Sunday, April 26, 2009
I woke up this morning and decided to take the plunge and go into town for a run. Once again the ride over was pretty calm, but I had a saltwater shower on the way back. I ran around the inner lake where we park the dinghy. That only took 10 minutes, so I went on a road out of town that we hadn't been on before. There were a few houses and shacks along the road. There seem to be a lot of buildings with a roof, a floor and supports, but nothing else. I'm not sure what these are for, they kind of look like a place to set up a table and sell stuff, but most of them are empty. Farther along the road was February Point. This was a gated community of huge vacation homes. It was kind of odd to pass all these shacks and dirt roads and then come to a landscaped, paved road community. The sign said you could rent, buy or lease the homes.
When I got back to the boat, the kids were awake and making themselves breakfast. I decided it was time to do something about the poisonwood rash. A bit more cropped up last night, and I really don't want a full body rash. So, it was time to take a full body shower. This was quite an undertaking. I had to tie up the tarp so it covered my showering area from the other boats in the mooring field. I was pretty sure only the boats in front of us were occupied, so I focused my tarp coverage in that direction. Once the tarp was up, I had my showering area. The tarp was also usefull for blocking the wind. When the wind is blowing, it makes it difficult to shower because you always have to be downwind of the water stream. Otherwise the water blows away from you. Unfortunately half way through my shower a dinghy load of adults went by. Oh well, they'll probably just think we're European!
After the shower I gathered up all of my clothes and our bedsheets to bring to the laundramat. I am determined to be rid of this rash! Chris said he thought that St. Francis, the place that owns the moorings, had laundry. This was excellent, because they are on this side of the bay, so no wet dinghy ride! They didn't open untill 11AM, so I would have to wait to do laundry.
After breakfast, Casey was quite eager to go to Liberty. We met them and their sons Chris and Josh two days ago. Chris, Josh, Parker (from Side by Side), and Casey all hung out together yesterday. While all the boys were together they made plans to unite our X-Box 360 with Liberty's television. This was it! Casey had finally found someone with a TV! So after much VHF planning, Kaitlin ended up on Side by Side with Sabrina, and Casey went to Liberty with Parker. And you know what that means!!!!! A WHOLE late morning AND afternoon with NO KIDS!!!!! Whooooo Hooooooo!!!
Ok, ok...don't get me wrong, we LOVE our kids, but 24/7 gets tiring sometimes. Today the silence was deafening. I immediately got out a book and plopped myself in the cockpit with my coffee. I had till 11 to do absolutely nothing! After reading for a bit, I got to thinking about fishing. I remembered seeing that huge fish when we entered the harbor. That's it, I'm going to go get him! So I took the dinghy out with the fishing pole and started trolling. I went along the shoreline for about 1/2 and hour. When it got to the point where the dinghy couldn't handle the wave height anymore, I turned around and trolled back. Once again, I caught nothing except bits of grass and a ton of saltwater.
Back at the boat I tried my hand at Kaitlin's Barbie fishing pole. It immediately caught a small fish. You know, if they would only make an adult size Barbie fishing pole! I don't know what it is, but that pole never fails.
At 11AM, we radioed St.Francis to ask about doing laundry. They said that their water was pretty scarce and laundry was reserved only for guests of the resort. Bummer! Then Chris remembered it was Sunday, and laundry in town may not be open. This brings me to explain the cruisers net on the VHF. Every morning at 8:00 on VHF channel 72 there is something like a radio show. They make announcements about what is going on that day, and then they let other people make announcements. People will radio in that they have lost or found items. Anyone flying to the states generally askes if anyone wants to share a cab to the airport, a water taxi ride to shore, and they will offer to take flat, stamped mail with them. Bahamas flat mail can take up to a month to deliver. We're trying to arrange a kids bar-b-q tomorrow night, so we will announce that. They also have a section where people will talk about items they have to trade.
Then after the show everyone switches back to channel 68. This is the common hailing channel. We leave 68 on all day. It's like our telephone. 68 is also used during the day for general inquiries. You can just ask on channel 68, "What time is the band playing today?", and some other cruiser will answer you. It's awsome! So today we asked on 68 if the laundramat in town was open on Sundays. Unfortunately the answer was no.
Oh well, that just left more time to read my book. We'll just have to make do with no sheets tonight.
The kids finally made it back to the boat at 5PM. We had reservations at the St.Francis restaurant for 5:30. Mark and Angie from Side By Side were joining us, and all the kids were going to have dinner on our boat. We had an awsome dinner of non-Bahamian food. There is only so much conch fritters, fried fish, and rice and peas one person can eat! Half way through dinner we saw the dinghy full of kids pull up to the St.Francis dock. Oh no, I thought, what's wrong. Turns out, they just stopped by to tell us they were all going to Volleyball Beach. Just be back before dark, we told them.
It's funny, only in the cruising community can you let a group of 4 kids 12 and under head out on their own in the "family car". Actually, they were in the blow up dinghy, so it was the "kids car". But most of the kids here are good, reliable and trustworthy. And Casey is a better dinghy driver than me! The kids know a lot about safety and its importance and they all follow the rules. Well, for the most part. We saw them heading back to the boat just a tad bit after dark.
We played darts after dinner and the girls absolutely crushed the guys. Then we headed back to the boat. The kids were safe and sound and had polished off most of the food. I'm so glad that Casey and Kaitlin have found such wonderful friends. They have been having so much fun together.
I'm off to bed with the wind howling at 28 knots. It's good to be on a mooring!
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Georgetown has been a well....interesting place. There are a lot of people here, a lot of things to do, and a lot of things to see.
Yesterday morning I was chomping at the bit to see town. That was the only thing that got me out of bed to run that morning. I donned my running clothes and jumped into the dinghy to cross the harbor. It's quite a ride to get to the dinghy dock. I would say it's at least 1/2 a mile or so. The winds were out of the east, so the ride to town is downwind. It was blowing quite a bit and the ride was bumpy. I looked at the map before I left, and asked someone on their boat close to the western shore where the dinghy dock was. After being pointed in the right direction, I went through a small tunnel and entered an inner lake. Mine was the only dinghy there at 7:30 AM. I'm guessing cruisers and Bahamians aren't early risers. I got a good view of town, the local restaurant area, and the hotel district.
The ride back (into the wind) was a whole other story. The waves were crashing over the dinghy and I had to go slowly to keep from getting drenched. Since then we've found out that when the winds are up, this is just the way things go. We now all wear our bathing suits whenever we cross the harbor!
Later in the morning the kids did school. They too were eager to see town, and had a hard time getting through their schoolwork. Once they were secure in the knowledge that all the other kids were doing school too, and they weren't missing anything, they felt a bit better.
After school, we made the mad dash to check out Georgetown. The dinghy dock is right next to the Exuma Market. This is a small scale grocery store with just about anything you would need. We headed to the area where food vendors had set up shacks to get some lunch.
By the time we had perused all of the food vendors, we realized that the races were about to start. The kids were getting cranky, so I just got some mutton curry from the nearest vendor and found a spot on some bleachers. I wasn't even sure what mutton was, but the kids ate it and were quite happy. We watched the start of the 12:30 race while enjoying our lunch.
These races have a very unique start. All of the boats sail up to the starting line and anchor before the race starts. There is a one minute warning gun, which is when everyone on the boat gets into place. Then at the starting gun, they pull up the anchor, raise the sails and off they go! The problem occurs when boats have anchored too close together. Many times, the wind takes the boom out, which then swings into the boat next to it and consequently takes out everyone on the neighboring boat. The people on the neighboring boat are hiked out on a board extending from the hull, so generally they all get wiped into the water. We saw one race where two masts got tangled at the start. It's all very exciting stuff!
After we ate lunch, our friends from Side By Side showed up. They have been to Georgetown before, and so they showed us all of the sites. We saw the $2 conch fritter stand, the Library, the VoIP phone stand and Internet cafe and $.35 slushy shack. OK, that last one deserves and explanation. There is a small 20x15 foot wooden shack with three shelves of groceries, a refrigerator and a shelf with chairs at it. Apparently you can use their Internet phone for $.15 a minute. While you are chatting, or using the Internet, you can open the freezer and pull out a dixie cup of frozen juice for a mere $.35. And here we were missing WalMart! They showed us the cheaper grocery store, the corner Laundromat which is not on the corner, and about 4 liquor stores. There is definitely no shortage of booze down here! Rum, depending on the quality, will run you $8-$12 a bottle.
After the sightseeing, we all headed back to our dinghies to watch the 3:30 races from the water. We got out of the protected lake and started bashing into huge waves. Not wanting to spend the next hour getting soaked and tossed around, we skipped the races and headed straight for our boat. That was the wildest ride we've ever had in the dinghy. We had to bail out the dinghy several times on the ride back so we would still be able to plane. Everyone was soaked to the bone and cold from the wind.
Side by Side came over for dinner on our boat that night. I had purchased some tamarind paste from a vendor at the festival and was feeling adventurous. The tamarind tree grows here (if you remember Willie showed us some in his garden in Black Point), and they just take the fruit and mash it up and sell it in small cups. Most of the natives just eat the stuff straight. It has a bitter citrus taste. I mixed it with some sugar and soy sauce, and to my surprise it was absolutely delicious! Tossed with some meat, broccoli, carrots and plantains it was a nice meal.
Yesterday, we left the kids on the boat to do school, and walked to the top of monument hill with Mark and Angie. It's a steep hike to the monument, but the view at the top is quite rewarding. We walked back down on the ocean side of the cay and along the beach for a bit. We shared stories with Side By Side and had a great time while getting some exercise!
When we got back to our boat, it was noon and I still felt bad that Casey hadn't seen any racing action from the water. I told him that if we hurried we could still cross and watch the 12:30 start. We called Side By Side, and Mark wanted to come with us. So back we went to pick up Mark who was quickly shoving some lunch in his face. We made it just in time to catch the start. It was a totally different experience watching from the water. You could anchor your dinghy 30 feet from the stern of the racing boats and get quite a view! We stayed in the same place to watch the boats round the mark. That was kind of scary. So many boats coming right at us! Mark directed us to pull up close to the rounding point. He said they come so close to the mark that you don't have to worry about them hitting you. Thank goodness he was with us, because I would have kept much more distance between us and the action! Casey snapped a whole bunch of pictures. Unfortunately most of them had his thumb over the lens. Chris is working on salvaging what he can at this very moment.
Then it was the familiar bash back to the anchorage *AGAIN*. We met everyone else at volleyball beach, home of the Chat and Chill restaurant. As soon as we got to land, all of the kids jumped off and ran into the woods. Apparently Parker and Sabrina from Side By Side knew of a fort and they all wanted to check it out. I don't think we saw them more than twice for the rest of the afternoon! The adults all sat in chairs provided by the restaurant and chatted and chilled. It was a great afternoon. By 3:30, I was about to pass out from lack of food and exhaustion (I never grabbed lunch after our hike and before the races), so we went back to the boat. We ate some food and Kaitlin and I went to our bed to read. That lasted about 5 minutes before the both of us fell asleep. OK, I must admit that a bit of teasing happened because Kaitlin took an actual nap. At about 7:00 I woke up and heated some leftovers for dinner.
There was going to be a dance on Hamburger Beach at 8:00. So we ate dinner and set the kids up with a movie. Chris and I headed to the beach. It was quite and interesting ride through multiple anchorages in the dark and with a strong wind and a flashlight showing the way! We made it to the dance and hung out for a couple of hours. There wasn't much of a crowd, probably because of the wind.
*PHEW* Finally on to today, which was the best yet! We mellowed out this morning on the boat. I love no school days as much as the kids do. Kaitlin and I did a bit of fishing from the boat. Once again the Barbie fishing pole caught two fish while mine caught none. I persuaded Kaitlin to go out fishing on the dinghy, so she motored while I trolled with the pole. We had no luck though :( I think the fish are avoiding me for some reason!
We found out that because we are on a mooring, we could use the water shuttle from the hotel that owns the moorings for free! YAY, we can go to town and not get soaked. Today there was going to be the Bahamas Police Youth and Adult marching bands in town at 4:30 and we didn't want to miss that. I started making some bread and granola bars. We were told that the water taxi was leaving at 2:30, so I started making bread. I was eager to try out Mark's hint of adding oil to reduce the crumbliness. At 1:30 I put the loaves into the oven. Fifteen minutes later Chris said that the shuttle was now leaving at 2:00. Hmmmm...that doesn't give my bread time to finish baking. So, not wanting to waste my effort or the ingredients I stayed behind. Casey also stayed behind to keep me company. No dry water taxi for us :(. Casey and I were rewarded with an awesome turtle sighting when we finally headed out on the dinghy. We looked over and could see a lighter green circle in the water. After a few seconds, the 1ft diameter circle surfaced and a white head with black spots poked up. It was the cutest turtle ever!
Once everyone was in town (Side By Side came with us) we and most of Georgetown lined the streets to watch the marching bands. The kids went first and they were amazing. They played some traditional tunes and even some Bob Marley. Mark turned to me and said, "My high school band never played Bob Marley!" There was the band, a group of dancers, and then some smaller children who marched as well. My favorite was the drummers. They did a solo in which they played and threw up their drumsticks and danced all at the same time.
The adult band was no less amazing. They started out looking very serious. The leader was dressed in uniform with a leopard skin draped over him. He was holding a large golden staff. They did some lighter pieces as well. Then the leader, who was not exactly a young person, handed his staff over and started break dancing! You could tell that these people all had a serious love of music, and they loved to have fun with it.
After the festivities, we all headed back to our boats. Tonight we had a relaxing dinner and a movie. It was actually nice to take it easy for the night.
Oh, the other exciting bit of info is that I seem to have found the poison wood tree. My chin started itching two days ago. I didn't pay much attention to it. Then I woke up yesterday with an itchy rash on my hip. Today it also showed up on my belly, legs, wrists, chest, fingers and jaw. And here I thought I would be done with poison ivy! In fact, this stuff is pretty much the same as poison ivy. It gives you an itchy rash of clear liquid filled bumps. Now begins the search for where I got it from. My best guess is that I got it from carrying shoes to get them out of the rain. Either that or I just touched some when on a run in the woods. I have a funny feeling that it will get worse before it gets better. We'll have to wash our sheets and all of my clothes to get rid of the oils, and I don't see that happening anytime soon! Also a full body shower (not one in my bathing suit) won't be happening soon either. *scratch* *scratch* *scratch*
Actually, no, but I am heading back to New York (home) for a few days. I have some business stuff I have to do and a number of errands to run. I'll only be up for 3 days and I have soooo much to do, so many people to see and places to go. I'm back and forth on whether I'm excited to go or not. On the one hand, I'm excited to see friends and family, eat at real restaurants (something other than Bahamian fried food!), take long showers with unlimited hot water that I don't have to pay for (instead of a $4, 8 minute shower with no pressure in Sampsons Cay) and sleep in a luxurious king sized bed. On the other hand, I really don't want to leave my family behind and re-enter a faster paced world with schedules, responsibilities and so many people, plus freezing temperatures (it's supposed to be in the sixties next week at home!). The deed is done though - I've already made my reservations.
Flying out of Georgetown is interesting. There are a number of regional airlines that fly out of here. Ultimately, I was looking for one that would fly to Ft. Lauderdale or Miami, and then I could pick up a direct flight on Southwest to Albany. My alternative was to fly from Georgetown to Nassau, then to NYC, then to Albany. Well, unfortunately I couldn't figure out a way on my own, so I just signed up with BahamasAir. As a result, I have to fly from Georgetown at 7:20am to Eleuthera, to Nassau, to Washington DC to Albany. At least I don't have to get off the plane in Eleuthera, but there are still lots of opportunities for my luggage to get lost, and I'm looking at 12 hours of travel each way.
Getting to the airport will be interesting. First, we have to dinghy to the Georgetown dinghy dock in the early morning dark. It's about a mile and a half to get there. With the wind and waves, I should be sufficiently wet. Then I have to take a taxi for the 30 minute drive ($40) to the airport. Hopefully I can find someone to share it with. Then I wait to take off, and there is not a good track record of ontime departures.
One of the terrible things in the Bahamas is the mail. It can take 30 or more days to send a letter from here to the US. As a result, cruisers in Georgetown will give their US bound mail to cruisers heading to the states. I'll have a pile with me and the responsibility to make sure it gets mailed. The mail will contain everything from postcards and letters, to legal documents, to homeschooling tests, and various other items. It might sound trivial, but people are depending on the mail to get through!
We were able to secure a mooring across the way from Georgetown for only $15 a night. That way I can head out and feel secure about Kristen and the kids. I was a little worried about leaving them alone on the hook. If something happened (like another boat dragging down on them), they would have a difficult time dealing with it without another adult aboard. There is always the ever-present Georgetown cruiser's net on channel 68. It goes all night long, and if someone announces that they are dragging and need help you can expect 5 other people on your boat within 90-120 seconds. They won't all be clothed, but they'll be there!
Kristen promised she'd do another blog entry today or tomorrow about our time in Georgetown thus far. This afternoon we're joining about 4 or 5 other families for the Regatta festivities, so it won't happen until at least tonight.
Friday, April 24, 2009
Before we left I was hard pressed to find any really good sources of information on how to deal with Internet, phone calls, e-mail, etc. while here in the Bahamas. The information was all over the place and contradictory. This information is based on fact on opinion and is as of today - April 24, 2009. Also, keep in mind that this only covers Bimini, Nassau and the Exumas chain. We haven't been anywhere else yet, but I'll update the post as we visit other places.
First off - Internet. The first thing I will recommend is having a WiFi amplifier on your boat if you ever expect to get Internet while on it. Make sure you put the antenna as high as possible and that you keep the cable length as short as possible. There are many solutions for this so just do your own research on WiFi amplifiers. In our case, because of our limited time in preparing for this cruise and my limited time to do research, I bought a "marine" amplification system from Port Networks. There's an antenna on one of our spreaders, connected by very heavy duty cable (LMF400) to a unit in our mast locker. The unit in the locker then connects via ethernet cable to a small unit that we have placed at our nav station. It is important to have the antenna located as close as possible to the amplifier itself - every foot of cable will cause you to see fewer and weaker signals. The small unit at our nav station is hooked into 12v power and supplies power to the amplifier itself in our mast locker over the ethernet cable. The unit by our nav station also has an ethernet port that I can plug a laptop or router into. The unit is not cheap, and there are many less expensive options on the market. I purchased it from http://www.portnetworks.com.
Since we have multiple laptops on board, I wanted to create a small wireless network here. In the states you can use cellular broadband (i.e. Verizon Aircards) where wireless signals are not available or weak, so I picked a wireless router that also has support for connecting into cellular broadband. The unit is a Kyocera KR2. When wireless is available, it connects to the wireless amplifier. When it wasn't available in the US, I could connect via Verizon. My laptops then connect to the Kyocera via wireless and connect to the Internet via whatever method I set up. The Kyocera is a nice router and can be bought many places on the Internet.
Unfortunately, cellular broadband is not available in the Bahamas. Your only Internet choice is wireless. Using our amplifier, we were able to connect to very strong signals in Bimini (free), Nassau ($39/week for the cheapest one I could find) and now in several places along the Exuma chain. When you connect to wireless Internet in the Exumas, the organizations providing the Internet are connected to it via satellite. As a result, they block certain websites like Youtube. In some cases, like in Warderick Wells, they limit how much Internet you use. Warderick Wells was $30 for 3 days of Internet, capped at 100MB per day. In other places, like Sampson Cay, they don't limit your Internet, but it can be slow and inconsistent. So far, Georgetown has been the most inconsistent. Sometimes you have to reload your pages 4-5 times before they actually show up.
If you don't have a wireless amplifier, many towns have Internet Cafes that you can go to and pay for Internet by the hour. In some cases, even if you have a wireless amplifier you can't see the signals, so you still have to go in. While "open wireless access points" existed a lot in the US, there are very few here in the Bahamas. Most people secure their wireless, so you have to budget for Internet costs.
We've found Internet in many places throughout the Bahamas, and as I mentioned, most towns have Internet cafes, but it's definitely not as easy to connect to the Internet as in the US. All of a sudden, those e-mails might not seem so important.
On to telephone. We have three telephone "solutions" on Pelican. We bought a Skype account, have a Bahamian cell, and we also have an Iridium satellite phone.
With regards to Skype - it was great in Nassau and Bimini. In Warderick Wells, we used it some, but it quickly ate into our 100MB per day of bandwidth. We were able to use it in Sampsons Cay. In Georgetown, they threaten to cut off your Internet if you use Skype because of the bandwidth usage. Most places in the Exumas do not want you to use Skype, but I haven't seen whether they cut you off or not. The nice thing about "Skype Out" and "Skype In" is that you basically have a US number that people can call and that you can call regular telephones with. It's actually cheaper to call a Bahamian number through Skype than it is to use a Bahamian cell phone! You can also reach US 800#'s with it, which you can't do with a Bahamian phone. I would highly recommend a Skype account - for $60 or $70, we have unlimited outbound calling into the US and Canada, and $0.09/minute calling into the Bahamas. Unfortunately, it can only be used where there is good Internet, and where they permit it.
How about cell phones? Well, they use a GSM based cell phone system down here, so as long as you have a GSM phone you can roam in the Bahamas. The per minute costs are usually somewhere around $1.50-$2.00/minute to roam. BTC (Bahamas Telco) has a strangehold on the cellular and landline market down here and can pretty much set any price they want, and charge the US carriers anything they want for roaming. They actually got the Bahamian Parliament to outlaw Voice over IP services like Skype, but that's a difficult thing to enforce.
Since we had a Verizon phone that isn't GSM based, we decided to get a Bahamian cell phone. If you have a GSM phone already, look up online whether you can "unlock" it. Most carriers in the US make it so you can only use the phone with their service. An unlocked phone can be used with any service. Sometimes it's a series of numbers you punch in to unlock your phone, sometimes you have to send it to an unlocking company. If you don't come into the Bahamas with an unlocked phone, and you want to sign up with BTC for cell phone service, you have to buy a phone here. They don't subsidize the phone purchase though, so expect to pay at least $100 for a phone that's actually usable. While they have $50 phones, they are complete junk.
You can then go to any BTC office (on most major islands) or other cellular/electronics stores to buy a "SIM Card" for the phone (I put SIM card in quotes since not everyone knows what it is). A SIM Card is a little chip that is inserted into your phone that provides your phone's identity (i.e. phone number). You pay an activation fee of something like $50 (I can't remember the exact amount) and it comes with the SIM card. While they have monthly plans, the recommendation is to use prepaid phone cards. The phone cards are readily available everywhere. In Nassau you can't go a block without passing two or three people selling cards.
Per minute costs are $0.33/minute for calls within the Bahamas, and about $1/minute to call the US. You pay the $0.33/minute for incoming calls too. To minimize costs for your US friends, you can forward your Skype # to your Bahamian cell. You then pay $0.09/minute for the Skype side and $0.33/minute for the Bahamian side. In other words, ask your friends to call you back when you call them, and you're only paying $0.42/minute to talk to people in the US vs. $1/minute. There is cell phone coverage in many places along the Exuma chain, but once again it can be spotty in MANY places. You can go along many islands before you find a signal. Generally, we've found more signals in the central and southern Exumas than the northern side.
Cell phone amplifiers are a good thing. They actually do make a difference. Unfortunately, I have the wrong internal antenna on mine and can't really get it to work for longer than 60 seconds, but I get a MUCH stronger signal for those first 60 seconds!
To make sure you can ALWAYS communicate with the world via voice and e-mail, you need to buy a satellite phone. We bought an Iridium phone. We've heard too many stories of GlobalStar having very inconsistent service, although it's significantly less expensive (primarily because of their service issues). Our phone, with a data connector for e-mail, cost us about $1,550. 500 minutes of prepaid time cost us $695. Service activation was $50.
We also bought a 12 month subscription to OCENS.Mail e-mail service. This service will compress the messages and strip out graphics before sending them. You pay a per minute cost for data/e-mail so you want to minimize how long it takes to download e-mails. The OCENS.Mail service cost $59 to activate and $240 for 12 months of service. This solution has enabled us to call anyone from anywhere, and to access e-mail. We keep the phone charged before passages and stick it into our ditch bag as a piece of safety equipment.
For us, since I need to still communicate with my office, the satellite phone has been indispensable. The only thing I wish I added to it was a dedicated antenna mounted on the rail. Everytime I want to use it inside with my laptop, I have to open a hatch, stick a small wired antenna out and hook all the cables up. I can't do that when it's raining. It would have been another $350 though. By the way, you can buy used Iridium 9505a satellite phones for a lot less on eBay. I bought a new one because of timing (I couldn't guaranty where I'd be when the eBay seller went to send the phone).
Your primary communications tool to talk to other cruisers here is your VHF and an SSB. No, an SSB is not required. If you buy a shortwave receiver, you can pick up a lot of the broadcasts - like Chris Parker's weather. BUT, if you meet another boat and want to stay in touch with them, the only way to do it (except if you both have satellite telephone) is to use an SSB. To me, having an SSB has been indispensable. Thanks to Pelican's former owners for installing a great unit! The VHF is probably your most important piece of gear. We are on it all the time, as are our kids. Here in Georgetown, VHF68 is kept on all the time and boats are constantly hailing each other using it. It's how you talk to everyone. They also do a "cruising net" at 8am and talk about all of the activities of the day and other announcements (like if someone is going to the US they may ask if anyone else has mail to bring with them - mail is HORRIBLE down here, taking 30+ days to reach the US).
One other option for Internet that I did not mention is BGAN. BGAN is a lower cost "portable" version of INMARSAT. I know - lots of acronyms. Here's the long and short... BGAN will give you high speed (128k+ vs. 0.24k for Iridium) Internet. It's not quite cable modem speeds, but it's a fast connection. The equipment is similarly priced to Iridium, but you pay about $10/MB for Internet. My first reaction was to laugh at that huge price, but when you consider that it would take you almost 30 minutes at $1.29/minute to download a MB on an Iridium phone, you can start seeing the reasoning if you need a lot of Internet access. We don't have it, but it sure would be nice.
Iridium and BGAN are both available at many local and onlne companies. Just look for satellite phone in the phone book or look up Iridium on Google and you'll find plenty of places. I bought my unit from OCENS - they are recognized for having excellent support, especially for cruisers.
Anyway, I hope this has been somewhat helpful. Please feel free to e-mail us or post a comment with any questions.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
We left Black Point Settlement this morning at 7AM. We were a bit tired after getting up at 5AM. Chris couldn't sleep because of the boat rocking, so he went to try sleeping in the cockpit. While there he noticed a squall approaching, and wanted to put the dinghy engine on its home on our back rail. He said he's heard too many stories about dinghies flipping in squalls. So at 5AM I donned my jammies and hopped into the rocking dinghy and helped hoist the engine. The squall missed us, but it's always better to be safe than sorry.
We were heading under 1/4 mile north to go out Dotham Cut. Up to now we have been on the West side of the Exuma Islands. In order to get to Georgetown, you have to be of the East side. So you have to find a break in the chain of islands that is deep enough for your boat to pass through. These places are called cuts. Dotham is a nice cut because it is just straight through. Many other cuts are winding passages through coral and rocks. I had glanced over at Dotham when we were going to Black Point, and I remembered seeing nothing but a deep blue passageway.
When we headed out this morning, I was very glad to have glanced at the cut. As we left Black Point, there was a large grey cloud front just to the West of us. We watched it, and it appeared to be moving North. No problem, we were heading South! As we rounded the corner and headed into the cut, it started to sprinkle. Good thing we got the foul weather gear out. Then we were half way through the cut and the wind picked up and the skies just let go. I had been preparing for the downpour and wasn't watching where we were going. That was when Chris announced that he couldn't see anything through the dodger with the driving rain and 25kt winds. Hmmm...this isn't good, we don't have much margin for error in this narrow cut. If only that rain had waited 1 more minute we would have been in 1,000 feet of water! I jumped out from under the dodger and squinted through the pelting rain. No problem, we're right on track between two jutting rocks. No less than two minutes later we were through the cut. The rain lasted about 5 more minutes before ending just as quickly as it had started.
It's funny, if that had hit us when we first started, I would have been terrified. Today there was no worry. I knew the winds would only pick up about 10 knots, bringing them to 20 knots. We were in 26 knots the other day and we were fine, so I knew we would be fine today. Experience is a wonderful thing!
We hit that beautiful purple water, and were glad to be in the open ocean again. It's oddly comfortable to have 4,000 feet of water under you. As soon as we got through the cut, we pulled out the fishing gear. We let out our hand line with a purple squid, and the pole with a silver/green spinner. Once again there was no luck :(. I then pulled out the big pink squid and attached it to the hand line. Now I was getting serious. I have been having a lot of fish lately and am really growing to enjoy it. I'm looking for some free food here! We also tried putting a piece of conch on the spinner. Nothing worked, and I'm still fishless. And to make matters worse, as we were coming through Georgetown harbor a huge fish swam by. This was of course after we had pulled in all of our lines. I think I actually saw him pointing and laughing at me!
Coming into Georgetown harbor was a bit tricky. There are a whole bunch of sandbars, so you have to zig zag around them in order to reach the anchorage. We had GPS navigation points to follow, but the ocean bottom constantly shifts and the most reliable way to navigate is by your eyes. I believe the entrance was something like this:
- Hit your first GPS point and then head for a hill that looks like this (picture on the chart book)
- Once past the brown water to your port, parallel the island until you pass a red/white buoy that may or may not still be there. That buoy marks a shallow reef.
- once past the red/white buoy, head for the pink house on the eastern shore
- when you are abeam of the point on your port side, turn and head for that point
- when you are abeam of the main island to your port, turn 90 degrees and head for the monument on shore
- when you are just off of land, you will see a deep water channel leading to the anchorages
As odd as it sounds, these directions actually worked! I sure hope that nobody paints those pink houses though.
When we were entering the port, the water was a color I had never seen before. I got really nervous because it's my job to read the color, and I wasn't sure what this was. Part of it was deep purple like the ocean, but there were brilliant patches of purple/green. It was almost like the water was glowing. I was admiring the beauty and scared of it at the same time. I yelled back to Chris to tell me the depth, and he said it was 50 feet. I figured that I was seeing the patches of sandy bottom which appear greener than deep grass covered bottom. I had just never seen this at a depth of 50 feet. Until now we have been in shallower water. The clarity of it is just amazing!
In the first anchorage we hit, we saw a space to drop the hook. Seeing as there were about 100 or so boats at the various anchorages, we decided to get while the gettin' was good. We pulled into the spot and dropped the anchor. We reversed to set the anchor and then waited a bit. It seemed we were dragging, so we reversed again and moved steadily backward. Not good. Maybe there was a reason this spot was empty. Not wanting to be up all night worrying about dragging, we decided to find another spot.
Our next spot was farther away from town, but the holding seems much better. As we pulled into it, the kids on the boat in front of us came out and started waving. So once we got settled, we dinghied over to say hi. The parents invited us on "Osprey" and the kids immediately started playing. We had a great time getting to know each other. Then it was back to Pelican for dinner.
Tomorrow we're excited to check out town and all of the excitement surrounding the regatta!
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
We woke up early this morning and tried to get the weather for the next few days. Unfortunately, the SSB radio doesn't work very well in marinas, so we really couldn't hear Chris Parker. We spent the morning doing laundry, filling our dinghy gas tanks, taking showers (first real shower in 3 weeks - it was a religious experience) and we finally emptied our Nassau water out of our tanks (ick!) and refilled them with good quality water from Sampsons ($60 for the fill).
We then headed about 12 miles south to Black Pointe Settlement. It's the second largest town on the Exuma Chain (after Georgetown), and is more of a Bahamanian town than a tourist location. Side by Side headed out before us and sailed most of the way down. We started out with motoring, but ended up putting the genoa out to stabilize Pelican some.
The waves were about 4'-5' and somewhat steep, so we were rolling all over the place on the way down. Traveling with a catamaran (Side by Side) can be a bit frustrating sometimes, especially when the talk about leaving drinks and trail mix out for the kids while they do jigsaw puzzles and play with their legos while underway. We're pounding through the waves, and they're sipping martinis. If we go cruising again later in life, I will definitely give catamarans a second look - the room, the comfort and the flatness is very intriguing. On the other hand, on a great sailing day there's nothing like slicing through the water at 7+kts, heeled over, wind blowing and the sound of the wind and waves driving you on. I haven't sailed on a cat, but I don't think you get the same feeling of raw power (and sometimes sheer terror) that comes with monohull sailing. A few days ago we sailed from Warderick Wells to Pipe Cay (next to Compass Cay) in 20-25kts of wind. We had a double reefed mainsail and a double reefed headsail (reefing just means you've reduced the size of the sail - each reef reducing it further - we can do up to 3 reefs on our sails) and still did 7.2kts for most of the time.
Anyway... Black Pointe. It's basically one long street that runs the length of the island. They have two restaurants, three churches, a post office, a police station, a small clinic, one of the best laundromats in all of the Bahamas (go figure - they have to have some sort of attraction, right?), a grocery store and The Garden of Eden. We arrived at Black Pointe and anchored off of the government dock. The anchorage looked to be protected on the charts, but apparently the wind direction was just too far north and it ended up being very rolly. As a matter of fact, I'm sitting her right now and the boat is bouncing up and down like we're on a trampoline. It reminds me somewhat of our first night at anchor just south of Bimini.
We dinghied into the town dock, met a bunch of other cruisers who shared with us what was in town, and struck off down the main street. The first place we stopped at was the laundromat. While we did laundry in Sampons Cay this morning, we knew that Side by Side had to do their wash, and we indeed found them there. The laundromat is everything everyone has talked about - 10 or 12 new washers and 6 or 8 dryers. I guess they are looking to have cruisers stop there and do their laundry, partaking in food and supplies to help support the local economy. We passed a sign that asked for cruisers to donate 4-6 hours to teach at the local school, helping students learn math, reading and other skills. Apparently, they also let cruising kids go to classes there.
We're disappointed that we're leaving tomorrow and won't be able to participate, but since we also want to stop at Staniel Cay/Thunderball Cave at some point, I'm sure we'll be back through here.
We then stopped at Lorraine's Cafe. Many cruisers have told us to have dinner here so we took a look at the menu. Just like most other out island restaurants, you usually ignore the menu and pick from the 3-4 items that they actually have. We then continued on to see the "Garden of Eden". The Garden of Eden is located at one of the Willie's home - a local. He sees shapes and ideas in the clouds and then goes into the bush to find pieces of wood shaped like what he saw. He doesn't carve them - he just orients them so you can see what he saw. He's spent 30 years working on this. It's funny - the driftwood and other wood and rocks actually do look like things, ranging from whales, to people, to lions, to eagles and about 50 other displays. On the one side, it's pretty cool. On the other, I think you need to pop a few pills to really see what Willie sees in the wood. It's an experience though.
We headed back to Lorraine's for dinner. The food was pretty tasty, very reasonably priced, and it's always nice to get off the boat for a night - especially in a rolly anchorage. We enjoyed pork chops, Mahi-Mahi, chicken and a cheeseburger, along with some cole slaw (cabbage is a mainstay here since it lasts so long) and the Bahamian national dish - rice and beans. For all of this, plus three sodas, a beer and a side of french fries, we paid $66+tip. Not bad at all! We then headed back to our boats.
The weather is a big factor over the next several days. There are several weather fronts around, and we're caught in between them. When you get caught between fronts, the air between them is compressed and that causes elevated wind levels. Elevated wind levels cause high seas. Tomorrow is supposed to be a benign day, but by tomorrow night the wind is supposed to rapidly pick up to 20+kts and just keep picking up throughout the weekend. They are calling for 25-30kts of wind by Saturday or Sunday. Basically, everyone has tomorrow to pick where they want to be for the next week (unless you want big waves and big winds).
As a result, we're going to make a run for Georgetown tomorrow. It's a long trip from here - about 53nm. That's a lot to do in one day, but we've worked out all of the calculations, and as long as we can keep up 6kts of boat speed (please let the waves be with us!) we can make it down to Georgetown by 5pm. It will be somewhat difficult to navigate the sandbars and reefs at that time of the day, but we'll go slow once we get there. The wind is supposed to pick up tomorrow evening, so we have to hurry our way down. By the way, the big reason we want to get to Georgetown is because the Family Island Regatta is going on. We'll post more on that in a few days. Side by Side is supposed to be
following us on Thursday. We'll see how that goes.
As usual, we'll have our SPOT on so you can watch along. Hopefully the next entry will be coming from Georgetown.
Monday, April 20, 2009
We went to Rachel's Bubble Bath in Compass Cay. It was this place where there was an area higher than the surf with a small pond like place. The surf would surge above the rocks and rush into the pond area. We must have been there at the perfect time, because it was just like a wave pool. The surge would splash over the rocks into the pond and whisk you away. We all had an awsome time there.
After the Bubble Bath, we walked around and found an area with a TON of garbage. There were flip flops, plastic bottles, lines, wood, and much more. I grabbed a cooler top to use as a fish cleaning station. Perfect!
Parker, Sabrina, Casey and Kaitlin have been having a ton of fun hanging out together. Yesterday they played, swam, and went tubing together. Today Sabrina came with us to Sampson Cay and Casey sailed with Side By Side. They are quite happy to have some other kids to hang out with.
Oh, and Mark (side by side dad) showed me how to catch and clean conch! We went conching together. He said, "Carefull, they're quick little suckers". Basically they just sit there and you dive down and grab them. But he showed me how to clean them, which was invaluable. Thanks Mark! We got out a lot of frustrations out by whacking the 5 conch we caught! Then Angie (side by side mom) mad delicious conch patties for dinner last night.
Tonight we are enjoying being tied up to a dock. We gave the boat a well needed wash down when we got here, and the humans will have a well needed wash down tomorrow. Tonight we left the kids on our boat with a movie and hung out on side by side. We have really been enjoying some adult company as much as the kids have been enjoying kid company. Thanks Mark and Angie!!!
Tomorrow we'll try to fill our water tanks, shower and do laundry before heading to Black Point. We'll see how much really gets done. Everyone is sleeping now, and I'm going to do the same. G'night all!
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Thursday, April 16, 2009
Yesterday morning I was approaching Boo Boo Hill once again, and saw a beautiful Osprey standing majestically on the rocky shoreline. At first I thought it was a bald eagle, but then I remembered something that mentioned nesting Ospreys on this island. It didn't move as I approached it, and just stood there watching me run by. That bird on the cliffs with the ocean in the background was quite a site. I'll have to bring my camera when I go running from now on!
After my run, the kids and I did school. School is still going really well. We've picked up the pace a bit, doing a bit more work each day. The kids have been very cooperative and goof around much less during school time. Yesterday each of them started their new math books. I've learned that they do almost the same thing each year, it just gets a bit more complicated. Kaitlin started with place value, but this year it goes up to millions. Casey started with order of operation, but this year the problems are a bit more lengthy. Now I understand why they get bored!
After school we had lunch and then went snorkeling. Chris had met a family on shore, and told us what boat they were from. He said they wanted to go snorkeling too, so we headed off to their boat. When we got there, there was a woman on the bow of the boat. I asked her about kids aboard, and she said there were none. Huh...weird. Whatever, we headed off to snorkel by ourselves. As we were heading to the boat, we saw another sailboat pull into the mooring field with a young girl on the bow. I told the kids we should just see if she wanted to snorkel with us!
On the way to the snorkeling spot, Casey spotted Watercolor. This was a boat we had seen on Lake Champlain, and Chris saw it in Annapolis when he brought our boat there. We drove by, but nobody was on deck, so we decided to come back later. We stopped at the boat with the young girl and chatted with them a bit. They were on their way back to Canada, and the girl was very nice. We will try to hang out with them tomorrow.
By the time we made it to the snorkeling spot, the current had started to pick up. You see, its kind of a good thing/bad thing. The heavy current washes the coral reefs and keeps them their beautiful colors instead of turning green. But, it's very hard to snorkel in heavy currents. There were some other people snorkeling, and they brought us to a spot that had a bunch of lobsters. The man even dove down and pointed them out to us! The coral heads were about 6 feet tall, and the fish were just beautiful. After a few minutes, we couldn't keep up with the current, so we drifted back to the dinghy. We chatted with the other snorkelers for a bit, and they told us how to make a lobster catcher. Look out lobsters! As soon as the season starts and we're out of the park...you're in trouble!
On our way back to the boat we stopped on shore so I could show the kids the mega huge hermit crabs that live here. They seem to congregate under the stairs to the park office. Actually, I just realized why. Right above the stairs is a bird feeder that is filled with sugar. I think the crabs are eating the sugar that falls to the ground! Anyway, these are 5" diameter crabs. One of them even had big hairy claws!
Back at the boat, and a bit later, Chris came back with a friend for Casey. Chris was on shore and met a family from Saratoga Springs, NY. They were on their way up Boo Boo hill, and their 12 year old son did't want to go. How convenient! Chris offered to bring him to our boat for a while. So they arrived at the boat and we all popped our heads out of the cabin. It went something like this:
Chris - I brought a friend for Casey to play with. He is from Saratoga.
Casey - I was just in the middle of playing Roller Coaster Tycoon.
New Friend (Parker) - You have Roller Coaster Tycoon! I LOVE that game!
And that's how friends are made. They are going the same direction as us, so I'm sure we'll meet up again.
Yesterday afternoon, I felt like I needed some more snorkeling. I don't know what it is, but now that I'm over my fear of the water creatures, I just can't get enough of the snorkeling. The current was still going, but I felt able to handle it without the kids. I told Chris I was going to check out the sunken boat by mooring number nine. The swim there was with the current and quite brisk. A passing dinghy was laughing at me because I was almost keeping up with them! When I got to the boat, it was teeming with lobster. I saw one huge one just crawling over the wreck and about 5 other small lobsters hidden in various crevaces. Mmmmmm...soooooo yummy. At least now I know where to look for them when I *CAN* try to catch them. The swim back was not as much fun. I swam for a while and realized that I wasn't really making any progress against the current, so I headed for the flats to walk back. After making some progress on the flats, I went back to the water to try swimming again. With a bit more effort, I made some progress and after a bit got back to our boat. I can't wait to go snorkeling again!
When I got back to the boat, I plopped down with my book for a bit to let the sun dry me off. That's when the stinging started. I thought it was some sand at first so I ignored it. Then the stinging got strong enough for me to have to concede that it wasn't sand. I went to the bathroom with a bottle of vinegar in hand. Upon checking the affected area just above my belly and below my neck, I discovered a bit of redness. I wiped the area with vinegar, and nothing much happened. It eventually went away just before dinner. My guess is that a jellyfish landed inside my bathing suit as I was swimming vigorously against the current. Good thing I skipped the fresh water shower this time!
For dinner we had pasta with veggies and alfredo sauce, and watched the movie Bedtime Stories. While we were watching I saw a flash of light outside. Chris went up to look, but heard no thunder so we went back to the movie. After seeing the flash 5-6 more times, I went up to check it out. Then up in the sky, behind the boat the flash went off behind two big dark clouds. It lit up the whole sky behind them. I thought it was beautiful, but Kaitlin thought it was scary. My guess is that it was some sort of cloud to cloud lightening. There was never any thunder, just a beautiful light display. It was almost like fireworks celebrating another amazing day.
Today was a bit of a project day. After school the kids and I went for a dinghy ride to get off the boat. Chris had some phone calls to make and needed quiet time. We checked out another snorkeling spot, but it didn't look as spectacular as the one we were at yesterday. When we got back we had banana bread for lunch that I had made that morning. It was delicious, if I do say so myself! Then after as much procrastinating as possible I decided to tackle some projects. The first was to anchor our bilge pump. The last time I worked on the bilge pump, it was pulled up off of the filter it was anchored to on the bottom of the bilge. This means that without the filter, the pump was free to suck up all the nuts, bolts and miscellaneous items sitting at the bottom. This project went fairly well, and I only lost one screw to the depths of the bilge.
The next project was to tighten up the pressure water system. The bilge has been going off frequently when we turn the pressure water on. I knew there were a couple of leaks in the lines, but they weren't critical. Today I finally got around to tightening them up. I turned two drip..drip..drip leaks into one drip......................drip......................drip leak. Good enough for me! While doing that, I discovered a leak on the top of our port side fresh water tank. Every time I stood on the tank to get to some hose connections, water would come out of a tiny pin hole in the top of the tank. Ok, Chris is not a worry wart. All this time he was telling me that there could be a leak in that tank and I was just trying to deny the possibility. I still have hope though! I haven't seen any water entering the bilge coming from that direction. I'm going to hold on to that hope!
After the work was done, I *begged* the kids to go snorkeling with me. It is a bit chilly out, and they simply had no interest in swimming. *PLEASE* I said! I even tried to pout and guilt them into coming along, but with no avail. Then Parker (Casey's new friend from yesterday) and his family went by on their catamaran. The kids were ecstatic! We thought they were leaving today. I suggest we go snorkeling with them, and they had their bathing suits and gear ready in less than a minute. I must say I felt a little sad!
The kids and I raced over to their boat and we hung out for a while. Then we all went to the snorkeling spot we had been to the day before. We took seperate dinghys, and I was planning on tying up to one of the dinghy moorings. They told us that they just drift snorkel. They jump out of their dinghy up tide from where they want to snorkel. Then they just drift along with their dinghy. I tried it, and it worked great! You don't have to worry about how to get back to your dinghy because its always with you!
This time we saw a whole different section of coral. I thought it would be boering to see the same spot again, but that wasn't the case. Casey had been a bit hesitant to snorkel because he was worried about the stingrays. So while we were snorkeling, a large spotted eagle ray approached us. I pointed him out to Casey who watched it go by with wide eyes. Then we saw a group of two eagle rays, one of which had a remora attached to the bottom. Finally a school of 3 passed by. One came quite close, aiming right for us until he turned away about 20 feet from where we swam. Even I got a little freaked at that! Casey said he was a bit worried too, but I believe he's a bit less freaked out than before we saw them.
After an awsome time snorkeling, our friends (boat name: side by side) told us that a bunch of people were getting together for snacks on shore that evening. We got together with three other couples and had a great evening. The kids played with the hermit crabs while the adults got the chance to chat. I haven't had much of a chance to interact with adults, and tonight was quite a refreshing break in that trend.
Tomorrow we will head south with refreshed hope for more families to interact with!
We visited a shark research facility on Bimini while there and they had many examples of local wildlife. Here's Kristen holding a Bimini Boa. I think she thought it was a drink when they first asked her if she wanted a Bimini Boa.