15 Dec 2010
Boca Chica NAS, Key West, FL
Trip: 0-nm; Total: 0-nm
When does a voyage actually start? Does it start when you slip your lines and point the bow toward the horizon? Or does it start when one commits to go? It’s an academic question; talk it over among yourselves.
I prefer to think that this voyage began over a year ago when I left the Chesapeake Bay and headed south along the east coast. My plan then was to head at least as far south as Cartagena, Columbia. The stop in Key West was to be just for the New Years Eve party. But one thing led to another, you know how it goes, and I sort of got stuck here for an extended lay-over. The weather was nice; the people were nice; the facilities were nice. And so I stayed. I went back north and brought down my Harley. I spent the winter drinking and partying and the summer riding.
Now it’s time to continue the voyage.
Galena had waited for my attention throughout the summer of 2010. I used her as little more than a base of operations while I rode around and across the country. All summer long I seemed to be always just leaving or just returning from some excellent adventure. And whenever I was on board Galena I was getting ready for another road trip. So I never really had time for her; or more accurately, I never made time for her. With all the distractions at hand I was clearly disinclined to actually work on her although I did on occasion think about all the things that needed to be done. And she had quite a list of items that needed serious attention.
So now comes November, 2010. I’m seriously thinking about taking an extended voyage. And Galena has not even left her slip in a year! Three main systems have been calling to me all summer long and I, the king of procrastination, have ignored them. They are:
1. The engine has a serious oil leak at the timing gear cover
2. The stuffing box needs to be restuffed
3. The watermaker doesn’t make water
On top of all that, I’ve actually started to tell people that I was considering attempting a circumnavigation. Why I started saying that out loud I have no idea. But it was said. Although I usually left myself a plausible out by saying I’d make a final decision once I passed through the Canal. Now I have to get serious. Now I must spend a frantic couple of weeks attending to these repairs and others. By the last week of November things were coming together and I was beginning to look at departure dates.
On December 1 I had moved Galena out of her slip in the marina and out onto a mooring ball. Two reasons for that: First I would save a hundred dollars on mooring fees; and second I would be forced to test Galena’s systems. Things like batteries and all the 12-volt circuits. Living out in the harbor without that big yellow power cable hooked to the dock causes some serious reconsiderations. Also I’d have to use the dinghy to get out and back.
That being so, the first thing I found out was that the little outboard motor on the dinghy wouldn’t start. I probably should not have left it hanging on the aft rail for a year. Well, Jay (one of the marina’s experts) helped me take it apart and clean it up and get it running. Still had some small issues with the low-speed jet but we had it running.
The watermaker was another issue. It didn’t’ work. Where I was headed being able to create your own fresh drinking water was essential. Understand the depth of my procrastination with this little device. I had bought it, used, on eBay about 3 years ago. I mounted it in Galena and found it didn’t work. I thought about it for a while and then sort of forgot about it. I was cruising the Bahamas and water, while not cheap, was usually available.
Two years ago, in George Town, Great Exuma Island, Bahamas, I talked with a guy who worked for Katadyn, the maker of my little PUR-40 watermaker. He said it sounded like it needed to be rebuilt. He had a kit onboard (he had many kits onboard) so I bought one. The rebuild kit went into a locker and out of mind.
A month ago I pulled out the rebuild kit and spent a full day disassembling and rebuilding the thing. When I was done and it was setting on my navigation station/workbench, it worked. With something akin to a song in my heart I reinstalled it in its place under the counter in the head. I turned it on and it wouldn’t work.
So with time running short I gave up and sent it out to be ‘fixed.’ The professionals said, “Works fine.” So I ran new, heavy-gauge wires to it thinking that maybe a voltage drop was the problem. Nope. I pulled it out of the cabinet and was playing with it when it suddenly starts working. Producing 1.5-gal of nice, good-tasting, fresh water from seawater. Cool. I reinstalled it and tried it. It worked. Understand that this is not some trivial piece of equipment. Aside from the cost (a new one cost $3,400) I can’t stress enough the importance of being able to make water. On a small boat like Galena there are two things that I constantly monitor: electricity and fresh water. I’m somewhat fanatical about each.
Sailboat cruising schedules are almost entirely weather dependent. To depart port with the wrong wind speed or direction can lead to at best an uncomfortable ride and at worst disaster. So we salty mariners will cast a knowing weather eye skyward and study the clouds and winds and seas and say, “Tomorrow might be the day.” Or we’ll do the modern day equivalent, which is get on the internet and see what the forecasters say.
A good period of weather is called a “weather window.” Weather windows have a habit of forming and collapsing like soap bubbles. The 10-day forecast says there’s a good wind-shift coming. Wind clocking to a good direction at a good speed for a long enough period of time. I plan to ride it. Three days later the desired wind-shift might be six days out but becoming shorter in duration. Four days later that desirable wind-shift has disappeared altogether. But wait! There’s another window that looks promising just seven days out. And that’s how it goes. And that’s how it went for me last week.
Weather windows came and collapsed. Wednesday looked good for a while. But then I saw Saturday, 18 December, and I thought, “Well, there’s a nice window.” But Chris Parker, weather guru of the Caribbean, said, “Wednesday is the day. Go then.” So I jumped.
Galena was mostly ready to go. I just had to fill one of my propane jugs and I’d be ready. So, early Wednesday morning my buddy, Capt Ron, gave me a ride to the filling station. He also bought me a nice breakfast (Thanks, again, Ron). I had spent all of the previous day topping off the water tanks and securing items below so they wouldn’t shift around while sailing.
I’d read once that just before setting sail one should take a photo of the inside of one’s boat. Then take that photo and turn it upside-down and study it. That’s how your world might look. Study it and think about what would stay in place and what would be flying about. If that happens to Galena stuff flying around will be the last of my worries.
I was completing preparations to get underway when Hammer and Barry showed up at my mooring ball. They had come out to see me off and offer any help I might need. Barry came aboard and helped me get my dinghy secured on deck. We removed the sail covers. The engine fired up. I said goodbye to Barry and Hammer as I slipped the single line holding me to the mooring ball.
Galena’s bow swung southward in the wind as I walked back to the cockpit and put her in gear.
I was off.
It was 0930 on 15 December 2010. My plan is to return to Boca Chica in about two, maybe three, years. Between now and then I had places to go and people to see.
This first leg would take me from Key West, Florida, to Morgans Bluff, Andros Island, Bahamas.
The first leg is about 230-nm long and has the unique feature of the Gulf Stream in the middle of it.
It’s been said that the Gulf Stream is God’s way of telling you that your boat isn’t a big as you think it is. Attempting to cross that 40-nm stretch of water under the wrong conditions is treacherous and foolish. I know. I’ve done it. The main consideration of this first weather window was, “what will the winds be when I’m crossing The Stream?” Well, Chris Parker is usually right when he says, “This is perfect… GO!” Of course, he’s sitting comfortably in his house in Florida when he says that. But I’ve seen his boat cruising the Bahamas so at least he knows sailboats as well as the weather.
Once outside the Boca Chica entry channel I turned Galena to windward and raised her sails. The winds were 45-deg at 10-kts. Galena was heading 75-degrees into a 2-ft wind chop. Not quite on the nose, but I had to motorsail to hold her that close to the wind. The sky was clear and was to remain so all day long.
I was afraid that Harvey, the Helmsman (my old Aries steering vane) might be frozen up after setting idle for a year. I had oiled him and exercised him a bit but I wasn’t sure he was loose enough to steer properly. As it turned out those fears were unwarranted. Harvey steered Galena just fine.
I had forgotten to reset my trip meter on my GPS before I left and I did so about 8-nm from the start. So for a while I’ll just add 8-nm to whatever I read. After a bit it just won’t matter. Perhaps even now it doesn’t. I usually leave the GPS on while at anchor. I use the drag alarm feature to let me know when Galena is no longer firmly attached to the seabed. Believe it or not, I’ve seen the trip meter register over 20-nm of travel while just swinging around the anchor for a couple of weeks.
I also forgot to check the diesel fuel levels. I know that she was full when I parked her but it would have been wise to check. I did so at 1400-hrs; 5 full hours after I started the trip.
Fuel was: 30/32/20 gallons in the starboard and port internal tanks and the deck jugs, respectively. At 0.5 gal/hr and 4.0 nm/hr that computes to an 8-mpg mileage times 82-gallons or about 640-nm motoring range. That should do for now.
Most of the day and into the early evening I was able to motorsail at about 5.5-kts into a 3-4 ft sea. That made for a most uncomfortable ride. Every three seconds Galena would drop her bow and plow into a wave. Sometimes she would get into a rhythm that would, with two or three bounces, bring her to a complete stop. This went on all night.
The sunset on that first night out was pretty good. I’ve seen a lot of sunsets at sea. I don’t usually take a picture because, well you’ve seen one, etc. But this was the first sunset after the first day of my voyage of discovery and I wanted to commemorate it. So here’s the picture. It was taken at 1842 on 15 December 2010, just after I passed over the reef and into deep water south of Key Colony Beach, FL.
First sunset out of Key West, FL
All night long I cursed Chris Parker. For those who don't now him, Chris is the weather guru for the Caribbean cruiser. Everyone, doesn't matter if you trust him or not, everyone gets up at 0630 every day (except Sunday) to listen to his prognostications. You can go to his web site to get the times and frequencies if you want to join in the fun. Many people pay him for personalized weather routing. Chris starts out with a general forecast for each section of the Bahamas and then gives personal routing advice. I've found the general forecast to be more than enough information. But I guess if one is paying a couple hundred dollars for personal service one might feel the need to call him and ask for his advice on going from here to there. And to his credit when someone asks, "We're at Farmer's Cay heading for George Town. When should we go?" he doesn't say, "I just told everyone what the winds and seas were like there for the next five days. Weren't you listening?!" He’s much to kind and too smart to bite the ha
nd that feeds him. Also, he's usually pretty accurate. So everyone listens.
But not this day. He said very light winds and small seas. That's not what I found waiting for me.
I would later learn that several cruisers who had left Miami because of his recommendation ended up turning back because the seas were just too rough. By the time I was in the Gulf Stream and feeling the full brunt of the east winds blowing 15-kts I was way too far along to turn back. So I endeavored to persevere. I kept thinking, “I should have listened to my own council. I should have waited until Saturday.” On Saturday they were predicting 15-kts from the west. Perfect weather for Galena. But, no. I listened to Parker and here I am getting my ass handed to me by winds on the nose while pounding into big seas.
About midnight I started thinking about Galena’s stuffing box. Yet another thing that I had not checked with a shakedown cruise. I had replaced the stuffing in the stuffing box about a week ago. I had spun the stuffing box on just a little more than hand tight and locked it in place with the locknut. But I recall that it wasn’t dripping at all when I did that. These things are supposed to drip just a little when the prop shaft is spinning and not at all when the engine is off. The water flow is to keep the stuffing and shaft cool. I never checked to see that there was enough (or any) cooling water coming through the stuffing when underway.
Even though it was rough out, and dark, I felt this was one thing that I just had to check now. So I secured the engine and opened the cockpit floor. I crawled down into the engine compartment and reached back along the shaft to the stuffing box. It was dry. Worse: it was pretty warm. I grabbed the special spanner I had for the locknut and went back down there. The locknut was already a bit tight but eventually I got it loose and started to back off the stuffing box. I had turned it out only about a quarter turn when I felt very warm water running over my fingers. I tightened it up just enough to allow a few drips per minute and locked the stuffing box in place. I've never done that kind of work bouncing around in the open sea; in the dark. Good thing I am not prone to seasickness. One more thing I shouldn’t have to worry about for another year or so.
Somewhere in the night I stubbed my toe. "Boat-bites" are a part of cruising. We all look like we've been beat with a bat; bruises from shoulders to knees. But this was more than just a little stub. I looked down and saw a pool of blood! I got some blue painter's tape and wrapped it up. I'm not going to include the picture because it's just too gross. But, If you want to see it
17 Dec 2010, 1340 hrs
Morgan’s Bluff, Andros, Bahama Islands. (N25 10.675 W78 01.764)
Trip: 55nm, Total: 223nm, Eng: 2458hrs
I had never been to Morgan’s Bluff. I was unfamiliar with the harbor and its entrance. I trusted my charts and my GPS and there, bouncing around in the rather rough seas were the entry buoys. They were not the standard buoys that one finds in the US. These were more like round mooring buoys. But they had some reddish and greenish color to them so I figured they were it. I followed them in to find M/T Titus taking on water at the water dock and s/v Pagan Chant lying to anchor in the middle of the harbor.
Pagan Chant anchored in Morgan's Bluff, Andros
Mike had already called the customs people and they were going to be here at 1500-hrs. We had time for a beer. I launched my dinghy and rowed over to his boat and sat there chatting. The sun was high and hot and the beer was cold. Thanks, Mike.
Just before three I went back to Galena to get my papers to clean in to the Bahamas. All I needed was my passport, Galena’s documentation (sort of like a car title), and $150 for the Bahama cruising permit. There was a lot of chatter on the radio that morning about how many days one could get on their visa’s. Some places were only allowing 90-days. Others were authorizing 180-days. Seems like the luck of the draw. Maybe cruiser attitude plays a role. I didn’t care much since I was just passing through this year, not spending the winter like some.
I started gathering my papers and… hey… where’s my passport? It should have been right here in this little pocket on the outside of my abandon-ship bag. That’s where I always keep it. Panic started to creep in. When did I last see that thing? Oh yeah. I had it with me when I was cruising around the country on my Harley (never know when you might have to dip into Mexico). After that? I don’t know. Shit. It wasn’t still in the bag I was carrying while riding on the bike, was it? That bag, along with my Harley, was now in the garage at the home of my dear friends, Dennis and Bettye, in St Augustine, FL. I started tearing up the boat. Where could I have put it? I was dumping out drawers and folders of papers. Minutes passed and I was starting to think about having to go back to the States. Suddenly, there it was. Tucked inside of a folder reserved for ships papers. I don’t remember putting it there. But at least I had it. I hurried in to shore where the customs lady (Ms Stirrup “like in horse saddle”) was wai
ting for me. Mike and I cleared in without a problem. I had a nice time with the nice lady and when it came time for the “length of stay question” I said 120 days, Mike said 180 days. She said, “OK, no problem.”
Mike and I when into the bar and had beer.
About 9pm I was getting ready to call it a day when I checked the GPS and saw that Galena was dragging pretty fast in the gentle breeze coming through the harbor. Having had a few beers and it already being dark I tried just dropping the other bow anchor figuring I'd sort it out in the morning. Of course that didn't work. So I had to haul them both up and try again. I motored up-wind and over a bit away from Pagan Chant and reset the main anchor. This time I got a good set on the anchor and went to bed with some confidence that I’d be in the same place in the morning. Of course I got up and checked several times during the night. But Galena was secure.
I slept well. Until the waves started rolling Galena like I have not felt in a long time. Side to side 10-degrees or more. I had to squeeze myself into a corner to stay in the berth! It seems that the swell from the Tongue of the Ocean comes right into the harbor. Not comfortable at all.
18 Dec 2010 Saturday
Morgans Bluff, Andros
The morning was warm and quiet. But the weather forecast was calling for 30-kts of wind on Sunday. Mike went in to the little basin and talked with Wilger. Wilger had been here a few weeks already and was waiting for friends to catch up with him. His boat, s/v Moonlit, was med-moored to the wall across from the main/commercial docks. Mike said there was room for both of us so I helped him, then he helped me, move our boats in. Wilger was there to catch our bow lines.
On the right as you enter the little harbor
Once inside I could see that the deep water went right up to the shoreline. I saw nothing less than 12-ft depth to within 10-ft of the “shore.”
I have to say that I was a bit nervous about this whole Med-moore thing. I've never done it before. OK, for my non-boating friends, Here's what it's all about: When there's limited space on a dock, instead of laying your boat side-to the dock and taking up a space as long as your boat, you tie just the stern of the boat to the dock so you’re lying perpendicular to the shore. As you approach you swing around and start going backwards toward the shore. You drop your bow anchor a hundred feet or so from the shore. The anchor rode is let out as you back down toward the dock. Just before you hit the dock you snub up the anchor rode and secure your stern with a couple of lines to the dock. I didn't want to put my stern toward that rock wall (rudder and all that just feet from rock makes me nervous). So I went bow-first and dropped a stern anchor about two boat-lengths from the wall. I fed rode out and stopped a few feet from the rocks. Mike was on my bow tossed my bow lines to Wil. I did surprisingly well.
Galena lying bow-to on the wall inside the bite at Morgan’s Bluff.
Having cleared in an gotten our cruising permits we were now waiting for a good weather window to sail over to Nassau.
Here's Mike chatting on the mooring wall.
And here's Wilger, too
Mike was heading to Nassau while I was planning to go below New Providence Island and head directly for the Exumas. Wilger is also skipping the "Nassau Experience" and just doing a slow run down the Exumas.
We watched as an island ferry came into the basin and made deliveries.
Mike and I were more than a bit anxious about him leaving. Will said the ferry would turn around where he was and that the stern would come close to our boats. Mike and I hade stern anchors out about 70-feet or so into to basin and we were concerned that the ferry might snag them with his props. We sent kellets down the rodes and stood by with knives. When the ferry finally backed around we slackened our rodes and the kellets pulled them down to the bottom. The ferry did a fine job turning around in that small basin. Nothing like twin props and a hell of a lot of horsepower!
I tried to fire up my portable generator. Again, this is one of those things that I should have done as part of a shake-down cruise. But I didn't do a shake-down cruise (oh, this is it).
The generator wouldn't start. I start taking it apart in the cockpit. I find that the fuel is getting to the carb and I clean the carb and drain the bowl. But the primer pump isn't pumping. I take it apart and find a broken plastic cap that is letting air into the priming bulb. I'm wondering how to fix this when a part falls into the cockpit from the generator. My cockpit has two large scuppers (holes that let water drain out) and when in port I usually cover them with something. I didn't. A part fell directly into the scupper and disappeared. It was the plunger and spring. Now I'm screwed. I'm telling Mike about it and he points down into the water and says, "Is that it?" Yep, once the spring fell off the plastic plunger it bobbed to the surface. Now all I need is a spring. I should be able to work around that.
I use JB Weld to reform the broken plastic part. I'll let it cure for a couple days before I put it all back together to see if it works.
23 December 2010
Staniel Cay, Bahamas, N24-11.181 W76-27.492
Trip: 47nm, Total: 347nm, Eng: 2469hrs
The 47 nautical mile run from Highborne Cay, to staniel cay, Exumas, Bahamas
I made it to Staniel cay just about dawn. I didn't want to try to navigate to the area between the Majors so I just anchored out in front of Big Major Spot. As it got light I saw that I was with 15 other boats and we were all bouncing around. I had 100-ft of chain out and was lying in 9-ft of water. I've never dragged here. But just 300-ft behind Galena is what's called an "iron shore." That is: Rock. Dragging any distance at all here would be very bad.
I set my drag alarm on the GPS and sat up waiting to see what would happen. I listened to the weather reports and considered my options.
Several boats left during the morning hours. I should have not come here. I should have continued south. This anchorage is rough and dangerous with its lee shore. And if I had just kept going south this morning I could have run through Galliot Cut and been in George Town by nightfall. Now I'm here until the next cold front which should be Monday.
About 1100hrs I was on deck covering the sails and securing lines. I see a boat coming into the anchorage from the Banks. Looked familiar. As it got closer I was certain I knew this boat. I grabbed my binoculars and looked for its name: Seabbatical 1. Yep, I know this guy. It was Clark. This might be interesting.
24 December 2010
Still at Staniel Cay
During the night the wind clocked from west (big waves coming off the Banks, rough anchorage) to north (waves blocked by islands; just a gentle bobbing around). I'm torn by a desire to keep going and the coming cold front. I'd like to use the front to blow me down to George Town. But it's too far from here. I have to move from here to Galliot Cut. From there I can make the run to George Town out on the Exuma Sound. But the wind has to be right. I could ride this north wind to Galliot. Then sit there for a couple days waiting for the wind to clock as the front passes. But the wind will be up to 25kts. There are places to hide down near the cut (and a nice marina that I've never been to). I could get there in about 5-hrs. This north wind is a bit too brisk for a comfortable sail. Tomorrow the wind will be southwest but much lighter.
OK, Here's the plan: I'll wait till tomorrow and sail to Galliot Cut. Wind should be light and 60-degrees off the bow. Manageable. Then I'll wait for the wind to clock to west or north of west. I squirt out the cut and run southeast hugging the islands all the way to George Town. Should work.
With the continued high winds this morning I decided to run my watermaker. This marks the first time I've actually used the watermaker to make water for my consumption. Every other time I've run it I was just testing the systems. This water was actually going into my tanks. The wind generator was able keep up with the power draw of the watermaker. After only about 5-minutes the output was clean and fresh. I fed it into a water jug and let it run for about 1.5 hrs. I had almost 2-gal of fresh drinking water when I shut it down. Magical systems here. Wind spins wind generator which makes electricity which drives the motor on the watermaker which uses reverse osmosis to desalinate seawater and produce drinking water which, around here, goes for about $ 0.25/gal.
A quiet day onboard. Scrubbed out my head.
26 December 2010
George Town, Exumas, Bahamas
Trip: 41nm, Total: 418nm, Engine: 2481hrs
I came through Galliot Cut without a problem. There was just a minor rage on the north side of the cut but nothing of any consequence. The wind was only SSW at about 7-kts. Not as far off the bow as I would have liked, of course, but tolerable.
Departing Galliot Cut
I left Galliot Cut with staysail and main set and headed down along the cays, about a mile off-shore into the Exuma Sound. The seas were only about 3-ft but the wind was building.
By the time I was halfway here the wind had clocked to be on the beam and had piped up to at least 20-kts. Galena was down to a double-reefed main and a staysail. Both were let out enough to be luffing badly and still I was over driving her. I considered dropping the main and running under staysail alone but by the time I really considered that I was only about an hour out of the harbor. So I run along listening to the sails flap in the winds that were now well over 20-kts.
The 42nm route from Galliot Cut to George Town on Great Exuma Island, Bahamas
As I made the turn to windward at the entrance to the harbor I dropped the main. I motorsailed into the harbor where the waves were only 2-ft but the wind was still over 20-kts.
I was considering where to anchor. With the wind from the SW I should probably anchor in Kidd Cove. But then I'd have to move to the other side to hang out at the Chat-n-Chill. In the end I decided that the waves were not too bad over at Sand Dollar beach and tucked Galena fairly deeply into the corner there.
Galena's location at Sand Dollar Beach, in Elizabeth Harbor with George Town in lower left.
I had hook down and well set by 1430hrs. That was well as by 1600hrs the cold front came through with a vengeance!
A dark line of clouds crossed the harbor and the wind rose to over 30-kts as it clocked 50-degrees to WNW. Galena was far enough into the bite that is Sand Dollar beach that we were shielded from a goodly part of the blow by Rocky Point (I had to look that up; who knew it had a name?).
The Sand Dollar Beach Anchorage in George Town looking NW toward Rocky Point
By 1800hrs the wind had abated quite a bit and Galena was riding nicely at her anchor.
On the radio I hear s/v Southern Cross. There was such a boat in Boca Chica that was headed this way so I hailed them to see if this was, in fact, Carl and Judie. We did the old, "switch to 72-and-up" thing. But before I could call them on 72 I hear, "Galena! This is Nice and Easy! So good to hear you! I thought you were in the Pacific." I explained how I had gotten stuck in Key West for the past year. Then as I was about to call Carl I'm hailed by M/V Lady Ray. More people saying welcome back. So surprisingly nice to be remembered. Finally I talked with Carl, found out it was indeed him, and made plans to visit tomorrow or the next day.
Here I am, in George Town, Exumas, just 11-days out of Key West, FL. That's some fast Cruising. I just checked and the first time I came this way I spent 6-weeks cruising from Miami to here. But on that first trip I wanted to see it all. I've run this string of islands several times since then and on this trip I just wanted to get here.
In fact, except for going ashore in Morgan's Bluff to clear customs I have not stepped off the boat since leaving Boca Chica 11-days ago.
Anyway, I had a nice little dinner and am ready to call it a day. Tomorrow I'll head in to see if I can buy some internet time. I'll probably stay here a few weeks. I have some stuff to do on Galena and this is a good place to do it.
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On to Part 02: At George Town, Great Exuma, Bahamas