Friday, March 5, 2021

Our Bilge Alarm Works! How We Found Out . . .

S/V Gallivant, sailing at a 15-degree tilt as an 18-knot wind angled at our boat's bow.
Gallivant is a a Gulfstar 45; we were sailing the Bahamas Banks to Nassau.

We ended our excellent day of sailing from Bimini to our anchor point on the Grand Bahamas Banks with a bit of a head-scratcher. . . "Hmmm, that doesn't make sense. According to our engine hour-meter, we only turned the engine on for six-tenths of an hour."

In fact, of the eight and a half hours we sailed, we ran the engine for five hours. For five hours of an engine run, our voltage was inexplicably low. It would be equivalent to driving your car all day, and wondering if low batteries would prevent any electrically powered systems from working—lights, instrument panels turn signal indicators . . .  The difference is, most of us don't live in our cars, and on a boat, the engine batteries power most of our systems—refrigeration and freezer, lights, the water pumps . . .  Our navigation systems also rely on power: our GPS/charplotter, our instruments to track the wind and our pace, our autopilot, our windlass [which drops and retreives our anchor], our radio communication . . .

We don't spend much time plugged in to power on a dock, so when an engine run isn't recharging our batterieis, it's an issue.

One of our lighter moments of the day: this hitchhiker, as we approached Nassau, Bahamas.

Wayne figured out the two issues—the recharge failure and our engines stopped hour meter were related; that whatever wasn't giving accurate hour-meter readings was linked to a disconnect between our engine run and our battery voltage. Once again, I am incredibly grateful for Wayne's mechanical skill. I don't believe we could do what we do without it.

We could've run our Honda generator to fill the gap, but we were pinching the wind on our passage, which meant we were sailing at too much of a tilt to safely run our generator.

We didn't want this to happen!
Photo by insung yoon on Unsplash
Meanwhile, we also discovered our bilge pump alarm works quite well! 

Justifiable reason to panic.
Photo by 
samer daboul from Pexels

When you hear that bilge siren scream, it's a warning that if you don't sort out the problem, your boat could sink. Wayne pulled out our boat's system digram outlining all the boat's thoughulls and bilge pumps, and then frantically pulled up our floorboard—painfully crunching his thumb in the process—until he found the source of the problem.

Due to the pitch we were sailing, our galley sink water drain hose went into reciculation mode, sending one of the bilges into re-cycling rather than draining the water out. This caused our bilge pump to go into overdrive. We slowed down, which, along with a bit of wind shift in direction and drop, our boat leveled out and the problem stopped. 

Chris(topher) and Chris(tine) of s/v Scintilla stuck nearby until they were confident we could safely limp into Nassau.

S/V Scintilla, sailing into Nassau Harbour. We were close behind, and led the way to the anchorage.

This car carrier slipped into Nassau Harbour right before us, delaying our passage to anchorage.
With a mix of sailing and motoring, we completed our 75 nautical mile passage, and arrived in Nassau in time to anchor before sunset. 

S/V Scintilla, with a taller mast than ours, makes it under a Nassau Bridge—barely.
It sure looked like out mast tip came close to grazing the low point if the bridge underside!
Given at 2 am or so the prior night (or, technically, earlier that morning), chop brought on by a brisk wind assertively hobby-horsed our boat, with a rocking motion from stern to bow and back, over and over, tugging on our anchor. When the time came to set sail at first light, we were already awake, but not well rested for the passage. Our anch held fast—a little too well—as it initially didn't want to come up when the time came.

Did I mention we were tired?
After arriving in Nassau, Wayne devised a temporary work-around for our hour-meter and charging system. It's not perfect, but it will work until Wayne puts the time in to do the more extensive rewiring to return it to working properly without requiring manual intervention on our part to turn the engine hour-meter on and off inside the engine room.

Location Location

Sun sets over Nassau, New Providence, Bahamas. View from our anchorage.

We're in Nassau tonight, 25 04.564N 77 18.652W, though the issues cropped up on the Grand Bahama Banks. Tomorrow we'll head to Shroud Key in the Exumas, as there's a wicked weather front coming in that will foroce us hunker for shelter for a while. We don't want to spend the next 10 days or so in Nassau, so we're getting while the going's good. We we likely be out of wifi range for a while.

Atlantis Resort, Nassau Harbour. We anchored a bit past it, locating closer to
the less glamorous but more practical fuel dock and marine supply stores.
We'll be far from anything like this in the Exumas.

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Grand Bahamas: Gliding the Turquoise Desert

We zip across 12-20 feet of a beautiful turquoise desert. 
Glassy water in the Grand Bahama Banks.
When the water is as clear as it is in the Bahamas, it takes a while to recalibrate because everything seems closer underwater than it actually is. It's tempting to leap off the boat and sink your feet into the sand. It looks like you'd be in waist-deep water, but you'd be in over your head. I already doused myself a few days prior when I stepped off the dinghy because Wayne was  sure if he went much further he'd grind our outboard shaft on the bottom. Instead, the water was neck deep! Across the Bahamas Banks, it's 12-20 feet.

S/V Scintilla, with Chris(topher) and Chris(tine) as we transition from Bimini to the Great Bahamas Banks.
S/V Scintilla, as usual zips faster than we do, as we left Bimini together, buddy-boating to our next destination.

Chris(topher) and Chris(tine) at the island across from Brown's Marina, Bimini, Bahamas.
I call the Bahamas Banks the blue desert because we saw very little sea life—a few flying fish, some starfish, a couple of stingrays discernable only by their distinctive outline on some patches of seagrass.

Sailing the Grand Bahamas Banks, between Bimini and Nassau.

Still, it's impossible to not be entranced by the water. As the sun drops on the horizon, pieces of sky shine up to us, reflected off the water's surface.

We wanted to avoid an overnight sail. In 2014, on a day this calm, we anchored on the Bahamas Banks (click here for more about that magical experience). We did so again, to bypass anchoring at Chubb Cay, and at the same time, to break up the 130-nautical mile passage between Bimini and Nassau. 
Sunset at anchor on the Bahamas Banks.

"This is what we left the Pacific Northwest for," I told Wayne, as we embraced on our foredeck, savoring the sunset. After supper, like the last time we were anchored on the Banks, we sat down on our foredeck, gazing up at the sky. This time we saw cruise ships parked off in the distance, mothballed from lack of travelers unwilling to deal with the COVID travel restrictions. But directly above, we took in the starry sky, and oohed and ahhed to at last renew our acquaintance with the Milky Way.

And, also like 2014 the area remained glassy-calm—right up until about 2 a.m., but I'll save that for the next post.

Location Location
We sailed from Brown's Marina in Alicetown, Bimini for 53 nautical miles, to anchor over a small portion of the Grand Bahama, 25 37.01N 78 31.85W. This is a retrospective of the day before yesterday. We are currently anchored off Nassau.
Wayne and me on the Grand Bahamas Banks, shortly before sunset

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Bimini Bahamas: The Art of Conch Salad

Big Mike, making tropical conch salad at his stand on Queen's Highway in Alicetown, Bimini. Edible performance art, IMHO.

Chris(tine) and Chris(topher) placing their orders at Big Mike's Conch stand in Bimini.

Conch, or Lambi as it's called elsewhere in the Bahamas was not love at first bite. But conch salad, a Bahamian specialty, won me over. The fruit version—in addition to conch, the best bits scored and chopped—it contains finely chopped: pineapple, apple, pear, orange lemon and/or lime, tomato, cucumber, onion, as well as some salt, and in Big Mike's case, a pepper sauce. In short, it's a killer fruity ceviche made with shellfish.

What is a conch? We saw some today—alive.

We came across this conch, today, in the sand flats across from Brown's Marina, North Bimini.

Was it an empty, shell, already harvested? I turned it over to find out.

See the critter inside? It was the conch, not a hermit crab,
who would find a conch shell far too cumbersome.
We guessed this conch was there because it was too small to harvest, given the appetite for conch and its easy proximity to the island.

Big Mike proffers up a finished serving of his conch salad
while his sidekick photobombs him from behind.
Photo was taken by Christine Barnes of s.v Scintilla.
Big Mike's stand opened two years ago and is as popular with the locals as it is with tourists, both there and to-go. I asked him if the island was nicer with less tourists. He said "Less tourists, less money, Not so nice."

Big Mike's serves more than conch salad; this was my fish dinner—snapper.

The dinner and the salad were more than I could eat in a sitting. I followed Christine's example and brought some tupperware to bring my leftovers back. 

Nothing was left besides the bones on my snapper. My dad would be proud.
Photo was taken by Christine Barnes of s.v Scintilla.
Our dock mates, Holly—behind my fish bone—and Jared, to her right, joined us and were glad they did.

The meal was also more expensive than I expected for a roadside stand—$25, though that was for the conch salad, the dinner, and 1 Kalik beer. But it was delish!!!

Conch shell pile by another restaurant on North Bimini.
"How many conchs do you go through a day?" Christine asked Big Mike. About two-to-three hundred a day, he said. Dang! No wonder those conch shell piles are so big all around the Bahamas!

Interested in learning more about conch? Check out these prior posts

Have you ever eaten conch salad? Or any other Bahamian culinary specialty? What and where? Do share!!!

Location Location

Near full moon over the antennae tower on North Bimini.

We're still at
 Brown's Marina (25 43.340N 79 17.930W) until the winds are favorable to head to Nassau. Currently, if we went with the wind. we'd get blown back to Florida. 

Thursday, February 25, 2021

Day 18: Bimini-Bound!


S/V Free Spirit, kicking our butt on the way from Miami to Bimini, the Bahamas.
We left at oh-dark-hundred, also known as anchors up by 6 am.

But first, a little more backtracking . . . (though I couldn't resist leading with this pretty sunrise sail photo)

The night before we left, we met up with our cruising buddies, Chris(toher) and Chris(tine) of s/v Scintilla. They showed off their sailing skills, right up to the last minute into the Key Biscayne anchorage they selected for us to meet up. We motored.

Chris and Chris of s/v Scintilla, sailing into the Key Biscayne anchorage, Miami in the background.

After getting rocked and rolled from Pompano Beach to Miami, once we came inside industrial Miami's breakwaters, the wind and waves calmed. When we stopped off at Cramer's Marina for fuel and to refill our water tanks, docking was relatively stress-free—a nice change of pace. The folks at Cramers said the winds rocketed through at 25 knots the previous night.

Night skyscape from our Key Biscayne anchorage.

Taking nightscapes is challenging and even more so when at anchor. Yet it was calm and clear enough to take a good nightscape the night before we left for Bimini.

Stilted homes of wilder bygone days in the Key Biscayne channel.

We traveled the Key Biscayne channel years ago, headed south to the Florida Keys. This time, they marked the initial part of our passage to Bimini. I wrote about the story of these historic stilted homes in this blog post.

A double rainbow as we exited the Key Biscayne channel struck us
as a good omen, heading to the Bahamas at last.

Even at 6 am, the Miami area was a warm 75 degrees, and balmy. Lovely as that rainbow was, we expected at least one squall on our passage.

S/V Gallivant, sailing through a squall on the way to Bimini.

We got two. Chis and Chris of Scintilla and Free Spirit, in the process of kicking our butt all the way across with an extra knot of speed, managed to outrace the second squall. The passage to Bimini was still a much calmer ride than the prior day. We still took our Bonine, just in case, and we're still glad that we did.

View of squall outside our cockpit, on the way to Bimini, Bahamas.

Both Scintilla and Free Spirit arrived at Brown's Marina in Alicetown, Bimini about 45 minutes to an hour before us, despite our all leaving Miami around the same time.

S/V Gallivant, a Gulfstar 45, at Brown's Marina, Alicetown, Bimini, the Bahamas.
The water really is that color, and that clear.

Location Location

We arrived at Brown's Marina (25 43.340N 79 17.930W) at high tide, at 3:45 pm, as planned. Getting into Browns Marina can be overly challenging at low tide or when the current is running strong. It's still close enough to the Gulf Stream that the water rushing past under our hull sounds like the whistling wind.

This blog post is a retrospective of two days ago. More on picturesque Bimini in upcoming posts.

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Day 17: Escape to the Bahamas: Our One Indispensable Item Today

We took this and boy, are we glad we did!!!
If you haven't already watched the 11-second video, the reason we needed the Bonine should be clear,

Location Location

We anchored at Key Biscayne, Florida: 25 41.813N 80 10.442W.

This is a retrospective of yesterday. By the time you see this, we should be anchored or anchoring in Alicetown, Bimini, the Bahamas.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Day 16: Escape to the Bahamas: On Display on the ICW

Our stop: the industrial anchorage of Lake Worth, Florida, West Palm Beach.

I almost called this post "Death by 1,000 Bridges." It was "only" 16 bridges, but all but three opened only twice an hour, just long enough to let its queue of vessels through. We motored for nice hours, marking an average of two bridges per hour. 

"What's the height on that one?" Wayne asked the bridge tender. "SIxty-five feet, at low tide"
the bridge tender told him. Our mast height is sixty two feet.
We breathed a sigh of relief once we passed.

Boca Raton bridge. Note the traffic coming and going through this narrow, termporary bridge opeing.

Note the 25-knot wind speed across our beam. This gave Wayne a good forearm workout all day.
The ICW is protected. The winds were much more intense "outside" on the coast.

How does the other half—no these days—the one-percenters, live? "Sothebys" read of the realty signs for an (Intracoastal waterway (ICW) sign we noticed. Given today's stat in one of my morning news feeds, with US median home prices at $303K, I can't imagine most of the ICW-facing homes would move for less than at least a couple of mil.

A few of the many upscale intracoastal homes we passed that surely must cost multi-millions.

Despite the swearing-in of Biden a month ago, as we travel through the area a stone's throw from Trump's current Mar a Lago resident, the only political signs we saw proclaimed die-hard Trump support.

No positive Biden signage anywhere,

I found it ironic that the homes that displayed Trump signs were the ones that least looked like part of the 'hood, and more like the January 6th stormers of the White House. Those who were most likely to benefit from the business-at-all-costs and wealth-protectionist policies displayed no signs of their political leanings at this stage.

Wedding party on the ICW. Outdoors, but definitely no socially distancing or masks.

Along the ICW between Lake Worth and Pompano, there were a few brief glimses of
untamed areas where the Australian pine—ironwood—held sway.  

What I didn't get a photo of: the spring-break-like atmosphere. Boats all over, with lots of bikinis.

Location Location

Our last bridge of the day, #14, 14th Street, Pompano Beach, Florida.

We spent the night at an anchorage off Pompano Beach, Florida, 26 13.368N 80 05.910W. The current plan is to jump from Miami to Alicetown, Bimini, tomorrow. This morning it's just 4 bridges, then out to the ocean, then back in for protected anchorage again for the night before we leave. This is a retrospective of yesterdays trip. from West Palm Beach to Pompano, Florida. Today's jouney will be covered in tomorrow's post.

As long as we were window shoppong, why not look for our next home, maybe something like this?

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Day 15: Escape to the Bahamas—Inside or Outside?

7-second video sailing clip: what it sounds like,
motor off, to sail down the ICW at 7 knots.

 Did it make more sense to blitz from Vero to Miami? or head outside?

Outside—Along the Atlantic Coast

Outside was efficient. There were at least a few places we could tuck back, and take an inlet back to the protection of the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). At 150-160 nautical miles, Miami was within a day to two days of 24/7 sailing.

But . . . 

The waves were 5-8' at 5-second intervals, with winds 15-20 knots, with gusts to 25, then to 30 overnight. 

So far, we've only sailed s/v Gallivant for a little over two hours on the outside, in good winds and relatively flat seas. She was f*cking awesome! You could hardly wipe the sh*t-eating grin off Wayne's face.


Slow and dull.  LOTS of bridges—over 20 that required an opening between Vero and Miami. Some might open only once an hour. Our Skipper Bob ICW guidebook was outdated so we weren't sure what in it was still current on which bridges required opening, and if so how often and when they opened, or if they opened "upon request" (which still didn't mean "immediately").

Yet another bridge this in the Jupiter area.
Our sailboat mast goes up a lot higher than the boat in from of us.

We hadn't bothered to check the tides ahead of time to see if they'd drag us down. From Daytona to Titusville, the current often knocked us back from 6 to 4 knots. 

ICW day route: over 60 miles from Vero to Lake Worth with 10 bridges in between.

If we took the ICW, we'd be traveling over 60 nautical miles today, and we needed to do it all in winter daylight hours.

But . . . 

The ICW is a relatively protected waterway. The chop rarely gets very big. We didn't know how Gallivant would behave in gusty winds, getting slapped around by close sets of waves.

Decisions, Decisions

Like Who Wants to a Millionaire? Wayne called our lifeline,  C2 (c-squared) Chris(topher), and Chris(tina) of s/v Scintilla. We met cruising in Vanuatu in 2016, but they hail from Seattle and we've seen them more than any of our other cruising friends since we returned Stateside in 2017. Chris(topher) likes to remind us he has 50 years of boating experience—though he's not much older than we are. Chris(tina) as she's traveled with him for quite a few of those years is the quieter of the two, but no slouch, either.

Chris(topher) said, "Go for it!" Chris(tina) said, "I'd take the ICW."

Today is Saturday. Current forecasts point to Wednesday as the best day to cross the Gulf Stream to Miami. Even with a slow-go, we had plenty of time.

We took the ICW. 

"Godspeed and enjoy the boredom," Chris(topher)wittily texted back. He also complained that at his anchorage at Miami's Marine Stadium, the music didn't pipe down until 4 am.

By adding the wind speed to our boat speed, the wind was likely 25 knots, but on the ICW
the chop was minimal. We considered 7 knots zipping.

We got lucky on the current—we couldn't have timed it better if we planned it. The current gave us a gentle boost along with a steady tailwind. We glided along at about 6 knots on the jib sheet alone for a good portion of our trip.

We love sailing with just a jib sheet out.

What made this warm, sunny Saturday more interesting: it appeared we were not alone in deciding to stick to the ICW—there was a LOT of boat traffic. It kinda reminded me of the Panama canal area, except the boats here were a lot faster and likely with captains fueled more by alcohol than their boats were fueled by diesel and gasoline. It felt like a blend between a fisherman's frenzy and Spring Break on the water.

How the top 10% live: Jupiter, Florida area on the ICW.

We got also lucky with a minimal delay on the bridges. There were 10; two 65-footers, tall enough for us to pass under. Of the remaining 8, half of them opened "on request" and the remainder not more than twice an hour. We never waited longer than 10 minutes.

Parker, our last lift bridge of the day. West Palm Beach/Lake Worth area, Florida.

Once again, Wayne made a brilliant choice. 

"You know, we'd probably be fine if we'd gone outside. Maybe I'm just chicken," Wayne said midway through the day, with a self-deprecating shrug.

I told him when it came to taking the more conservative versus the risky route, my brother said "Chickens live longer." That philosophy may make for less impressive stories, but it's served us well.

Tomorrow, thus far it looks like a similar set of circumstances to choose from, but a lot more bridges on the ICW.

What would you choose?

Location Location

A tour boat cruised past us in Lake Fort Worth this eve. At least one guest was wearing a suit.

We're anchored in the West Palm Beach area of Lake Worth, 26 45.587N 88 02.587W.

We watched the sun drop between two ugly skyscraper buildings amidst a nondescript treeline. No sunset photos worth taking tonight. However, thanks to our sleep-well-at-night large Rocna anchor, we're secure, despite the gusty winds—I'll take that.