Thursday, February 22, 2007 - George Town
The Explorer Chart update session with Monty and Sara Lewis yesterday was interesting and well-attended. They are very nice folks with by far the best charts of the Bahamas available. They send their data to a division of Boeing called Jefferson which in turn distributes it to Nobeltek, Garmin, and C-Map (which was recently acquired by Jefferson), so if you want the electronic version that's what to buy. Of course, we have a competing product aboard Seaductress because Raymarine uses Navionics cartography.

Navionics took a beating from the crowd yesterday because apparently their latest versions for the Bahamas are even less accurate than previous ones. This inaccuracy may have contributed to the wreck of a Raymarine-equipped Beneteau 46 not far from George Town at Long Island on February 12. The boat was attempting to enter reef-strewn Little Harbor while looking into the late afternoon sun when they went up on the reef. A sportfishing boat was unable to pull them off, and by the next day the boat had been pounded into a total loss. The owner of the boat reportedly had the Explorer chartbook open in the cockpit next to him, but apparently was looking at the chartplotter instead. He was originally headed to the proper Explorer Chart waypoint to enter but did not go all the way there because he thought he saw the opening visually. Unfortunately, it was the wrong opening, with a continuous reef under the water. His wife was on the bow watching the water, but with the sun in her eyes, she didn't see the reef until it was too late.

Would this wreck have been avoided if the Raymarine chartplotter had shown the details found on the Explorer Charts? Probably, although not studying the paper charts carefully enough beforehand, shortcutting the waypoint, and trying to enter while looking into the glare of the sun seem to be the primary causes. In the Bahamas you should pilot by eye, not by chartplotter. Still, most of us need every advantage we can get, and if I were buying a chartplotter solely for the Bahamas, I would want one that uses the Explorer charts data.

family portrait three-legged race

Photos: (Title shot) You can always tell Laura by the red Crocs on her feet. (Above, 1) Ling family portrait on the beach at Stocking Island. (2) Laura competed in a three-legged race as part of the birthday party festivities yesterday at Volleyball beach

Friday, February 23, 2007
This morning, on the very first day that the FCC no longer requires amateur radio operators to know Morse Code, I paid $14.00 and became the holder of a General Class Ham license, KI4NZH. Around forty people took the test, with thirteen of us upgrading without a test since we passed the General exam last year. While we're talking numbers, the boat count is down to 320 this week, with about 70 of those here at Sand Dollar Beach.

No doubt the public is hungry for news of our Great American Cruising Novel, Untitled. (At the George Town library we happened to find a dimestore novel, The Crossing, which I suppose means we'll have to come up with a different name.) For lack of anything better, here is an excerpt that shows the quality of work we're producing here in the Bahamas. As we join the story, secret agent Osborne has been unable to infiltrate the complex social structure which surrounds the southbound cruisers on the ICW, so he decides that perhaps he needs some kind of gimmick to make him more likeable:

A man and his faithful dog, alone against the sea, now that was a picture he liked. He considered getting a cat, still pondering the possibilities of using one as a weapon of some sort, but the effect wasn't as pleasing. He knew from listening to radio conversations that several boats were traveling with cats aboard, but otherwise you would never know it. With the possible exception of Morris and those cats that chased after the chuck wagon, felines just weren't image-makers. In a marketing sense, they made no real splash--unless they fell overboard, he thought ruefully. Felines didn't swim well, another downside to the cat enchilada. He had yet to see a cat riding into shore in the front of a dinghy, or chasing after a Frisbee on the beach. Clearly, he needed a dog.
Will Osborne get a dog? Will the dog bark all night? Will Osborne unleash a CMD on the unsuspecting southbound cruisers? Stay tuned, and keep watching these pages for more exciting episodes of the book now known only as Untitled!

The Crossing Library J&K Computers

Photos: (1) The crossing is a train crossing, not the Gulf Stream! Who knew? Actually, I later read the book and it's not a bad story. (2) The girl loves to read. And I have to admit, getting a dog for Osborne was her idea. (3) Inside this humble structure you'll usually find a half dozen cruisers enjoying high speed Internet access for $3/day. Surfing speeds are definitely up this year. An outfit called Harbour Wi-Fi is covering most of Elizabeth Harbour (not always reliably) for the low price of $15/week.

Moday, February 26, 2007 - George Town

What a strange feeling to put the boat in gear and actually see it moving through the water. I had almost forgotten it was still possible, but yesterday Seaductress shook off her anchor and took part in the "Sail Past," a new regatta tradition in which ships and crews were dressed in their finest colors and paraded past a committee boat while Stuart of Union Jack read a short autobiographical narrative about each. For lack of anything better, here's what we gave him to read about us:

Seaductress is a 35 foot S2 center cockpit from Chattanooga, Tennessee, spending her second season in the Bahamas with crew consisting of Admiral Annie, Captain/Princess Laura, and 3rd Mate Rodger. Seven year old Captain Laura is a cat lover and travels with no less than two dozen cats--all of them, fortunately, of the stuffed toy variety. Laura is holding a sign that says, "Do Not Litter."
Today at Volleyball Beach we met some very large and friendly stingrays who seemed to think we would feed them if they swam by only inches away from our feet. Jack on Dionysus has arrived en route to St. Thomas and reports that Dave Hurd will be down to join him for the next leg of the trip on Wednesday. We also finally caught up with John and Jeanie on Island Time, last seen in Annapolis. Regatta Week officially begins tomorrow, and already the action is heating up. Every morning there are reports of one or two dinghies that chafed through and have gone missing, not to mention the usual lost and found dinghy oars. Having lost an oar last year, I have safety lines tying them down and always try to have at least two lines on the dinghy if we leave it in the water overnight. Last night, with the wind blowing, I had no less than three lines on the dinghy.

We are looking forward to a four-day visit from my sister Krissy and brother-in-law Robert, who are flying into Staniel Cay on March 8th, so it won't be long before we will be looking for a good window to head that direction.

'Girls with Tattoos Chris Parker Seminar Crowd G-town dinghy dock

Photos: (1) Girls with tattoos at Volleyball beach. (2) Chris Parker, the man behind the radio voice who secretly controls the weather. How else can you explain his bulletproof forecasts? (3) It was standing room only to hear Chris give his weather seminar. From the looks of the crowd, he must be discussing Globalstar. (4) With everybody in town to hear Chris, the G-town dinghy dock got a bit congested.

From Laura's journal:

We are in George Town! There, I found a fort. I have seen starfishes, rays, sea cucumbers, coral, fish, birds, lizards, snails, snakes, trees that are dying (and the fort). There was a war at the fort.

Thursday, March 1, 2007 - George Town
Although some may find it difficult to believe, we are making plans to depart George Town tomorrow, immediately after the morning's Children's Day activities. Yes, starting north will be a shock to our system, so to ease the transition we are hoping to spend one day at Emerald Bay Marina, about ten miles north. Rumors and legends of this facility have been floating around since last year. We kept hearing about boats going over there for a couple of days and were surprised there were that many high rollers here, since a brand-new facility like Emerald Bay couldn't be cheap. Actually, it is...only because they have a floating dock that isn't wired for electricity yet. It's said that for 75 cents/foot you can stay at the dock and enjoy a pool, free wi-fi and free laundry. Yes, free laundry!

David Hurd arrived yesterday to join Jack on Dionysus for the trip to St. Thomas. When I first saw David at Volleyball Beach yesterday, he asked me what I had learned from this trip. "You can't escape from yourself," I told him, but he wasn't satisfied with that. No doubt he wanted something more pragmatic. Later, I thought about my state of mind before and after this journey and realized what I should have told him. David still wouldn't be completely satisfied, but I don't know else to tell him.

What I've learned from this trip is that life is worth living.

North from top of Monument South from top of Monument Pet Parade

Photos: (1) Looking north over Elizabeth Harbour and Hamburger Beach from near the top of the Monument. (2) Looking south from the top of the monument. (3) From the Pet Parade on Opening Night of Regatta: the kids from Snow Day show one of two large dogs that traveled down with them from Canada (that's four people and two dogs on a 30 foot boat, a dedicated cruising family if I ever saw one).

Friday, March 2, 2007 - Marina at Emerald Bay
You can't write a line like the one I ended with a couple of days ago and expect to get away with it. The day started off with Children's Day on Volleyball Beach, and Laura had a good time hunting treasure and doing crafts. Then we pulled our anchor from deep beneath the sand off Sand Dollar Beach and set off for Emerald Bay. Not three minutes later we had broken the foil that goes up the mast on our mainsail. Apparently the slides had come out of the foil and I hoisted a sail that wasn't attached to the mast except at the top. The head of the sail was flogging in the 15 knot winds and before I realized what was happening, had broken the plastic foil. That foil is definitely the weak link in the Sailtainer boom furling system, and I wish we had be smart enough to replace it with something sturdier.

None the less, we followed Grace about ten miles north to the beautiful Marina at Emerald Bay, where we fueled up with 17 gallons of diesel, then took a slip on "non-service" docks. The facilities are all brand new, with concrete floating docks each equipped with (gasp!) pump-out facilities. I'm not sure if they are operational, but these are the first pump-outs we have ever come across in all of the Bahamas. While the crew of Grace enjoyed the pool, we repaired our broken foil, then joined them for a delicious pizza dinner with after-dinner shopping at the grocery store next door. The marina runs a free shuttle bus to all these attractions. Annie was up late doing laundry; although the laundry at the marina is free, they have just three machines which are in great demand. As Annie was finishing up at almost midnight, another couple arrived to get started on their wash!

From Laura's journal: On Kid's Day, I met a pirate, found treasure, made crafts, made a necklace, watched a boat race, and saw old friends.

Pirates! Doing crafts Kid's sailboat race

Photos: (1) Laura fell in with the likes of Capt. Jack Sparrow at Children's Day. (2) Laura doing crafts while a couple of Welsh Pirate Fiddlers play in the background. (3) The homemade model boat races were hotly contested this year. At right is Laura's friend Samantha with her precious Fairy-crewed catamaran, I Believe. Unfortunately, after the race Samantha stopped believing quite as much and was digging a hole to buy the boat after it didn't win.

Saturday, March 3, 2007 - Little Farmers Cay
After bidding farewell to Grace, we left Emerald Bay at 9:00 AM sharp, which was probably a good thing since they no doubt needed the space. It seemed that every boat in George Town was coming to Emerald Bay today. Instead, we motorsailed thirty miles up the sound to Farmers Cut and anchored between Little Farmers and Great Guana Cay near three moorings maintained by Ocean Cabin. We had heard about moorings here that were nothing more than a Danforth anchor or perhaps an old engine block, but I looked at these later with my dive mask and all three were large concrete blocks, well worth a mere $10/night. In contrast to George Town, there are a grand total of four boats in sight of our anchorage.

We enjoyed a walk up to the famous Ocean Cabin restaurant and bar, where we enjoyed some ice cream. Laura made friends with a couple of local kids on the beach while Annie and I talked with the crew of Windfall, the Hinkley we'd last encountered (literally, thanks to my poor anchoring) in St. Augustine. Nice folks, all.

Ocean Cabin Wreck of Blue Sky

Photos: (1) Having ice cream at Ocean Cabin. (2) The wreck of the Blue Sky on Great Guana Cay

Sunday, March 4, 2007 - Pipe Creek
We got an early start from the anchorage at Farmers so we could catch high tide for the trip across the banks, but as I went by the cut back out into Exuma Sound it was simply too close and enticing. Why struggle to find deep water when there is plenty of it right in front of you, with no wind chop and just a small swell? Besides, we would surely catch a fish for dinner if we trolled along the islands.

We went back inside against an impressive river of water ten miles later at Dotham Cut near Black Point, still fish-less. Our next challenge was finding our way into the new channel to Compass Cay and Pipe Creek. We'd failed at this task three weeks before, but now we had good weather and proper light for reading the water. Good one, this time! It appears that on our previous attempt we were about a hundred yards too far to the north in a nasty hard-bottomed area, so we had done the right thing when we aborted. This time we anchored just inside Pipe Creek within sight (and wireless range) of Compass Cay Marina and enjoyed an afternoon trip over to Joe Cay for snorkeling and sandcastle building. There are a couple of other boats around the corner to the north and a few in the distance down by Overyonder Cut, but by and large we have this beautiful place to ourselves.

Salina at Joe Cay Beach at Joe Cut

Photos: (1) Exploring the salina at Joe Cay. (2) Playing on the beach nearby at the south end of Joe Cay.

Monday, March 5 - Compass Cay
With the wind building out of the northeast, we were getting some swell in our anchorage so we moved between Compass and Pipe Cays, not far from the entrance to Compass Cay Marina. When schoolwork and baking of bread were finally completed, we dinghied into the friendly marina. We paid a reasonable $5/person so we could explore the island, which is a very low-key eco-tourist resort. All the trails are well marked and we had been given an excellent map. On a beautiful crescent beach we were astounded to see a yellow cat pop out from beneath a gazebo. We've seen cats on the beach before, but they were always Hobies, not felines. Other highlights included watching nurse sharks at the docks, visiting the Bat Cave (we were lucky enough to see the bat there), and a dinghy trip to the north end of the island to visit Rachel's Bubblebath. The Bubblebath is a beautiful aquamarine pool with a low opening to Exuma Sound that (in heavy surf or just a high tide) allows waves to cascade in, creating bubbles. The tide was a little too low for a lot of bubbles when we visited, but with a strong onshore wind the waves were trying their best.

Rachel's  Bubblebath The calm pool Wave arrives Bat Cave

Photos: (1) Walking toward Rachel's Bubblebath. (2) The pool is calm at low tide with a small wave just coming in. (3) Bubbles a'coming. (4) At the Bat Cave (click on photo to see the bat).

Wednesday, March 7 - Big Majors Spot
Yesterday we motorsailed at a brisk pace in the 15-20 knot easterlies down to Black Point to order coconut bread and walk around a bit. I took the dinghy into the little cove near Dotham Cut. On the chart it's called Little Creek, but I will always think of it as Shipwreck Cove. Sunken and aground in the far reaches was a home-crafted Haitian sailboat like the ones we've seen here and there, with the soggy wooden remains of at least two more similar boats nearby. The Haitian boat was recent enough to have sails, thin as cotton bedsheets (which indeed they might have been), still on the boom. I climbed aboard for a closer look and tried to imagine sailing a heavy wooden boat like this one in the open ocean with no engine, no electronics or chartbooks, maybe just a compass and some buckets to bail out the bilge from the inevitable leaks where the rags stuffed between the boards weren't enough to keep the ocean out. Sometimes these boats are used to haul cargo for trade as if time had stopped 150 years ago; sometimes they are stuffed with desperate human cargo trying to make it to Nassau and a better life. A couple of weeks ago a boat washed up on Cistern Cay inside Exuma Park with seventy-five Haitians aboard.

Sunken Haitian Boat Outboard on transom

Photos: (1) This Haitian boat apparently sank while at anchor in Little Creek near Black Point. What happened to the people who were aboard? Click on the photo for the essay this wreck prompted. (2) Haitian boats are not the only wrecks you'll find in Little Creek.

This morning, after I picked up our bread, we motorsailed over to Big Majors to anchor next to our friends Bob and Sally on Endaxi. I dinghied over to say hello. They seemed very impressed with my boathandling skill after I handed Bob a line to tie off my dinghy, stepped aboard, and then realized that the line wasn't tied to anything at the dinghy end. The wind was quickly taking the mighty inflatable away so I leaped into space ever so gracefully and landed with my body half in and half out of the boat just before it got away.

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Copyright © 2007 by Rodger Ling. All rights reserved.