Saturday, April 25, 2015

Stumbling Through the Bahamas, One Mistake at a Time

We spent a couple peaceful days anchored out in Old Fort Bay swimming around and checking out some of the coral.  On the third day after Ashley's arrival, we had to move Moitessier to West Bay, due to a wind direction change.  Since the wind was coming from the north at about 25 kts, Old Fort Bay was no longer an option for a sheltered anchorage.  Since we were planning on going to the Exumas the next day, we figured we would just head over to West Bay, get up early in the morning, and head south around Nassau and make our way southeast to Allen Cay.  Getting into the anchorage proved to be quite simple, with visual piloting around some coral heads, but leaving proved to be quite a debacle.  

In West Bay, there are 2 ways to get in and out of the anchorage.  One is from the north, which we entered from, and another is in the south.  We stupidly decided to leave early in morning without the sun high in the sky to help us read the water.  Since we hadn't entered through this cut, we had no reference really as to where the shallow water began and ended.  We were relying on our chart-plotter which didn't have too much information on depths, as well as on our paper charts which also weren't too helpful, but with a time crunch to get into Allen Cay with daylight behind us, we foolishly left early in the morning against our gut instinct.  What a mistake that was.  With me at the helm, I watched the depths quickly drop from a safe 10 ft to 6.5 ft within seconds.  By the time I had realized what was happening and put the "brakes" on Moitessier, it was already much too late.  We ran aground onto a large, camouflaged coral bed.  

I must say, that may have been the longest 5 minutes of my life.  With every bashing on the coral Moitessier was taking, I felt my heart breaking.  The waves were thrashing Moitessier up and down, and the boat was rocking back and forth.  Any longer and water would've started to enter the bulwarks.  At this point, I was still at the helm when Frank told me to back off the coral. Frank was shouting don't back up into a coral head.  He hadn't thought to help look behind me and in his frantic state, he was concerned that I would hit the rudder or prop straight into a coral.  With Frank panicking and shouting, I ended up making him take over helming as I became the eyes behind the boat.  We were all freaking out and I figured that it would be easier if I just told him which way to steer.  After what seemed an eternity, Frank finally reversed us off of the coral bed.  We finally started to gain depth and watched the depth-sounder slowly rise again as my heart rate slowly dropped.  

By far the most frightening experience thus far.  Of course the trip to Allens was delayed another day as we went back to our anchorage to assess the damage done to our poor baby.  Surprisingly, actually very surprisingly, Moitessier had only suffered a few cosmetic scratches and where we scraped the bottom against the coral, the paint simply had chipped away.  A testament to the resilience of older built boats.  We were so proud of her and apologized for our wrecklessness.  Chalk it up to another lesson learned through us not listening to our instincts.  Though it was a bit traumatic, I'm glad we learned the lesson that we can't ignore our gut and that in the Bahamas, it is extremely important to have sun behind you for visual piloting.  

Wednesday, April 22, 2015


After spending over a week in the Berry Islands, we moved on to Nassau where we picked up my good friend, Ashley, who is to be joining us as crew indefinitely (until she runs out of cash).  We anchored out in Old Fort Bay, by Lyford Cay Marina, and dinghied to the marina to pick her up.  Looking at the prices to stay at the marina with tight security, as well as the megayachts there, we thought for sure that we wouldn't be able to get away with docking our dinghy there.  It turns out that the people at the ultra posh marina were actually quite affable. I went in and spoke with the dock master and was told that we could dock our dinghy there for $1/ft for a couple of hours.  Since we needed to reprovision, I figured that this was a great deal.  

When we finally went into marina preparing to our pay our whole $9, the lady at the office giggled and said that since our boat was so small that we didn't have to worry about paying our fees.  I guess we're chump change compared to the money they see coming in.  Haha.  When we told her that we were planning to walk to the market 2 miles away, she gave us a sideways glance and the number to a taxi in case we changed our minds, as it was a very long walk.  Halfway through our walk, we realized that we were lost, we stopped in a real estate office to ask if we could use their phone to call the taxi.  The young receptionist there was so sweet and helped us call the taxi.  When we heard that the cab ride was going to be $20, our frugal asses decided that perhaps we would walk after all.  With sympathy in her eyes, she said she'd give us a ride since the market was really really far away.  She said that she's spent the  past couple of years travelling Asia and understands what it's like to be on a low budget.  We were dumbfounded.  The people here are so nice and it's so refreshing to see that there are still places where people will just help you out for nothing in return.  Again, another example of the altruistic nature of human beings reinforcing my belief that there is still hope for mankind.  Teaching me that lesson over and over again that I must be nice to people and continue this cycle of giving and paying it forward.  

Provisioning in the Fresh Market at Lyford proved to be absolutely exorbitant, and I can't figure how the Bahamians could afford to live there.  A head of cabbage cost $7! And an orange was $3!  Frank, Ashley, and I were just walking around the market, picking up random pieces of fruit and vegetable going, "Holy Shit!  $8 for a bulb of fennel?!"  We were completely flabbergasted.  We bought the cheapest of the produce, which included a couple heads of cabbage, some carrots, and celery.  Meat was quite expensive as well, so we opted out of that, rationalizing that we would be catching loads of fish.   

In the end, our provisioning trip ended up costing about 4 times what we would've paid for anything in the states.  Good news though was that on Ashley's first day aboard, she caught on the hand-line a 25 lb Mutton Snapper.  It was crazy when she caught it because a Barracuda was chasing it as quickly as she was trying to reel it in.  Nice!

Ashley is here!!
Mutton Snapper!!
Water Spout that luckily dissipated

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Marketfish & Frozen Cays

Apologies for the barrage of new blog posts, but this is the first time I've been able to get steady internet for quite some time….we are currently in Georgetown, but I'll back-track a bit just catch us up...

Marketfish Cay
Shortly after leaving Fraziers Hog Cay, we spent a couple of days in Marketfish Cay, which was a beautiful little deserted cay in the Berrys with some stellar coral to dive on.  The cut getting into Marketfish is pretty straighforward as well and the holding there is very good.  We were able to spear some snapper which made for some amazing meals.  

Speared Snapper
Beautiful Fan Coral at Marketfish….
Remora we found living under Moitessier

After Marketfish, we moved on to Frozen Cay to visit the famous Flo's Conch Bar & Restaurant at Cabbage Cay.  This was an interesting little cay as the only residents of this "town" were the people who owned the "restaurant." This establishment was basically a house set upon a hill overlooking the island. Making reservations is important as they only cook for each person individually.  When we hailed them on the radio, we told them that there were 2 of us, and they asked us if we would like Fried Fish or Conch.  That's about all the choices we had on the menu.  We were the only ones in the place, and it was nice to be able to go out and talk to people other than each other.  The people working there were quite friendly and showed us photos of all the famous celebrities that have been to Flo's.  

Flo's Conch Bar & Restaurant
Highlights from Frozen Cay...

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Frazier's Hog Cay

Since we've left Bimini, we've been island hopping the Berry Islands.  Life on a boat has proven to be quite tranquil as well as really simple.  Oddly it seems there is not much to do, but days and hours are filled with the simplest tasks.  I wake up, tidy the boat, fix breakfast, then shortly after, take the dinghy in and explore.  We try and forage for food, whether it's spearfishing or just snorkelling around looking for conch.  Then we come back, fix lunch, read, write, clean our daily catch, lay in the hammock, think about what's for supper.  Funnily enough, not one moment has been boring.  Getting back to the basics and just enjoying the littlest things.  

Every island thus far has been remarkable, with each island looking almost the same, low lying with a few trees, but each have also held slight differences that make each of them special and fun to explore.  What they all have shared has been how remote they are.  The whole time in the Berrys, we only saw a handful of boats.  

Our first couple of days, we anchored in Frazier's Hog Cay, which I've considered the cay with all the conch.  Taking the dinghy and landing in a small stretch of beach, we started to snorkel and discovered that where we were, there was an abundance of conch.  It was pretty shallow where we found them, and our first day was filled with conch salad and fried conch (I will post a separate blog as to how to clean them).  The batter for the conch that Frank came up with was really simple, with the conch being tenderized with a hammer, lightly battered in flour and ginger powder.  Right before he drops it in peanut oil, he flavors it with pieces of fresh ginger, the deep fried pieces of ginger go really well with the conch.   

First homemade conch salad

We spent 2 days here enjoying being alone and just dinghying around.  One of stretches of beach was pretty cool as it was covered in blackened conch shells, which from afar looked like black rocks.  It reminded me of a graveyard for conch.  One of the days, just as Frank had gotten off the dinghy and swam ashore, I was about to start my daily hunt for food, when just as I stuck my head in, I spot a 5 ft shark.  It took a second for my brain to register it as I was only in 3 ft of water.    Never in my life have I swam so fast screaming to Frank, "SHARK! SHARK!"  As I was racing to the dinghy, all I could hear was the muffled sound of Frank yelling at me, "STOP SPLASHING! YOU'RE GOING TO ATTRACT HIM!"  I'm sure it was a funny sight to Frank as all he saw was just a flash of tan and black, with water splashing all around, and then me struggling to climb back into the dinghy, pulling myself up as quickly as I could, with my legs dangling in the air, trying not to touch the water for the fear of losing a limb.  When I got back in the boat, I had to dinghy as close to shore as possible without running aground, because at this point, there was no way Frank was getting in the water.  Since then, we have seen a shark 3 other times we've gone in.  I find that it's usually earlier in the evening, so I make it a point to not go in the water at that time.  I also look around like a madman now when I snorkel because being surprised by them is no fun either.  

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Crossing the Great Bahamas Bank

We spent nearly a week in Bimini anchored out in a very rolley anchorage on the west side of North Bimini before we decided to cross the Great Bahamas Bank.  There really isn’t too much I can say for Bimini except that it’s a nice place to stop for provisioning, coco bread (delicious Bahamian bread made from coconuts), and phone cards.  The town itself is desolate, and the juxtaposition between the poor Bahamians and the rich tourists makes for an indescribably depressing place to be. 

After a great debate with Frank about doing an overnight passage across the Great Bahamas Bank, we finally left on Saturday April 11th, around 11:30 pm.  Reason why we had waited a week in Bimini was because, initially, Frank had wanted to wait for a good weather window to cross the bank in daylight, and anchor out on the Bank for a night.  None of the days during the week had afforded this opportunity, so when I saw a good window for doing an overnighter I took it.  This was after much arguing with Frank about it, as he was extremely apprehensive about crossing at night as he had heard many horror stories about people hitting coral in the middle of the night, etc.  But seeing as the weather was not about to relent for another week, and there was no way I was going to spend another day in Bimini, I convinced Frank to go with my plan.   He was not on board with me, even down to the last minute, asking me if I was sure, whether I understood the risk of crossing at night and warning me of the “high” chance that we’d lose the boat, and that if we did, it would be all my fault.    I would not give in and pushed for us to go.  I argued that there are also horror stories as well of people anchoring out on the bank and getting run over by freighters, and if we were live life by other people’s horror stories, we’d still be in St Augustine.  Either way, we were risking it.  That did not go so well L 

The crossing itself was wonderful.  Again the wind was directly on the nose, so there was really no chance of sailing, but we managed to make pretty good time motoring across.  The most unnerving part of the night was in the beginning when we passed through one of the shallower areas of the bank.  I was at the helm at the time and saw the water go from 30 ft to about 12 ft in a matter of minutes.  I was so taken aback by it as it happened so quickly that I even slowed us down a knot or so.  Craziest thing was that even in the darkness, I could see the water change to a lighter color, signifying shallower depths.  

As soon as daylight broke, I gloated to Frank, “See, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” in which he replied, “We’re still not there yet…” but he did manage to smile a bit and  put out our trolling line, and that’s when the fun began.  The hand line we use is essentially a 100ft pericord with a bungee shock absorber and a 25 ft leader of 500lb test monofilament that is then attached to a squid lure.  We swear by this system as we’ve been more than successful in catching fish when we troll the line.  We prefer this over rods as we have found that even pulling in larger, feistier fish is quite easy compared to using a rod. We started off catching a 18” Cero, this fish is much like Spanish Mackerel, except the meat is a little lighter, but just as oily.  After cleaning it off and putting it in the fridge, we dropped the line again.  Within the next 15 minutes, we heard the line snap again and we managed snag another fish.  This time it was a 15 lb Mutton Snapper.  We were shocked.  After filleting this bad boy, we decided that we’d give it one more try and see what else we could catch.  Within another 20 minutes, we caught a 3 ft Great Barracuda.  Seeing as we didn’t want to risk getting Ciguatera* we  regretfully threw the thing back.  On our last try, we managed to catch a 5 lb jackfish, but at that point, we threw it back as we had considered it a small catch compared to our other larger wins of the day.  After an exciting day of catching more fish than we could store, we had a fine lunch feast of Cero and rice as we entered Frazier’s Hog Cay. 

Mutton Snapper
Cooked Cero

*Ciguatera is a type of poison carried by certain individual fish in tropical waters.  Although ony a minute number of fish are affected, people sometimes acquire the toxin, mostly by eating very big specimens of predatory types, such as the Great Barracuda, Amberjack, and even some larger varieties of Grouper and Snapper.  The resulting illness can be serious and lingering, but is rarely fatal. 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Bermuda…Bahamas….C'Mon Pretty Mama...

Sorry it’s been a while since I’ve written but wifi in the Bahamas has been intermittent.  We arrived on Bimini on Easter Sunday.  Leaving at midnight from Miami, we made good time across the Stream.  We had decided last minute after incessantly checking the weather that we finally had our weather window.  It wasn’t the ideal conditions we had planned on, but being anchored out 1 mile from Coconut Grove was starting to get to us, and the prospect of staying in Miami any longer was becoming less of an option as we were starting to suffer severe symptons of cabin fever.  As the sun was setting that evening, we had a surprise visitor approach our boat.  At first I thought it was some careless sailor not seeing us anchored out, but as he got closer, we realized that it was our fairy godparents, Randy and Brenna.  They were on their way out to Sand Key for weekend sail, and had stopped by to say hi.  When we told them we were leaving, they told us they had a gift for us.  Randy skillfully motored their Sabre, Dazzle, close to Moitessier, so Brenna could hand over the gift.  They were vertical metal ice cube trays!  Ones that you fill vertically and put against your holding plate so that they will freeze.  Thanks again Randy and Brenna!  Cold drinks may be one the greatest gift one can bestow on a sailor!

With the wind directly on our nose the entire time, it was decided, unfortunately, that we would not be sailing.  Overall, the crossing was better than we had hoped for, with a semi full moon lighting up the sky and watching over us, and the seas with only 3 ft waves, the trip turned out to be quite pleasant.  Even with the wind at 10-15kts across the stream coming E/SE, our average speed was about 5kts.  Not bad considering the current going against us.    

Upon arrival into Bimini, we had decided to stay at Browns Marina because our buddy boat was also staying there.  Entering the Bahamas by boat is sublime, I felt like Dorothy as she entered the Emerald city, seeing the water change from an inky aquamarine blue to a bright cobalt, to a turquoise, greener than you could imagine.  The water is so clear that you could see bottom even at 30 ft.  We hailed the dockmaster shortly upon entering the channel and he told us to hail him again when we got closer.  As we made our approach, we tried to hail him again, but with no answer.  Since he didn’t respond, we thought perhaps we could just pick our own slip.  Just as I was about to successfully approach one of the empty outer slips, we see the dockmaster shout from a different slip that it was the wrong slip.  WTF? So having to back out and do the approach again, I attempted to get into another slip that was further in and much, much harder to get into as the current was going out and the wind was blowing me into the dock at about 15 kts, and it required basically a 90 degree turn into. 

After unsuccessfully trying to get into that slip, I had to once again turn the boat around in a freeway that was only slightly bigger than our boat.  I thought for sure that we’d hit a piling or worse yet another boat, but once again, Rick’s lessons had proved to be invaluable, and Moitessier was able to escape completely unscathed.  Mind you the most unnerving part of this ordeal was that the entire marina was just sitting around watching me.  I was even tempted to offer some popcorn to my audience, but I obviously had a more important task at hand.  At this point, my nerves and my brain had gotten ahead of me, and I had lost the confidence that I could even get us into any slips.   After discussing with Frank and telling him that there was no way in hell I could get Moitessier into the designated slip, we started to discuss possible places to anchor instead, when Gary from our buddy boat hailed us on the VHF.  He told us that he had bribed the dockmaster into letting us use the T-head instead, so around the channel we came again and successfully tie up. How grateful I was to him at that moment!

Browns marina was made famous by Ernest Hemmingway, who used to keep his fishing boat, Pilar, there, it’s a small marina with simple amenities like ice, showers, and really poor internet.  I can’t say I really enjoyed our stay there as the dockmaster turned out to be a drunken, ornery asshole.  He seemed to have an affinity for our friend, Gary, because he would provide him with a glass of moonshine everyday.  But to us, he was completely unapproachable and terribly rude at times.  Luckily for us, we had only planned to spend one night there just to check in and get settled, so we didn’t let it bother us too much.    Aside from that, we had a great time the first day.  Checking into Bimini was a snap.  With Frank leaving me on the boat to tidy up, him and Gary took a walk to the customs and immigration office with our passports and necessary paperwork.  Frank says it was the easiest check-in he’s ever had to do in any country.  Partly becauses he was the only one in the immigration office, it turned out to be the most painless part of the day.  Frank said that the customs officer said to him as he entered the office, “This is gonna be the quickest clearance you’ve ever had in your life, cause I’m trying to follow those girls…” pointing to a group of ladies.  This was a true testament to the laid back, lackadaisical ways of the Bahamians.

Upon Frank’s return, we met 2 groups of young cruisers like us.  One was a large group of the 6 Norwegians, whom the captain had taken the boat from Norway and had spent the past year cruising.  They were on their way back north to cross the Atlantic home.  The second was a couple that has been cruising the Bahamas for the past year as well, who made a living drop shipping tractor equipment and finagling free marina stays selling ad space on their website.  I guess they were all also a bit surprised to meet us and our buddy boat as they had all said that the entire time cruising, they had rarely met young cruisers like us.  Sweet!  As it was Easter Sunday, we were invited to a huge beach party that evening on Radio beach, sponsored by Khalik.  When I say huge, I mean I think the whole island of Bimini had come to the party.  The entire beach was filled and we spent the night dancing away to reggae and dancehall, socializing with fellow young cruisers, and watching girl fights break out, my kind of night!  

Thursday, April 2, 2015

A Shot in the Dark

For those of you who may be wondering if we’re frolicking in the turquoise waters of Bahamas, nope, we’re not.  We’re still in Miami.  Having missed our weather window last night, we’ve decided to stay until the next window pops up.  We’ve been anchored out here in Miami now for about a week, and aside from a few last minute chores, such as wiring up our last solar panel, some last minute mass provisioning, and awaiting to get our dinghy back, we’ve been taking it pretty easy.  We’ve been to shore only a handful of times since we’ve been here, and being anchored out has had its own set of highlights and pitfalls.  Being stuck on the boat isn’t as bad as most of you landlubbers may think.  It may seem mundane and boring, and at times it can be, but to be honest, it’s been quite a thought provoking and pensive time for me.  Days are filled with random little chores, and coming from a life where there was a set schedule, I’ve had to develop some semblance of structure for myself.   Creating to-do lists keeps you from getting lost in the vortex of being on anchor time.  There always seems to be something to do, whether it’s putting last night’s dishes away, checking our battery status, or diving to clean the bottom, it seems grains of time pass through the hourglass much quicker when you fill it when semi-productive tasks. 

We had a crazy night the night before we were originally planning to leave that swayed our decision.  Two days ago, we had rented a car to do some very last minute re-provisioning.  After seeing how much we were actually using, we had decided, surprisingly, that we needed to get some more stuff.  I know, what the hell right?  But after being aboard full time in the past two weeks, we realized that we were blowing through random things like toilet paper, rice, paper towels, and kool-aid ;) at a much quicker rate than we had originally anticipated. We had decided it was best to just get more so as to not have to worry about it in a foreign land.  So off we went driving around in awful Miami traffic, scurrying from West Marine, to Target, to Walmart, and lastly the Laundromat.  Time really got ahead of us. 

Not anticipating that the day’s errands were going take so long, we didn’t finish until well after sunset.    Well stupid us, since we hadn’t realized that it was literally going to take us all day, we didn’t think to turn on our anchor light.  Stupid, stupid mistake!  By the time we had even realized our dire situation, we were already well on our way with our dinghy packed full of groceries.  Since the draft of our boat kept us from anchoring anywhere close to the mooring field, where we had anchored was about a mile offshore.  So here we were with the dinghy packed to the brim with our clean clothes, grape soda, and other very important household items, with me in my sundress, groping around in the dark wondering where the heck Moitessier was.  We were about ½ a mile out before we started to get a little nervous.  We realized that the without our anchor light, there was no way in hell we were going to find Moitessier.  At night, things that would seem innocuous in daylight take on a more sinister edge.  The waves seem a little bigger, every shadow looks like the fin of a shark, and channel markers become much further away than they appear.  We had remembered that we had anchored just to the right outside the channel, but for some reason, in our tiny little dinghy, we couldn’t seem to gauge what the channel marker lights were versus every other light on shore.   After driving around in the dark for about an hour, we realized that the wind and current had set us much further than we had thought, so we started to head more to the north.  In my adrenaline fueled state, I didn’t even have time to panic as what was running through my head was some half drunk asshole that had plowed through the bay at break neck speeds, had hit Moitessier in the dark and she was now in the process of sinking, which was why we couldn’t see her.  It would be our own fault as well and we’d be  the ones liable if anyone got hurt.   

I called her name into the wind, much like one would do when they’ve lost their dog, roaming around in the streets hopelessly calling Fido in vain.  Shouting “Moitessier, where are you?”, as if somehow she’d hear me and cruise on by.  I know, fear had made me lose my mind.  Just as I was signing my last covenant to Allah, Buddha, Zeus, or whomever, vowing that if we were to find her, that I would never do something so reckless again, did she appear out of nowhere.  Just sitting peacefully, rocking back and forth, minding her own business.  I was never so relieved in my life.  Sounds a bit histrionic, but really it was like spotting a well in the desert.  As we approached her, I showered her with love.  Hell, I think I even frenched her.  As soon as I stepped aboard, all the composure I had kept throughout the ordeal completely drained out of me.  I started bawling.  Not tears of joy, no, nothing that graceful, it was more like a full on whaling.  Crying, stuttering, panting, boogers running down my face kind of crying.  Frank didn’t really know what to do with me because I’m normally pretty calm when things like that happen, but he just hugged me, told me it was over and that we were ok.  That seemed to calm me down a bit, though my heart was racing for the next hour.  Lesson for the day was, TURN THE DAMN ANCHOR LIGHT ON when you leave, especially if you don’t know when you’ll be back.  Another lesson learned was, when transporting groceries, bring a couple of garbage bags with you so that you can wrap them up and keep them dry. 

Drying out the goods
Dinghy full of stuff

So in light of what happened, we decided to just take it easy and not rush taking the passage.  That ordeal stressed us both out and we realized that there was no real reason for us to rush.  Especially since we hadn’t gotten our dinghy back yet, nor had we filled our fuel and water tanks, or had we gotten propane, as well as many other last minute things that we hadn’t thought to do.  Our instincts told us that being on a tight schedule, trying to beat the weather was going to lead to many more stupid mistakes.  And so here we are, sitting outside Hurricane Harbor, listening to the number of party boats blasting Reggaeton and Merengue, watching intoxicated jetskiers whiz by.  Perhaps it was foolish to put it off as it may mean a week’s delay, and our buddy boat is already celebrating in Bimini, but hey, I’d rather be safe than sorry. 

Our lovely lady anchored out
View of Miami from our butterfly hatches