Tuesday, March 31, 2009

An intertim update

Chris here... I was posting this info on a message board and then realized it would make a good blog entry, so here ya go!

Yes, we made it to Nassau. There are two reasons we stopped here. First, my wife's parents wanted to visit and we wanted them to visit. The most cost effective and weather independent place, after Bimini (we really wanted to get out of there) to choose was Nassau. Second, the kids wanted to go to Atlantis - a hotel/casino/waterpark here in Nassau - if we have time.

Now that we're here, we realize how much it's not our cup of tea. We're on the eastern end of the island, and we've been told not to leave the marina (which is fully enclosed and locked with chain at night so nobody from the outside can enter) after dark. Apparently there is a lot of crime in the area, but it's where all the marinas on New Providence (i.e. not Paradise Island across the bridge) are, and the marina we're staying at is the cheapest in town at $1.75/ft + $8/day for water + $0.45/KWh for power. We had been told not to anchor in Nassau harbor as the currents are terrible and the wake from passing boats gets ridiculous. After being here for not even a day, I'm ready to move into the anchorage. That's not to say that the marina isn't nice, but it's expensive, doesn't have floating docks and it's a good 4 1/2 foot climb from the boat to the dock during low tide. The marina is incredibly rolly - we're constantly in motion from side to side, and the boat next to us is so close that at high tide we literally need bumpers between us. We decided to stay at a marina since Kristen's parents will be staying on the boat starting tomorrow.

Anyway... as I said, the ride over here was a good one. It was a little hairy figuring out the whole Northwest Channel thing. During the day it may be wide open, but at night all you have are charts showing exposed rock and coral head, and a quarter mile passage in between. When you are pointing at it from 70nm away and have to deal with set from the current, you get a little nervous as to whether you're lined up right - GPS or not. I'm fortunate as our autopilot is slaved to our GPS, so the two constantly feed each other information to account for drift, currents, etc. Regardless, we were still logging coordinates every 30 minutes and plotting our course on a paper chart, along with our magnetic heading, just in case we had a GPS failure. Night passages are interesting in shallow water. The longer way around, but deeper (north from Bimini and then around the Berry's and then down) would have added over 150nm to our trip, but everyone crosses the banks and the Explorer charts we use are the gold standard for the region. The waypoints I used were directly labeled on the charts and have been proven for many, many years. We made it through, but it was very nervewracking as we watched the depth meter move to 12ft at times, and we wondered if we were about to hit a shoal or coral head.

The trip across was nice though. We haven't gotten to sail a whole lot on this trip. Weather windows have been scarce, short, and the wind always seems to be on our nose. In this case we took the path less traveled by cruisers - around the north side of Bimini and across the banks - to account for wind direction. By taking this route, as opposed to going south to South Cat Cay and across the banks, we changed our heading by over 15 degrees and it gave us the ability to sail a close hauled course across. Because the winds were only 9-12, even being close hauled we were at a gentle heel, so it was very comfortable. The waves were light so I don't think we could ask for anything more. The temperature never went below 70, although the humidity must have been over 100% (everything was soaked by morning), so we were never really chilly.

For those who have never done anything other than daysails, I can tell you that one night passages suck. You don't sleep the night before trying to think of all of the details you may have forgotten for the next day (now we have an ever increasing in size checklist we follow pre-passage), so you're usually somewhat tired when you start the passage. Then your body isn't used to being out on the water, so your muscles are constantly compensating for the motion of sailing, tiring you out more. The first night of watches is exhausting. Your brain knows you are getting in the next day, so that's all you think about. Then your eyes start drooping, and it's all over. During the day you can pass the time with activities such as fishing, but at night, everything is about maintaining night vision and looking for other boats or marks. After 3-4 hours you are just exhausted. On a multi-day passage, your body gets used to being at sea and the rhythm of watches, so you are much more comfortable and rested, but this doesn't happen on a one night watch.

Let's see - what excitement did we have on our journey over... we did a bunch of fishing. We caught 4 or 5 barracuda on our hand line and threw them all back. One had to be close to 3ft long, but they may or may not contain a disease called Ciguatera (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ciguatera) which can lead to a debilitating lifetime, incurable nervous system disorder. Yeah, we're into trying new things, but not if they have a major effect on our nervous system. We actually met a couple who contracted it years ago and are still dealing with it. We also ran some conch out on a spoon on my new trolling pole and caught some smaller, yet to be identified fish (I'll post pics shortly). Kristen made me throw them back since "you'll never eat them!" I promise I would have. I'm rather depressed about the whole thing. Wait - I'm over it now! We also lost a bunch of tackle. We had to respool our handline, and in doing so we had to retie the snaphook at the end of the line. Apparently, the knot wasn't quite right and we lost a bunch of leader, some ball bearing swivels and a big squid lure - about $75 in all. Oh well, it happens.

What else? We broke our BBQ. Apparently, Kristen was putting the propane regulator on it and twisted too hard, and the regulator broke. You try to find a regulator for a Magma grill while in the Bahamas. We called all around Nassau and nobody had one, so now we have to pay to import it - $58 in shipping plus a 45% customs fee. Moral of the story? Have spares for EVERYTHING before you leave the US. Our BBQ is critical since cooking with our stove generates so much heat on the inside of Pelican. Using our BBQ reduces our need to cool her.

We had a flying fish attack us. Sometime around 3am I awoke to Kristen laughing. "What's up?" I asked. "I was just sitting here and a flying fish came across the cockpit and landed on my feet! They stink!" I got some video of it flopping around our cockpit floor before Kristen grabbed a paper towel, scooped up the fish and threw it back from where it came.

We ended up arriving at the marina earlier than we were expected. As a result, we had to tie up in a temporary slip for a few hours. While in the slip, we met a family with kids the same age as ours. Wouldn't you know it? They were leaving in 30 minutes. They are heading to the Exumas too, so hopefully we'll have the opportunity to meet again.

All in all, though, we're pleased to be in Nassau. It will provide a great jumping off point to head to Norman Cay, our planned first stop in the Exumas chain. Kristen's parents will be here through Monday morning. While here, we hope to go out fishing one day, and stay for a night at the Atlantis Marina (normally it's $100 per adult and $80 per child to go to Atlantis, but if you stay in their marina at $4/ft, everyone on the boat gets complimentary access to the waterpark). We'll be looking for our first weather window after Monday to head out of here.

In the meantime, we'll get some pictures from our passage up and hopefully some video, and we'll be sure to report back about what being a big Bahamanian city is truly like. I'm hoping you can't judge a book by its cover.

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