rope in the water.  He always untied the dinghy before starting the outboard motor, which didn't always start, of course; and by the time he realized it wasn't going to, he'd have to paddle back against the current if he wasn't rescued by someone watching.

More than once Czar drifted away alone, and Cap would strip before diving in to and bring him back.  It became a joke with our traveling companions, but it wasn't funny when we'd look back out and the dinghy was gone.

We didn't have a course charted, but several boats were heading towards Great Sale Cay so we decided to tag along.  We became friends with a couple from Canada on Redhead, and Czar loved playing on the beach with their retriever, Drake, but of course Czar wouldn't actually go in the water.  Everyone else's dogs jumped out of their dinghies yards before hitting the sand, but Czar would sit and wait until ours was pulled up on to the beach far enough so he wouldn't get his paws wet.

December 6th, somewhere in the Caribbean,
"I'm propped against the refrigerator, standing in spilt yellow rice. The back door slid open so I have to keep an eye on Czar.  I thought today's ride would be like the ICW but no such luck.  I didn't put everything away, so now I've got books, Tupperware, OJ and milk strewn across the floor.  When I came down to use the head I found the mess - plus Czar's back legs were caught in the string for the blinds, which had come down and were flapping back and forth (following the crossing, Czar claimed the settee as his perch).  Poor thing couldn't move.  That was about 2-1/2 hours ago and I still haven't gone.  The fridge started rocking again (Cap will fix that before we leave for any other island), but it's not nearly as bad as the crossing.  Czar ran out the door once, but this time I didn't go after him. I stood at my post and hollered, and he came back inside.  He's lying down, but I can't relax my guard."
I heard over the radio, "Hey Andrea, any appliances chasing you around the cabin, hahaha."  Yes, as a matter of fact.

Before we left West End we began experiencing another problem which would plague us throughout the Bahamas and beyond: power.  Ruff Life's engine wouldn't start because our batteries were dead and the charger wasn't working properly. Luckily we were able to plug in to power at the marina, which we hadn't done because we didn't want to pay extra. Water was 15 cents per gallon. While waiting for the batteries to charge we discovered the front bilge (under the bedroom) full of red, rusty looking water because the pump wasn't pumping automatically.  Cap's list of things to repair kept growing, as did my difficulty comprehending electricity and engine components.

I was constantly reminded to be careful about power consumption, and taught when and how to use the battery charger.  The control panel was in plain view, including the gauges.  Up until then we'd been plugged into shore power so it wasn't  an issue.  I don't know why we didn't buy a separate battery just for starting the engine, which would have been more useful than Czar's life jacket. I'd done little more than flip a circuit breaker now and then in my past, which is why I was lectured all the time by Cap, who referred to the old TV comedy Green Acres, and Oliver's little wattage notes taped to appliances for Lisa.  I couldn't run this with that, and nothing at all could be on when using the hot water heater.  The refrigerator worked great while plugged in to shore power, but while cruising it was the biggest drain on our not-so-great batteries.

From Great Sale we diverted to tiny Moraine Cay with Redhead.
"It's lovely - we're the only 2 boats here and there's a beach with palm trees and shrubs, coral reefs, grass bottom water.  I was hoping we could stay for a time, and when I heard we'd stay the whole day and leave tomorrow I was ecstatic.  This afternoon we all went snorkeling and I was scared, but Cap took it easy and held my hand as we swam."
Cap and I were heavy smokers, me more than him.  At one point I smoked up to three packs of Kools a day and when we moved on to Ruff Life I was down to about two, but by this time I was good to survive on one.  Cap brought along a canister of loose tobacco and rolling papers, which I vowed I would never use.
"Ran (pretty much) out of cigarettes.  I traded a bag of popcorn to Redhead for a pack and Cap started rolling the Top tobacco.  I'm trying one now.  Tastes OK.  Czar's been having a great time running on the beach with Drake.  We look like liveaboards - stuff hanging everywhere, but drying out things is quick. I learned to wash and rinse dishes with saltwater - very nice - don't have to worry about wasting water on that!"
Everyone seemed to have water makers or water-catchers of some sort, and even though stopping at deserted islands seems ideal, it's a bitch without enough water.  With no cover for the back deck we were roasting outside, so at some point Cap picked up some stainless tubing and built a frame of sorts.

He attached it from the flybridge to the transom, but attached them to the deck directly in front of the scuppers; or drainage holes through the transom.  The uprights made sweeping out water a real pain and the whole thing seemed kinda flimsy but Cap said once we attached a cover it would be fine.

We never solicited anything other than advice from other boaters but they offered plenty, probably because they felt sorry for us and had stuff they no longer used.  Maybe they liked the idea of helping us continue our grand adventure south; like helping a stray.  So we inherited a white cover from someone, which Cap attached to the frame by adding snaps using a kit we brought along. You can see the white cover in the top photo on the left side. It was later replaced with the blue Sunbrella you see here.

Cap was right about stabilizing the frame, and I remember how thrilled I was that we suddenly had another room. Up until then we'd tried to catch water dribbling off the flybridge, good only for washing, but we still had those Culligan bottles for drinking.  Cap cut a hole in the middle of the cover and jury-rigged a hose directly to the opening to the water tank in the deck, to the left of my coconut palm.

December 10, Green Turtle Cay:
"Are we having fun?  Our batteries went dead at Moraine Cay and Cap had to work on the charger (clean terminals, whatever).  We were stuck on the bottom but got off easily (I think).  Had a nice day drive down to Green Turtle Cay. The waypoints I entered into the GPS were fine and we made our way in to White Sound, anchored and took the dinghy to look for parts.  Not much here.  Rum was cheaper, cigarettes $36 a carton and milk $3 for 1/2 gallon.  Premixed OJ was $10 a gallon. Wow!  Have to quit smoking and start drinking shots with Cuban cigars."
At least Cap was able to find parts to solve the moving fridge:  two large eye-bolts screwed into the wall, with one of those red ratchet straps to hold it in place.
"This AM we planned on going to Marsh Harbor, but we didn't get out early enough and we grounded.  Cap tried to get us off, but we lodged on something worse.  The tide was going out and the boat tilted, A LOT.  I thought it would flip over but it stayed put on the port side, barely. Good thing - the fridge would have been straining for hours. I had to go to Redhead for a couple hours and when I came back Cap had shaved his beard off out of boredom.  I wanted to stay in our dinghy, so we played Yahtzee while the tide came in."
Here's what happened: when we dropped our anchor in the late afternoon the previous day, we entirely missed the red warning flag indicating a mound so don't anchor nearby.  We wondered why no one anchored there, and were happy not to worry about accidentally swinging into somebody.  Of course we swung during the night, so when the tide went out in the morning we were firmly stuck on the mound..  While waiting for the tide to come back in, Cap decided to cook us breakfast on the stove inside.

The stove wasn't a gimbal, so after a bit the fried eggs started sliding to one side of the pan.  We kept listing more and more until I was really frightened we'd flip on our side and begged Cap to take me off the boat. Cap dropped me off at Redhead until I was ready to face the boat again.  After enjoying a couple Irish Coffees I felt like I'd deserted Cap, so I asked for a lift home.

I never got the photo from Redhead, but they took a picture of Ruff Life, hull exposed, Cap scrubbing the bottom while standing on the mound.  The boat stayed still for awhile but I was afraid to go on board, so that's when we sat playing Yahtzee in the dinghy.  Czar stayed on board.  A boatload of Asian tourists motored by at a snail's pace, cameras snapping at our spectacle.  We waved.
"The tide was coming in and Cap started tugging on the anchor we'd set on the starboard side, as per the how to un-ground instructions we'd botched back in Florida.  His precious Ray Ban sunglasses fell into the water so he grabbed his snorkeling gear and dove in, which is precisely when Ruff Life decided to slip off the mound.  I panicked as the boat started drifting with no Captain in sight, but luckily she hit another mound long enough for Cap to climb back on.  It was almost noon by then and too late to set out so we re-anchored; but this time Cap added chain to the rode to help us hold.
"Started recovering (me) when Cap said our water pressure was low; could we be out?  Then he figured out the starboard tank flowed into the port tank and the overflow was dumped out by the bilge.  So we're low on water.  He finally passed out on the couch and I started writing."
Up Next:  George Town or Bust

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To read from Chapter 1:  A Rough Start

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