Around Nassau town we do(n't) roam.
And any drinking all night was confined to the boat.
I wonder what Nassau was like in the time of the Beach Boys. Or Black Beard. Today it is busy. The traffic is overwhelming for such a small island. The anchorage is frustrating as well. It has a tidal shift reminiscent of La Paz in Baja California, or Morro Bay, yet with none of the congenial bottom for holding. As the tide turns against the wind, the boats in the anchorage engage in a waltz, with some banging around.
We actually dragged! The first time in my decade of sailing, we dragged while we were away from the boat. Outrageous. I'm taking the blame for not putting out sufficient scope for fear of swinging wide and hitting another boat, but there are hints and innuendo of sabotage. Fortunately some other sailors were on the ball and took care of us while we were 'round Nassau town.
For cruisers and other travelers wanting to "City Cruise", Nassau might be a destination. At $2.00/foot per night it is spendy to take a dock. The tap water is pretty salty. And we are subject to the usual mix of wealth and poverty experienced in these parts. Whole families literally living aboard half sunk derelicts here in the harbor in the shadow of multi-million dollar villas and mansions. The high crime rate isn't shocking, as little of the wealth that passes through here seems to be invested in bettering the common lot. The Bahamian Government doesn't do income tax, nor sales tax. Everything comes out of tourist taxes. The wealth doesn't seem to spread in proportion to the behemoth foreign investment. It makes me nervous.
But there is a pearl in Nassau. Well, actually across the channel on Paradise Island. No, not the pink concrete monstrosity of the Atlantis Hotel! Ick!
The pearl we found was the Yoga Retreat.
We haven't had a formal practice since leaving Ft. Lauderdale, and our whole family enjoys the practice; it serves a meditative counterpoint to the marshal aspect of our Aikido study. Our stay at the retreat was so enjoyable that it makes some of the pain we've had ashore in Nassau seem worth it. They have a surprisingly modest yet enchanting facility, well gardened with native plants and well maintained structures. The food is spectacular. It is the perfect antithesis for the ugly concrete and consumerist nonsense of the Atlantis, which hulks on the beach just a mile East.
Today we finally managed to anchor in front of the Retreat just as room opened up in the evening. I can't wait to go back tomorrow.
I expect we'll take the next front out of here on Thursday morning.
The Gulf Stream is only plotted on charts as a narrow lane of arrows, forever plowing North at four knots. This means if you want to make any way south-east, say to Gunn Key in the Near Bahamas, you must point almost dead south against the current and have a fair amount of wind from the west. Or, make for a shortest path across the picket of arrows and then make your South back after you get out of the stream on the far side.
The problem of course is with the over simplified representation of geography on the chart. The Gulf Stream is everywhere, and sometimes it just doesn't seem to let up.
In the past it didn't seem to be much more than a small inconvenience. With the previous half-dozen cold fronts we have been thwarted on crossing no less than three times.
So we anchored around Ft. Lauderdale "city cruizin'". Sounds dystopic? You betcha. The girls studied their lessons. Sarah and I entombed ourselves with Hulu and our Italian lessons. The fronts passed through, freezing those proverbial brass balls.
On Hulu, we watched "Sliders", a show about a young scientist who discovered how to cross to parallel universes. The premise is fun, if the execution somewhat clumsy at times. One line resounded with me: "In all the Americas we've been in one thing is constant - health care sucks!" My right meniscus is torn; I've been managing well enough since I injured it a year ago. I discovered (for a paltry $300) that there is a treatment for it, but it would cost many thousands. So, like many other of my country folk, I limp along.
But we prevailed eventually, in spite of unseasonable cold and various ails and injuries, to cross the 'Stream. We spent a wicked few days at Gunn Key, before crossing the Great Bahama Bank. Now that is a strange experience: anchoring in ten feet of water, completely out of sight of land. Aside from a panic of a possibly entangled prop (it wasn't), we made Chubb Cay yesterday and will probably excursion ashore tonight.
And yes, if you were wondering, the rats are doing fine.
It's surprising how time flies when you're tied up to the dock.
South Florida has turned chilly, and in our procrastination, we are on the wrong side of the tropics. We will remedy this soon, hopefully.
Right now we are hogging the electricity, relative heat and free wifi at Borders. You can't get all that with Amazon!
And why spend all these weeks draining our coffers? Why, to get rats, of course! Meet Tika and Ruby, who after some small squabbles have come to some sort of agreement with Sendai. I hope they take well to sailing.
"You aren't allowed to anchor there," I heard the refrain and rubbed my chin a bit. I hadn't bothered to flip the VHF on for most of the morning, as we luxuriated at anchor near the Old Bahama Bay breakwater. She must have been calling every few minutes, as she was the first voice blaring out on 16.
I sighed and reflected on how government property somehow becomes private property the whole world over. This marina, with their teeming empty docks and quiet fuel station certainly hadn't built the breakwater at West End. Indeed, my charts showed this place as "Jack Tar Marina". I lazily scribbled the correction and quickly stifled the temptation to explain to the lady on the radio how one should approach customers when attempting to get business for non-rival and non-exclusive merchandise, but it hadn't worked with music sharing and the RIAA, and I doubted any nuanced approach would work here.
"What are your rates?" I mumbled back with no intention of paying them a dime at this point. I let her rattle through the inordinately expensive menu of dock charges.
"Fuck that," Sarah muttered.
"No thanks, we'll be leaving within the hour," I transmitted.
"We do allow you to anchor north of the breakwater," the woman radioed helpfully.
"Yeah, and we'll allow you to borrow the ocean twice a day to fill your worthless hole of a marina," I replied, without pushing to talk.
"It's not like we're stealing from them," I complained to Sarah. "They have lost nothing, and made us happy after a long sail along the island."
"Don't forget the WiFi," she replied.
"Oh, how could I ever?"
If they hadn't been so provincially proprietary over a patch of unused basin in the far reaches of the marina, I might have actually considered taking a dock for the day. But at over two dollars per foot per night, it's hard to justify.
The facility looked pretty, though. I guess it's easy to maintain docks when they stay relatively unused.
Wisely, futilely, we carefully sounded and plotted out the area north of the breakwater, a narrow channel between rocks and reef before motoring on to find a suitable location for snorkeling.
Wood Cay is only two and a half miles up along the banks and is intriguingly well vegetated. I dove on the anchor in three fathoms to ascertain why we couldn't hook in what seemed to be fine sand. The bottom was actually rock hard and flat as a parking lot. My anxiety increased as we noted fishing boats blasting between us and the shallows of the cay. Madi's loose teeth were preventing her from mouthing her snorkel and Malia seemed to be having trouble staying on top of the water, using me instead as a float. The current was far too strong and the near reef too solid and shallow to pass over. Much a pity, as the near waters were packed with reef fish and beautiful neon fan kelp and coral.
I'd be willing to try again, but would approach in the dinghy and only after finding better holding for Avalon.
We decided to retire at our well observed spot, only to discover that the bottom conditions were somehow even worse, and in our probing for sandy bottom, went softly aground in a slowly rising tide.
Cursing, we decided it was time to make for Palm Beach as we waited to float free.
Under a soft Northeast breeze we headed out over water as still as a lake. Finally! A relaxing night at sail. We even managed to debug the windvane enough so that finally it guided us well and true, with only occasional corrections as the wind puffed sporadically. Another beautiful sunset, followed by a quick sliver of moonset, and then bright stars and the telltale glow of Florida's distant and yet unseen coast.
Then the US Coast Guard came on the radio locating our position and heading with uncanny accuracy. It must be fun to have all that radar and electronica at your disposal. My tax dollars, etc., etc.
"When was the last time you were boarded by us?" they asked after the routine game of twenty questions we get every time we venture past their radar picket.
"I have no recollection of ever being boarded," I replied.
"Prepare to be boarded. Do you have a preferred side?"
"Starboard, and mind the solar panels deployed there, as they can hurt pretty bad edgewise on," I replied. "Oh yeah, have your boarding party take their shoes off."
The two Coasties who came aboard were curt, professional and every bit the older, career oriented service folk that I became unaccustomed to seeing in our modern chew 'em up and redeploy 'em military. The kids in the zodiac driving around were a bit more of the typical teenagers one usually encounters in uniform. It struck me again: where were all our mature professional enlisted soldiers? Had we as a nation slipped so far as to alienate those who are most willing and able to serve? All these needless wars we fight and we can still do no better than having kids in zodiacs drive around to "protect" our own shores?
They checked our flares - to my chagrin one set had expired, but our inboard set were still good for a month.
"You know, they don't go bad like cream," I protested. "There has to be a secret deal between the flare companies and the Coast Guard to keep us buying these damn things."
"It wouldn't be the Coast Guard," one of the men replied. "Talk to your legislators. They were the ones who probably cut the deal with Orion."
Savvy. Very savvy.
They checked our bilges, puzzled over our rat run, and finally thanked us and handed us the "gold seal of approval". Since we were only ticking a couple knots downwind, they didn't even slow us down on our trip. Madi stood at the helm in matching bathrobe and lifejacket during their stay - quietly competent and far more at home in many ways than the older youngsters who motored back up to retrieve their chiefs and ferry them back to their cutter.
Strangely, the experience had been somewhat ... pleasant? Reassuring?
Not so much with our next USCG experience.
The wind picked up the next morning. Sarah managed to bake a loaf of bread as we kicked and bucked across the Gulf Stream and briskly flew into Lake Worth in Palm Beach. I kind of like the setup there. You pull into the inlet, set your anchor and go to sleep. Which is what we did.
Next day we sailed around a bit outside the inlet to survey a replica of The Bounty, as well as a thoroughly insane ultralight pilot before making our way inside the one mile mark offshore toward Lauderdale. Stay in going south: deal with crazy Floridian boaters. Go out southbound: deal with four knots of counter current in the Stream. That is the hard calculus cruising this coast.
The moon set later and showed us a nearly unbroken rank of small motor boats loosely at anchor inside the fifteen fathom contour. Fishing, fishing, fishing. It was Friday and we waved and wished good evening as we peacefully sailed a slalom course through their blockade. Again, the wind was puffy, the sea more a lake. We ate beans and rice and played cribbage on deck until it was too dark to peg.
A small motorboat came up on our starboard quarter and shined their million candlelight beam right in my face.
I returned the favor as I fumbled for the radio.
"This is Auxiliary Coast Guard vessel. Your lights are incorrect," the operator said with something like concern in his voice. "I'm only seeing white."
I've hung with some Power Squadron folk who simply knew how to party. None of them seemed as clueless as the guy behind me. Perhaps he just received his shiny badge in the mail that day. I don't know. If I had a torpedo I would have expended it on him. Especially if its expiration date had passed.
"Your light is white all around," he persisted. I could almost hear the sniggering of all the other lurkers on the VHF listening to this.
"Funny, I don't recall seeing you pass in front of me. Anyway, it's a masthead tricolor light. You're seeing white because you are behind me. Everyone gets to see white back there."
"You could tell him the masthead light has 'USCG approved' stamped right on it and costs more than his boat," Sarah offered.
"I was hoping to get this conversation finished so we could spend the next few hours making fun of him," I answered over my shoulder.
"Uh, I see your green light now, but I think it starts too far forward," deputy sailor-man came back. "Where's your destination tonight?"
"Wherever the wind will blow us," I replied, biting back that he too could go blow us. "What did you say your operating number was again?"
Uncertainty. A wish of a good evening as he sped off to the Hillsboro inlet after he made another couple laps around us, narrowly missing entanglement with an anchored fisherman.
We made Ft. Lauderdale after midnight, put our hook down in Lake Sylvia and slept very well.
Last Thursday we were presented a window of opportunity and boldly took favorable conditions to start our voyage to the Berry Islands. Things did not work out as planned - they rarely do.
I could not get the windvane to function. Without self steering an overnight trip is mostly no fun. We could have persisted, but I wanted to get back to our cozy anchorage by the Lucaya Waterway at Grand Bahama Island and figure it out.
So with much cursing we turned around and screamed back to our spot under twenty knots of NE wind.
About a couple miles south of the first pair of markers we spotted a parachute flare falling from the sky. At night distances and bearings are exceeding difficult to judge, but to Sarah at least, the flare seemed to land just East of our entrance to the waterway.
I called PAN PAN on 16 for the first time in my decade or so of cruising. I could barely make out BASRA's (Bahamas Air and Sea Rescue Association) reply. Later diagnosis revealed that my VHF isn't receiving as well as I'd like either. We worked with BASRA searching for the source of the flare. I proposed it might be some drunk party goers on the beach firing off their expired ordinance. Some friends later proposed they weren't drunk, merely signaling that they were ready to receive an illicit shipment from offshore. Either way, parachute flares in the States are about fifty dollars a pop. In the Bahamas, they could be over a hundred. It seemed suspicious enough to keep searching for a time.
We sailed up and down a bit but found no dead bodies bobbing, or half sunk hulks. A little disappointed, we cleared out with BASRA, who were kind and patient with our reception problems, anchored back in our little cove and slept for a day after all the excitement.
On Friday, just before sunset, Tokyo, who had been battling illness for quite some time, finally succumbed. He spent his last minutes with Sarah. We are heartbroken, especially his brother Sendai who is now alone in the world aside from us humans. We built a small cairn for him ashore as the sun went down. We all miss him terribly and find ourselves in the awkward position of looking to adopt a new lad or lass as the little souls are very social and Sendai requires companionship of his own kind.
Yesterday we joined the Grand Bahama Sailing Club, in whose basin we've been anchored now this past week. The girls are looking forward to learning to sail their Optimist and Laser dinghies.
The cold front set in as expected on Friday, and is still blowing NE.