Ch 13 - George Town or Bust

Island-hopping wasn't the cake-walk I'd been led to believe: coral reefs, shallow spots and fishing lines which could tangle the prop were the greatest dangers, so we kept a keen watch from the vantage point of the fly-bridge. The water might have been rough at times but at least the weather was cooperative; plus, islands were scattered everywhere, so at least if we wrecked we could swim to shore.

We'd been making our way to Marsh Harbor, the largest settlement in the Abacos Islands, for provisions and, most importantly, charts to continue south.  Everywhere we stopped we searched for groceries, parts and cigarettes in tiny shops with dusty shelves, and Czar always attracted attention.  He was the largest dog around.  

On Green Turtle Cay we stumbled upon a tiny hut at the top of a hill with two windows and a door, and experienced a Bahamian delicacy for the first time.  It was empty inside except for a single small table against a wall, with three rush-seat chairs.  After a few moments a stern looking woman came out from behind a plywood wall and explained that conch fritters was all she served, and sodas.  They were tender and delicious, and I dragged Cap back the next day for more.  Conch were everywhere - we'd never go hungry!  But although Mama warmed, she refused to give up her recipe when I asked sweetly.  She'd had many offers, she proudly declared, and after failing to ever find fritters as tender and delicious as those on top of the hill, I'm not surprised.

We planned on cruising part of the way to Marsh Harbor with Redhead, but when it was time to leave our batteries were dead, and so was the generator.  We instead waved goodbye to our friends and went in search of a jump.  We got out late-morning and arrived early afternoon following a nice, easy ride, for once.

December 13th, Marsh Harbor
"We've been on the boat for 2 months now and we are in the Bahamas, although I'm amazed we pulled that off.  All 3 of us are alive (a bit battered) and the boat still floats. The past few days have been rough - battery problems, and Cap almost gave up once (that's his one to my ?), but in the morning he recovered.  Bought a battery tester and it showed all our cells (in both) were bad, so a couple new batteries may be in store."
We spent 5 glorious days in the Marsh Harbour Marina for $62.70 (38 cents a foot) plus $12.90 electricity.  This is where Cap built the frame for the back deck, which ran $195 for parts.  Most of Cap's time was spent in the engine compartment, surrounded by bored Captains with time on their hands who viewed Ruff Life as a project.  They'd sit on the couches, analyzing whatever problem Cap was trying to solve, and debate the feasibility of their opinions.  I'd often sit and listen, learning through osmosis about engines and bilge pumps, sailboats and weather patterns.  They loved trying to out-do one another with harrowing tales at sea; which is usually when I left, with Czar in tow.

It was getting close to Christmas and I hoped we'd stay put, as many others were doing. Sarsaparillas, a local hangout, had a pool table and Sunday football, which put Cap in heaven; and they planned a Christmas party.  
Besides, there wasn't a chart to be found anywhere, which seemed absurd to us but people usually brought their own.  I don't know how we thought we could make the Virgin Islands for the holidays, but Cap was still anxious to move on.
"While walking Czar I stopped to talk to someone, when all of a sudden a coconut fell out of the tree next to me.  That would have hurt. Cap had his own mishap; he was in the engine compartment and the trap door fell on his head.  He didn't move for a few seconds, then said his neck was probably shortened. There's TV of sorts here - one channel, but they keep switching broadcasts: CNN, FX movies, the Weather Channel.  You get into one story when the screen goes dark and up pops another channel.  Can't complain though - it's nice to see something.  Batteries are keeping their charge for the most part.  We'll see."
Wednesday, December 17
"It's been a nice, relaxing time here at the marina,  Yesterday an electrician fixed the battery charger for $140. Still need a new battery, or two.  Pat offered Cap a job, but he doesn't want to get into electronics.  It was nice to have been offered anyway.  Maybe it won't be too hard to find work down the road."
I loved staying put, and since water was free I took the opportunity to give the boat a good bath.  I even began scrubbing the textured ceiling, which was becoming black from the engine exhaust coming through the back door.
"I thought of fixing up old homes, and how you have to really work at bringing them back to life. Well, fixing this boat is not going to be a cake-walk, so I grabbed the brush, got the exhaust off and they look 100% better.  2 (ceiling) panels down, 7 to go, UGH!  Brought up the clothes containers - all dry inside - put 2 back and kept one - it was like Christmas - more T-shirts!!
"Listened to a morning 'chat' radio on VHF 68 at 8:15.   Lou gives weather and other bits of news, and people call in with questions and info.  They ask who's going back to the States to deliver mail, and I gave a letter to a guy on this dock to mail in Miami.  Cuts down on delivery time."
Lou and other broadcasters we heard along the way simply enjoy researching and broadcasting useful information to boaters.  These local, informal broadcasts usually lasted 5-15 minutes, depending on the number of classifieds. After the official news and weather, anyone could break in with items wanted or for sale, state who was heading where and when, and even ask for advice and information.  It was our only link with the outside world, and it became part of most boater's routines.

Our VHF radio was able to pick up local broadcasts, but a Single Side Band (SSB) was necessary for anywhere else.  Herb was a well-regarded long-range weather broadcaster based in Canada whose broadcasts our friends never missed (and would relay to us).  They could also hear a variety of regular radio programs from around the globe; and since most people left their radios on as a matter of course, I'd try to sit nearby whenever we visited other boats.

Our time was up in the marina and repairs completed.  I was starting to feel relaxed enough to go back out on the hook again, "But only into the harbor," Cap promised.

December 18
"We didn't just go into the harbor.  On that stupid 'chat-radio' Tomboy, another trawler, said they were heading south to Little Harbor and eventually George Town. Cap called (on the radio) and arranged for us to travel together.  I started freaking - we had to quick go to town for groceries and quick get back so we could quick get going.  But when we got back to the boat, Tomboy was gone.  Oh no!  (I could only hope.)"
Cap located them over the radio, and after our rushed batten-down-the-hatches we were off just after noon.  Cap was glad to be traveling with another trawler at relatively similar speeds, and Tom and Pam had cruised to George Town many times before.  We easily caught up and followed them like a shadow for the next four days, passing island after island but rarely pausing along the way.

"See that island there?  That was one of the shots from James Bond's Thunderball,"  Tom explained over the radio.

"Can't we stop?" I asked Cap, but I already knew the answer.  Our new friends were anxious to reach George Town and spend the holidays with cruising friends they've made over the years, and we were in no position to object.  We could continue on our own at any time because I'd copies Tom's personal waypoints;  but  Cap was worried about the batteries dying, and Tom had a spare if we needed a jump, so we decided to keep tagging along.

When it came to handling Ruff Life, Cap was impressive.  He learned quickly, and if he was ever frightened he never showed it.    Cap took to his role like a fish to water, forgive the obvious.  He fixed problems as they came up, heeded advice from more experienced Captains, and even stopped touting his Marine Engineer license (to prevent me from adding '"Through correspondence courses,"  most likely).

Joking aside, when it came to Necessity being the mother of invention, Cap was the best I've seen. The only thing that worried me was the hardware left over after he finished a project.

"Are you SURE you don't need these?" I'd ask while snatching up nuts and bolts before he could toss them over the side; visualizing Ruff Life one day falling apart at the seams like a cartoon.

(Photo note: the authorities stopped and issued a warning for not having an anchor light for other boats to spot in the anchorage, so Cap crafted one using a mayonnaise jar.)

Cap exuded confidence bordering on arrogance, which merely contributed to the roguish persona I'd read about in romance novels. His signature look included a silver-wrapped, black shark's tooth necklace, cargo shorts with lots of pockets and, of course, his Aviator sunglasses.

The sunshine was giving us both some nice color, but Cap had to be careful or his bald spot would burn.  His Achilles Heel was his hair, which the salt air was turning quite poofy, unlike my flat mop.  He was more fastidious in his grooming than any man I'd known; more than me, unless we were going out; but still, I'd be the one waiting for him to finish fiddling in front of the mirror.  "You look terrific...your hair looks fine," I reassured him all the time.

I did try to fix myself up with the makeup and electric curlers I'd brought; but the rollers consumed too much power, and by the time the dinghy reached shore my hair had flopped and the makeup was dripping off. I'd have appreciated at least an acknowledgement of my efforts before I resembled Munch's painting, The Scream, but I'd already learned that Cap didn't dispense praise lightly.  That was irksome.

The heat was taking its toll on us all, but it bothered me more than Cap.  In comparison, other First Mates looked fresh and put-together, and handled their duties with aplomb; eroding my confidence even more.

Czar's favorite lounging spot was on top of the forward cabin (our bedroom), where he could stick his head inside to see what we were doing.  For a big dog he was quite agile around the boat, and would move to whichever side was in the shade.  If we were hooked up to shore power, without the normal sea breeze, Czar was camped inside in front of the 18" metal fan we brought from Oregon.

Cap did remind me, often, that I was a capable woman who could drive the boat, handle the dinghy and snorkel with confidence if I really wanted to; which reminded me of something Dad always said:

"Don't say you can't do something; say you won't."

But I didn't want to learn to run the dinghy because I was afraid I'd get stuck taking Czar to the beach.  Cap insisted on bringing his dog along, so as far as I was concerned it was his job; not that he minded, but I could have put it a nicer way.  He and Czar would meander around the anchorage, stopping to say Ahoy to neighboring boats and find out about weather conditions.  It was a great chance to be apart at least for a little while; and usually when I'd write in my journal to clear my head.

Cap's greatest challenge was me, for I never learned the fine art of choosing my battles.  To outsiders we were the Bickersons, always contradicting yet seemingly fond of one another, which we were.  Living together in such tight quarters took more than a bit of adjustment and compromise; and when I drank too much I'd dwell on buried issues and harp on the Captain.  Rum was cheap and I'd long since switched from Bourbon.

Cap did what he could to make me happy, but fear and frustration had taken hold: I yearned for possessions long gone; Ruff Life was disintegrating with each nautical mile; our bank account kept dwindling; and we'd burned all our bridges.  On top of that, I was afraid of driving Cap away with my irrational behavior, and promised to relax more and enjoy myself.  I had to.

"Cruising by Beacon Cay, overcast skies, small wind, listening to Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain.  Great music for this!''

Something else Cap did in Marsh Harbor was put the mast back up.  It was shorter by several feet, but at least he was able to reattach the speakers and lights.  He didn't bother with the electronics since they didn't work anyway. 

"Played with the Autopilot again - seems to do what it wants, but Cap thinks maybe the rudder is off (out of synch?).  Long day, 9-1/2 hours, and we stopped someplace called Hiborne Cay.  For the past 2 days Cap has had a fishing line out while cruising, but he forgot to reel it in before stopping and what a mess!  He was on his way to take Czar to the beach, then started messing with the line.  All of a sudden I looked up, "Cap - the dinghy!"  It was drifting away, so he had to quick put on some swim trunks and go after it.

"Dinghy retrieved, we all headed for the beach - beautiful, - there was a mailbox along a path and inside were books filled with the names of people who had stopped, so Cap signed us in."
In the anchorage we met a nice couple on a huge sailboat named Glen Lyon, also traveling to George Town.  There were more boats than we'd seen since Marsh Harbor, all waiting to make the passage at Rudder Cut Cay, just before George Town. We'd had a busy time crossing the shipping channel near Nassau, but the tinier 'cuts' between smaller islands were more treacherous because of the combination of wind, current and reefs.
"It was rougher out there than it's been; more like the first half-hour out of West End, except it lasted 6 hours. We cruised with Tomboy, and Glen Lyon was in the vicinity.  We rocked and rolled; Cap said it was nothing like THE crossing; true, but I still didn't like it.  Can't imagine going to the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico. We dropped behind and picked our way into George Town harbor.  Tomboy went into Hurricane Hole #2, but we stayed at Monument anchorage, just outside.  So glad to be here at last.  I told Cap we were living here, period.
"Went to Glen Lyon for 'cocktails' - 11 there, nice people, and the G.L. was beautiful - woodwork, space - they have a washer/dryer plus a workshop Cap drooled over.  Good time. Oh, lost the dinghy again taking Czar to the beach and walking around (it wasn't pulled up far enough).  Cap ran to the water, stripping along the way; but when he was wet to his waist another dinghy came to his rescue.  I told Cap he was allowed one dinghy rescue per anchorage but Pam says that's too much."
I distinctly remember that Happy Hour aboard Glen Lyon.  The men were all down in the engine compartment while we women remained on deck, drinking and socializing.  We'd finished the Grand Tour, and our own harrowing tales began.

When my turn came I began with the crossing, my dent as proof; backtracked a bit to our first attempt then trailed off, feeling self-conscious as everyone stared at me.

I said,  "Of course, you all have had difficult times, too."

"Yes, dear," our hostess began, "but not all at once."

I was asked why I hadn't just flown to George Town and met up with my husband and the boat, as many First Mates do.  "That's why people hire crews."  Too late; I never realized there was that option.

Up Next:  Pot Lucks and Volleyball

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To read from Chapter 1:  A Rough Start

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