|The Far Islands
Wednesday, April 27, 2011
The way back to Kobuk has put me here in a room at a Comfort Inn, not far from the George Bush Airport in Houston, Texas. Today I fly the rest of the way: a 2.5 hour flight to Nassau followed by a couple short hops on a Bahamasair puddle jumper to get to George Town. Kobuk rests on blocks in Jay Martin's back yard; last night he called me to let me know that he had not succeeded in getting her launched in time for my arrival. He's told me, though, that I can either sleep aboard or in his house until we get her in the water, and I will do the former.
I have a duffel bag that must be checked as luggage, but neither Continental nor Bahamasair requires me to pay additional for it -- which is a pleasant surprise. Also, the security authorities give me no grief about its contents: an anchor, a keelgard, a propeller, a masthead light, miscellaneous chartplotter accessories, a box of switches, and a bunch of lesser boat things. The only glitch is the Bahamasair baghandling employee who lectures me about the fact that the anchor clunks when he plops down the bag -- a sure sign, he thinks that some bag tossing worker is going to get injured because I failed to put the anchor in a box.
Late in the day when the flight arrives at the George Town airport, Jay is waiting for me with his 1993 Chevy Blazer which he refers to as his Jeep. It has a passenger door that must be opened from the inside and that has a window that cannot be rolled down (not a good thing in the tropics) but Jay is proud of the vehicle since it has such a good engine. According to Jay, he is well-served by this reliable vehicle, which is far superior to a Ford ("Fix Or Repair Daily," according to Jay).
Jay is a piece of Bahamian work. Black, lank, and handsome, the words pour out of him like a swollen river breaking through a levee. He speaks the usual dialect -- a form of designer English requiring gusto, rhythm, and word modifications so extreme that a mere American is unlikely to fathom the subject of discussion, let alone what is being said about it. But most Bahamians have a lesser version of their preferred form of English, one that tones down the dialect extremes just enough to permit interpretation by other English speakers -- and this is the form that Jay uses with me. It is quite an art, this sliding scale of Bahamian dialect. Most dialect speakers either go with their communal form or convert (if they know how) to the mainstream one, but here in the Bahamas they appear to know the meaning of the word "compromise."
All the way home, Jay chatters to me about how secure my boat is, how little I have had to worry with him in charge, how good the new fiberglass repairs look. Jay is vigorous and active and full of spleen. He looks and acts like a cocky adolescent in spite of the fact that he is 61 years old. We make our way up along the northeast coast of Great Exuma, seventeen miles out of George Town, past the Emerald Bay Marina, and on to a string of houses sandwiched between the highway and the sea that gets referred to as Harts. Jay and his relatives appear to be the town of Harts since they occupy all the houses within shouting distance of Jay's.
Jay rigs up a light for Kobuk and eventually leaves me to contemplate the evening. A warm breeze comes in off the ocean. Residual waves that survived the offshore reef break harmlessly on the beach. A few stars prick the evening sky and a clutter of isolated clouds gleam faintly as they float gently past the dark fronds of Jay's backyard palms.
Thursday, April 28, 2011
As Jay knows full well, the task for today is to get Kobuk into the water. Last week when we talked on the phone, he asked me to pay him a couple hundred dollars more than our agreed price for the work that he has done. I agreed, but only on the condition that Kobuk be in the water good to go at Victoria Pond next to George Town when I arrived back. That was not the situation when I got here yesterday so Jay is a little anxious that he may not get the extra money he has asked for. The delay in launch was not entirely Jay's fault since everything that happens in the Bahamas is at the mercy of non-cooperating forces. In this instance, it is the manager at Minns Water Sports who complicated the task of getting Kobuk launched: he promised the use of a trailer but changed his mind. Nevertheless, Jay knows that getting Kobuk waterborne was his problem to solve and he hasn't yet solved it. This is a down side of employing braggadocio -- when you use it and then fail to deliver the inconsistency is glaringly obvious.
We make a "Jeep" run down to George Town to talk with the manager of Minns. We hoped to change his mind back but Ken has decided to stand firm and we leave there with nothing more than suggestions as to how to solve the trailer problem -- only suggestions, but also assurance that if we get Kobuk into the pond I can keep her at Minns' dock for a few days. We leave Minn's with the intention of tracking down a different trailer owner who might be able to help, but before leaving town we cross paths with Jay's son-in-law, a young man named Patterson Smith who owns and charters a few high-speed boats, one of which he is in the process of taking to launch here in George Town. The boat is big and so is its trailer. In a few minutes we have an arrangement to use the trailer for Kobuk -- not just the trailer but also the truck. Jay's most excellent '93 "Jeep" has all the power needed for the job, but the "Jeep" has nothing more than a jerry rigged trailer hitch that consists of flimsy tubing protruding beyond the rear bumper with a bolted-on metal sleeve mounted at a rakish angle to serve as a trailer ball. Even Jay is not so bold as to try pulling Kobuk with that. Patterson has struck a deal with me, however, that will provide us with the trailer immediately and with his truck and driver in a few hours. After Patterson's go-fast boat is launched in the pond, Jay hooks his Jeep to the trailer and we head back to Harts.
On the way, Jay tells me a little about his son-in-law who, it appears, is a real go-getter. He owns a bunch of boats and does all sorts of services (everything from fiberglass repair to sewage pump-out), and generally makes lots of money by Bahamian standards. Jay speaks very highly of him and says that he has excellent skills -- mechanic, salesman, boat handler, etc, etc, etc. Patterson also was in a Cuban prison for ten years after having been nabbed for running drugs. In this neck of the woods, you do whatever you need to do to make your way in the world.
When we get back we start the task of getting Kobuk off the blocks and onto the trailer. This has to be accomplished using a tripod and a chain pulley. The tripod is three pipes that are tied together with an old and very frayed piece of canvas strapping. One of the three tripod legs is severely bent. This piece of equipment must be relied on to not collapse under the weight of Kobuk. The tripod legs are, of course, too short, and the space for maneuvering the long trailer under the hull is so confined that we have to jockey its front end through Jay's onion patch to get it in position. While we are doing this damage to the garden, Jay's wife comes out and starts bustling around the two of us pulling onions that she evidently hopes to salvage. Jay is convinced that this is just another of her ways of irritating him in retaliation for the sweetie that she has recently discovered he has on the side.
It takes a few hours but eventually Jay and I manage to get Kobuk onto the trailer. All the while, Jay is nattering on about how "This will work. Oh, yeah; we got it beat now. This'll do it." Etc, etc. I was doubtful, but the tripod didn't collapse, the trailer didn't roll with Kobuk half on (Jay's yard is sloped), and the miscellaneous assortment of cinder blocks and timber cutoffs holding Kobuk's stern off the ground didn't get pushed over in all the tugging and heaving.
Late in the day, Patterson's helper shows up with the pickup truck and we attach the trailer for the 17-mile run down to Georgetown. The driver takes off like a bat with Jay and me following in the "Jeep." The journey is made with rather more haste than I would have chosen if I were driving, but we make it without incident and then look to launch at Minn's ramp. This, however, is in the heart of Georgetown where the main street is twisting, narrow, and one-way. It is in the middle of regatta week and the multitude of people is milling around like a crowd for the greatest show on earth. There is no possibility of launching at Minns: the traffic is too great and the cops won't have it. We carry on around to the other side of Elizabeth Pond -- to the same site where Kobuk was pulled from the water back in December. Here the launch is done with no wait and without hesitation. Jay and I are left drifting on Kobuk as the truck and trailer fly up the ramp and disappear down the highway.
We've got to get to Minns on the other side of the pond. The pond is small but a trade wind blows across our route and the one canoe paddle on board Kobuk is hardly up to the job of fighting mother nature. With the wind on the beam, we drift laterally at an alarming rate, but just before running amok Jay strips down to his underwear, puts on my swim fins and jumps overboard with a bow rope in his hand. He swims pulling on the rope while I crouch on the bow paddling. We make slow work of it, but do manage to inch towards our destination -- which now is almost directly upwind. When the wind rises we struggle to not lose ground; when it dies we try to capitalize. Progress is slow and fitful, but in time we make it to the end of the dock and Kobuk is tied on. It is well past five and Minn's now is closed, but we're set and secure and we can sort out the situation in the morning. The sound of main street revelry floats down to us and across the pond. Jay collects his clothes, collects his money, and sets off on the road around the pond. Kobuk and I are left to our own devices. Everything aboard is in such chaos that it takes some time to even organize a place to sit down.
Minns Water Sports Dock, George Town: 23* 30.337' N / 75* 46.233' W
Friday, April 29, 2011
Ken, the manager of Minns Water Sports, has agreed that Kobuk may stay tied to their boat rental dock while I am getting her ready for cruising, but I am not sure he realizes I've been planning to sleep aboard. The issue was not explicitly addressed but our conversation left me with the feeling that he understood. Now, however, with the regatta crowds so great, security appears to be more of a concern than usual: Minn's had a nightwatchman up at the entrance to the facility last night. To avoid confrontation over the issue, I arise early and take my computer to Pet's where it is possible to get online. After a couple hours there I return to Minns and go into the small shop to talk with Ken about Kobuk's status. Ken is fine with Kobuk's situation at the end of his dock, and I make my way out there to go to work.
There are as usual all sorts of problems that will have to be resolved before Kobuk is ready for use. Over the years, I have adjusted to this reality, but I have never gotten used to the way in which a to-do list grows rather than shrinks when I go to work. Work to complete a task on the list often leads to the discovery of some new and unanticipated problem that must be added to the list. The first day or two of this sort of thing tends to be highly discouraging, and this outing appears to be no different. By mid-afternoon, I am done in and find myself lounging in a chair under the bimini, behind the cabin. I doze with regatta music floating in and out of my consciousness. Without a breeze, it would be broiling here, but the trade wind blows and it is just enough to make one lazy rather than oppressed.
I have managed to sort out some of the electrical problems but the Yamaha still gets no electricity and the bilge blower continues to not function. The blower is an issue because I don't dare try starting the Mazda until after it is working and can evacuate any buildup of gas fumes in the bilge. Already, the prep for departure is showing signs of extending off into the indefinite future. John Lauter needs to send me a replacement thermostat for the Mazda but the only way to do that is to send it to Fort Lauterdale where a company named Reggie Express will transship it to Exuma. They fly shipments out to George Town every Wednesday. In other words, Wednesday is the earliest I will be able to get this part and if there are no blowers on the island I'll probably have to get one of those flown in on Wednesday as well. Assuming it takes at least a day to get the main engine running after receiving these parts, it already looks like we will be tied off at Minn's for a week.
Late in the day, I take a hose shower here at the end of the Minns dock and follow that up with a fresh change of clothes. Now I feel like a new person -- so good in fact that in the evening I have no hesitation about joining the regatta crowd for a few hours. And you should see this crowd. It's a meat market for the young and a gala social for the old. Everyone in attendance is clean and spruce but when it comes to attire there's a world of difference between the male and female approaches. The men hardly ever go much beyond jeans and a t-shirt, but the women put their heart and soul into looooking goooood. We're not talking Sunday best here; were talking seductive best. Fat or skinny, Bahamian women are shapely and they use their clothes the way an amateur writer would use exclamation points.
The Peace and Plenty Hotel has a second story bar that looks out over the heart of the festivities. After a while, I retreat to its relative peace and spend some time talking with a couple from Florida who keep a boat over at Stocking Island and use their Moody airplane to commute here on weekends. He works for a company that builds boats and she is a lawyer. They evidently have ample money but are a little pressed for time. While I am talking with them, a large, red-headed woman from Georgia sitting on the next barstool to the other side is reaching over to rub my back and squeeze my neck. But I keep talking with the Florida couple.
Actually, I also stopped in here for a little while last night when I was still scruffy and unclean. On that particular outing, I ended up talking with a white-haired man, formal in appearance and unctuous in manner. His name was Godfrey Minn and along with his brother he owns the local grocery store. His family has been in the islands for generations. He was dark in complexion but not so black as most Bahamians. When it became clear that we both had attended McGill University in Montreal, Godfrey went on to describe for me his experience as a student in engineering there. He found a way to emphasize the extraordinarily high demands of the engineering program there (and I know that in those days it was indeed a highly intensive line of study) after which he made it clear that he viewed his class standing of fifth out of over 800 as "not so good." I was duly impressed, but now liked him a little less. Godfrey eventually undertook a quantum leap to a totally different subject and began to lecture me on the flaws inherent in the American system of government. His thesis was that a governmental structure designed under the duress of revolutionary war placed too much power in the hands of the presidency which -- under the unsavory control of George W -- was exploited to start a whole bunch of unjustified wars. At this point, my interest in the topic of discussion came to be overshadowed by my distaste for someone who so obviously viewed himself as intellectually superior. I interrupted him and began to point out some of the weaknesses in his beloved parliamentarianism: its tendency to harbor politicians who are better at conforming to the party line than at exhibiting political courage, its vulnerability to the special demands of third parties that can easily gain greater political leverage than their small political base justifies. Godfrey mysteriously lost interest in the discussion and drifted away.
Saturday, April 30, 2011
Slowly, slowly, I am cleaning out the nooks and crannies of Kobuk. I have talked with Ken about the Minn's shop taking a look at my electrical problem and he has said that he'll get me some help on Monday. That was what I expected. I also have a dead battery and Ken has gotten me set up with a recharging arrangement. But with the pace of work proceeding so slowly I have become infected with a comparable attitude that makes it hard for me to pursue my to-do list with any sort of vigor.
Jay broke the Mazda ignition key while I was away so I am interested in getting a duplicate made from my original. I pedal out to the lumber store a few miles from town where it should be possible to get replacement keys made, but I don't arrive there until shortly after noon -- which is when they close on Saturdays -- and so I'll have to try again after the weekend. I also stop by at the NAPA store looking for a blower but a thorough search of the store turns up nothing. In the Bahamas, the store attendants rarely can be relied on to give good information about what is in stock. Most of them just are not interested and find it easiest to simply say "No, we don't have that." Often it is true, but not because they knew the answer to the question. My next outing is to a tire shop over on the other side of the pond where there is some possibility that they can get Bike Friday to function properly (both the chain and the derailleur have seized up in the salt air). The tire shop is closed, so that too ends up being a wild goose chase.
This is the last day of the regatta. Celebrations will carry on through the evening, but tomorrow morning the competing boats will head home (many of them on board ferries) and all the off-island visitors will fly out. By Monday, George Town will have returned to its lazy tempo. The regatta that inspires this week-long party is really quite a remarkable event. The competing boats are traditional Bahamian craft with stupendously oversized rigs carrying canvas sails that tower high and run back on a boom that extends way past the stern. The boats are elegant looking but must be devilishly difficult to handle in variable winds. Part of the competition is to select the right size crew to man a boat on a given day. When the wind is down, you want to save weight by keeping your crew small, but when the wind is up you need lots of manpower to hang out over the windward rail as a counterweight. The rules of the regatta specify the traditional boat design and require that whatever gets shipped -- masts, sails, lines, fittings, etc -- must be Bahamian produced. The competing boats are sorted into three class sizes and each size category has a race each day of the regatta. In each category, the winner is the boat that has the best overall performance from the set of daily races. Most boats are representative of particular Bahamian islands or island groups so the whole thing has the flavor of a regional competition. In this year, the Class A overall winner is Tidal Wave, a boat the people hereabouts claim is an Exuma entry.
According to locals, the character of the event has shifted markedly in recent years. Held annually, and always held here, the regatta has been going on for many decades. It used to be about the races, but now it has become a social event for many Bahamians who really have relatively little interest in things nautical. Today, for example, the massive crowds have gathered around the elevated gazebo where a master of ceremonies is using a thunderous sound system to orchestrate such events as an onion peeling contest, a corn-on-the-cob eating contest, and a conch cracking contest. It is not as if the crowds are lining the shore watching the boats in the bay jockey for position; they are entertaining themselves with land based activities. There are a couple dozen colorful but makeshift sheds that line the main walkway out to Elizabeth Point and locals serve local food and local beer from them. Everybody is selling the same thing but that doesn't matter because everybody is buying and there's enough business for everybody. If there is not a contest on or a platitudinous speech being given, the sound system is amplifying island music so effectively that even those who live on the outskirts of town can hear it.
In the evening I make my way around the pond and over to Eddie's Edgewater Club where last December I was treated to a couple very nice dinners -- one of which involved an unexpected social event with a half-dozen young ladies from Salt Lake City. This time, the dining room is empty but there is a wall outlet and I am able to work on the computer while eating a whole, steamed grouper. I've gradually gotten food organized on Kobuk, and now the cooler is cleaned and stocked with ice, but still I haven't checked out the Coleman Stove and thus avoid trying to cook any meals. Tomorrow I'll start behaving a little better by eating out of the ship store instead of in town. But now I'm somewhat deterred from that sort of frugality because I know I'll only be putting money in Godfrey's pocket.
Sunday, May 1, 2011
These days of preparation arouse within me conflicting mentalities that struggle for ascendancy. Should I work hard to get Kobuk ready or would it be better to drift through each day with no clear aim in mind? You may think the answer to such a question is obvious; you may believe that no complex project ever can be expected to reach completion without commitment and a plan. I have always believed such a thing, but as with every action in this world there are unintended consequences. The first thing to understand is that in a place like the Bahamas there are virtually no systems in place guaranteed to provide reliable assistance. If you need supplies or want assistance or lack competent advice you have to be prepared to accept that they are not going to be available this week and may not be available at all. If you have a work schedule it had better be one that requires no such external sources of nourishment. If you have lived your whole life in a place like the United States you are accustomed to thinking in terms of the plan and taking for granted that assembly of all necessary ingredients for its execution is somehow possible. With this as your mentality, you will naturally think that progress will be achieved by pushing harder. The path ahead may be confusing so if you have to run up a few blind alleys before you find the right one, well, then start running and you'll arrive at your destination sooner than if you stop all the time to review the situation. All this is predicated on the idea that the end is attainable even if not in sight. This mentality is effective and often overcomes seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
But what if the obstacles are so great that to surmount them will require more of your life energy than you think it reasonable to expend? Would it make sense to use your limited time on this earth to plow your way through a boulder strewn field when you are not at all sure you will be around to enjoy next fall's harvest? If plowing the field is your reason for existing then, yes, you must do it. But if the job is so infernally hard that you get no pleasure from it, would it not make more sense to change your reason for existing? If you have other "interests" -- other things to do -- then why not give up on the original plan and pursue one of your alternate avocations? By being a chameleon, by allowing yourself to pursue whichever of your favored activities is most convenient on a given day you avoid the frustration of trying hard to accomplish something that must wait on a realignment of the stars. I cannot, for example, troubleshoot the Mazda until the blower is repaired (since a spark might explode the bilge) but the blower may be kaput with no replacements to be had this side of Nassau. Why fight it? With time, Kobuk's constitution will be restored to good health; either that or it won't. If the former, then trying to rush the restoration will only put me in conflict with the Bahamian world order; if the latter then my commitment to an ill-starred endeavor will only turn immediate frustration into long term disappointment.
I find myself in limbo. I want the voyage to continue and for that to happen I must find solutions to the many problems with systems aboard Kobuk. If this is to happen I must push hard to make it happen but such aggressiveness issues out of a determination and a will that, when thwarted, make equanimity hard to attain. If, on the other hand, I let time slip by and only make progress when the tides of fate are favorable, then progress will be so slow that I may not get much farther with the journey. Which is more important: Delayed gratification or living for the moment? Anticipated pleasures of the future or contentment with life as it is right now? The answer, I suppose is some sort of compromise between the two, but I am finding it hard to strike the comfortable balance. Considering that she was only stored for a little over four months, Kobuk's condition is quite discouraging. There are times these days when I am tempted to quit the venture and turn my back on everything here. Fortunately, being here in such an out-of-the-way place with a valuable boat means that quitting probably would entail more complications and more stress than continuing with the plan. I say "fortunately" because if all the pieces come together and we carry on I know that I will be cheered and energized by having overcome the barriers to further progress. I am from New England, after all, where delayed gratification was a sort of religion in the good old days (I don't know about contemporary times). I often behave like an aimless hippie, but sooner or later that inbred urge to attain a specific goal can no longer be denied and I actually go to work.
Monday, May 2, 2011
Today I got to know the other Jay -- not the Jay who stored Kobuk but the Jay who works as a mechanic at Minns Water Sports. He is a chubby bear of such ample dimensions that when he steps aboard Kobuk the waters seem to part and his side of the hull settles down precipitously. His long pants look wider than they do long, and the job of keeping them up requires steady attendance on his part. Jay speaks Bahamian style and Kent has warned me that I may have trouble understanding him. I do indeed, and his propensity to blurt out cut-off phrases quickly and softly only makes the task harder. Jay is on Kobuk to see what he can do to get the Yamaha to run. Like so many large men, he has a peaceable temperament and his approach to anything he does is slow and deliberate. Even his walk down the dock was done with a leisurely waddle. Under a wide-brimmed sun hat, his black, round face is eerily unlined for someone as seasoned and mature as he seems to be.
The Yamaha appears to not be getting any electricity since it doesn't even click when the key is turned. The power lift doesn't work either; the little outboard was in the down position when Kobuk was stored and has had to remain there ever since. In addition, the steering system for the Yamaha won't function although it periodically gives off a little shudder when the toggle switch is depressed. All in all, the auxiliary power system is in desperate straits. I have spent a few hours tracing out the electrical connections and checking fuses but all to no avail. The batteries are sufficiently charged and other electrical circuits work okay but anything having to do with the Yamaha is kaput at present. Jay is here to put things right.
He proceeds to resove all three problems in less than an hour. He finds a faulty electrical connection that when repaired brings to life both the motor and its power lift. Then he disassembles the steering mechanism, only to discover that salt water has gotten into it and spread corrosion around like the plague. The electric motor is seized up with rust and then it turns out that the shaft that is driven by the electric motor is in equally bad shape. Jay slaps them around a bit, wanders off for additional tools, and leaves me to pick away at cleaning the disassembled parts. When he gets back, he puts everything back together again and, voila, everything works.
Jay rests on the port carling for a while, recovering from his exertions, and I compliment him on figuring everything out so fast. I ask him how he got his training and his sincerely modest manner makes his response even more surprising: "To tell da truth, I born wid da talent."
Before Jay came to help me, I tried to get everything prepared so that it would be easy for him to work. That meant charging the batteries and clearing out the aft end of the boat. Since I was working in the engine area anyway, I thought I should try to get the blower detached: it was not working and I believed it would have to be replaced. Last season it was functional but made sounds suggesting that its power was fluctuating. When I finally got it out of the bilge I discovered that the fan was frozen up by a pebble that had gotten wedged in the wrong place. After the pebble dropped out the fan blades moved easily and so I though perhaps its electric motor was alright after all. However, when I flicked the blower switch a number of times I got no response. It looked as if the blower would have to be replaced anyway. But now, as Jay is sitting here, I think maybe he can isolate for me whether the blower problem is in the device or in the electrical feed to it. I ask Jay if he can check it with his probe but instead of taking action he says to me, "Go try da switch." I step into the cabin, flick the switch, and the blower cranks on as if waiting for Daddy Jay to be around before showing off.
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
It looks as if the rain has cleared out for the season. When I arrived last week, every day and every night was interrupted by short-lived downpours and people said that the rainy season was running longer than usual. But then over the weekend the showers faded away. One or two light sprinkles are all we have seen since. Now that the squalls have run off, May in George Town is any reasonable person's definition of ideal. Stand in the direct sunlight and it is unquestionably hot, but there is a steady breeze and under the shade of a tree you feel as if the air is even a little cool. There are always clouds in the sky, it seems, but they act as if their job is ornamental rather than functional. Rarely do they take it upon themselves to blot out the sun and their powers of organization seem to wane in the subtropical heat. The are, for the most part, puff balls and streamers. Only occasionally do they coalesce into anything resembling cloud cover and hardly ever do they take on a dark or serious countenance.
At night the temperature drops a few degrees, but not so much as to force a search for an extra layer of clothing. Indeed, if the breeze momentarily dies you miss it: the still air does not become oppressive but it does make you want to remove the jacket that you don't have on. But hardly ever does the breeze die and as long as it is alive you feel the same. Throughout the night the stars play hide and seek with the ghostly clouds and by the time sunrise comes the air has cooled enough to make you feel chilled if you're sleeping naked in the open air.
I referred to the heat as subtropical which is technically correct, but only by the smallest of margins. Here in Victoria Pond at Minns dock, Kobuk is located at 23* 30.337' north, and that is about the equivalent of a couple city blocks north of the Tropic of Cancer. Once we cross that line, we will be in the tropics for real -- in the belly of the globe where the sun passes directly overhead a couple times every year. As a child the tropics fascinated me, probably because of the astounding diversity of plant an animal life that so typify them. I've managed over the years to spend a fair amount of time in tropical areas so that now their exotic abundance strikes me as delightful, but no longer stupefyingly so. Familiarity with places has the same consequence as it has with people, I suppose.
The strange thing is that I do not really thrive in humid heat. In spite of age, I still prefer the bracing chill of northerly climates where every winter means something and even a summer night can be rude awakening when you step outdoors. A place like the Bahamas is a curious tradeoff, actually. The geography of islands insures that they have far less terrestrial biodiversity than would ordinarily exist at such a latitude, but also allows them to enjoy a less stultifying climate. Tropical breezes alleviate the heat and humidity to an almost incomprehensible degree. As for me, I'm happy to forego the motley collection of plants and animals in order to have that wind in my face. And besides, once you look below the surface of the ocean (current temperature approximately 80 degrees) the variety of marine life makes up for the poor collection of plants and animals on shore.
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
Downtown George Town is a single street, a paved pathway that runs along the ocean side of Victoria Pond. To walk the built up area from end to end is a modest outing that can be accomplished in about the time it would take to for a standing audience to listen to the national anthem at a baseball game. The street itself has no familiarity with geometry: it bobs and weaves with every small inflexion of the terrain and the collection of buildings along its two sides has little regard for the abstract concept of "transportation corridor." Nowhere is the street broad but its narrowness varies from tolerable to tight. Buildings show no signs of having been subjected to standardizing codes of any sort. Some align their front faces with the street but others do not. Some have been set back away from the street a short distance but others press in upon it like puppies at feeding time.
As with small towns most everywhere, the establishments are eclectic and ordinarily unimpeded by competition. There is the grocery store, the gas station, the hardware store, the hair salon, the computer repair shop, etc. Of course when it comes to dining or lodging or gift shopping there is a bit of choice -- but even for these sorts of things the selection is rarely more varied than your party choices for a presidential election. Tucked away, out of sight, there are all sorts of services and businesses that cater to special needs, but these usually are what you might call "back room" businesses -- operations that rely on word of mouth and low overhead to survive.
A decade ago, Great Exuma Island on which George Town is located is said to have had a population of about 2,500. During the boom before the recent bust, that figure is thought to have leapt up to 8-9,000, but in the last few years hard times have driven large numbers off to Nassau or back to their home islands. Today, residents may number around 3,500. But here we're talking about the whole island -- a thirty-mile-long sliver. Most people live outside George Town, but its intermediate location on the island means that most Exumans can get to it in short order.
They can get to it, that is, if their vehicle doesn't have a flat tire. I say such a thing not because I have seen vehicles with flat tires (indeed, I have seen none) but because so many of the cars and trucks in town have tires that are bald or badly worn. This is not so surprising, I guess. Most new tires nowadays will run tens of thousands of miles before wearing out so here on Great Exuma I imagine that by the time vehicle owners reach such rarified heights they have long since forgotten that tires are a maintenance item too. Of course, tires have one characteristic that is almost miraculous: they don't rust. Bald and battered they may be, but at least they keep on rolling.
Thursday, May 5, 2011
Yesterday, Jay came out to the end of the dock to see if he could help me with getting the Mazda started. He and his assistant troubleshot the relevant systems and came to the conclusion that the engine plugs were sparking, the fuel pumps were delivering gas, the gas was good, and the injectors were receiving proper electrical signals. In short, Mazda should run. But she refused. We pretty much cranked our way through a couple batteries trying to get the motor to catch, but nothing doing. Jay sat and meditated for a while and then suggested that I needed the services of a "real" mechanic -- a man named Leroy who Jay recommended unreservedly (but in Bahamian English, which makes up in vigor for what it lacks in elegance). Jay made the call on his cell phone and Leroy agreed to appear around noon. What a transformation has been wrought in this world by cell phones. In the pre-cell-phone era, tracking down someone like Leroy could easily have been a full day process.
Leroy didn't appear until late in the day, but then he went to work and basically ran through all the same sorts of tests as Jay had done. After confirming what he already had been told (a wise course of action, I think), Leroy went on to examine the electrical pulse to the injectors and confirmed that they gave every sign of functioning properly. Still the engine only cranked without catching -- although in a way that constantly suggested she was going to start. She was more of a tease than any woman I have ever known.
Leroy is the quiet, cautious type, but he was pleased to be working on this Mazda rotary engine. He used to service and modify them for auto racing so he took an immediate liking to this marine version: it reminded him of the good old days. Finally, Leroy decides to pack it in for the day and return tomorrow with everything needed for increasing engine compression. He has tested for compression and it is rather low, but he thinks this is not so much a sign of engine wear as an indication of an engine that needs better lubrication. His theory: during storage, engine oil seeps southward in response to gravity and until the machinery is running again it cannot pick up adequate lubrication which not only makes it easier for the parts to turn but also makes for better seals between the parts -- and thus higher compression. Tomorrow he'll put a little oil in the spark plug sockets and see if that makes a difference.
In spite of Leroy's failure to get Mazda started, Jay continues to express absolute confidence in him: "He get dat engine going; you see. Leroy, he one good mechanic. You'll be in business tomorrow."
In the evening I write a long email to John explaining the problem and asking for his suggestions.
Friday, May 6, 2011
When I check in the morning, John has written back with a detailed procedural about what to do to start the engine. It outlines a procedure fundamentally the same as Jay and Leroy tried yesterday, but it does introduce more specifics regarding how much and how often to do things. Leroy does not appear until the day is well along, but eventually he arrives with a helping hand named Floyd and they immediately start injecting oil into the spark plug receptacles. After that, they crank the engine with the plugs removed and then reinsert the plugs. This time when we try to start the Mazda, it catches and runs after only about ten seconds of cranking. Mazda sounds good and there is a glow of satisfaction on Leroy's face. I wouldn't be surprised if mine were similarly revealing. Things smooth out after a minute or two and the Mazda begins to sound like her old self. After a few minutes, however, there is a terrible clattering noise and the engine quits.
We start the Mazda again and after a while the clatter returns, although with less drastic consequences. Leroy pokes around and concludes that the source of the sound is in the drive train. We remove the batteries and battery platform to get a better look and then disconnect the universal joint that connects the engine drive shaft to the jet drive. Leroy finds that the engine plate to which the universal joint was connected has some play in it. He and Floyd know how to fix that by tightening what I suppose must be some sort of expansion flange tucked away in behind the plate. They reconnect everything and, sure enough, there's no more clatter and the engine runs like butter on a warm griddle.
Leroy has done it, so now it is time to hit him up about the next problem. The overheating problem. I explain it to him and we finally decide to remove the heat exchangers for a cleaning. This is a slow, tedious, and awkward job because of their position relative to the floor boards and so I opt to have Leroy and Floyd do it rather than wrestle with it myself. I removed them for cleaning in Stuart, Florida, and the job of getting them back in ended up taking me a full day. Then I spent the better part of another day cleaning up the oily mess I had managed to make in the bilge. After that experience I'm in a "money is no object" frame of mind.
Finally, the heat exchangers are detached, but in the process Leroy notices water movement in the bilge water next to where the jet drive seats itself in the bottom of the hull. I poke around trying to find a spot where water pressure suggests the leak might be, but then notice that a thin sheet of water is pouring down the front face of the jet drive housing, directly underneath the shaft that connects to the universal joint. It turns out that there is an aperture in the jet unit tucked up under there and when I point it out to Leroy he understands immediately what's up. That aperture, he says, is to make it obvious when a seal has failed along the shaft of the jet drive. I call Kem Equipment in Oregon and Randy there confirms that all the signs are indicative of a seal failure. Repairing it will require disassembling the jet drive, but even more importantly a replacement seal. Kobuk and I suddenly are committed to a continuing stay here in Victoria Pond until the next Reggie Express delivery. Maybe by a week from now the jet repair will be consummated.
I place an order for the replacement seal but Randy also explains that there is a chance that the spring-loaded seal is just fouled by fishing line or such-like. If that's the case, then clearing out the debris may reseat the seal, but to do this, Kobuk's tail end needs to be out of the water: removal of the jet drive inspection hatch will swamp Kobuk since the hatch is slightly below water level. I make arrangements with Jay to use their boat ramp tomorrow. I'll put Kobuk's stern on it and wait for the tide to go out.
This business of having to wait an additional week for the delivery of a small part to repair the jet drive is of course frustrating, but my distress is mild because of two other more positive developments. The first is that I now know both engines will run. The second is that the chronic water leak is not of my doing. Ever since departing from West Palm Beach over a year ago, Kobuk has shipped intolerable amounts of water and never have I been able to figure out the source. I naturally thought it must be a leak in the hull, and as a result I had fiberglass repairs done to suspect areas of the hull bottom -- not just by Jay during this recent storage in his back yard but also last summer by workmen up in Marsh Harbour when Kobuk was in storage there. In both instances, the repairs failed to stem the flow of water into the hull and I was at a loss as to what could be going on.
This whole matter has, in fact, put me through something of a psychological trauma. I always believed I had built a sturdy hull that would not leak and for years the bilge did indeed stay bone dry whenever there was no rain or splash water coming over the carling. I took inordinate pride in my accomplishment. I thought I had proven myself. But then, coming out of West Palm, all that changed and I had to confront the apparent reality that the hull was not bombproof. It was hard to accept, but I gradually came to terms. Still, the fact that I had built a hull that, from my point of view, failed too early, always rankled. Then of course there was the safety factor. If the hull leaks, what does it say about the integrity of the hull structure? Are there sodden, rotten frames or ply sheathing that could give way in the first real blow at sea? Should I back off and be constantly cautious with Kobuk? Already I was being quite cautious but still the damned hull leaked! Well, now . . . now it is beginning to look like Kobuk still has some life left in her.
The evening features a band playing at the Two Turtles. Here we have a small inn that recently reopened after a hiatus presumably associated with the economic depression that has afflicted the Bahamas for the past couple years. It's a downscale place relative to the Peace & Plenty, as testified by its happy hour special of two beers for five dollars. By Bahamian standards, this is a steal.
The Two Turtles is a triumvirate of buildings, two long ones that are crudely perpendicular to the main street but that diverge at the back where a smaller third that sits like a plug. Cradled within this irregular nest is a stone patio that has enough space street-side to broaden out into a respectable courtyard, in the middle of which is situated a palapa type bar. The establishment crowns a very small landscape hummock so those who enjoy the bar and courtyard look down on the passing pedestrians of the main street. Ordinarily, the Two Turtles is a quiet and place, and its elevated position seems only to accentuate the sepulcral nature of its quietude, but when there is an event like this evening's the music and the party crowd around the bar draw you up as if you are ascending to heaven.
When finally I get an open seat at the palapa, it is next to a British couple named Peter and Sharon. To call them British automatically labels them as polite, proper, and punctilious -- but in fact they conform more to the stereotype of the half-drunk Aussie. Sharon is seated closest and she gives me a rundown on their past and future boating plans while he husband Peter listens to an assertive, entertaining American woman who is also here with her husband, also off a boat over at Stocking Island. Sharon explains that she and Peter are delivering a boat to Miami, that they have their own boat down in the Virgin Islands, that they sailed across from England to the Caribbean twelve years ago, that their gypsy life ever since has been a shuttle between Caribbean islands, and that they are tired of the boating life and plan to return to England once their delivery is done.
On the other side of me there is a turnover at the bar and the new occupants of the still-warm seats are Stephen and Maureen, vacationing professionals from the Boston area (he an engineer and she a researcher). When a conversation is struck between us, Sharon will have none of it and starts poking me in the back to get my attention. Eventually, the social awkwardnesses are overcome and we dissolve into one big happy family. Two Turtles serves up barbequed ribs for dinner, a delightful change of fare after many days of alternating between fish and chicken. All this gets washed down with Strong Back, the Bahamian version of Guinness. Strong Back is not quite as tart and hearty, but it comes close -- closer than everything else I have ever drunk.
Saturday, May 7, 2011
High tide is at 10:30, so about a half hour before then I cast free from the dock and use the Yamaha to motor over to the boat ramp. With a scrap length of 4x4 and a couple discarded tires, I settle Kobuk's stern in a comfortable position and then go off to town to wait for the tide to drop.
Five hours later when I return, Kobuk's rear is high and dry, and I can go to work. With the inspection cap removed it quickly becomes clear that the seal is broken; its spring mechanism has sheared and the two parts of the spring are loose nooses that can be hand spun around the drive shaft. Leroy shows up now and confirms what I see, so replacing the seal is definitely going to be necessary. With that settled, I can return to my weekend haunts and have another beer.
Right next to Minns is the little Driftwood Cafe. It is newly opened, the brainchild of Peter Whitehead who is the son of a comparably named man who owns a construction company in Nassau. Peter's mom is here, as is his dad, and the whole family has decided to host a special dinner that features organic beef from Uruguay (the mom is Uruguayan) and home cooked pasta that is part of what the family likes to refer to as Uruguayan-Bahamian Fusion food. That's a mouthful right there, and the concept alone is marginally mindboggling. The feast is pricey ($30 a head) but lots of locals show up and I get to meet a bevy of young folks who strike me as wholesome and yet individualistic. One of them, for example is youngish man of NBA height whose name is John Toker. He has spent years as a fly fishing guide in such places as British Columbia, Andros, and Chile. He has designed and had built an aluminum river boat -- a jet boat -- that he used for his guiding on rivers along the BC coast. It's hardly surprising that I should find intriguing someone with such interests, I suppose.
I also manage to spend some time talking with Peter Whitehead senior, a man of global contacts and great travel experience. He has, for example, organized a conference of sorts for the Young President's Organization. It occurred in the Amazon and Negro River basins and among the speakers that he claims to have corralled he mentions Jane Goodall as well as Cardoso, the former president of Brazil. Of all the speakers who ended up being there, however, the one Peter is most proud of is Ronald Biggs, the mastermind of the great train robbery in Britain. Ronald Briggs has been wanted by the British authorities for years, but they couldn't get to him because he was protected by a Brazilian law that prohibits the extradition of anyone who is the father of a Brazilian citizen. The things you hear about at a social event!
As everyone finishes up their dinner, the two Peter Whiteheads take out their guitars and entertain the crowd for the better part of an hour. They play beautifully and sing beautifully as well. They take turns and the songs they choose are rather more traditional than the sorts of tunes one hears during Regatta or floating out of bars in the evenings. The meal has not been worth the thirty dollars but the social event most certainly has.
Deep into the evening I leave the Driftwood Cafe and walk down past Minns to the edge of Victoria Pond. It is dark outside and the tide is up. A new quarter moon hangs in the east and the stars are out. I stroll over to Kobuk and release her from the boat ramp area to motor out to the empty space at the end of the Minns dock. The Yamaha starts without hesitation, a satisfying development since it signifies progress towards getting prepped for departure at the same time that it precludes having to fend off from nearby boats with Kobuk at the mercy of a fickle breeze.
This high tide departure from the launch ramp is significant for what did not happen. When I checked on the times for high and low tide, I failed to also note the magnitude of the tidal change. It is only by good fortune that I happened to pick a sequence of ebbs and flows in which the second high tide could be expected to exceed the first. If it had been the other way around I probably would have had all sorts of late night problems getting Kobuk's rear back into the water.
Sunday, May 8, 2011
For the first time I pick away at little jobs on board with the feeling that they are succumbing in good order to my ministrations. Until now, I have felt as if there was no clear end to the complications and no assurance that they would not remain overwhelming. At last I have the sense that everything is coming good. Finally it feels as if it is "only a matter of time." Because of this, I find I can work more steadily and less frantically. It's starting to feel like the end game in solitaire when you know you've won but you get to savor your victory by making one little move after another.
When I pack it in for the day it is still early in the evening with the sun creeping towards the horizon but not yet ready to pounce. I amble along the George Town main street headed for Pet's where I will be able to get both a wifi connection and something to eat for dinner. But Pet has decided to not open today so I double back to the Two Turtles where someone yelled a greeting to me when I passed a few minutes earlier. The hailer turns out to have been Jay the mechanic, but I didn't recognize his voice or see him when I passed. Jay and I exchange a few words and then settle in to a happy hour routine during which I substitute Strong Back for dinner (eat your heart out, Dick). When the bugs get bad, everyone moves inside to the enclosed bar where the television is a bigger screen. We've just watched the Los Angeles Lakers get annhiliated by the Dallas Mavericks and now we're taking in the action between the Chicago Bulls and the Atlanta Hawks. The crowd is small, but still contains Jay who isn't, and finds itself entertained by a fast talking Bahamian man who expresses more opinions than there are topics. He is a little like Coleridge's poem "Kubla Khan:" both are a pleasure to listen to but neither seems to be saying anything.
Monday, May 9, 2011
The glitches in the electrical system finally yield their secrets to trial-and-error experimentation. The last of the problems was unpredictable instrument lights that would work but only sometimes. In the end, it turned out that the fuse controlling them, although still sound and solid, had corrosion on its little contact plates. Replacing the fuse restored consistency. But wait: there is a new electrical problem. Now the inverter is becoming unpredictable. Sometimes it works just fine. Other times it works but only with its red warning light lit. And then, all too often, it doesn't work at all. At least now that all other electrical circuits are reliable and good I can focus on this one device with a fair chance that it really is the direct source of the problem. There is power coming through the line, so the problem must be with the inverter itself -- isn't that right? Unlike the instrument lights, this gadget really is important. I never operate Kobuk after dark but most days I do need to charge something -- if not the computer then the cell phone or the Kindle. That the inverter should fail strikes me as improbable since electrical devices are so reliable these days. But then I realize that Kobuk was launched nine years ago and that everything fails sooner or later.
One of the jobs that Jay Martin was supposed to do while storing Kobuk was replace the five topside cleats with larger ones that I had left with him. He did do the job, but this week when I inspected his work more carefully I discovered that the bolts which fasten the cleats to the deck have nuts that never were tightened. A small thing, you think, and you are right, but have you ever tried without assistance to tighten nuts onto bolts that spin freely when you cannot reach the bolthead? I diddled around with the problem for an hour or so, but eventually gave up and went shoreside to find one of the shop workers. Him I paid twenty bucks to sit on Kobuk's deck while I was down below tightening the nuts. Actually, he found the money to be so good that he leaped to do the hard work down below while I sat topside.
In the afternoon, a leisurely pedal out of town to the NAPA store and the hardware store yield up two treasures: a new inverter (at a high price, but at least it won't have to be shipped in Reggie Express) and a gallon of muriatic acid. Both conventional wisdom among local boaters and various online blogs identify muriatic acid as just the thing to clean rust and calcification out of heat exchangers. I'll give the stuff a try.
I said last week that there is always a trade wind breeze here in the Bahamas. I take it back. Today there is hardly any wind -- maybe a one or two on the Beaufort Scale. For me, the problem is not the heat since it only becomes mildly uncomfortable; the problem is the bugs. Victoria Pond is small and has a mangrove perimeter. The Minns dock puts Kobuk a good distance away from shore, but it is just not sufficient to keep the bugs away. Until now, I have slept aft without the canvas side curtains, but tonight I'll zip them on and lather up in Cutter.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
For someone who makes his living by doing work online, you would think that I must be computer savvy. Why is it, then, that I never stayed abreast of the fact that electronic gadgetry has evolved at the speed of light in recent years? When Kobuk first was christened -- July 4th, 2002 -- she had a Garmin GPS that, although basic by the standards of the day (especially, a black-and-white screen), was perfectly serviceable. I have used it ever since, and its accuracy has been indisputable. It has a limited number of buttons and I know which ones to push in order to achieve certain known results. But now that I'm in the Caribbean there is the problem of nautical charts -- in particular, their expense and the lack of any convenient way to load electronic versions onto the good old Garmin. When I returned to Utah in December, I decided to buy a new GPS -- well, actually, a new chartplotter, which is a GPS that makes navigating even easier. Instead of entering waypoints derived from other sources, the chartplotter actually loads nautical charts and allows you to designate waypoints directly off the screen. Plus, it is in color -- and has isolines for water depth and details regarding hazards and all sorts of other nifty features. Most astounding of all: it has fewer buttons than the old one.
I viewed the new Garmin as a sort of vanity purchase, but now this morning when I get it mounted and wired I am grinning to see a multi-colored chart of this little Victoria Pond with Kobuk properly positioned at the end of a dock extending out from its eastern shore. This is one powerful gadget. Not only that, the dashboard in the cabin now has not one, but two Garmins positioned side-by-side -- to give the pilot a steady stream of digital info that can be cross-referenced and compared. This makes Kobuk a serious boat, a boat to be reckoned with, a no-nonsense boat that surely must be going places. I like the look of these two gadgets up there in front of me, competing for attention. I will be judicious. I will be like a good parent and struggle to treat them equally. In short, I will not play favorites. Well, we'll see.
I considered installing a completely new circuit for this second Garmin, but in the end I simply tapped into the existing GPS circuit by cutting its electrical leads and splicing on the new unit. This does create the risk that an electrical failure of the circuit could kill both units at the same time, but at least each has its own fuse and there is always the back-up, hand-held GPS (of which the less said the better since it is deeply flawed and only useful for getting a lat-lon).
With the stellar performance of this new toy, I decide it is time to celebrate and head up to the Driftwood Cafe to have a cup of coffee. Lounging in the air conditioned atmosphere, I hardly realize it when Peter Whitehead Jr. approaches me to make socially suitable conversation. Peter is so darned clean-cut that it is hard to believe he grew up here in the islands. He plays the guitar like a master and his haircut suggests a young man out of Phillips Exeter and Princeton. So does his speech. We banter back and forth about forgettable topics until Peter happens to mention that his family has a small runabout that he was using yesterday . . . at which point I interrupt him, smile, and say "Yes, I saw you in it coming in under the bridge to the pond. Don't you think you were going a bit fast considering the narrow entry?" Peter looked at me with a sheepish grin and admitted his guilt by saying, "I was born here in the islands and I consider myself half-Bahamian" (its hard to be more than that when you are White).
His point: the Bahamian locals fly around in runabouts as if there were no such thing as boat wakes. They find it congenitally impossible to operate a runabout at anything except full throttle. There must not be a word in Bahamian dialect for boat wakes. Kobuk's situation at the Minns dock is at its outer extremity, on the starboard side. The Bahamian workers for Minns have a land-based shop by the start of the dock here on the starboard side, but the Minns gas pump, also on land, happens to be on the port side. All day long, these boat-savvy workers -- young, Black, and wearing sunglasses -- shuttle boats from one side to the other by roaring around the dock in a big loop. As soon as they cast off from one side, they push the lever forward and the rental boat that they are working on leaps up out of the water and makes its circuit like a quarter horse running down cattle. The floating dock and the twenty odd boats tied to it react by bouncing and bounding around like startled ducks. There is a great commotion of heaving and creaking and bumping until at last the excitement subsides.
I cannot help but laugh, actually. These guys don't have a mean bone in their bodies, so every once in a while, when one of them realizes that his action may be a little upsetting to me, he exercises caution either by flying around on a circular route that is more distant from Kobuk (roughly 50 yards instead of 10) or he agonizingly avoids high speed whenever Kobuk is directly off his beam. In the former instance I get a few extra seconds before the rock and roll begins; in the latter the punishment comes only from two directions instead of three.
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Yesterday afternoon I started treating the two heat exchangers with muriatic acid. The acid gets watered down so the mixing had to be done in an aluminum pail. At first, I was more cautious than a titmouse: I'm no chemist and for all I know this stuff in contact with the wrong stuff (and who knows what that is) could burn a hole to China. Even in its concentrated form, the label indicates that it is already dilute, so I was at a loss when it came to judging its potency. I had poked around online and spoken with a few boaters locally, and opinions fluctuated wildly around the notion that the acid should be further diluted by three parts water and should be allowed to remain in the exchanger for "a while." So trial and error it was.
Before leaving Kobuk last December, I used one of my two tin drinking cups for brushing teak oil onto the cabin trim. It was the only small container I could find aboard and since we were parked over at Stocking Island at the time there were no stores about. Lacking solvent for clean up, the cup spent the winter becoming more firmly encrusted with residue teak oil. I'm sure it would have been fine to drink from, but it certainly didn't look like it would be. Besides, what would company think? Here, then, I had my measuring cup and ladle.
By the time the treatment process had been concluded for the day, the heat exchangers were only marginally improved, but the cup was handsome. You would never suspect its multi-purpose background. But alas, the heat exchangers. Leroy flushed them but one continued to have a large number of tubes that remained clogged -- enough to guarantee at least a 40% efficiency decline. The acid treatment removed all sorts of foul looking stuff but only cleared a couple additional tubes.
Today I renew the cleaning process, but now with greater abandon. I've learned that inadvertant spills do not peel paint off Kobuk's topsides and do not burn holes in the back of my hand so the work no longer proceeds at a glacial pace. There is enough muriatic acid remaining to subject the heat exchangers to three more enemas so that is what they get. When the treatments are finished, all but two of the tubes have magically cleared. This is great good news as I believe the heat exchangers have been responsible for the overheating problem that has plagued the Mazda ever since the Gulf Stream crossing over a year ago.
Everything now is properly stowed in Kobuk but everywhere I look the trim and painted surfaces are grimy, oil-stained, and discolored. The topsides is no better. In the department of superficial appearances, Kobuk is a mess. But now all the mechanical systems are coming together and there is a chance that we will be able to put off for distant ports with all systems running right. It reminds me of fishing boats I often saw up in the Maritimes -- patched and stained and filth-encrusted but primed to spring to life with the turn of a key or flick of a switch.
"Duh," you say "What good's a pretty boat if it doesn't run right?" Well, right there is the source of your problem. No boat is an it; a boat is a she. And ladies care about appearances. Certainly Kobuk does. I know because I built her. And now we are at the heart of the issue. With the boat I am intimate but never have been comfortable with mechanical matters. It is only human to attend to what we know, is it not? Well, I am learning, I am learning -- but what has always been missing is any sort of passion for the engineering side of things. I've always known what's really important but the gap between knowledge and feelings has always been a stumbling block. But now, after so many years, I finally am beginning to take pride in the motorized side of things. Too bad the carbon era is drawing to a close. Gas, here, incidentally, is selling for $6.20 per gallon.
Thursday, May 12, 2011
Considering the small size of both George Town and Great Exuma Island, the airport is a long ways away -- about ten miles, I'd say. The project for the day is to retrieve Reggie Express shipments from their office at the airport. I've been tied to Kobuk for a couple weeks now, so its time to make a little expedition. I organize myself and hit the road on Bike Friday. The poor bike is struggling with the tropical salt air. Fittings are badly rusted. The rear hub three speed shifter is frozen solid. One brake bracket has rusted through so speed control is a purely right-handed operation. I've replaced the chain which was so rusty that many links were frozen and could not be adequately loosened using the on-board, all-purpose lubricant: WD40. The replacement chain is intended for a single speed bike, however, which means that it is six links too short and that its keyed link for attachment protrudes so much that it scrapes the derailleur mechanism. All in all, poor Bike Friday has suffered from neglect. Because of the gear hub problem, the excursion has to be done in a low gear that dictates a snails pace. It's okay: this is a relaxing excursion as much to view the countryside and coastline as to get to the destination. Still, it takes a surprisingly long time to cover the ten miles and I don't make it there until close to noon.
De Juan, the main man at Reggie Express, is a short roundfaced dynamo who guesses who I am and immediately reassures me that both shipments have arrived (not just last week's thermostat but also this week's jet drive replacement seal. De Juan sends me two doors down to deal with customs and there I am taken through the interesting process of importing things to the Bahamas. Duties turn out to be reasonable -- only ten percent of the retail value of the goods -- but each shipment also requires a $30 fee for the paperwork involved. Of course, when your whole future on the water depends on the imported parts, you tend to view the charge as perfectly reasonable -- as long as you get out of there with your goods. The vital parts are small so once they are out of their boxes they fit easily in the little backpack I've brought along.
On the way back I stop at the NAPA store where I'm able to purchase a replacement inverter. All in all, I view the excursion as an unqualified success: all needed parts are in my possession and I even have the new inverter which I really didn't think I'd be able to find on the island.
As soon as I get back to Kobuk I call Leroy to arrange for the seal replacement work, and we agree that he will come to the boat around ten in the morning. Then I set about replacing the inverter. The new one seems to work out well but the one thing that puzzles me is that its cooling fan (the box says it has one) doesn't seem to come on. But then again, the unit doesn't get hot either so maybe its fan is temperature controlled. The old one was not so sophisticated, but it did have the advantage that I could hear it whenever I forgot to turn it off after using it.
Friday, May 13, 2011
The water level is rising in the jet drive and if we don't get it at least partially reassembled in the next half hour we're going to have a tidal overflow streaming into Kobuk's bilge with no way to stem it and little prospect of pumping enough to keep the hull from sinking. Of course, the hull is on the boat ramp with her stern up high so the disaster would not be fatal -- but it certainly would be a mess to deal with. Leroy is a patient mechanic, but now he's getting a little frantic as he tries to reassemble enough parts to do the job. He packs a strip of cloth and a sponge into where the seal is supposed to be before reattaching the bearing. As I'm sure you've surmised, we ran into problems trying to replace the mechanical seal.
I motored over to put Kobuk on the ramp at high tide in the wee hours, but then when daytime came Leroy did not show up until about an hour past low tide. He presumed the job would be quick and easy -- a logical proposition, but one that, like so many others, fails to match the vagaries of reality. The parts that needed to be removed were few in number and really only required forward release off the jet drive shaft. One of them, however, simply did not want to leave its fixed place of residence. Leroy banged on it for a couple hours without getting it to budge, a frustrating state of affairs since the part is out of sight, tucked away in the jet drive housing. It is the plate against which the mechanical seal presses -- the last thing to be removed before the existing broken seal is taken out and replaced. This plate, though, is plastic, and all the while that Leroy has been doing battle with it I have been wondering whether his blind blows may not be seriously damaging it. If that were to happen, well . . . it would be Reggie Express again and another one week wait and another trip to the airport. Finally, when the rising tide became a threat, Leroy decided discretion was in order and began to jerry pack the housing hole to keep the water out.
Before Leroy showed up, I had started disassembling the barrel of the jet drive that extends outboard from the stern. Randy, the technical expert at Kodiak, had told me by phone that it would be necessary to reach the seal from the back end because there would not be enough room to do the job up inside the boat: the main engine would be too close to allow removal of all parts. Leroy begged to differ and undertook the job that way anyway, and in the end he proved to be correct in his assessment that the part could be gotten to this "easy" way. Now, however, the jet assembly is pulled apart at both ends so while Leroy patches together a temporary seal up inside Kobuk I lie on my side in an inch or two of water behind the stern and reassemble the nozzle housing and reversing bucket.
We do get the work dammed off in time, but now Leroy is furrow-browed trying to figure out how tomorrow he will be able to extract the recalcitrant plate. We arrange that he will return late in the morning and after he leaves I spend and hour or two trying to recover my composure. What this involves is a hose shower at the end of the Minns dock, a shave to feel crisp, and a couple hours at the Two Turtles fortifying myself with Strong Back. I need the anaesthetic: I just don't know how Leroy is going to be able to remove the plate without destroying it and visions of additional weeks here at Minns dock torture my mind.
Saturday, May 14, 2011
As usual, Leroy shows up late -- not until a couple hours after low tide. But this is the Bahamian way, and the important thing is that he has shown up. He has Floyd with him, and Jay appears on the scene as well. So now Kobuk is a mechanics' party boat. They banter with each other and this seems to be just what Leroy needs to get the job done. He has concluded that the L-shaped rod with which he was trying to "tap" and "lever" the plate free was too broad at the face and was getting wedged between the housing and the drive shaft before applying any pressure on the plate. This is conjecture, of course because the space is too inaccessible and too small to see or measure. He grinds down the L-rod and tries it once again. This time, the plate actually moves -- not much but a little. Over the better part of an hour, Leroy keeps rapping on the L-rod, first on one side of the plate and then on the other. Finally it comes free and when it's removed we can see that it is battered but not corrupted.
Now work proceeds at a steady pace and by late in the afternoon Leroy has the jet drive reassembled. The next job is to reinstall the cleaned heat exchangers, but after the saga with the jet drive this is child's play. There are a few hitches and setbacks along the way, but finally Kobuk is reassembled and we can test her out. The Mazda starts and the jet drive runs. There is no water leaking into the hull -- and I am a happy camper. Leroy is all smiles and the day ends very well indeed.
There is no sign that the engine is still overheating, but to determine that I'll have to take Kobuk out and run at speed for a while. That will have to wait until tomorrow, although I am unreasonably confident that the problem has been solved. My psychological state has suddenly undergone a major reconfiguration. Whereas until now, my thinking about what happens next has been tentative and non-commital, I now think the pieces have come together. I begin to plan a departure from this place. The plan is to leave Tuesday morning. Windfinder.com has a very promising forecast of wind and waves for most of the week so I think the weather will cooperate. I need a day to get ready for departure -- Kobuk is in total disarray -- and that day cannot be tomorrow when stores are closed, so Tuesday looks like the best bet. Now I'm convinced that Kobuk is functional I look forward to two stress-free days here in the George Town area before setting off eastward towards the still-distant Caribbean. But now it looks so much closer. I feel as if Kobuk and I have just completed a hundred-mile day.
I have to take it easy, here. Being stalled for three weeks has made me anxious to get out of the starting gate, but the places I go to next are -- I must remember -- likely to be seen by me only once in this lifetime. Keep it slow, Spike. Once moving, forward progress is a virtual certainty. There is no need to worry about that anymore.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
It is a new day and for a change I think I'll start with a shower rather than end with one. I step out onto the dock and wet down -- but find myself gasping in shock. I've gotten accustomed to hot showers, for the hose is black and the water that it contains is steaming even after only five minutes of lying sunshine. But this shower is taken when the sun is only a shadowmaker in the east, and the hose water has a chilly nip to it. After the initial shock, I can revel in the coolness; I haven't been this refreshed since leaving Utah.
It's with a light step that I cruise down the main street to the grocery store. I feel as if I'm floating. A heavy weight has been lifted from my shoulders. I'm giddy. I'm even spending money in Godfrey's market with no dark thoughts and no regrets. In one of the aisles a middle aged woman is stopped with her cart, examining products on the shelf and trying to decide what to buy. The decision-making process has her talking to herself in a fairly loud tone. When I comment on this, she leaps at the chance to have a conversation with a total stranger. She beams at me from under a spagetti mop of reddish hair and tells me about her animals who she talks to as well. Before we're done, she displays a fair knowledge of the cooking trade. We part ways, and then on an impulse I turn back and ask if she knows how Bahamians manage to make canned corned beef taste so good. I've eaten the stuff straight on the boat, but only because I hate to not finish something that I have started. The stuff is, I would estimate, only one small step higher than marmite or vegemite on the list of barely edible foods. But last week I had a meal in a local restaurant that used corned beef as its basic ingredient and to my astonishment it was delicious. This woman knows the local secret and she delights in telling me how simple it is. "Here's what you do," she says. Her name, by the way, is Alice. "Chop up some onion and some sweet pepper into really small pieces and sautee them for just a short while. Add some tomato paste." (She pokes around on the shelf for a minute trying to find the favored brand of tomato paste, but the store appears to be out of stock.) "Add a little water, but only a little because the tomato paste should stay gummy. If you want you can also add a little hot pepper. Last thing, break up the corned beef and add it to the pan and allow the whole thing to simmer for about five minutes. That's it! That's all there is to it!" We talk about it further and then when I say goodbye and head for the check-out, I am running through the formula in my mind. When I get back to Kobuk I write down the recipe. The odds are I will never use it, but it represents the most active step I have ever taken to get involved with cooking.
Late morning. Another bluebird day. I fire up the Mazda and let her idle until she finally has calmed down. Then I release the dock lines and motor across Victoria Pond, over to where the little channel out into Elizabeth Harbour passes under the bridge. The tide is ebbing, so the two dinghies approaching from the other side hang back and let me pass through. Kobuk is on the water for real. We're only going over to Stocking Island, a couple miles across the bay, but it feels is if we have gotten out of jail. On the way over, I check out the Yamaha to see how it runs with the new propeller and the verdict is that it is only capable of increasing our speed by a couple tenths of a mile per hour but it does this without the engine having to work so hard.
This particular beach at Stocking Island is a palm-fringed bench of fine, white sand with the Chat 'n' Chill bar a stone's throw back from the water's edge. The north end of the beach curls inland as a channel from Elizabeth Harbour penetrates into the heart of the island. Once Kobuk has her anchor in the beach sand, I drop to my knees behind the cabin and then sprawl on the floor to take a nap. An hour later, groggy in the head from the heat, I get up and do a short walk around the perimeter of the interior basin that the channel leads to. Finally when the day is waning I find the energy to do a little work on the boat.
Kobuk badly needs a fresh coat of paint inside and out, but that's too grand a project for me in my current state. I opt instead to clean the topsides and the exterior trim. Working on a boat with scenery like this and with your feet in crystalline bath water is more like pretending than really working,but even so, beach strollers take notice. Several of them stop to talk including a French Canadian couple from Quebec who invite me to store Kobuk in their back yard one day -- if I ever get back that way. I'm also engaged by a couple named Glen and Gale Patron who have lived for 45 years in Puerto Rico. They are delivering a boat to Miami for someone, and recently they decided to move themselves to Florida. But only a few months there has convinced them that life is better in Puerto Rico.
Every Sunday afternoon the Chat 'n' Chill has a pork roast dinner that it prepares for the visiting boaters, so once I'm done with clean-up detail I head to the bar for beer and pork. The mound of food put on my plate looks like bunker hill, but I'm in the right frame of mind for gluttony and do it serious justice.
Chat 'n' Chill, Stocking Island: 23* 31.092' N / 75* 45.341 W
Distance: 2 miles
Total Distance: 9,845 miles
Monday, May 16, 2011
The morning is spent re-oiling the trim and scrubbing down the hull, during which time Glen and Gale Patron motor over in their dinghy to give me things: books to read, magazines less than a month old, a nautical chart of the Virgin Islands, cruising guides for Puerto Rico and the Spanish Virgin Islands. And that is not all; they give me food as well -- all sorts of variety including muffins, carrots, fruit, sandwich meats, bread, and cheese. It is a treasure trove from my point of view, and I promise to keep in Internet contact with them.
It is already afternoon by the time I leave the beach to return to Minns. On the way across Elizabeth Harbour I try running the Mazda at high speeds: it seems to do fine and doesn't overheat. We are set to go. There are tasks and errands remaining, but none is vital and nothing any longer stands in the way of a departure tomorrow morning.
The time you spend away from home always reveals differences from your place of origin. The landscape and the cultural practices do not conform to what you are used to. But the more you travel the more the differences you observe in a particular setting remind you of some other foreign place that you already have visited. This is, I guess, the geographer's version of the old adage that the more things change the more they stay the same. When first you set out and haven't really been anywhere, each place you visit yields up uniquenesses, but then as time and distance pass, the number of things you see that really have not cropped up anywhere else becomes smaller and smaller. So far, here in the Bahamas I have come across three such thing. The first of these was anticipated: the stunning clarity of the ocean waters and their deliriously varied palatte of blue-green colors. We've all seen photos and read books highlighting this particular characteristic of the Bahamas. Knowing about something and actually experiencing it are not the same thing, however.
The second thing that for me is unique about this country is that the birds sing at night. Everywhere else I've been I've only noticed birds singing in the daytime, and especially during the early morning hours, but here in George Town, there is no such favoritism. On black-sky nights when the stars are sieve-like pin-pricks in a velvet membrane, on breezy afternoons when the world is drenched in sunlight and fair weather creampuffs float by, on moonlit evenings when everything is visible but multi-colors have been replaced by a crepuscular version of black-and-white -- at these times when most birds of the world exercise a sort of silent awe, Bahamian birds are as cheerful and outgoing as ever. Does this behavior appear in other places? Surely it must but either I haven't been there yet or I wasn't paying attention.
The third thing that for me is different about the Bahamas is obvious whenever you hear music and see people gathered about: it is the only place I know where as a matter of course it is the men who get up and dance --as individuals -- and the women who watch from the sidelines. And it's not just the young men; it is the old as well. I saw this during the regatta and then again when a band was playing at the Peace & Plenty. Now tonight I see it again.
Kobuk has been dockside here at Minns for almost three weeks, during which time the weekly ebb and flow of activity here in George Town has become obvious. Across the pond at a restaurant/bar called Eddies Edgewater there is a hoedown every Monday night. All week long the pond is quiet enough to hear the birds but on Monday nights a band sets up at Eddies and shortly after dark the music starts. Eddies is not a large place by North American standards but for Geogetown it has the most spacious bar and dance floor imaginable and for the past two Mondays, silhouetted by the dim lights inside, I have watched the people come and go and listened to the music as it floats across the still, black pond. On this, the departure eve, I head on over to Eddies.
It is a rake and scrape band, a motley collection of two drummers, two guitarists, and guy making music on a hand saw. The drummers each have one large drum that they are playing bongo style. The guitarists have electric instruments and a worthy sound system. The saw man is using something to scrape the teeth of the saw as he flexes its blade to achieve different tones. The get it on with lively music and the place slowly fills with an assortment of both locals and tourists. It's a jive sound, easy to dance to, and the first ones out are an old man who has been sitting all alone and a young buck who detaches himself from his friends. They both show off their moves and the audience is appreciative. The man with the saw stands nearby, a swaying reed with a frame so lean that his jeans hang from the belt. Everyone watches and, bit by bit, most of them break down and join the action. It takes an hour or so but eventually the floor is filled. The old man watches morosely from the sideline.
With time, I too get up and dance on my own. And then, a few songs later a Bahamian gal comes over and motions to me to dance. I can tell you -- that made my evening.
Minns Water Sports Dock: 23*30.338' N / 75* 46.233' W
Distance: 2 miles
Total Distance: 9,847 miles
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
I'm not usually in a rush to get anywhere, but the delay here in George Town has made me a little antsy. The short term plan is to move ahead for each of the next four days. The winds are forecast to be light the entire time, coming out of the south today and then gradually shifting to the east by Thursday morning. Everything depends on the weather forecast, but if this one holds it will be ideal for what we plan to do. From here on this first day we'll head east-northeast for a 25-mile run over to the north end of Long Island. This should put the wind and waves on our beam. Then tomorrow we'll make the short passage northeast to Conception Island. Thursday morning the plan is to run southeast to Rum Cay -- a voyage with the potential to be a little uncomfortable but containing an open-ocean passage of only about 15 miles. As long as by then the wind is still a tame easterly, we'll use Friday to make the 40-mile crossing to Clarencetown, down near the south end of Long Island. This will be a fairly lengthy passage for us, but if the wind is light and out of the east we could hardly expect anything better.
As Kobuk motors down the length of Elizabeth Harbour, before reaching the open ocean, I have a chance to compare the navigational pros and cons of the two Garmins. The first thing to be said is that the color screen on the new Garmin is vastly easier to see. The old black-and-white screen often gets overwhelmed by the bright sunlight, but this new screen is easy to see no matter what. Of course the new Garmin is a chartplotter, so it shows water depths and hazards. Balanced against this is the fact that I know well how to use the old one and have not yet learned to efficiently navigate on the new one. For now, I'll use the old Garmin for establishing a route to follow and the new one for negotiating the near-shore hazards.
It takes an hour or so to reach the open ocean, but then the passage becomes a deep water voyage. Until now, Kobuk has been cruising the Bahamas mostly in shallows with only an occasional blue water crossing. Now, however, the Bahamaian Banks give way to deep ocean waters containing a scattered set of isolated island banks where shallows rarely extend more than a few miles offshore. By opting to visit Conception and Rum, we are committing to the Atlantic deeps rather than worming our way across the shallow banks along the lee of Long Island. I like being in the shallows because if there's a problem its a simple matter to drop the anchor and stop to think about things for a while, but we're pretty much at the end of the line as far as shallow banks cruising is concerned so we might as well start getting used to the deeper waters. From now on it will be pretty much the norm.
We're headed for Calabash Bay, a comma-shaped coastal indentation only a couple miles south of Long Island's north end. The bay is a long, gentle arc of sandy beach with a few clusters of hazardous coralheads a short distance offshore. It has a large, Canadian-owned resort at the north end -- which means that some of its two-storey buildings can easily be seen once we're within ten miles of landfall. When we work our way past the coralheads -- readily visible in Bahamian waters -- the entire stretch of the bay southward from the resort is only interrupted by the presence of three or four shoreline houses. Otherwise, the coastal sweep of sand and scrub runs undisturbed into the distance.
I would like access to shore without having to inflate the kayak so I try putting Kobuk on the beach. I drop the stern anchor a good distance out and motor Kobuk's nose up onto the beach. There I plant the main anchor. The problem is, the light wind is out of the south and bring in a bit more wave action than is comfortable. The stern anchor drags and before I know it Kobuk is broadside to the beach, bumping on it with each little wave. I race around a little too frantically, getting the two anchors back aboard and then heaving against the side of the hull to break Kobuk from the beach. The tide is coming in, which helps me with my task, but when we break free and I clamber aboard to start the engine and motor out, I contemplate my first introduction to the real hazards of a lee shore. The wind and waves were accosting us from the side, really, but the principle still holds. The point is that we were not in a true lee and I never should have tried this stunt.
To stay within striking distance of the resort (where I hope to get wifi), I head up into a little estuary at the farthest extend of this northern end of the beach. It is a narrow, pinched (and therefore deep) entrance and behind is a fairly broad expanse of water. Broad, but not deep. Twice I get Kobuk hung up on the sandbars there and have to jump overboard and wrangle for a while. At one point, I try jetting free by throttling up the Mazda, but the intake must be pulling in more sand than water because after about 30 seconds the engine overheats and the alarm goes off. After this, I cautiously explore the sinuous deep-water channel using the Yamaha but cannot find any place where it is possible to approach shore. Finally I give up and we run back out into the bay.
Time is slipping by and not much is left of the day. I have to get serious about parking for the night. South of Calabash Bay, a few miles away, there is a small, confused stretch of irregular coastline known as Joes Sound, and into it runs a narrow estuary that guidebooks say is good for anchoring. We make our way there, pass through the narrow entry with reefs a few feet away on either side and enter a calm neck of water with no occupied buildings on the nearby shore. There is an abandoned building, though, with the pilings left from what must have been a dock, so I tie Kobuk's bow to the last of the pilings and then string a line to a rockpile that is a few feet offshore, not far away. Kobuk is strung between them in shallow water and I can wade to land.
The sun is dipping low and turning red as I pedal Bike Friday along the sandy road that straggles down to this isolated location. We are actually on a part-time island called Galliott Cay, and the beach of Calabash Bay is its seaward side. The estuary where we got hung up a couple hours ago is the same one where Kobuk now is parked -- only its other end. At low tide much of the estuary becomes a sand and grass connector with Long Island, but at high tide there is water all around. A few minutes after sunset, I reach the Club Santa Maria where it is possible to eat dinner upstairs in a screened-in dining area with a twilit view of Calabash Bay. There is wifi so I get my work done before dinner and then enjoy Caesar salad and Mediterranean pasta, the sorts of things it is hard to find in most Bahamian restaurants. Later in the evening I bicycle back to Kobuk, but the journey is easy since full moon was just a day or two ago. A couple hours after dark the moon rose and so now I'm pedaling along the dusty road with a fat yellow melon low in the east lighting the way.
Joes Sound, Long Island: 23* 36.982' N / 75* 20.632' W
Distance: 40 miles
Total Distance: 9,887 miles
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
The north end of Long Island is of course a place where winds and currents get confused, with awkward results. The winds have remained light and so the chaos of intersecting waves is manageable -- and in only a few miles we are out beyond it far enough to be in predictable conditions. The breeze still is out of the south although the chop and tumble of small waves seems to be coming at us from the southeast. That's okay: when we get to Conception the favored anchorage is a bay that faces west so the sooner the weather goes easterly the better.
Conception Island is a flyspeck in the ocean -- three miles long and a mile or two wide. It is guarded here and there by coral reefs but along its east and west shores there are sandy beaches. Boaters prefer the western side because it offers protection from the prevailing easterlies, and that is where Kobuk and I are headed. We arrive to find a few anchored boats -- a large sailing yacht, a small sloop, and two powerboats. I run Kobuk to the beach and this time the wind has backed enough that the stern anchor holds. When all is settled and its clear that neither wind nor surge nor waves are going to disturb us much, I sit on board in the lounge chair and look around. This is a pristine place. The beach is backed by a limestone bluff whose face has eroded sufficiently that you can walk up it. It is only about two stores high but it gives the island a wild and vaguely impenetrable aspect. There is a matting of shrubby undergrowth that is scant and patchy as you leave the beach but becomes more of a tangle as you reach the crest of the bluff, and there the dominant feature against the sky is a forest of isolated palmetto palms with their ramrod straight trunks, their diminutive stature, their spikey crowns with algae green fronds, and their hardy aspect. They look like tough survivors in a drought-prone land, and indeed they probably are.
Conception Island is a National Park. It is uninhabited and its unmarred landscape shows little sign that people visit here much. But the boaters do come, and here on the beach, far from Kobuk, there is a small cairn made from driftwood that someone erected, most likely to challenge the obvious dominance of nature over humans that floats about this place. The sand on the beach is fine and white -- decomposed limestone, most likely -- and has the grace to rise up out of the sea in a vigorous and assertive way. The beach is a tilted slab and this gives a few feet of water even at the tail end of beached Kobuk. The water here is Bahamian clear and on the way in I could look overboard and see each coral head, every patch of sea grass, all the expansive stretches of sandy bottom.
Now there is a dinghy pulled up far along the beach and a solitary figure is there paying attention to something bright and colorful that he has spread out on the sand. I walk down that way and meet a man named Kevin who is concentrating on the equipment laid out in front of him. It is the paraphernalia for para-boarding: a parachute and lines with harness and control bar. Kevin is here on the small sloop, having worked his way south from Cape Cod. With the gentle southeast breeze sweeping nearly parallel with the beach, Kevin is trying to figure out how to launch his parachute so that he can practice controlling it while it's airborne. He already does hang gliding and para-gliding so this new sport is not totally alien to him. Even so, it is a challenge for anyone to take up a sport of this sort with no initial guidance. He recruits me to hold his parachute up for him while he controls the lines and works to get it launched. A para-boarding parachute has an inflated tube along its leading edge so holding it up is not as impossible as it sounds. Kevin makes a number of tries and does succeed in getting the chute stabilized overhead for a few minutes at a time. When he's finished he invites me to dinner on board Vagabundo. On the way over from Cat Island he caught four fish and proposes to serve up a couple of them.
At six in the evening I walk the beach once again to meet Kevin who has rowed his dinghy in to pick me up, and for the next few hours we lounge around talking about the boating life. Keven is a do-it-yourself sort of guy. He took up sailing because he wanted try something new. He bought the sailboat a year ago, spent a few months fixing her up and learning how to sail, and then took off for points south. Since winter he has been in Florida and here in the Bahamas. He plans to follow the windward path, making his way down through the Caribbean. We may cross paths a few times in the next couple months.
West Bay, Conception Island: 23* 50.666' N / 75* 07.225' W
Distance: 25 miles
Total Distance: 9,912 miles
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Rum Cay is a gumdrop lying on its side in the ocean. It's small (although not as small as Conception) and it lies with its gumdrop base facing the Atlantic rollers. The little town of Port Nelson is nestled along its southeastern shore and there a government dock extends outward from the beach into the reef- protected bight. The dock is really just a seaward extension of a town street that runs back perpendicular to the shore. Port Nelson is the only town on the island. About sixty people live here.
Kobuk and I arrived from Conception early in the afternoon and when I looked for a place to tie up at the government dock the pickings were thin. We could attach to the pilings of the dock, but the dock itself is so far above the water that I would not be able to climb to it from Kobuk's topsides. As I was motoring around looking for the best arrangement for getting ashore, a young man strode out onto the dock and stood there waiting for my approach. He directed me to a spot where a lower platform makes it possible to transfer between boat and dock without athleticism, but there were other problems with the site and in the end I simply ran up to the beach beside the dock and dropped a stern anchor in a patch of sea grass along the way.
Here is an island with no pavement whatsoever. The streets of the town are dirt roads as is the double track leading off to the marina. I walk out there to make use of the marina wifi connection and when I arrive a man named Bobby looks up from his coral carving project to give me help. He is the owner of the place. He built it and then a few years ago he sold it. But then the buyers defaulted on their payments and Bobby decided to repossess rather than walking away. He is bearded and stout, but still young enough to be looking at the front end of middle age. He looks serious most of the time, but his manner is mild and he talks with a gentle liveliness that belies his appearance. He fetches me a beer and lets me relax in the great room that in other contexts might be labeled the club house. The great room dominates the top of a molehill -- which is all you really need in most places in the Bahamas to look down on everything in sight. The room itself is very inviting. Rustic but spacious, it has windows on three sides, on one of which are the marina docks whilst the windows on the opposite side look out towards a private beach here at the end of the same bight where Kobuk is beached.
Whilst sitting in the great room under one of its six fans, looking out the window at the little harbour chiseled out of limestone bedrock, a light breeze of entertainment comes bouncing in from outside, a gay and uninhibited big-eyed gal named Chris who talks with an accent I can't place. She is from Rio and has moved here, population 60, to be with Bobby her boyfriend. She's all sunshine and cheery energy and shows me to her marina office where I can use her desk chair to relax while I tap into the wifi. An hour or so later when I return to the great room to ask about dinner Bobby confirms that if I show up around seven he'll have prepared a feast fit for royalty. With that settled, I walk back to Kobuk to take a nap.
Not long before seven I am aroused from my rest on the floor behind the cabin by some sort of commotion. When I look up over the carling, I see the mail boat making its final approach to the government dock. Women and youngsters are streaming out onto the dock from land and a couple men already are out there waiting to receive the dock lines. The whole town must be here -- there is a crowd and others keep arriving. Once the ship is tied off, all sorts of cardboard boxes are unloaded. It seems everybody in town places orders for things in Nassau and when the mail boat makes its weekly appearance the hardgoods and produce are off loaded. Everything is in old, used cardboard boxes with individual's names handwritten on them. I find out later that the delivery cost per box is four dollars and that the mail boat schedule is being cut back to once every two weeks because of the rising price of fuel.
I'm a bit late getting out to the marina for dinner, but when I arrive Bobby is only just starting to prepare the feast. He invites me to hang out in the kitchen where I see him braise three large groupers and then fill them up with crab stuffing. Then he garnishes them with chopped up onion, mango, and other fruit. He's the chef here, not just the owner, and during the years when he didn't have the marina he made his living by carving coral and selling it to the visitors. He does it all here at the marina, although I gather that when Chris arrived she took over all the bookkeeping. By the time Bobby has wrapped up his kitchen duties and disappeared to take a shower, people start arriving for dinner -- some visitors staying in one of Bobby's small cabins, some off boats in his marina, and a few who evidently work here. Dinner gets under way around nine and it is for sure a feast -- the best meal I have had in months. After dinner, when everybody is starting to drift off, Chris jumps up and asks if I would like a ride back to the boat. Well, we all know the answer to that. In the dark she leads me down to a little gas powered golf cart and we go bouncing along the double track towards town. She drives like a madwoman, although of course a golf cart can hardly do more than about 15 miles per hour. But try that at night on a potholed dirt road of the sort you find in the Bahamas. She talks as she drives, asking me about my trip, and when I tell her I'm headed for Buenos Aires she pouts because it is such an inferior cast of characters there compared with Rio. When she stops to drop me off she leans over for us to exchange kisses on the cheek. Good night, Spike.
Government Dock, Port Nelson, Rum Cay: 23* 38.664' N / 74* 50.256' W
Distance: 27 miles
Total Distance: 9,939 miles
Friday, May 20, 2011
I cannot get the Coleman stove to work right. It was fine in George Town but now for some reason it doesn't keep its pressure after being pumped up and so it's impossible to get enough flame out of it to boil water. I pack it in and wander the dusty streets of Port Nelson looking for a place that might serve breakfast. There are two restaurants but one is closed and although the other appears to be open it is actually just sitting there with an open door and a lonely old man sitting at the bar inside looking at television. His wife operates the food part of this food & beer enterprise and she is on vacation in Nassau. The man, however, has a niece next door who he thinks might make me breakfast. He calls her and then directs me to her home which is indeed only a few steps away.
Her door is already open and she invites me in. She is a grandmother in all respects: blessed with grandchildren, kindly and sedate in demeanor, and skilled at all things domestic. She is gray haired and portly. Motions all are slow and deliberate as she moves around the kitchen in her nightie and dressing gown, fixing me eggs and hot dogs and a cup of tea. I sit at the table in her entry room with an unobstructed view of the kitchen where she is working. We talk about the usual things. I learn about her three daughters who live in Nassau and Freeport. She herself grew up here on Rum Cay but went to Nassau as young woman and pursued a career there. In preparation for retirement, she arranged for this home to be built for her on the family land back on Rum Cay. We talk about the summers and she confirms that, oh yes, they do get very hot. She tells me about living in this same location as a young lady and tells me about how on the hottest days she used to take off all her clothes and walk across the dusty road outside to reach the beach where she could lie around in the cool (eighty degree) water. When I suggest that now she's back here she'll be able to do it again she laughs and says "Oh no! Not with this shape!" From this I surmise that she must have been quite a beauty in her youth.
When my breakfast is ready she brings it out and retreats back into the kitchen to stand behind a counter top and chew on some chicken leg soup. I say, "Please, don't stand back there; come in and sit here with me at the table." She says she's not really dressed and I tell her that I promise not to notice. She laughs and shrugs and ambles in to take a seat at the head of the table. There are cardboard boxes lying around on the floor of her kitchen, a patch of chaos in her otherwise very tidy home. They remind me of the mail boat, and when I mention to her that it looked like most everyone goes out to the dock to meet the mail boat she heartily agrees and tells me a little about its comings and goings. The boxes are indeed of of last night's mail boat and when I explain to her that my boat is the one on the beach next to the dock we realize that we had waved a greeting to each other as she was walking out to pick up her boxes. After breakfast, I help her organize the boxes a bit and at this time people start arriving at her front and back door to purchase things. The boxes contain her weekly store of drinks and produce that she sells out of her home. Each box has her name handwritten on it: Alice Strachan.
From here down to Clarencetown on Long Island is a straight shot across forty miles of ocean. The light wind is easterly but we'll be heading south by south-southwest. This is as good as can reasonably be hoped so I prepare for immediate departure. Vagabundo arrived later in the afternoon yesterday and now when I get back on board Kobuk I can see that Kevin has hung my flash drive on the rear view mirror mounted in the cabin. I left it aboard his boat the day we were over at Conception Island.
Our trajectory is taking us across a stretch of open Atlantic water, but with the wind on the beam it is a comfortable ride all day long. Forty miles of open ocean is enough to stimulate my anxiety glands a little, but the situation is ameliorated by the fact that off the starboard beam, just below the horizon, lies Long Island. If systems were to fail and we were to end up adrift I feel confident that we'd pretty soon bump into Long Island (although there is a gentle offshore current that might sweep us north).
This time, I set up the two Garmins with separate navigation routes that start about a mile apart and converge at the destination. I spend the day adhering to the more windward line and resolving to not deviate from the ever-narrowing sector.
From a few miles out, Clarencetown does not look like a town. There are a few more houses than usual, but they are isolated cubes of white, or some pastel color, and there is no sign of a real cluster. As we get nearer, the houses look buff and well-positioned -- either fronting a pleasant beach or crowning some minor hilltop. Later, when I get tied off at the Flying Fish Marina in the harbour, I found out that in fact there really is not a town here, that the "town" is about ten miles away. This is a complication since the next two hundred miles of cruising will be to islands with nothing on them bigger than Port Nelson. To make matters worse, the Mazda acts up when I'm docking. A great clattering sound erupts and the engine quits. It starts and quits like this a number of times before I manage to maneuver into a designated slip.
Flying Fish Marina, Clarencetown, Long Island: 23* 06.139' N / 74* 57.614' W
Distance: 40 miles
Total Distance: 9,979 miles
Saturday, May 21, 2011
The heat and humidity are building. I spend the morning pedaling around to look at the sights. The mechanical problem is with the jet drive and not the engine and so I'm wondering if somehow the bearing is not properly greased following the work that was done in George Town. I have run out of grease and the only place where I might be able to get some without traveling ten miles up the road is at the gas station. The station doesn't open until 11:30 so until then I cruise around on Bike Friday enjoying the sights.
There are two small corner-store groceries here, but one of them is permanently closed. I stop in at the other for no reason except that it is open. Inside I find a sprightly old man who has put this place into a level of order that greatly surpasses the Bahamian standard. And indeed the store does belong to Anson. this aging bundle of restlessness who likes to talk as much as he likes to work. He is 77 and when he retired from his Nassau career working for an insurance company he returned here to his place of birth to retire. The grocery keeps him occupied, he says, and besides, the constant physical labor of stocking and inventorying keeps his system from seizing up from old age and inactivity. I like his philosophy and promise to return.
In the afternoon I locate a mechanic named Roger Cartwright who agrees to come to the boat and help me figure out what the problem might be with the jet drive. We pull off the universal and remove the housing for the main bearing -- but the bearing looks healthy to me and Roger agrees. The impeller shaft turns although it is stiff, it wobbles a bit, and the turning causes a grinding sound that is suspiciously like metal on metal. Roger is convinced that the other bearing must be damaged and I make arrangements with him for transshipment of parts from Fort Lauterdale. On Monday I'll call Randy in Oregon and talk through the problem with the likely result that I'll again have to arrange for FedEx shipment of certain parts to the Fort Lauterdale address.
When I use the marina facilities late in the day it is my first normal shower since leaving Houston back in April. All boaters agree: a shower is a special treat after an extended time on the water without one. On the other hand, it doesn't take much to adjust to the realities of showerless life. It's a little like a barnyard: if you're from the city and its your first visit the odor is almost overwhelming. But if you stay on site for a few days the smell becomes not just tolerable but a sort of fact of life that engenders neither repulsion nor resentment. When the country boy goes to the city, the inevitable atmospheric pollution is similar in its effect: shocking at first but simply part of the scene after a few days.
Sunday, May 22, 2011
Flying Fish Marina differs from most I have seen here in the Bahamas. We have here almost nothing but sport fisher boats gleaming in the tropical sun. Hull colors subtly vary but topsides are invariably white and the trim teak. The lines are sleek and the darkly tinted wraparound windows futuristic and vaguely sinister. They all have towers that triangulate upwards above the main cabin with a semi-enclosed secondary cockpit on top of the cabin and then a stainless steel ladder up to the "crowsnest," the top of which is covered for shade and supports such technology as radar and satellite tracking domes. These boats do look efficient with their abundance of fishing gear mounted aft and their flaring but fine-entry bows towering above the water. Overall, they are handsome boats in a postmodern sort of way, and like villages in the Greek Isles they achieve a clean aesthetic by sporting little but dazzling white on their topsides. Even when the wind blows these boats are so big that they sit immobilized at the dock. High up, though, each one flies at least a couple pennants --be they Bahamian or American flags or something else -- that flutter incessantly in the tropical trades. These diminutive patches of color are like jewelery accessories to the sleek elegance of the vessel. The only thing is, they all look the same. Differences are minor. The size and layout and general configuration is replicated by each boat along the pier. In fact, the steel towers that rise from the cabins appear to have exactly the same angular geometry. I'm bemused by the fact that these million dollar craft all in a row look like a monotonous subdivision of single-plan houses along a street. Good looking ones, mind you, but the same nonetheless.
That these are million dollar boats is just a guess, but they must be considering that most boats here have no owner present but one or two young workers laboring every day to wash the hull, treat the trim, polish the steel, service the reels, idle the engines, etc. I am serious about this. When I get up in the morning (admittedly, not early) they already are at work and they don't knock it off until a standard late afternoon quitting time. Their work output is remarkable by Bahamian standards: for these workers to be so conscientious without the owners around, one has to believe that they are compensated well.
Flying Fish Marina probably cannot accommodate much more than a dozen boats, so a majority of the slips are taken by boats that are here for extended stays. Slip fees are $1.95 per foot per night and I would guess that the standard sport fisher size is up close to 60 feet. That looks like about $40,000 in annual slip fees while the constant maintenance by one or two attendants must more than double that. If a boat costs $100,000 a year to stand still in the water then it's a pretty good bet that the purchase price was in the millions of dollars.
I am dragged down by the heat. It is not even summer yet -- although I overheard Mario the marina owner commenting to someone on the phone that the heat and humidity are unpleasantly high. I wonder if maybe I'm just no longer able to function effectively in the tropics. In spite of what I said earlier about the island climate in George Town being so delightful, I now find myself hard pressed to do even the simplest of jobs on the boat. On the other hand, maybe it is psychological. I'm a little discouraged by the appearance of new mechanical problems after having spent three weeks sorting out old ones. For whatever the reason, I've been considering the idea of giving up the voyage south and heading back north instead. It is not an idea I'm likely to act on, but that I'm thinking about it at all says something about my state of mind.
Monday, May 23, 2011
Out in Oregon, the Kodiak jet production facility opens at eight in the morning, but that is not until eleven local time. I'm not able to talk with Randy until nearly noon, and when I do talk with him he expresses serious doubts about the idea that the cutless bearing could be worn out (actually, there are two cutless bearings). He says this virtually never happens. He claims that a bit of wobble in the jet drive shaft is quite normal with the main bearing removed. He is not in the least alarmed about the grinding noise associated with turning the shaft. That too, he says, is normal. He thinks there is something jammed in the impellers and advises me that I should use the tide to get Kobuk's stern out of the water so that the inspection cap can be removed without water coming in. I call Roger to explain Randy's view and Roger offers to pull Kobuk from the water on his own trailer tomorrow at high tide, which won't happen until late in the afternoon. We need to trailer at high tide because at low tide the concrete ramp doesn't extend far enough into the water. This becomes our arrangement. I adjust to the fact that no order for parts can be placed today, which means this week's mail boat delivery cannot be used to receive any parts needed.
Whenever mechanical work has to be done on board Kobuk, I resist doing any cleaning or painting because I know the mess made whilst doing repairs will only frustrate such efforts. I retreat, therefore into a world of non-boating activities -- managing my courses or reading books or planning future crossings. It is a little like cross-country driving when you know you are going to be behind the wheel for a few days. You find a way to slip into a sort of catatonic state in which you are superficially alert to whatever it is you are doing but in reality your real work is making that psychological adjustment to the mild tedium that cannot be avoided.
Tuesday, May 24, 2011
Why is it that certain people can emotionally affect us for no apparent reason? Just as love at first sight is a mysterious and irrational event, some people just seem to fill us with an inexplicable emotion for no good reason. I'm thinking about this because the owner and dockmaster of this place is a man named Mario Cartwright (no immediate relative of Roger) and every time I see him I feel anxious. He has been good to me, accommodating my needs and desires with more sensitivity and more cooperativeness than one usually encounters in a proprietor. Indeed, earlier today he went out of his way to find for me a hack saw blade, and then proceeded to give it to me. Nevertheless, I have an antipathy for the man. He is portly and struts around his docks like a rooster in a panama hat and when he passes by he rarely looks in my direction. I get myself convinced that he has it in for me, only to have him suddenly do something to help me out. I'm sorry, Mario; if you ever read this please forgive me. I just don't understand why I can't give you a break. Some things in this world are irrational.
When high tide finally arrives late in the afternoon, Roger shows up with an assistant and we move Kobuk over to the concrete boat ramp next to the government dock. It is quick work getting her out of the water and pulling off the tail assembly of the jet. I'm a little flustered by it, actually: Roger and Co. appear to be in a bit of a hurry and I am working to keep the disassembled parts sufficiently organized that nothing goes missing. At the same time, I'm trying to keep track of every step of the disassembly process so that it will be easier for me whenever I have to do it unassisted.
The parts break free much more easily than I had expected. Both recently back in George Town and eighteen months ago in the Florida Keys, disassembly of the jet drive was a witches brew, nine parts disassembly nightmares and one part repairs and reassembly. This time, though, the job goes quickly and in less than half an hour we are examining the cutless bearing. The sleeve looks bad to me and Roger's expert eye is confident that we have arrived at the problem. Since removal of the tail assembly doesn't let water in the boat, we load all the parts on board and relaunch Kobuk. Then its back to Flying Fish Marina where Roger's assistant helps me thread our way under a fishing boat's line to a piling and then back into the little cranny between two boats that Mario has assigned to us. This is actually a favor on Mario's part because starting tomorrow the marina is sponsoring a fishing tournament that for a long time has had all slips reserved. Not only has he found a place for Kobuk: he has retroactively given us a half price rate for staying in the marina.
I immediately call Kodiak to talk with Randy about what we have found. I arrange to send him photos of the critical parts and then call back in an hour or so. When I call the second time, Randy agrees that the bearing sleeves are damaged and need to be replaced, although he still doubts that this alone could be responsible for my problem. There seem no other possibilities, however, so I order the parts and Randy agrees to ship them to Roger's sister UPS blue label. They should arrive in Fort Lauderdale tomorrow but probably won't reach Nassau until Thursday. Here by Friday?
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
I do what I can to clean up all the disassembled parts, a rather pleasant task sitting aft in Kobuk under the shade of the bimini. A wire brush, sandpaper, a patch of cloth and bottle of denatured alcohol -- these things (and of course grease and WD40) are the tools of the trade. It takes a few hours but when I finish it is still early enough in the day to do some computer work. For this, I retreat to the Flying Fish Marina's lounge where futons (albeit uncomfortable) and book cases set in a spacious room make for a more lavish living arrangement than Kobuk can provide. While there, I make the acquaintance of a man named Peter, the hired captain of a Hatteras that recently arrived in harbour trailing a great plume of dark smoke. Mechanical failure of an injector, I am told, and Peter's charge is dead in the water for a while.
Peter has a minor crew problem as well, it seems. Nothing serious, but his mate is hired crew while the deck hand is an unpaid friend of the owner. As you can imagine, the mate needs to make sure that boatwork gets done but he can't do it all himself. At the same time, the crew member's status is such that he naturally feels neither obligation nor urgency about these things. As an outsider who does not know either of the two crew members, the dynamic in the abstract does sound as if it could lead to tension. How much tension depends, of course, on the temperaments of the two adversaries.
Later on, swigging beer at the Outer Edge Grill (a part of the marina facility), I run into Peter again. As we talk about boat matters, Peter happens to comment on how the breakdown is creating stress for his crew members who are running out of time before having to be elsewhwere. The way Peter says "out" sounds suspiciously Canadian, so I ask him if he is. Yup, he is; he's from Nova Scotia and his home town is Baddeck, the only real town on the Bras d'or Lakes in Cape Breton Island. This is one of my favorite places so far in the voyage and we spend some time talking about life there.
Peter is a moderately big man, somewhat more than six feet in height. and large-boned. Although neither noticeably muscular nor fat, he carries a fair amount of weight. If eyes are a window into the soul, then here's a peaceable man whose uncomfortable with conflict. With his understated glasses and nicely proportioned mustache and vaguely chiseled features, he just naturally leaves you feeling as if he can be trusted. At the same time, he has the sort of appearance that can easily get lost in a crowd, but for a single distinguishing feature -- a Cyrano nose. As he talks to me sitting on a bar seat the discussion naturally shifts towards such things as weather forecasts and navigational techniques. It gradually dawns on me that Peter is someone who can teach me a lot about where to go, how to manage a boat, and how to trouble-shoot mechanical problems. The poor man is now a resource and I now find myself pumping him with questions about anything in the boating line that I don't think I know enough about.
With time to kill waiting for parts, I take Bike Friday out for a late afternoon spin. The most distinguishing landmarks here in Clarencetown are two competing churches on separate hilltops that are fairly close together and roughly equal in height. Although different in layout and decorative motifs, the two churches are similar in size and arrive at elegance by adhering to the same simplistic path. One Catholic and the other Anglican, they both use proportion instead of fancy facias to achieve their appeal. They have the hallmarks of successful folk architecture: modest scale, simple design, and clean lines. I'd compare them to good traditional boats, but some might accuse me of an overly religious attitude about things nautical.
Thursday, May 26, 2011
It's a waiting game now. The day is hot and the breeze fluky so I haven't the energy to do much. The jet parts are supposed to arrive tomorrow morning, transshipped from Nassau by Roger's sister, but I cannot seem to conceive of -- much less execute -- any sort of physical activity today. After lazing around in Kobuk for a couple hours, I finally manage to berate myself into a little action. First, I set about locating the source of an electrical problem that has left the blower non-functional and now seems to be infecting other devices. After worming into an uncomfortable location to look around under the steering console, after executing simplistic tests to isolate the problem, I discover that two circuits that branch off from a single fuse are constantly blowing the fuse as soon as the non-functional blower is turned on. I conclude that the blower is the problem. The only trouble is, whenever I conclude something about electrical systems based on purely circumstantial evidence I'm almost always wrong. But something must be done. The bigger problem is that now I've only got one fuse left -- none for trial and error experiments and no back-up when this one is installed. I put the problem on hold and get out the inflatable to check its condition. I tote it onto the dock and inflate it; I watch it sit there for a while; I'm convinced I've done my work for the day and retire to less strenuous pursuits.
By late in the afternoon, though, my guilt has reaccumulated and I resolve to bicycle up to Mangrove Bush where I may be able to get additional fuses and where there is a Scotia Bank with an ATM for getting money to pay Roger. It is only about seventeen miles round-trip, but poor Bike Friday is frozen in the lowest of the three hub gears and cannot be pedaled very fast. It takes me an hour to make it there, by which time I'm on the margins of dehydration. But the quest is successful: both fuses and money are pocketed and I head back to the marina.
Shortly before reaching the bank, I pass a house that has two dogs in the yard and although most potcakes are as docile as cattle, one of these two has the primitive spirit. He shoots out of the yard as I veer over towards the far "shoulder" and prepare to hop off the bike. I'm late and not yet stopped by the time he reaches mid-road, only a few feet away. Neither the dog nor I were aware of the vehicle that was coming up behind me, and just when I think I'm fated to go to the clinic the car whacks the dog at about 25 miles per hour. The dog bounces off, tumbles through the air yelping and squealing back over onto his side of the road and then staggers home evidently without serious injury. The car starts to stop, but sees the dog returning to his yard and decides that all is okay.
On the way back from the bank, I'm watching for the dog because I don't want to get bit. Sure enough, as I pass the house he comes flying out across the road towards me. I'm ready this time: I hop from the bike to face him from its far side and bark at him as loud as I can. This pulls him up short, and he decides that no more need be done. I don't know why this barking at dogs works, but often it does. I discovered it when doing a bicycle trip in Costa Rica. I imagine it only works with the less aggressive ones, but I don't know what else to do. Anyway, you have to grudgingly admire any pup that gets thrown for a loop and then comes back for more.
I haven't covered much ground on the return trip when Roger comes along the road towards me. He pulls over and offers me a ride back to the marina. I'm ready for this kind of help, and the trip in his vehicle is fortuitous: when I explain my blower problem he says he thinks he can get a friend to bring one down from Nassau when he flies in late tomorrow. That would be wonderful, I think. I had pretty much resigned myself to removing the old blower and making my way to Providenciales without the use of one. I don't think gas fumes collect much in Kobuk's bilge, but of course it's hard to tell and the wrong call could be catastrophic.
When we get to the marina, a three-day fishing tournament is winding up its first day. Loud music is blaring from a sound system and the entry road is lined with parked vehicles. The crowd is considerable and so after cleaning up I decide to walk down the road to the Winter Haven Lodge where the dining room and bar occupy a pleasant site overlooking the north-facing shore. As I walk in the door, Peter and his crew are sitting at a nearby table and invite me to join them. The crew are Michael Baird and the friend of the owner whose first name is Case. Michael is short like me and carries around a permanently serious face -- although not so serious as to make his sour his company. Michael is a young man, but Case is more my age. Case has a clean-shaven appearance and a surprisingly unravaged face. He is healthily lean and his baldness only makes him look that much more functional.
Somehow, our conversation turns to political and economic affairs and Case, it turns out, is a corporate lawyer who thinks well of corporate America. I have a negative attitude about certain aspects of the corporate scene and so we end up in an animated "discussion" about corporations. Although I usually express my views in a way that I think won't offend whoever it is I'm talking to, this time I surprise myself by being rather outspoken and dramatic. As the discussion develops, I see half-veiled smiles of pleasure spread over the faces of Peter and Michael who, I later learn, have been unsuccessfully contending with Case's views over the course of the boat trip. In retrospect, I'm sure I didn't say anything that was terribly insulting, but somehow my animated criticism of corporate behavior appealed to Michael and Peter. Case dealt with me as you would expect a gentleman to do: with respect and gentle counterarguments.
Friday, May 27, 2011
Kobuk is out of the water, at the top of the launch ramp on Roger's trailer. Roger and I are huddled around the jet drive tail assembly, sorting through the various parts to make sure we put them back together in the correct sequence. Roger is a burly man, heavy chested and bull necked with some sort of mild incapacitation in his legs. When he walks there is a hobble in his gait. His dark hair is close-cropped but lays down foreward. His broad face has a mulatto darkness to it. He looks at me out of narrowly spaced eyes that seem slightly small for his size.
Roger disconcerts me by occasionally asking "What next, Spike?" as if I am the mechanic and he a mere assistant. His voice is soft, but pitched a little high. The jet drive is simple and we both remember how it came apart so this query is more a mannerism than a real request. Nevertheless, it is good for me: it keeps me thinking and gives me confidence. The parts go together with surprising ease and in less than half an hour we have finished with the external unit.
We move on board and pull out the batteries to get at the interior of the jet drive. Once again the work goes smoothly. The main bearing locks in place with no hassle as does the universal joint which reconnects the engine with the jet. After the epic struggles associated with jet drive repairs in George Town and eighteen months ago in the Florida Keys, this time around everything is smooth and glitchless. In hardly more than an hour, Kobuk is back in the water. I take her out to the middle of the harbor and run back and forth for a little while to make sure everything sounds good. Everything does: the Mazda purrs and the jet drive whines -- just like the good old days.
I steer back into the Flying Fish Marina with a light heart and carefree spirit: soon we'll be back out cruising. My mood is so bright that the prospect of threading Kobuk into her constricted docking arrangement between two very large boats doesn't phase me. I head right in, confident that I can do the job single-handed. My entry is spot on, if I do say so myself, but unfortunately I forget about an overhead dock line to a piling that holds one of the large boats off. Kobuk fits under it, but it brushes the top of her Bimini each time she passes in or out. Each time I put the cabin top down to make for better clearance, but this time I space it and the dock line uproots the mushroom antenna for the old Garmin. It rips it right out of its dedicated block of mahogany mounted at the foreward edge of the cabin top and dumps it overboard. After getting Kobuk squared away, I dive for the antenna and retrieve it in about eight feet of water. I wash it out and then disassemble it, but in the process of trying to figure out how to repair and rewire it I do irreparable damage and have to accept the fact that the old Garmin is history -- at least until I can get a replacement antenna, which certainly won't be until after reaching the Turks & Caicos. It's a good thing I came out to the Bahamas this time with a new chartplotter. I guess now I better work more seriously at learning how to use it.
In the evening, I return to the Winter Haven Lodge for dinner and this time I find both Peter Patterson and Roger Cartwright at the bar. Not only that, Roger is here with his wife Zooey and their two children. When Peter leaves to return to Wired, I stay on for a while talking with Roger whose tongue has been loosened by a few good, stiff drinks. Roger encourages me in my foolish quest and compliments Kobuk. He is experienced on the water, having spent years fishing and diving, and his time has been spent on boats of Kobuk's size. He offers me two-part advice. First he says to not worry too much about small size as small boats often do well in waves. Then he tells me I should remember that a boat can always take more punishment than the captain. This is something I can believe.
Roger and Zooey are an unusual couple. Zooey is the only child of a Montreal couple. She attended McGill University where she majored in psychology before transferring to the law school and completing her training as a lawyer. Once working, however, she came to realize that she didn't enjoy the occupation. That was when she met Roger. She was on vacation in Nassau at the time. When they decided to get married, Zooey's parents disowned her for choosing a poor Bahamian fisherman. Then when Roger and Zooey returned to the Bahamas to live, Roger took her to Long Island to see his place of origin and Zooey declared that this was where she wanted to be, where she wanted to raise their children. They have been living here ever since in a modest home about seven miles up the road. They have two children who are approaching their teenage years. Roger and Zooey have started a sailing club using a fleet of donated small sailboats and they volunteer their time week after week to keep it going. Their daughter is the top female girl sailer in the Bahamas and I gather their son is equally competitive. Roger struggles along doing whatever he can to make a living. He is a mechanic, of course, but there is not enough work in that line to be so specialized, so he fishes some, maintains rich men's boats some, and generally does it all. Survival is not easy in the Bahamas. Jobs are few, prices are high, and opportunities do not abound. When I say prices are high, consider this: a twelve ounce jar of peanut butter costs $4.50, a gallon of gas is $6.50, and Roger's electricity bill each month is $500.
Saturday, May 28, 2011
With all the pieces in place, I had planned to do some morning errands and then leave in the afternoon. When I arise and start to organize, I find that completion of the remaining tasks might be done in half a day, but only with an aggressive push. My first job is to install the new blower that Roger left for me at the marina office and as this project moves towards completion I realize that I really do not want to push. By the time that job is finished (and with great good success since it not only gives me back a blower but also cures all the electrical problems) I have convinced myself that life will be sweeter if I put off departure until tomorrow. This makes for a civilized day in which I do such things as buy gas, shop for groceries, jerry rig the Bike Friday to operate in a higher hub gear, revisit the bank ATM eight miles down the road, clean out the cooler and stock with ice, and miscellaneous other practicalities. The decision to postpone makes for a satisfying day as I accomplish everything on the list without feeling I have to work at it.
This is the third and final day of the fishing tournament. Each morning, the competing boats head out and things remain quiet until mid-afternoon. Then the sound system is set up and the outdoor food service is organized. Before the first competitors have returned to harbor, the speakers are cranking out the standard set of Bahamian songs. Anyone who happens to be in the Bahamas during May of 2011 will always remember that there is no escaping that one song: "Stop the World, I Want to Get Off." There are a handful of other tunes that are receiving nearly as much play time, but this one tops the list. In any event, they all get recycled over and over -- vigorous and upbeat in tone, regardless of what the words might have to say. The music runs uninterruptedly until well after dark, and on this the final evening the awards ceremony and final speeches don't wrap up until well after nine. By the time I sack out for the night in Kobuk, thinking about tomorrow's departure, all is quiet under the star-spangled sky.
Sunday, May 29, 2011
Kobuk mght make it from here to Crooked Island in one leap, but I've decided to stage by running down the Long Island coast to Little Harbour. That would shorten the crossing by ten miles or more. I figure it will give me a chance to evaluate the wind and wave conditions associated with a Windfinder forecast before using their forecast for tomorrow to make the actual crossing. According to the chartplotter, Little Harbour has excellent protection but nothing in the way of settlement or facilities nearby. I'll spend the night there and if some sort of problem crops up it won't be so hard to just return here to Clarencetown. There's not much in the way of facilities here, but compared to where we're going it's the big city.
The coastal run to Little Harbour is only about 15 miles so I don't leave until well past noon. The exit from Clarencetown Harbour aims north, after which we curl around a point of land to head south along the coast. The wind forecast is the same for today and tomorrow, so I'm presuming that what we have now is most likely what we will have tomorrow. If I were a little more relaxed about gettin moving after so many weeks of delays, I probably wouldn't be planning tomorrow's crossing, but I would like to make some clear progress towards the Turks & Caicos and tomorrow's conditions should at least be manageable, with little chance of unexpected disturbances. We have three-to-four foot waves, but they are not wind-whipped and they don't have whitecaps on them so we cruise along without too much discomfort. The coastline to starboard is a rocky shore, and all along the way I can watch these modest waves exploding there in white spray. At Little Harbour it's the same, and when we turn to go through the channel we have surf to both sides. It's a reasonably wide passage, however, and deep enough that we don't get slewed around that much by mounding waves.
Inside Little Harbour there is perfect protection -- as if the bay were designed with needy boats in mind. Shaped like the Conde C, either end has a deeply recessed arc of sandy beach with suitable bottom for anchorage only a short distance off shore. If the wind vectors out of the south then you can choose the southerly retreat, if from the north then the other end. The east face of the bay, fronting the ocean, is screened off by two islands and a nearly continuous reef, with the only break in it being the passage through which we just entered. There are no dwellings in sight from in the bay. An outboard powered runabout is anchored in its southern extremity but the only other sign of humans is a large motor yacht that has gone aground, also in the southern arm, only tens of feet from shore. The derelict hull is tipped off to one side sufficiently that at high tide the water is over the gunwhale.
In only a couple feet of water, Kobuk is anchored to the beach with a kedge off the stern. As I sit aft eating dinner, I can watch the silken clouds after sunset as the abandoned yacht sinks into darkness.
South Beach, Little Harbour, Long Island: 22* 58.277' N / 74* 51.044' W
Distance: 17 miles (15 nautical miles)
Total Distance: 9,996 miles
Monday, May 30, 2011
The alarm goes off at 5:15. Kobuk is out of Little Harbour and on the open sea when the sun comes up. It is rough out here -- unpleasantly so. We're headed east by east-southeast but the sky is mostly cloudy in the east so there's no need to contend with glare on the water. Occasional thinness in the cloud cover puts silver patina on the incoming waves, but their sheen is dimmed to a level tolerable for bare eyes. The wind and waves are coming out of the east, or perhaps one point north of that, so Kobuk is having to punch and corkscrew her way forward. We're off the wind enough to make a difference: the ride is rough but not so much as to make me cringe. Even so, the Yammy is throttled back a little to keep us from pounding and we are inching towards Crooked Island at a slow pace. The oncoming waves constantly make us trip and stumble, but on average we're progressing at around four knots.
On the presumption that the wind and waves will pick up in a few hours, I steer an acute angle to port of the course line, hoping that by the time things deteriorate we will be curving around towards our Crooked Island destination and thus finding ourselves at a slightly improved angle relative to the wind. It would be natural for the wind to pick up a little, but the overall forecast is for stable atmospheric conditions and wind conditions that approach a fresh breeze. The less we have to look this in the eye, the better. Crooked Island Passage has a reputation for roughness -- but probably this is no more pronounced than for any other inter-island passages of the trade wind region. Our track will cover 30 nautical miles, which translates into more than seven hours of bouncing around out here.
At the outset, I was somewhat anxious about the crossing since we have suddenly found ourselves without any backup navigational system. With the old Garmin out of commission because of the antenna beheading a few days ago, I have been reduced to just the new one. But when we got to Little Harbour late yesterday and shut off the new Garmin, I realized there was some information on it that I still wanted to review. I pressed the button to reactivate it but nothing happened. As I examined the unit I discovered that it was extremely warm -- so much so as to be uncomfortable to hold. I let it cool for a couple hours, after which time it did restart and run okay, but of course the overheating is a concern. I think the intense sunlight on the dashboard in the cabin was responsible for the overheating, but it could be that the unit is defective. Because of this worry, I pulled out the handheld, battery-powered Bushnell GPS that I carry on board with the intention of charging its battery. I searched everywhere, but the charging cable has disappeared from Kobuk. In only a couple days, I have gone from having two back-up systems to none, with the primary chartplotter now acting up as well. What if it should fail? Can I find land? I worry about this for a couple hours, but finally decide that there is nothing to be done until I get to the Turks & Caicos. For this particular crossing, I decide I'll deal with a chartplotter failure by reversing course and going with the waves until I bump into Long Island. It's a big target.
Just under eight miles out, we raise the Bird Rock Lighthouse and can see the ragged smudge of Crooked Island's northwest shore. By two in the afternoon we have found the small boat basin a few miles south of the lighthouse and Kobuk is tied nose to in a little basin that has been blasted out of solid rock. Its walls are rough and porous and very harsh on contact. Kobuk doesn't like them but keeps bumping the wall nevertheless; the kedge anchor won't hold and I'm not keen to go swimming right now. The basin is busy with local boats, all of which have found nifty solutions to the problem. Local knowledge.
The village here is Landrail Point, one of a few settlements on an island which, over its twenty-mile length, has a total population of about 300. By Bahamian standards, Landrail Point is manicured and tidy. Most buildings sit in cleared openings that often are grassy -- sparce and faded grass that evidently survives in dry conditions, but grass nonetheless. The lots on which buildings are located occasionally are demarcated by low stone walls. The buildings themselves look serviceable and inviting -- as contrasted with what one sees in many Bahamian settlements where small local houses often look threadbare and in sharp contrast to the somewhat larger and rather more lavish structures built in recent years by those with more money. Crooked Island, though, is still off the mainstream developer's radar. There's no development here that looks primarily to visitors for its survival, although it is obvious that many locals have small runabouts that they use to take visitors bonefishing. Also, there is a bonefishing lodge a couple miles away, up near the lighthouse, but when I cycle up to take a look it stands there looking empty beside its small plane runway. It isn't empty, according to locals, but it does look that way.
Marina Gibson's restaurant is open for business, and I am told that dinner there will be served at 7:30. I arrive late, but dinner starts later, by which time there are nearly two dozen people seated at two long tables. Most everyone here is a visitor -- either off a boat or temporarily staying in a second home somewhere nearby. This seems to refute my earlier observation that no businesses here cater primarily to visitors. Visitors evidently are important to the local economy, but in any event the infrastructure of the community is still remarkably simple. At dinner, someone tells me that a few years ago the people on the island no longer found parts being produced to do repairs to their simple telephone system, and thus had to install a totally new one.
Small Boat Basin, Landrail Point, Crooked Island: 24* 48.077' N / 74* 21.159' W
Distance: 37 miles (32 nautical miles)
Total Distance: 10, 033 miles
Tuesday, May 31, 2011
A miscalculation in Clarencetown has saddled me with a chronic worry that constantly erodes the pleasure I can get from passing through this isolated region. When I paid Roger for his work on the jet drive, it left me with virtually no cash. That was why I cycled off to the bank the next day. I took out $400 from the ATM because that seemed like a lot of money at the time. But now of course I realize that it was not sufficient. From there to the Turks & Caicos will require about 200 miles of cruising and along the way there is simply no way to buy or do anything except with cash. If all goes smoothly, the amount of money should be adequate to make the passages, but of course things do not typically go smoothly. If I have a breakdown, I won't be able to pay for much assistance. If the weather turns uncooperative, the transit could easily take over two weeks instead of one. I don't usually worry much about something outside my control, but this was such a stupid error that I spend excessive time berating myself. It has, of course, made me stingy -- and that is unacceptable in this sort of society where total strangers will do most anything to help you out. Even a small amount of money means something to these materially poor people but now I'm in the position of avoiding situations where I'll have to come up with it. Well, it was dumb, but I have to let it go and hope for the best.
Even before I arise for the day, a great splashing commotion in the small boat harbor causes me to lift my head and take a look. Many dozens of good sized fish -- the better part of a foot in length -- are darting, leaping, and darting in the crystalline waters. Yesterday afternoon I watched minnows by the thousands swirling in unison around Kobuk and the neighboring boat. They were doing regimented curliques , a synchronized swimming of marine cadres, the purpose of which is to me a mystery. Now today they are the prey, and the predator fish are gorging themselves on what they must view as an unlimited supply of natural food. The poor minnows are distraught: they do not wish to abandon their group mentality but with the approach of a threatening nemesis, countless numbers of minnows panic. They break and run, while the remainder of their school does what it can to reestablish order.
Marina Gibson's Restaurant has wifi, but for most of today it is down. In the afternoon I discover that there is also wifi next to the library so I cycle along the street to it and spend a few hours working online. The two women who told me about the service are yachtees and they are here already doing their own online things. Both of them are friendly Americans with the sort of international mind-set that so typically characterizes the yachting crowd. Many Americans are nationally oriented and somewhat unreceptive to cultural conditions in foreign places, but ocean voyaging people generally accept and appreciate what they find outside the country. It is certainly true for these two women and their attitude is upbeat and positive about where they are and what they are doing. The younger of them, a dark-haired willow reed with brightness in her eyes and a look of constant bemusement around the corners of her mouth, must be approaching thirty but moves with the alertness and unconstrained flamboyance of an energetic teenager. She wears a light, hippie-inspired shift of a dress and sits on the bench looking like the innocence of youth.
Her name is Montana and if her email address is indicative her last name must be Steel. She grew up living on her parents' sailboat in the Exumas and now she lives and works in Martinique. She and her boyfriend own a sailboat and although right now during a refit they have a rented home they'll soon be living aboard once again. When someone is raised at sea and then opts to continue the practice when old enough to decide such things, it is a pretty good indication that life aboard is not all hardship and deprivation. If you wonder how she makes a living, she works silver and makes jewellery, the sort of craft that can be pursued in the confined quarters of a sailboat. I ask her if she has made the necklace that she is wearing and she tells me that she just recently finished it. Every necklace she makes she wears, she says, to find out if it hangs in a balanced way. I like Montana. To me, she is very pretty with neither the features nor the shape nor the self-conscious poise of a classic beauty. For me, her unearthly slimness and flawed complexion do not make her less appealing. They just give physical reality to this unaffected and childlike spirit. Montana is intrigued by my venture and hopes that I will visit when I get to Martinique. I surely will, and her invitation has provided me with a little incentive to carry on.
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
The north side of Crooked Island is deep ocean but the south side faces on an extensive bank hemmed in by Long Cay, Crooked, and Acklins. Water is thin there and few cruisers hazard it. A sinuous channel runs between Crooked and Acklins with small cays that screen off the Bight of Acklins from the north shore ocean. With their small boats, locals run around all the time in these shallows so I think Kobuk can make it through. But of course locals also know where to go to avoid the coralheads and to stay afloat whereas we do not. Still, the new GPS has so far been very accurate about water depths so I think we can pass through the zone without getting grounded. The tidal regime is awkward, however., I want to do the voyage on a rising tide but we won't get that until afternoon. With 25 miles or more to cover, we may find it hard to arrive at Lovely Bay (our Acklins destination) before nightfall. Still, if we're caught out it will be easy to anchor. I decide to give it a try and that means staying here in Landrail Point until the day is well along.
The Landrail Point library is a one-room building with a small, shaded shelter beside it. I return here to manage my courses and check the weather on windfinder.com. It looks as if the next three days may be tolerable for crossing open water, but after that higher winds are supposed to blow in. They are expected to last for two or three days before things calm down again. If we can get to Acklins today then we might be able to use the following two days to do the crossing to Mayaguana. The small and uninhabited Plana Cays are in the middle of that passage so my plan is to stage to them late one day and then do the remainder of the crossing the following morning. While I am mulling things over here beside the library, one of the women who manages Marina Gibson's restaurant drives by and calls to me. Her mother, Marina Gibson, is expecting me for breakfast, she says. She gives me directions to her home. I met Marina Gibson at the restaurant yesterday and we spent time talking about her life. She started the restaurant in 1962 and operated it pretty much alone until a few years ago when she turned it over to a couple of her daughters. Marina is a respected figure hereabouts -- a "town father," one might say, an institution. She has an aura of self-sufficiency about her, and opaque and aging eyes that seem to mask a world of secret knowledge. She likes to talk but does it slowly, and listens more carefully than most natural talkers do. When I said goodbye to her yesterday I asked if I could take her picture but she was reluctant because, I think, she did not feel sufficiently well groomed and dressed. She suggested that I do it tomorrow outside her nearby home where she might stand beside her original restaurant (the current one is relatively recent). I agreed to this (but snapped a photo when she wasn't aware of it), but I did not realize that she was also saying that she would make me breakfast.
I pedal over to Marina's house and she is there in her kitchen, waiting to start some bacon and eggs for me. Her original restaurant was about 12'x16' with her kitchen in a corner, but later on her husband expanded the building by adding a kitchen and leaving the original space as purely a dining area. This area, incidentally, consists of one long table with about eight chairs along each side and room enough to squeeze past them to an empty seat. Marina has chosen to wear a striking turquoise dress which I assume was for the benefit of the photo. When I take the picture and prepare to say goodbye, she asks me to send her a copy. Her address typifies outer island life: Marina Gibson, Landrail Point, Crooked Island, Bahamas.
A chunk of the afternoon is already gone by the time Kobuk leaves the small boat harbor and it is close to three before we have covered the seven miles down to the cut that gives access to the Bight of Acklins (where all that shallow water is). Getting through the cut is a slow and painstaking process since water depths are often under two feet and Marina has told me to watch out for coralheads. Once in, we pick up another foot or two of water and make good progress across the bay. But it is broad, so broad that the body of Acklins is too distant to see and the wind has enough open water to stir the pot a little. We splash along with Crooked Island on the beam and light showers blowing up from nowhere out ahead and disappearing in the rear view mirror. By five we reach the channel that wends up between Crooked and Acklins, but there are still about ten miles to go and it looks unlikely that we'll make our destination before dark. The shallows become extreme so I switch to Mazda power to insure that there is no prop damage. After a few minutes, a flapping sound kicks up inside the engine box. Inspection reveals a breaking belt for the supercharger. I have a spare and work to replace it, but the tensioner works in a mysterious way that I cannot fathom and my efforts to retract it so as to slip the new belt in place are unsuccessful. Night is closing in so I close up shop and use the Yamaha to search around for a little hole in the water where low tide will not leave us grounded.
With sunset on the horizon, Kobuk gets anchored in three feet of water with coastline near to the north and not far off to the east. This is a passage between islands and has a current that is likely to reverse with a change in tide, so I drop the main anchor off the bow and let out all 120 feet of line. Then I drop the stern anchor and haul in the bow anchor line to around 60 feet. Now we're not going to get an anchor pulled by a changing current.
This anchoring procedure is the first time I've tried the new Bruce anchor that agitated the baggage official at Bahamas Air in Nassau. When I go for a swim I can see that both anchors are well set in the sand and that makes me feel secure for the night.
Blue Channel between Crooked and Acklins: 22* 39.094' N / 74* 04.833' W
Distance: 28 miles (24 nautical miles)
Total Distance: 10,061 miles
Thursday, June 2, 2011
I feel like a fool not being able to change a simple belt on an engine, but this tensioner has me puzzled. I cannot figure out how it works so I decide to do the remainder of the run to Lovely Bay using the Yamaha and then return to the problem in sight of a village. With people around, maybe I'll be able to recruit help.
Since leaving Landrail Point yesterday, there have been no other boaters out on the water, but now while eating breakfast I hear a distant drone and look around to see a runabout approaching. It is purring across the water at a good clip, coming from the Lovely Bay end of the Blue Channel, and when it gets close enough I can also see a small dinghy with an outboard following in its wake. At first I think the dinghy is being towed on a line, but then it becomes clear that two young men are in it and operating the outboard. I presume that the runabout is being managed by someone who knows the channel and the dinghy folk are focused on following in lock step so as to avoid any mishap. I've been watching their progress carefully because their line in the water is useful navigational information. As the two boats pass, they all wave and I wave back. This virtually always happens in the outer islands. People are such a rare commodity that when anyone sights another, the unusualness of it is enough to justify mutual recognition. Even in villages, the populations are small enough that to walk by somebody else on the dusty road without speaking to them is simply not done.
Small things make a big difference on the water. Now I have confirmation that there are other people around -- something I knew but did not feel. Also, I know the channel is passable, something I thought but did not feel. What's more, the route followed by the two small boats fits very well with what the new chartplotter suggests is the best deep-water route through the Blue Channel. When your navigating in unknown waters, there are few things more satisfying than confirmatory evidence that the information you already had is correct. There is a down side to this, however: whenever a new source of evidence fails to confirm your existing information it is often very disturbing.
Tidal information for this neck of the woods is not reliable. As a general rule, the tide in the outer islands runs later than in Nassau by anywhere from a few minutes to the better part of an hour. Here in the Acklins group and in Mayaguana, however, the general rule is violated and nobody really knows when the high and low tides will occur -- at least nobody in the outside world. The interaction between open ocean and a zone of shallow banks, via a passage that is littered with reefs and small cays creates a turmoil of interacting water flows that move water in and out of many shallow basins that extend in some cases for miles. Here in the Blue Channel, we must be somewhat near a high tide since the water under the hull is three feet deep, but when the tidal peak is reached my have been an hour or two ago or coming up in an hour or two. In any event, we make haste to move on so as to avoid being caught by the rapid phase of tidal ebb.
It only takes about 90 minutes to finish the voyage to Lovely Bay which, incidentally, is both a bay and a village along its shore. Kobuk approaches the shore where there appears to be a boat already tied to a stone jetty. Beside the jetty is a miniature beach so that becomes our target. On approach, I put the Yamaha into neutral for a moment to organize anchor gear and the engine quits. When I return to the cabin and twist the ignition the motor starts again but then immediately dies. This happens a number of times, so there is no choice but to hop overboard into the shallow water and tow Kobuk by her anchor line to a good position off the beach. I bury the bow anchor there and run the stern anchor onto the beach. We're secure and settled but we have two malfunctioning engines.
Over the past six seasons, Kobuk has rarely lost both engines at the same time, but it has happened before and here we are again. I am sure that neither problem is serious, but it is unsettling to be out here, hundreds of miles from a continental coastline, hopping between small islands that are tens of miles removed from each other. I know the probability of dual engine failure is small, but this incident is reminding me that it can happen. I'll find a way to get these problems resolved, I think, but when it's time to set off for Mayaguana, about 50 miles from here, the engine failure issue will nag at me. There are two small, uninhabited cays half way across, but still . . .
When I go ashore and pedal up and down the one street of town, I pass a number of houses without seeing anyone. Then I come to a house with two women outside, so I ask if they know of anyone in the village who knows a lot about engines. One of the women says she does and says she'll take me to him. She gets in her car and I follow her down the road, back in the direction I came from. She pulls in at a house close to Kobuk and introduces me to Raj. Raj is as dark as many Bahamians, but his modest stature and frail physique and
elongated facial features tag him as South Asian. I explain to him my problems and he says he will come over to Kobuk in about ten minutes. Before the lady who has introduced me gets back into her car to return home, I ask her if there is any place to get an Internet connection. She leads me up to the elementary school, which is directly across the road from where Kobuk is parked, and interrupts school to introduce me to Miss Ferguson, a strikingly pretty young Bahamian woman who is the teacher for about a half dozen young children sitting at desks. Miss Ferguson says there is no wifi, but I am free to use the school's lan line any time before school is over. I thank her and say I'll be back in a couple hours.
One of the charming aspects of Bahamian life is this quaint formalism in a society where people are almost universally friendly. That Miss Ferguson should introduce herself by her surname reminds one of Victorian Britain. The Bahamas were a British colony at that time, so I don't suppose I should be surprised. And yet, the British no longer adhere to the Jane Austin model of social decorum whereas some Bahamians do. It is curious enough that physical distance should so quickly lead to divergent paths of social norms; that the generally more formal British society should in this particular move to "liberalize" while the less inhibited Bahamian one should not makes it even curiouser.
Raj shows up in the promised ten minutes and with his toddler daughter in hand wades out to Kobuk to take a look. Raj is from Guyana, living here because his wife has a contract as a teacher in the same school as Miss Ferguson. He is a young man still and converses with me using a non-Bahamian speech pattern, one that is tinged with the stereotypical Indian cadence and accent. He has no training as a mechanic but he knows what he is doing and obviously loves engines. I may have an irrational attachment to Kobuk but for Raj such emotion is more finely focused: as soon as the sees the Mazda engine it is love at first sight.
Raj shows me how the tensioner works. A circular shaped device mounted to a bracket has a pully bolted to its face in an off-center position. When the through-running bolt that holds this pulley is fully tightened, it turns out that additional clockwise twisting of the bolt pivots half of the device to which it is attached, thereby allowing the belt to slip in place. When the wrench on the bolt is released, a spring loading in the device presses the pulley against the belt with a constant pressure that gets maintained even if the belt stretches a little. It is an ingenious device that anybody with a little time around engines must know about. But ignorance still assails me. Anyway, now I know.
In the process of mounting the belt we discover that the bolt holding the pulley in place has destroyed the threads within the device through which it passes. Raj takes me over to his back yard and hauls an old cardboard box out of the trunk of a car he has been painting and finds not only a suitable replacement bolt but also a replacement pulley. Back at Mazda, he replaces the bolt and gives me the extra pulley.
Now I tell Raj about the Yamaha problem and without looking at it he diagnoses it as dirt in the carburetor. I explain that the carburetor was cleaned in George Town just a couple weeks ago, but that doesn't shake his confidence. He shows me a drain screw under the carburetor and tells me to remove it, but not lose it overboard, and then when the fuel has drained reinsert it. I do this but the Yamaha still won't start. So now Raj gets his tool box and proceeds to remove the carburetor. Over on the stone jetty beside the boat ramp, he disassembles it and cleans it out with a spray can of carburetor parts cleaner. Every little orofice and opening gets the treatment, and all the while Raj is showing me what he does. Once the job is done and the carburetor reinstalled, the engine starts up and keeps running just fine. Thanks to Raj, I'm now one small step closer to competency when it comes to keeping an engine running.
Raj has instantly adopted me as a friend. He only reluctantly accepts any money at all for the help he has given me and when we were over at his house looking for a replacement bolt he nipped inside for a moment to get a map of Guyana to give to me. When we finish with Kobuk, Raj offers me a ride down the road to Chester's Highway Inn where he knows I will be able to get a wifi connection to the Internet. For a couple hours, Raj rests in the shade talking with the owner while I sit on the porch doing my work.
The forecast is for acceptably low winds tomorrow, but then two days of unsettled weather, returning (I hope) to calmer conditions on Monday. The distance to Mayaguana is about 60 miles, more than I am willing to do in a single day, and before Mayaguana there are only two feasible stopping places, one of which is an isolated bay with nobody living nearby and the other an uninhabited island. Under these circumstances, it makes no sense for me to set tomorrow morning. The only reasonable thing to do is stay here in Lovely Bay until Monday morning when a three day spell of gentler winds are expected to prevail.
I'm sitting on Kobuk in the evening when the tide is up and sunset is approaching. A potbellied cop drives up in a truck and gets out. He walks out onto the stone jetty and hails me. He wants to see Kobuk's papers. He returns to the comfort of his truck seat while I organize the papers and wade in through the deep water. He peers at them and studies hard, eventually saying that he needs to go off to photocopy them. He'll be back to return them in a few minutes, he says. When he returns, Raj comes walking along the road and stops to keep me company while the cop gives back my papers and wishes me well. After the cop departs, Raj expresses his resentment at the Bahamian mentality which, he says, is suspicious of foreigners. Raj believes that the only reason my papers were checked is that I came ashore and only associated myself with another foreigner. No other cruising boats ever get checked here, he says.
Raj has had enough of the Bahamas, it seems. His wife's teaching contract will be ending in a couple weeks and they are planning to return to Guyana before the end of June.
Later on, when the stars come out, Raj and I walk down to a miniscule, single-room store where he can rent a video. The place also sells liquor, and Raj is friends with Charless and Jackie Bullard, the managers. We stick around for a few hours watching a video on the television inside the store, talking with the come-and-go customers, and drinking beer. We're not actually supposed to drink here because the place cannot get a bar permit without having a bathroom, but, as one customer puts it, "It's only a law." By the time Raj and I leave, he has plans to visit me in Utah and already is figuring out what we will do when I visit him in Guyana.
Lovely Bay, Acklins Island: 22* 41.546' N / 73* 58.752' W
Distance: 9 miles (8 nautical miles)
Total Distance: 10,070 miles
Friday, June 3, 2011
Charles is going to use his truck this morning to drive Raj and me down to Spring Point where the ferry is supposed to arrive. Raj has plywood coming in on the boat that he will use to build a shipping container for his family's personal effects. But when Charles stops by with his truck he yells across the water to me that the ferry will not be arriving today and that maybe we'll be able to meet it tomorrow. Then he offers to take me for a ride later in the day to some nearby settlements: Chester, Pestel, and other crossroads so small they don't appear on any maps.
When I make the excursion with Charles, he ends up giving fish to one old lady, stopping to talk with people at two other houses, delivering a bottle of wine to someone, and then running out to the home of an old woman who is his cousin. Well, second cousin once removed, actually, but that sort of distinction carries little weight around here She lives alone at a complex of buildings that looks as if it used to be a bonefish lodge. It is next to a sandy shore with a protective reef offshore and the ocean beyond. It is more lovely than any any place I have seen here in the far islands. The grounds are primitive lawn with palms interspersed and the shore is a narrow beach fronting on the lagoon. Stone walls enclose domesticized space. Madeleine George sits and talks about the old days when many people lived on the island (whatever that might mean) and when everybody was a self-sufficient farmer/fisherman. She says that all people who lived in settlements of a few houses or more would operate small stores out of their homes -- by which I gather she means a simple supply of food items. Different homes would be open for business on different days, but I should imagine that this was not governed by the sort of regimented schedule we would expect in North America. Her father taught her, she says, that to make your way in the world you must have a boat. With this she caught my attention and then went on to assert that all young teenage boys could handle boats -- could readily voyage to Haiti or the DR or the Turks & Caicos if they had the need.
Madeleine is 88 years old. Her dark face and ample body are sagging with age but her wavy white hair is still luxuriant and refuses to completely submit to the ravages of time. She ranges across many different subject in the slow and unexcited manner of the elderly, and in the process distributes occasional tidbits of traditional knowledge about how to survive in this sort of environment. She says, for example that caught fish can be filleted and then kept in a bucket of salt water indefinitely without spoiling, as long as you change the water daily.
Since Charles is her relative, she spends much of her time talking about family and particularly where, when, and how various family members were buried. She elaborates on her own plan, which is to be buried next to her mother in a small, overgrown cemetary no more than a few minutes' walk from here. Charles is astonished to discover that this cemetary exists and when we leave we spend a little time driving around with the truck to locate it.
On the way back to Lovely Bay, Charles elaborates on the harvesting of Casarilla bark. This shrub, which is abundant on Acklins and nearby Samana, has bark that gets used by the perfume industry. Liz Taylor, he claims, marketed a perfume that chose to use it and the result has been a cottage industry for local men. As with virtually all activities pursued here, most every able-bodied man has done it at one time or another. The bark is valuable. It commands good money by local standards: seven dollars a pound. But it is not easy to harvest. You have to trek a good distance to find it, and then when you do you have to cut down the shrub and collect the stalks, which are hardly more than an inch in diameter. The stalks have to be soaked for some time to soften the bark and then each stalk has to be beaten to break the bark loose. Once you have this final product you must spread it out on a plastic sheet to dry it. Only dry bark commands the going price, and dry bark is a lot lighter than the water-soaked stuff.
When we get back to Lovely Bay, Charles invites me in to have a cold drink and lunch. His wife Jackie makes up heaping portions of fish stew, a serving of which is a couple bowl-sized fish cooked whole in a tasty sauce and mixed with a healthy portion of grits. I work my way through this local favorite sitting at a table in the living room. Then we lounge on couches for a while watching television. The channel is showing an annual Caribbean track competition for teenagers being held in the Cayman Islands. The competitors from the Bahamas often medal, but nobody can compete, really, with the Jamaicans who dominate.
Charles has plans to build a new home close by to his current one. It will be much larger (35'x40') and two storied. He proposes to use the downstairs as a small lodge and live in the upstairs. He walks me over to the nearby site that is no more than footings of stone and concrete. The footings enclose a space that rises nearly two feet above ground level and is going to have to be capped off with fill. The estimate for filling it is $3,000, much more than Charles presently can afford, so a little while back he took to hauling hand-shoveled fill with his truck. The backbreaking work was too much for him, though so the fill in there now does not even fill a tenth of the void. I suggest that he build a wooden floor on pilings, but that, he says, would violate code. Charles spends some time describing to me his dream for the land which fronts on Lovely Bay, has the highway running across it, and extends back to tidal flats on the south side. I have often thought of myself as taking on unreasonably ambitious projects just because the spirit moves me, but when I see what Charles is trying to do in this tiny, isolated village I can see that my undertakings are modest indeed. He has visions of bonefishing enterprises and rich people flying in to stay at his lodge. I do hope it can happen for him, but he sure is fighting the odds.
Saturday, June 4, 2011
Some sort of disturbance is passing through. The wind has risen and is slicing across Lovely Bay with enough force to kick up some one foot waves in less than a mile of fetch. Clotted clouds are marching across the sky and some of them carry the look of rain. Kobuk is anchored close in with a line ashore for pulling her to the beach, but the rough water is worrisome so I shorten the anchor rode a little. I had 120 feet out in only three feet of water so there was no need to reset the anchor. Now it is more complicated to pull to shore, but it keeps us clear of hazards and lessens the likelihood that we'll bump bottom at low tide. The forecast had said to expect 20-knot winds; I think we're getting all of that. It is supposed to continue through tomorrow and then taper off to manageable levels by Monday.
Charles drives down by the jetty and hails me. "The mail boat isn't coming in today," he says, and turns around to go back home. I stay aboard and stew for a while, and then decide to take a bicycle trip to Chester's Highway Inn which is only a few miles away. On Thursday afternoon, Raj had given me a ride to there because it has wifi. While Raj talked with Mr. Chisholm, the owner, I sat on a porch and did my Internet work. Today I reach the inn and Mr. Chisholm is kind enough to let me use his signal once again. I do my coursework and then check the updated weather. The timing of everything has remained the same, but the forecast for Monday through Thursday has the wind strength slightly higher than it did before. This is a problem since the new forecast puts the wind speeds right at Kobuk's upper margin for safe voyaging. I'm tempted to go anyway because the condition will be stable for days, I'm running out of cash, and Friday is shaping up to be a very low wind day (which would be ideal for the long crossing to the Turks & Caicos).
Back in Lovely Bay, I run into Charles and ask him if there is any place in town to buy basic groceries. No, there's not, but he offers to take me on a drive down past Hard Hill to Snug Corner where I might be able to pick up some basics. By Bahamian standards, Acklins is a hilly island and so we motor along on a winding road that runs across small hollows and over gentle rises. Nowhere on the island can be more than a couple miles from the sea, but the road stays inland, bringing us in sight of water only occasionally and for short stretches -- along the coast or when we summit one of the more significant hills. We pass a few settlements, each with a handful of houses and each separated from its neighbors by so much walking distance that it would have to be a day outing. Imagine these outer islands a couple generations ago when there were no cars and no roads. As isolated and fragmented as community life is today, it must have been so much more so back then. Even now, there are many individuals here who think it most normal to live completely alone with no neighbors about. Madeleine George, for example, who can hardly walk, has but one neighbor about a half mile away and no personal means of transportation.
Going shopping for groceries on Acklins when the mail boat already is two days late is not a promising activity. All goods sold in the small stores on the island are ordered from Nassau and brought in on the weekly mail boat. By the end of a week, all fresh produce is long gone and most basics are very hard to find. When the mail boat is late it only accentuates the shortage. It is not just groceries, incidentally, that rely on the mail boat. Do you need an oil filter for your car? You're going to have to order it from Nassau and wait for the mail boat. Your kids borrowed all the plates and cups to play house out back in the abandoned building, and ended up breaking some of them? You can get some sort of replacement but you'll have to wait for the mail boat. Need a light bulb? Same story. The outer islands survive by mail boat.
Although outer island life has come to be so utterly dependent on the mail boat deliveries, reliance on provisions from outside is no more complete that for those living in any big city. The only difference is that city folk have some options and the spectre of monopoly only hovers in the distance rather than looming ominously. In fact, island people here are more self-reliant than usual since any problem that arises has to be taken in hand and cannot be resolved by using a cell phone to contact an expert. The residents here know how to grow or catch food and spend lots of time repairing things for themselves. Of course there are certain individuals, like Raj, who have special skills that can be called on for help, but this business of turning to others for assistance is virtually always a fall-back plan and not the first notion to run through the mind when things go awry.
Sunday, June 5, 2011
I'm still sacked out and half asleep when I hear the beep of Charles' truck. I unzip a curtain and poke my head out, and Charles yells across the water: "The mail boat's in." He gives me five minutes and I scurry around getting dressed and securing Kobuk. I wade ashore and Charles returns with Jackie a moment later. We sit three abreast in the light truck which is a white Nissan diesel pickup of a type rarely seen in North America. The pick-up bed has lower walls than is usual in the US and the rear axel and its wheels are completely underneath the bed. This keeps the width of the vehicle to a minimum (highly desirable on the narrow roads of poor countries) but requires that the rear wheels to be very small so that the bed can be as low as possible. They may be small but there are two of them on each side.
The ferry dock is in Spring Point, a settlement more or less in the middle of this north-south running island. Since Spring Point is the capital of the island (whatever that entails) and since both the ferry dock and the airport are next to it, I am expecting a settlement at least comparable to Lovely Bay in size. But when we arrive, after the better part of an hour drive, there is virtually nothing here. We turn off onto a dirt track that leads to the dock and descend slightly to a scrubby strip of flat land sitting a couple feet above the bay. The mail boat is there with her stern tied to a berm at the shore and with dozens of cars randomly parked nearby. The unloading is far along. Laden pallets are scattered about, intermingled with the cars, and a long table has been set up by the ferry owner to handle the paperwork involved in distributing goods. A crowd two-deep is clotted along the landward side of the table and behind it one woman sits managing the transactions. There are helpers seated at the table and others shuttling goods, but she obviously is the gatekeeper for this enterprise.
The mail boat enterprise is a source of social friction. The woman who operates it (her son owns the ferry but she evidently maintains control of everything) lives on the island and the family not only has the ferry service but also owns the island's only gas station. According to Charles, she is what you might call a "hard-ass." Goods often arrive in damaged or degraded condition but she will only take responsibility if her customer is has the fortitude to drive her to it. Her procedure for everyone is that you must pay first (remember, everything here is cash) and then the goods will be brought to you. But of course once people have paid they don't want to have to wait. Wait they will, however, for hours. And then when the goods finally are made available to the customers the money for their delivery is already in her hands. If there's damage, you've got the struggle of trying to get some money back from her. All the while, the dozens of other customers are waiting around for the matter to be resolved.
The mail boat is late because it lost the use of its small crane in Clarencetown and had to return to Nassau before completing its run down to here. When produce sits aboard a boat in the tropics for longer than expected it quickly goes bad and when electrical systems intermittently work during repairs the goods in the freezer also suffer. Add to this the fact that poor packaging in used cardboard boxes leads to damage and you have a system virtually guaranteed to deliver a certain amount of degraded goods. We haven't even gotten to the question of conditions at sea.
The goods have come off the boat in random fashion. Virtually everybody here has ordered more than one thing and often their individual items are scattered among the pallets of goods lying around. Charles, for example is running around with a little spiral notebook looking for items with his name on them and crossing out something on his list whenever he finds something. The reason Charles is able to look for his own goods is that the crowd has gotten tired of waiting and has taken matters into their own hands. The ferry woman called the cops to control the situation, but there are too many disgruntled customers for the two cops to do anything. The woman is pissed. How much so later becomes evident when the gas station remains closed for the day. Ordinarily, it opens at two in the afternoon on Sundays, but today she refuses to do business. Nobody can do anything about it, of course, since hers is the only gas on the island.
Even when the gas station is open, its location is a problem for a place like Lovely Bay. A round-trip drive to the station takes about an hour and a half, and with gas at nearly $7.00 per gallon the expense of the trip is considerable.
But the mail boat is the burr in the hide. From all over the island people come to receive delivery from it, and the way things are handled the weekly trip rarely avoids taking up half the day. Both Raj and Charles have said to me that whatever day the boat arrives is the hardest day of the week.
Back in Lovely Bay, Raj and I help Charles unload his goods and restock his little store. It is not much of a job: most of what Charles orders each week is liquor and the shelves of his store could hardly hold more than a foursome of alcoholics might consume in that time. I suppose it is circumstantial evidence that there aren't many real drunks in Lovely Bay -- although it is quite evident that people here drink some.
The next order of business is a truck run to Chester to pick up some plywood for Raj. His order did not arrive on the mail boat, but he has managed to arrange for someone building a gazebo to give him four sheets. Raj will pay back in kind next week when his goods come in.
After a short nap, Charles has me over for Sunday dinner. He is once again showing off the cooking skills of his wife, Jackie. Jackie loads my plate with more than I can eat so I return great gobs of seasoned rice and green beans before sitting down to feast. Grouper, crab, rice, and green beans give the plate a profile as pronounced as a mound of aspic turned out of its mould.
Raj is here as well, and when we leave to walk home I query him about welding, for it is something I would like to learn to do. Raj immediately says he'll teach me and takes me down to where he has been working on restoring and painting a car. He pulls his welding equipment from the tool shed and describes to me how to control the gas and oxygen. He lights up the torch and reduces a couple nails to red luminescence. When the sun sets, he puts it all away and invites me to return tomorrow to watch him do some painting on the car.
Monday, June 6, 2011
When I last checked on Saturday, the wind and wave forecast called for a blustery weekend abating today to a marginally acceptable levels, followed by a week of stable weather. This led me to hope that I might be able to set off today but recognizing that the better course would be to wait until tomorrow so that the sea might settle. But this morning the strong easterly has not died down. We're still pulling hard at the anchor line and the slap of waves against the bow has not diminished. There is no question but that it would be foolish to venture out today so I adjust myself to the reality and turn my attention to other things.
In the afternoon I pull Kobuk's stern to the beach and step ashore for the first time all day. Across the street is the primary school where I knock on the door. I'm greeted by Raj's wife while in the background a half-dozen big-eyed, open-mouthed little faces stare at me. When I ask to use the school internet and explain what Miss Ferguson told me last Thursday, I'm ushered into a small office and set up in front of the school computer. I do my work and then check the weather. The situation is discouraging. Instead of stable conditions, we now have a forecast for a slight reprieve tomorrow but even stronger winds on Wednesday. Thursday looks marginal, but Thursday night is supposed to be strong winds again. Only by Friday are things scheduled to calm down an then stay that way for a while. And of course forecasts that far out are not very reliable. I must adapt to the reality that we're not going anywhere for a while.
Lovely Bay is a C shaped indentation along the north coast of Crooked and Acklins Islands. The two islands nearly connect, but that Blue Channel through which Kobuk and I passed to get here keeps them separate. The Blue Channel runs into Lovely Bay, with half of the bay carved out of Crooked's northeast corner and half from Acklins' northwest. The bay itself is about three miles broad and two miles deep, with a continuous reef a short distance offshore. Most of the bay is extremely shallow -- certainly the sector of it in front of the town on Acklins is. Here, the water depth is generally less than two feet at low tide. The whole bay has a sandy bottom, so there is no risk of serious damage to lower units, but the great stretches of thin water mean that passing boaters may enter the bay (through a break in the reef) but cannot anchor close to land. With any wind at all they would have to contend with an unpleasant chop. This discourages visits by passing yachtsmen. None have come in during the four days I've been here, and I should imagine that the situation acts as a deterrent to the town of Lovely Bay's development of visitor-oriented businesses. The town has no restaurant (that opens regularly), no small store for basic food supplies, and of course no supply of gas or diesel.
Lovely Bay the town is organized along a single paved road that parallels the shore. Most of the shore is rock-bound, but as it curls northward at its eastward end there is a lengthy beach. It, however, fronts on such extreme shallows that when the tide goes out you would have to hike in ankle-deep water for a good distance before getting to bathtub depth. Otherwise, the only beach is this small patch where Kobuk is anchored, an incongruous patch too small even for beach volleyball. At its western, downwind end, a stone jetty projects out into the water only far enough for a runabout to nose up to it when the tide is out.
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
I've found myself a project for passing the time. For much of yesterday and virtually all of today, I sit aboard working on the computer. The computer battery lasts about three hours and it then takes nearly two hours to recharge it using the inverter. Having alternated between the two modes a number of times, this morning the inverter's warning signal comes on to let me know the battery charge is low. To get the computer battery recharged, I use a period of higher tide to run the Yamaha which feeds the needed electricity through the system. I'm hoping it also recharges the battery but that's not a sure thing since the engine is only idling all the time.
In late afternoon, Charles drives down to the jetty and asks for the boat ride I promised him earlier in the day. Charles has a fish trap that he wants to check. It was set a few days ago by Elvis Colley when he was driving the ferry between here and Crooked Island. Charles doesn't know where Elvis set the trap so Elvis comes along with us and we go search for the trap. Elvis has brought flippers, mask, and spear because he's going to have to search underwater for the trap and while he's down there he figures he might as well be prepared to shoot something.
Elvis left the trap near the mouth of the Blue Channel, but even after searching underwater for some time he cannot locate it. Finally, he decides the current in the channel must have moved it so he climbs back aboard and we motor up the channel about five hundred yards so that we all can drift back down with the ebbing tidal current. This time, Elvis is successful. First he surfaces with a large grouper on the end of his spear and then as he swims towards Kobuk to drop off the fish he spots the fish trap too. Soon, we're all aboard -- Elvis and the grouper, the spear gun and the giant trap. For the first time ever, Kobuk looks like a fishing boat. All the folks along the way who have implored me to take up fishing now would look with delight should they see her pass. She has fishermen aboard, and fishing gear, and even some fish.
On the way out, I had to use the Yamaha because the battery was too run down to start the Mazda. This was of course a great disappointment to Charles whose agenda, I believe, had much more to do with how a supercharged rotary engine runs than with how many fish might be in his trap. But Charles is a polite man and never betrayed the slightest sign of discontent at motoring out with the pokey little outboard. For the return, though, I used the running outboard to supply enough charge to start the Mazda, and this let us run back across the bay at a gallop. Charles and Elvis agree: the engine is smooth and quiet. Of course they're not just saying that; they really mean it.
I hadn't thought it through before, but this business of starting the Mazda with the outboard running to overcome a problem of depleted batteries is a fine back-up plan for whenever low batteries may plague us. It takes far less power to get the Yamaha started and once it is going it can jumpstart the Mazda. Not only that, if batteries are totally dead it still should be possible to use a small line to hand start the Yamaha.
Tricks and ploys to keep systems running are all very nice, but I am concerned by the damage that has shown up on Kobuk's hull. The missing strip of wood along the submerged chine on the starboard side is not structurally vital. It is nothing but a filler piece to create a narrow horizontal surface where the chine reconfigures the shallow bottom angle of the hull to its steep side. But that the piece should come free in spite of my originally having glued it and fiberglassed over it -- this is a shock. And of course it exposes raw wood and greatly diminishes the distance that water would have to travel through cracks and seams to get inside the boat. When my mind is not occupied by other things it tends to stew over this -- and will especially do so whenever were at sea, out of sight of land.
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
The weather forecast keeps putting off the arrival of calmer conditions, but today is better than yesterday and the forecast for the coming days is encouraging. Windfinder.com keeps promising a handful of low-wind days, but they always seem to be scheduled to start "not tommorrow but the next day." With each passing day their onset gets postponed. But now that the wind is dieing the odds are improving.
I'm anxious to leave, but it is less of an obsession now than when I arrived. The money problem was at the root of my unrest. When I arrived here I had about $250 in my pocket and the Turks and Caicos seemed still to be a long way off. I was concerned that lengthy delays would run me out of money and I could visualize no solution to the problem other than getting to the airport and talking my way into a ticket to Nassau. There I might use an ATM and fly back. My worries declined as the days rolled by; I was spending no money. Six days have passed during which time I've spent less than $30. Of my remaining funds, $100 must be set aside for buying gas in Mayaguana, but getting to the Turks and Caicos on the other $100 no longer looks impossible.
As so often before, I have been blessed with outlandishly good luck. With both engines acting up, the prospect was grim, but he put things right for me and accepted very little money for doing so. When finally I can get to a bank, I'll be able to send him a fairer payment for what he has done. But really, he's not interested in getting money from me. His agenda is two-fold. First, he wants to visit me in Utah -- partly to see the yurt but mostly to try skiing. This sport on a totally alien substance fascinates him. When I think about it, it fascinates me as well. Have you ever seen, or even tried to imagine, a dark-complexioned, whispy, Indian man getting on skis for the first time? Can you picture him in parka and hat and gloves, sliding along on a pure white surface?
His second agenda item is a permanent friendship with me, leading perhaps to a joint business venture of some sort. Not that he thinks I'll provide the capital. No, it's not that. He thinks a close connection in the United States will open doors for him. Example: Raj claims that toilet paper in Guyana is poor in quality, overpriced, and hard to come by. He wants us to organize shipments of toilet paper from the US to Guyana that he then can take on the road and distribute to all the small stores in rural Guyana. If this doesn't sound like an oppressively bourgeois idea I don't know what does, but for some reason it intrigues me. I've promised Raj that I'll check up on the toilet paper scene when I get back home.
He and I are both convinced that I'll be leaving tomorrow, so he invites me to dinner in the evening. He and his wife have cooked mackerel for me, broken up and swimming in a classical Indian spicy sauce. The fire engine sauce has the color and the spice that you would expect in traditional Indian food, and I find it all delicious. Cutlery is not viewed as necessary by Raj and I sop up my dinner using torn-off strips of roti. All the while, Raj and Parma's daughter stands transfixed nearby watching television. The television, incidentally, is showing nothing but home videos taken alternately by Raj and Parma. Mostly it is scenes at the beach or in the living room, and they run for hours. This is not to suggest that the family has not had received regular broadcasting on their television. They have, in fact, but their plans to leave the Bahamas at the end of June have caused them to terminate their television service and instead just rely on their own cinematography -- and their daughter evidently gives it her seal of approval. As I leave to return to the boat, a large plywood box stands just outside the front door, already constructed from the sheets of ply that Raj borrowed three days ago.
Thursday, June 9, 2011
We are off and running. Kobuk has exited Lovely Bay through the narrow break in the reef and we're pounding our way towards the northeast point of Acklins, some seven miles distant. It's rough out here and our course to the east-northeast is smacking us straight into it, but once we're around that point we'll be able to angle off to the south a bit and ride through the messy conditions a little more easily. The wind has been strong for many days so it is not surprising that we have to put up with all these waves and swells; it will take a couple days of quiet weather for the sea to stop its heaving.
Shallows extend for a few miles out beyond Acklins northeast point and they expand to much greater breadth the farther you get from land. Their outer perimeter carries the shadow of Acklins four miles farther east than the point itself, and then terminates at a barely submerged offshore reef. Only beyond that does the sea become deep again. I use the chartplotter to guide us as we run clockwise around the perimeter of the shallows, but I must have cut it too close: we are in fiercely conflicted waters. Waves are coming at us from both east and south and they are forming into bigger, steeper, more tightly packed shapes than we were experiencing on approach. The surface of the sea looks as if some epic battle between giant sea monsters is taking place down below. Once we're in this mess it's not easy to get out. I angle Kobuk more out to sea but there's not enough time to plot strategy -- I'm just trying to keep Kobuk's nose pointed at the nasty waves coming at us from two directions. We get banged and tossed terrifically and I've not been more scared in all my time on board.
The overcast sky, which has been with us since dawn, now takes a sinister turn. Off the starboard beam, close by the northeast point, a great black mass materializes with such an ominous look that I cannot believe it will miss us and dare not believe it will pack no wind. There have been a number of rain showers already today and none of them have been accompanied by wind, but this beast beside us looks too dark and massive to be so toothless. We're skirting the shallows and suffering real abuse, but I am reluctant to turn back because I believe the conditions are local. Once past the point with its shallows, I tell myself, the waves will become smaller and more predictable and the usual cape nastiness will be behind us. There are four miles to cover before we pass the offshore reef, and for an hour we struggle to maintain course. Slowly, slowly, the black storm beside us slips away, heading north as we wallow eastward. At one point we run through its edge and get walloped by a downpour so intense it puts a few inches of fog on the water, but it is over in minutes and then the storm is behind us. Even when it had us it delivered no wind.
At times like these, managing Kobuk is a matter of total concentration as the minutes stretch into months. But at last we clear the reef and reach deep water. Conditions improve over what we've just been through but they remain far worse than they were before we reached the point. The problem is the wave trains coming at right angles to each other. As they raggedly interact with each other, peaks and hollows appear out of nowhere and act like they are going to either swallow us or tip us over. But it is less extreme than when rounding the point so I now believe we can get through this mess as long as I keep paying attention. Ten miles to go to reach the west side of West Plana Cay.
The overcast has clamped down to create a circle of visibility that must be only a mile or two. Every hour or so a small rain shower passes overhead but only rain do they bring and no wind. When finally a thin gray band appears on the horizon the chartplotter says we are less than three miles offshore. As we close with the beach on this side of the island, the water stays surprisingly rough. The wind is out of the east although the waves are also coming out of the south. This west side of Plana should afford some protection, but to get it we have to move in very close to shore. We anchor in ten feet of water and although no waves are forming this close in, overeager swells curl around the southern point and roll us side to side for most of the night.
Southwest Beach, West Plana Cay: 22* 34.853' N / 73* 37.680' W
Distance: 32 miles (28 nautical miles)
Total Distance: 10,102 miles
Friday, June 10, 2011
At gray light the anchor is up and we're headed out around the south end of West Plana Cay for the thirty mile run to Mayaguana. The seas are much settled but still in our face -- a minor inconvenience compared with yesterday's fiasco. It is an uneventful trip that first carries us along the south shore of East Plana and then across the twenty mile wide Mayaguana Passage.
The Chart shows a Batelco tower at the northwest corner of Mayaguana so when we raise it I have something to aim for. Pointing Kobuk in the right direction when we are out of sight of land is a ticklish business because our line of movement is a constantly swinging arrow on the chartplotter screen. It starts from an image of a boat -- our precise current position -- and extends forward like an arrow to point where we are headed. A different line on the chart runs from the boat to our designated destination and it shifts very little. The pilot's job is to keep the two in alignment. However, whenever we have to cope with roughness (which is virtually always on the open ocean), the movement arrow swings through a good ninety degrees of arc from one second to the next, indicating drunken movement towards our goal. It could be interpreted as a sign of bad steering, but our situation is complicated by the behavior of the chartplotter. . Waves are constantly muscling us from side to side as they pass.pass us by. Not very much, perhaps only inches, but enough to fool the GPS into thinking that we are intentionally steering off course. The problem is that sometimes we are but other times we're simply being pushed around by the seas. I'm supposed to keep the movement arrow lined up with the direction line but the sensitivity of the GPS has us constantly needing to make major adjustments to our direction. So what do you do? When the arrow swings wildly off to one side do you immediately respond to get back on course which would be a really good idea if you've let things get this far out of control? Or do you discount it as a meaningless consequence of oceanic bullying which often is the case? When I see the Batelco tower on the horizon, most of the mental computations can stop and I can relax in the knowledge that that is where we are headed.
This time, though, a discontinuity gradually emerges. Over an hour or so, the frantically swinging arrow of movement on the chartplotter seems to be telling me that I'm aiming right of the target. As we get closer in, the evidence becomes less inconclusive and I cast around for an explanation so I'll know where to head. We wish to aim for the northwest corner of the island but the only corner we can see clearly and in profile is the southwest corner, which has the very tall tower. Either the Batelco tower was moved or it no longer stands as the highest thing on this end of the island. Anyway, we get to where we are headed and the doing so is not so stressful because we now are approaching land. Delay in reaching your destination is one thing; missing it altogether is quite another.
Scooped out of this northwest corner of Mayaguana (you don't pronounce the second "a") is a grand bay outlined to the north and west by a continuous reef that partially shows at low tide and even has a couple insular chunks standing high above the rest. Thebay makes a map of Mayaguana look as if the island is missing a piece of its real estate, and the line of the reef pretty much follows the contour you would choose if you were to give the island back its missing land. There's only one small break in the reef line and when we pass through the more peaceful waters on the inside extend for a few miles, getting shallower and shallower the deeper you penetrate. There is a continuous beach shoreward and within the bay there are occasional coralheads. The part of the reef subject to today's weather is actively flashing white from the break of the waves. Inside, all is quiet and along the lengthy shore there is only a handful of houses. This is Pirates Well.
I spot one colorful and oversized building that must be the Baycaner Hotel and run Kobuk up to the beach nearby. I want to anchor off, but also have a line to shore for pulling us in close enough to wade up onto the beach. It all looks to be sand under the four feet of anchoring water, but I cannot get the anchor to hold. In the end, I have to set the anchor by diving and trying to jam it into what turns out to be a sort of hardpack. Finally, we get squared away and I can go to the Baycaner to see about Internet.
The hotel is nearly empty but the one employee there invites me to use both the wifi and the electical outlet in the lobby. It is a relaxing couple hours since the lobby has a couch and easy chairs, which from the perspective of life aboard represents luxury. While working in the empty lobby a stranger wanders through, and I discover that one other person is in the hotel -- a guest named Tim who is living here semi-permanently.
Pirates Well, Mayaguana: 22*26.208' N / 73* 06.149' W
Distance: 38 miles (33 nautical miles)
Total Distance: 10,140 miles
Saturday, June 11, 2011
The Baycaner is a U-shaped, one-story structure with the lobby, bar, and dining room at the base of the U and rooms along the two wings. Although architecturally simple and unremarkable, it does have a swimming pool in the middle of the U, a Spanish-inspired passage around the perimeter whose outer edge is lined with simple squared columns joined by semi-ciruclar arches, and interior public space that is spacious and inviting. The building is painted an eyecatching yellow.
When I return there to check the weather online, Tim appears and I learn that he is the project manager for a rich Bostonian who has big plans for his five thousand acres on this island. The project will install a marina, construct condos, sell home lots, and presumably arrange for a number of support businesses to appear in the neighborhood. The scale of the undertaking is large in any event, but measured by the scale of settlement currently existing on the island it is revolutionary. Mayaguana has a resident population of a few hundred while I should imagine that the envisioned development will bring in thousands of immigrants. Even the development process is likely to more than double the population.
Although Tim's development project has been dormant for a few years, he tells me that the start of construction now is just around the corner. Governmental authorities have stipulated that the existing airport runway -- unpaved and neglected -- be rebuilt with a proper surface and a new terminal. Tim says that his corporation already has stockpiled all the needed heavy equipment and all the necessary raw materials for runway paving. He thinks that within six months the construction of condominiums will be under way, with completion of that first phase only months later. Bringing the whole plan to completion could take a decade or two, however.
Later on, after returning to Kobuk, I grab the two empty jerry cans and set off for the nearby gas station (the only one on the island).Tim comes along in his Range Rover and picks me up. He takes me to where I can buy the gas and then shuttles me back to the boat so I don't have to carry it. With his Range Rover, he heads off through the bush to deliver me within spitting distance of my beach anchor. In fact, Tim gives me two shuttle rides since I have to make a return trip for one more jerry can of fuel.
Pirates Well is one of two existing settlements on the island. The other is Abraham's bay, a few miles away on the south side. They are separated by a half dozen miles and the road connecting them is pretty much the only one on the island. In the afternoon, I take Kobuk around the end of the island to reach Abraham's Bay, the more proximate position for doing the crossing to the Turks and Caicos. By water, the distance to Abraham's Bay is more than twenty miles, but it is an easy trip because the sea has flattened out and turned glassy. This convinces me that I must not hesitate: first thing in the morning I'll head out for Providenciales in the hope that the current conditions continue. The wind and wave forecast is very promising and today the sea is so calm we could go fast with the Mazda.
The settlement of Abraham's Bay is at the eastern end of a large bay of the same name. There is a government jetty and a small boat basin that Kobuk is able to enter because it is high tide. At low tide we probably will be hung up in the sand, but high tide will come again at four in the morning so we should be able to escape when we want to. I set up Kobuk for the night and prepare to walk the short distance to the settlement where there is a place to eat dinner that Tim told me about: _____'s. While I'm still fiddling with the mooring lines and attaching the curtains, a dark, serious looking man walks over to say hello. When he identifies himself as _____, I say "Oh, you must be the _____ with the restaurant." He assents and asks me if I would like to have dinner. I tell him "I certainly would," and we arrange that I'll show up at his place in an hour or so.
When I arrive at ______'s, he is in the kitchen making my dinner. I sit alone in the bar next to the kitchen, drinking ginger ale and watching the running of the Belmont Stakes on a muddy track while _____ slaves away. When my dinner comes, it is massive portions and includes not just conch salad and a green salad, but lobster and peas and rice and mango slaw. I am awfully hungry, but the amount of food is almost beyond my capacity. Almost, but not quite. A couple hours later, after spending some time talking with _____ (five children, twelve grandchildren, and a wife still working in Nassau), I finally let him know I'm ready to leave and ask him how much I owe him. He says "Nothing. Tim arranged for it."
Government Dock, Abraham's Bay, Mayaguana: 22* 21.874' N / 72* 58.260' W
Distance: 27 miles (24 nautical miles)
Total Distance: 10,167 miles
Sunday, June 12, 2011
It was the worst night I've ever spent on Kobuk. With no breeze and sitting in a small basin, I lay sweltering on the sleeping pad behind the cabin. All curtains were zipped on, but now there are breaks and gaps in the canvas that let in mosquitoes and the plastic screening has apertures that allow sand flies to pass through at will. The biting was incessant,even when I'm sprayed from head to toe in Off. There was no choice but to cover up in the sheet with only may face sticking out, and this caused me to sweat continuously, soaking the filthy sheet and making me feel dirtier than I have ever felt. I only managed an hour or two of sleep, and was up and preparing before the five o'clock alarm.
Getting out on the water makes things better for now the curtains are unzipped, the cabin top is opened, and a slight breeze slips through that is enhanced by our forward movement. Once beyond the reef, it is clear that the conditions are not like yesterday. There is chop and there are waves and they are coming at us. It is not possible to cruise fast with the Mazda without beating up Kobuk and perhaps putting undue stress on the hull damage that runs along the starboard chine. The conditions are still mild, however -- less rough than for any open water passage so far this outing -- so I decide to do the crossing with the Yamaha. If conditions remain stable we should be able to come abreast the nearest point of land by three in the afternoon, and the motion during the passage should be almost mild enough to relax.
The good news is that conditions do remain stable with very little change throughout the day. The bad news is that shortly before the middle of the passage the steering for the Yamaha packs it in. I do not want to spend hours trying to repair it (putting us in jeopardy of reaching port after dark: even after making landfall we will have to cover an additional ten miles before finding protection) so I decide to run the rest of the way slowly with the Mazda. We carry on.
Nine miles out, the Mazda quits. I won't repeat the word I used at the time. I will say that if decisions of a grander nature could be made at this time I would give up the voyage. But there is a more pressing issue than my long-term plans. I sit here in silence for a brief spell and then turn the ignition key to see what kind of sound I get. The Mazda starts right up and we carry on. For the rest of the crossing it runs without a hiccup, but of course I am a bit on edge all the way.
When finally I can sight land under a small white cloud straight ahead, it is less of a relief than usual because I know that if the Mazda goes south the winds will carry us away -- ever so slowly, but in the wrong direction nonetheless. We are lucky, as usual, and before four in the afternoon we are off the great cusp of beaches and reef that run along the north shore of West Caicos. In my view, the island is more beautiful than most of the Bahamas because it has small hills and more varied vegetation. The town of Providenciales (generally abbreviated to "Provo") arrays along this shore and by Bahamian standards it is an ultra-modern megacity. It has all sorts of architecturally unique structures and broad acreages of "town and country" landscaping. It has real appeal and although I think of myself as being more contented in truly rural environments I have to admit that this scene looks awfully good right now.
I only have a small scale chart of the Turks and Caicos and the chartplotter does not cover them effectively so I have to work for a while to find the break in the reef that leads in to Turtle Cove Marina. I do find it at last and then have it confirmed for me when a large fishing boat passes me and enters. Close to closing time, Kobuk turns the final corner to enter the channel into the marina and shortly thereafter we are tied off near the gas dock. After fishing out the yellow Q flag from forward storage and hanging it on the VHF antenna, I settle in to wait for the authorities to show up and clear us. When that is finally done, I retieve a key from the marina office and go take a long shower.
Turtle Cove Marina, Provo, Turks & Caicos: 21* 47.092' N / 72* 13.670' W
Distance: 66 miles (57 nautical miles)
Total Distance: 10,233 miles
Monday, June 13, 2011
While out there on the water yesterday I was thinking about all the things that have been malfunctioning on board Kobuk and my mind had led me to the conclusion that everything is too unreliable and thus too risky. Whilst stewing at sea I had concluded that it was time to call an end to the voyage. I began to contemplate what I might do with Kobuk. Should I sell her? What a depressing thought. Might I find a way to ship her back to Florida and then pick her up with the truck and trailer? I doubted shipping would be possible. Maybe I could find someone crazy enough to pilot her back to Florida but then I would be asking someone else to take a risk I might hesitate to take. Eventually, I put away the thoughts and recognized that I was not in a good situation for deciding something so big. I accepted that I should first reach port and then take a rest before contemplating the next step. Today, therefore, is set aside for doing nothing but unwind.
The past seven weeks have been more stress than pleasure but it is hard to tell whether this is a sign that the bloom is off the rose or simply one of the episodes of struggle that by definition accompany any good adventure. Being here in Provo already is changing my dark mood and even as the day progresses my attitude improves.
The problem for me has been that virtually every system on board has malfunctioned since I arrived in Georgetown. The electrical system went haywire, caused by a faulty bilge pump. The Mazda would not run until extraordinary steps were taken to clear it out. The jet drive rattled shockingly and adjustments had to be made to get it running. The boat leaked terribly and a seal had to be replaced in the jet drive to stop it (and even then the leaking continued, but more slowly). The Yamaha balked at running for a while. The steering system for the Yamaha had seized up and had to go through a total disassembling-reassembling before working again. The Bike Friday had gotten so rust-encrusted that hours had to be put into just getting it onto the road, even in at a seriously diminished level of performance.
And all these things happened before we even could set out. Once on our way, the jet drive quit completely and had to have the cutless bearing replaced. After that, a Mazda belt tore apart and had to be replaced. Then for a second time the Yamaha wouldn't run properly and had to have a second carburetor cleaning. Then I discovered inexplicable damage to the hull along the starboard chine (not there when we left George Town). A few days later the Yamaha steering failed again and then the Mazda mysteriously stopped (before restarting without a problem). In my mind this list had become so long that my confidence was in the bucket.
In exchange for this litany of sorrows, we have had a mere twelve days moving on the water --twelve out of forty seven. We had a similar experience a couple years ago in the Keys, but that time the list of problems was only two items long and the delays were about trying to resolve them. This time it has seemed as if everything has been going wrong and repair to one system only led to failure in another. Even the new chartplotter has been unreliable. It overheats and cannot be restarted until after cooling down and for this last crossing it incorrectly calculated the distance traveled (it claimed that our run from Abraham's Bay to Provo was only 45 nautical miles while at the same time indicating that the shortest distance between these two points is 53 nautical miles).
But now, with the pleasures of Provo beaconing and the knowledge that there are support systems on the island, my attitude already is shifting. I have, indeed, decided that to go any farther with the damaged hull would be foolhardy, but my attitude now is quite different from yesterday. I can leave the boat here in a facility that has covered storage. One of the most distressing things about Kobuk during this recent run is that I never had the time and situation to repaint her. She looks battered and abused and I see this every day. But with indoor storage, I could work on her before departure and upon returning to prep and paint, inside and out. I know the Mazda is running very smoothly and indeed the Yamaha is too. The hull damage cannot be repaired before the hull sits out of water for a week or two to dry, but the Caicos Marina which could do the storage also has the capacity to do the repairs. It will undoubtedly be expensive, but so what? The idea of terminating the voyage is no longer uppermost in my mind.
These far islands of the Bahamas have proven to be the most arduous and most harrowing stage of the voyage since leaving behind the hazards of the Missouri Basin, but for the Missouri I was expecting trouble whereas here in the sunny isles I was not. The upcoming legs through the Caribbean will require a few long crossings but generally throughout the region the points of origin and destination for each day trip will be settlements of some size where help can be gotten if needed. I doubt any other place between here and South America will be as isolated as the set of islands we have just passed through. Kobuk and I will be able to wait for good conditions to make each crossing without having to spend days on end in extreme isolation. As you can see, I am by nature optimistic, so it was a really, really good idea to wait a day or two before deciding what to do about the voyage.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
A plan is settled. Late this week I'll take Kobuk around the east end of West Caicos, through the narrow _____ Channel, and park her at Caicos Marina and Shipyard. They will pull her from the water and put her on blocks. I'll do some paintwork and minor repairs between then and next Friday when I have a reservation on a Jet Blue flight back to the States. Then Caicos Marina will move Kobuk to indoor storage and make repairs to her hull at a later time. I'll plan on returning at the start of October for another month or two of cruising.
I have learned about an upholstery business located next to the marina, and even before breakfast I go to talk with Juliana who is the business. Like so many others here in Provo, she is a Dominican who is taking advantage of the economic boom that has been sweeping this island. She comes down to Kobuk with me to do an estimate for replacing all the canvas work. Her price is reasonable and we strike a deal. Getting onto and off of Kobuk is for her a stretch because the tide is low and she is short. Getting on is hard but getting off will be harder. At first, she is very serious and furrow-browed, but after I manage to make her laugh a few times she loosens up and starts to enjoy herself. When all the measurements are done, I offer her a hand with climbing back up to the dock, but she insists that she can do what I did. And indeed she does, giggling all the way and with an anatomically improbable upward step. Juliana has five children, two older ones back in the Dominican Republic and three here with her. She has been in business here for fourteen years, she says. When we're back in her shop, I ask her about also making a cover for Bike Friday and that too quickly leads to a deal.
I am pleased and encouraged to think that with some paint and new canvas Kobuk will again look spruce. In the afternoon I pedal over to Grace Bay where there are shops and hotels. I find a bike shop that will service Bike Friday while I'm away so that when I get back there will be functional land transportation as well.