June 16, 2012
Since leaving Old Port Cove Marina on May 4th, we spent 40 straight nights at anchor – no marinas, no dock lines or fenders. It’s hard to describe in words just how great it is to be back in cruising mode! The Exuma Islands turned out to be just what we needed. The water is crystal clear and warm, allowing us to spend plenty of time snorkeling, diving, spearfishing and kayaking. The locals are friendly and welcoming. We’ve met other cruisers for adventures, food, camaraderie, exchanging stories, and even Hearts games. The weather has mostly been good, with just a few stretches of wind and rain.
While in and around Staniel Cay, we met up with several different Nordhavns, including Migration (a 68), Mahara (a 62), Meander (a 47), Sojourn Mariner (a 47) and Downshifting (a 47). One great thing about being part of the Nordhavn community is that whenever you meet a fellow Nordhavn, you have instant friends. Alain and Michelle from Mahara, along with their friend Mike, were great fun and we spent time together diving, spearfishing, eating, and drinking. Mike had to return to his home in Jacksonville as Tropical Storm Beryl passed through, causing damage to his dock and boat. He arranged a flight out of Staniel Cay, with plans to return to help take Mahara back to the US in a couple weeks. We met Rick and Elizabeth from Sojourn Mariner and had nice reunions with Greg and Barbara from Meander and Doug and Karin from Downshifting though our stays only overlapped by a day.
We also met some other great cruisers, and had an especially good time with Kate and Kurt from Interlude, a 74-foot Deerfoot sailboat. Like us, Kate and Kurt have a tandem Hobie kayak that can be both paddled as well as pedaled, like to snorkel and dive, and play hearts! We had several great expeditions and Kurt was also kind enough to help us with a small problem we had with our generator. We also attended a beach party and barbecue on the beach, organized by Herman, a cruiser who has spent some time here. Later, he joined a group aboard Shear Madness for a pot luck dinner.
There has been much to do in and around Staniel Cay. We have snorkeled the Thunderball Grotto, made famous by the 1964 James Bond movie Thunderball, dived at Jeep Reef and snorkeled in some incredible caves in the Exuma Land and Sea park, and spent many hours in the water spearfishing. In the Bahamas, spearfishing can only be done using two kinds of spears – a pole spear in which a pole with a sharp tip is launched using a large rubber band, or a Hawaiian Sling in which the spear is launched from a slingshot.
For either to be effective, you have to be in very close proximity to a fish as they do not have much range and lose momentum rapidly when fired. Bradley and some of our new friends are very proficient with the pole spear and have nabbed several groupers and grunts, making for some good meals. We also kill as many lion fish as possible, an invasive species not native to the area that are proliferating and destroying the reefs and native aquatic life. They too make for a nice meal, though many are too small to bother with cleaning. The water here is absolutely astounding – crystal clear and very inviting. It is so clear it is disconcerting as you can often clearly see the bottom even in 20 feet! It’s nice to be able to see your anchor when it drops and anything accidently dropped overboard it easy to retrieve!
We also had several kayak expeditions, walked most of the way around Staniel Cay on land, and visited the swimming pigs several times. Big Majors Cay, near Staniel, is known for wild pigs (well, maybe not all that wild). Four large sows stake out their turf on a local beach and when dinghies approach for a visit, the pigs will swim out to greet them in hopes of a handout, which they almost always get. They are cute and quite the tourist attraction. We noticed that it is always the same four pigs on the beach, but there are other pigs on the island, apparently not allowed by the bossy sows to infringe on their territory.
We did take a few days to head south to George Town to pick up our friend Kim from New Zealand. Kim is a good friend we met while cruising in Australia and New Zealand on our previous boat. He was on a trip around the world, part business and had scheduled a week aboard Shear Madness. George Town is about 45 miles south, making for a nice day trip. We picked a day with nice weather and light winds forecast and headed out the Dotham Cut, an opening between islands that allows you to pass from the Exuma Bank into the Exuma Sound and deep ocean water. There are Cuts between many of the islands, but only some of them are suitable for us. Dotham is a nice deep and relatively wide cut, but even so, there’s a strong current and even in nice conditions, it’s a challenge. But we were safely through and had a great trip down to George Town, catching a very nice mahi-mahi on the way.
We anchored near Stocking Island in Elizabeth Harbor and snorkeled some local reefs before Kim’s arrival. While waiting for Kim, we were contacted by Mike from Mahara who was returning from Jacksonville into George Town with his wife and wondered if we could give him a ride back to Staniel Cay. He was not arriving for a couple days and we didn’t want to sit in George Town and wait, so we arranged to meet Mike at the north end of Great Exuma in Rolleville, about 15 miles north. Once we picked Kim up we headed up to Black Cay, near Rolleville and anchored. We were the only boat there and it was really idyllic. The snorkeling was great, though the spearfishing was only fair. Bradley did nab a nice fish, but it managed to get off the spear and was promptly eaten by a large barracuda that was lurking nearby.
We went ashore in our tender to explore and docked at the Exuma Point Beach Bar and Grill where we met the owner Demarco, and his two potcakes (Bahamian dogs) Lucky and Wills.
Demarco was a great source of information and a real entrepreneur with a very nice restaurant and beach. We soon set off for a walk, accompanied by Lucky and Wills. As we walked around Rolleville, we saw many people out working in their gardens – they were growing various vegetables in the hilly, rocky soil. We were greeted with warm smiles and waves. Soon, we were joined by a couple more dogs, who followed us all the way back. Although Demarco’s restaurant was not open on Tuesdays, he sold us some Kaliks, the local beer and we peppered him with questions about the Bahamas. We also asked him about local fish and what was safe to eat – some fish here carry ciguatera and can make you very sick. Soon he was in the kitchen, cooking us up some conch fritters and barracuda, which is safe to eat as long as its small. It was a wonderful lunch!
Later that day we picked up Mike and his wife Donna and the next morning headed north back to Staniel Cay. It was a nice trip with great weather. The only problem was that we could not catch a fish! Back at Staniel, We took Kim to see Thunderball Grotto and the swimming pigs, followed by a great happy hour/dinner on board Mahara with Greg and Barbara from Meander also attending. Then we headed north towards Warderick Wells Cay and the Exuma Land and Sea park for a dive at Jeep Reef and a trip to the caves at Rocky Dundas – great fun!
Sadly, it was soon time to bid the Bahamas a fond farewell. Kim, who has his own boat back in NZ, was keen to do an overnight passage, so we did a day trip to the west end of New Providence where we anchored for the night, then departed for the 30 hour run back to Palm Beach. Conditions again were very pleasant with winds occasionally reaching 20 knots and maximum wave height around 4 feet. We spent most of the journey in the flybridge enjoying the view.
There are some updated book reviews, as well as several new videos – Bahamas Wildlife, Spearfishing, and Navigating from the Flybridge. Check them out if you’re interested and go to the Videos section of this blog for older videos. Click here to send us an email, or you can leave us a comment – we appreciate hearing from you!
Click any photo to enlarge it. If you like sunsets, check out the sunset photo gallery, and for those interested in technical details about problems we encountered, scroll down beneath the photos!
We experienced a few more problems during this cruise, none of them insurmountable and pretty typical of what happens when you are in cruising mode.
- Head Pump. We have five Vacu-Flush toilets on board, all connected to one head pump which comes on when any toilet is flushed. We noticed that the pump was not coming on immediately when a toilet was flushed – there was a delay of several minutes, but then it would finally kick on. However, soon it would not come on at all. Reading the manual and reviewing the wiring diagram led us to suspect a relay switch – seems we could get the pump to start by tapping on it. Our friend Kurt from Interlude came by and verified we were correct in our diagnosis (note: when you ask a fellow cruiser for help, don’t start out with “we’re having a problem with our heads”). We switched to the backup pump which worked fine and found a source to order a couple new relays as we did not have one in our spare parts inventory. We planned to have it shipped to Kim, who was arriving in New York and staying at the YMCA (I hear it’s fun to stay at the YMCA, though Kim may disagree!). Both the package and Kim arrived at the YMCA on May 31st, but when Kim inquired, the package was nowhere to be found. He chased it for the two days he was there but it never turned up. No problem – by this time Mike from Mahara was planning to meet up with us and he was able to get a relay from a local electrical supply shop. Upon his arrival, the relay was easily installed and the primary pump was back up and running.
- Generator. We were running our smaller (20kw) generator with a modest load when it tripped the circuit breaker. Then it would not start back up. Attempting to diagnose the problem led to shorting out a fuse, making the problem worse. Again Kurt came over to lend a hand as he had experienced several problems with his generator (also a Northern Lights). We also emailed Bob Senter, a Northern Lights expert and good friend, who responded quickly with some advice. Turns out that coincidentally and unrelated to the circuit/fuse problem, a wire from the starter had come loose. It was reconnected and Kurt had a fuse that we could use, so the generator would start again. However, the circuit breaker showed some burn marks and we determined it needed to be replaced. Mike to the rescue again – he was also able to pick up the circuit breaker we needed and bring it along (note: when you have a boat, all your visitors/guests will be used to deliver parts). Now the generator is working pretty well, but it is occasionally cutting off (that is, shutting down altogether). We are working with James Knight to diagnose and fix this – it may be related to a bad sensor that is triggering the shutoff.
- Fuse for Lower Cabin Head – All of our heads have electronic displays that show when it is “OK to Flush” by displaying a green light. When the toilet is flushed, the light turns red until the head pump has finished cycling, then it returns to green. Inside the toilet tank is also an electronic control board. In the lower head, neither of those units seemed to have power as all lights were off. The other four toilets were fine. We suspected a fuse but could not remember where they were located! This happened late at night when we were all tired so we decided to sleep on it. In the morning we pulled out the wiring diagrams and located the fuses behind the control panel in the Pilothouse. However, we soon determined that the fuses were not correctly labeled on the electrical drawings – the one marked Lower Cabin was actually Pilothouse, the one marked Master was actually Guest Starboard, etc. We went through each fuse and updated the drawings, testing each fuse as it was pulled. No fuses were bad and when the one for the Lower Cabin was re-inserted, the power came back on. So there is some kind of connection problem – possibly it comes loose when we are underway. Anyway, the problem was temporarily solved and we will follow up with making sure the fuse connection is good.
- The Frequency display gauges on our main power panel have quit working. There are two of these gauges and first one began flashing unreadable data and a week later the second one did as well. The power panel and all the display gauges are new and James, the Nordhavn expert, believes we simply got a bad batch of frequency gauges. We’ll get some new ones and hope that solves the problem.
- We had some difficulty getting weather broadcasts on our SSB radio. Even in anchorages where other boats clearly were getting the broadcasts, we could not hear clearly enough to make out the words. It seemed as if we were getting interference from somewhere, but even with all other equipment turned off, we could not hear any of the weather broadcasts. This is on the list to address back in Palm Beach.
- We also had some trouble with our Internet connection. We wanted to get a Batelco sim card to install into our Telular SXT system to provide a boatwide wifi network but when we first went to the Batelco office on Staniel Cay, they were “out of sim cards”. First, let me say there are many Batelco towers spread throughout the Bahamas and Batelco offers very reasonable local voice and data plans. It was just bad timing that we arrived when the local office did not have any sim cards available. So we went to our backup plan – we have a Wave Wifi which can detect and connect to wireless networks. We attempted to connect to Exuma WiFi, which offers internet connection for about $10 a day. We connected long enough to pay our $10, then could not connect again! Later, we realized that if we took our laptops to the flybridge, they could connect (albeit the connection is very slow – Exuma Wifi suggests you have a bottle of Kalik handy to sip on between screen refreshes). This does not make sense as the Wave WiFi has a big antenna and should have longer range than our laptops. Finally, we did procure a Batelco sim card which did work sometimes. It was OK to send and receive emails, but would drop connection frequently and was not great for web surfing (such as trying to locate relays and circuit breakers for friends to deliver to us).
The long promised report of our lightning strike and ensuing repairs is undergoing final edits and will be published by the end of this month.