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Crossing the Gulf Stream

Tuesday, January 12, 2010Routemap 26

Queer it is to be hanging about in this place called Pompano Beach.  Nothing about it is familiar, but I lived here once.  I was only eleven at the time.  It was the winter of 1953-54 and my recollections of the place are so weak that only a few snippets come to mind: playing catch with my father next to the beach, falling on rough pavement and having to have stitches in my knee, climbing in a grove of nearby trees where it was possible to scramble from the branches of one tree into those of its neighbor, dressing as an Indian for a Halloween party at school, watching with perverse fascination as a column of ants made its way through the living room and into the kitchen and then back.  That's about it.  I remember being worried for our entire nine month stay that a tidal wave would come along and sweep over the whole state, but it never happened.  I remember trying to learn to play the flute, but not trying very hard.  Oh yes, and I remember that Eisenhower was president.  When in late spring we returned to New Hampshire I remember being greatly relieved to finally have some hills around and in retrospect I remember always thinking afterwards that Florida wasn't such a nice place.  That prejudice stuck with me throughout my life, and I suspect it still colors my thinking.

But what I see here now cannot in any way be related to those memories.  Pompano is now just part of a the virtually continuous coastal city running north from Miami all the way to West Palm Beach.  It has shopping centers and apartment buildings, trophy homes and canal cul-de-sacs.  It has more more boats than on could ever imagine.  And in all these respects it is indistinguishible from
Pompano BeachHollywood, Hillsborough, Hypoluxo, or any of the many other communities that comprise this string of development.  Pompano is a discrete entity in little more than name only.  And to think that for the past half century I have been picturing it as a little coastal town fronting the ocean but with _____ forest at is back.

I arrived here late yesterday, and today has been busy with relaunching Kobuk and stocking her with food and supplies.  Now, though, the day is nearly over and the good folks at  Hideaway Marine  have agreed to let me sleep aboard  Kobuk whilst tied off at one of their few slips.  It is a chance to get away for a few hours, so I bicycle west on Atlantic Avenue, over the ICW, and out to where the street ends in a parking lot for those who wish to use the beach.  The beach resort that my parents managed so many years ago must have been in this general area, but now of course the coastline is a continuous string of high hotels.  The beach is broad, though, and in the dying light of post-sunset gold I look out to imagine where I might have played where the surf swept up on the sand.  The ocean is a clock of sorts: since my departure in the spring of 1954 a specific number of waves have run up onto this beach and the pattern continues even now.  As the sky darkens and colors dim into gray, I retreat across the street from the shore and enter the Briny Irish Pub, an aged establishment with the look of a place that might have existed at that earlier time.  Indeed, it did, and in passing I wonder if my parents ever came in here to have a beer or two at the end of the day.  It is a busy place tonight with low ceilings, a buzz of barside chatter, and black & white photos on the wall showing the place many decades ago.


Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Kobuk and I are headed north.  We will follow the ICW up along the coast to West Palm Beach where Lake Worth Inlet gives access to the Atlantic, and there we will wait for the right day to make the crossing to Grand Bahama Island.  The weather forecast indicates that the wind will blow spiritedly from the north for the next day or two before beginning to veer around the clock.  Since we will be needing light winds with a southerly component, there is little chance that an opportunity will quickly arise for a leap to the Bahamas.  There is no hurry, therefore, to reach West Palm Beach, and I choose to break it into a two day voyage.  We depart from Hideaway late in the morning and make one right turn and two left turns before ducking under the low bridge that carries Route 1.  Then it is a left turn, a right turn, and another left before finally straightening out to run north on the ICW.  The warren of canals branching off from the ICW here in southern Florida is like a crystalline lattuce extending the equivalent of a few blocks farther inland, articulated to the greatest degree possible without creating islands.

Kobuk is running with a slight modification.  Last week the shop at Hideaway Marine took the skeg off the bottom of an old outboard motor and attached it to the underbody of Kobuk's jet drive.  The skeg is a vertical blade that only extends down about six inches below the barrel of the jet, not even so far as to be level with the bottom of the keel.  The idea here is to improve the jet drive steering at slow speeds.  When motoring along at only one or two miles per hour--the sort of speed one would use to maneuver into a slip, for example--Kobuk's hull has always been very slow to react to steering of the wheel.  It does noticeably better when the little outboard is down in the water than it is raised, and this got me to thinking that perhaps a small skeg on the jet drive would make a difference.  The theory, yet to be tested, is that at speed Kobuk will be up on a plane and that the wake behind the boat will be a trough so deep that the skeg will be totally out of the water.  That is what I want, anyway--a useless appendage at speed but a small tracking device when going slow enough that the hull is settled in the water.  My first review of the performance of the skeg is quite positive, but one must not come to judgement too quickly: just as with people, the health and performance of a boat are susceptible to the placebo effect.

Promotional literature bills this section of the ICW as Florida's "Gold Coast," and for the reasons that you might expect.  It is lined with luxury.  Palatial homes and gleaming yachts are parked bumper to bumper both along the ICW itself and as far up each side canal as one can look.  In some instances, the boat parked where the front yard drops into the water is bigger than the home to which it is attached.  Once in a while it even tends to block the view.  The Gold Coast also has its sections that are dominated by apartment buildings, but this is somewhat misleading because the very phrase "apartment building" tends to carry a somewhat unappealing and tasteless connotation whereas in this region every effort has been made to convert apartment buildings into small-scale, futuristic skyscrapers.  They are, in short, designer apartment buildings and most of them must have been conceived by more creative architects than the back-room hacks who used to do such work.  The buildings and the grounds of each apartment complex (rare is the single building) usually work together to create a sense of spaciousness at ground level even as the towering buildings present as many facets as possible for picture-window views across the flatness of the Atlantic Ocean or the interior of Florida, whichever the case may be.
Northbound on the ICW
 All of this gold in the Gold Coast is upstaged, however by the sort of opulence that peers down its nose at the ICW as we pass through Boca Raton.  Here we have not simply the palatial homes of those who are rich by middle class standards.  No, no--what we have are the "understated" homes of the truly rich, so attuned to the sirens of proportion and grace and good living that you feel as if you are moving through a Stepford world on steroids.  Boca Raton--Rat's Mouth--the land of unreasonable wealth.  I wonder how much of Bernie's money came from this little community.

By the time Kobuk reaches Boynton Inlet, I am somewhat exhausted by the parade of  lavish living, but here the waterway widens to become an elongated lagoon and after a couple miles we turn into the channel leading to the Palm Beach Yacht Center, a sort of working man's marina with a slip for Kobuk that a working man might afford.  There is even a shower, and after a quick clean-up and a hasty meal it is off to bed for me.

Start:  Hideaway Marine, Pompano Beach      26* 13,583' N  /  80* 06.226' W
Finish:  Palm Beach Yacht Center, Lantana     26' 33.575' N  /  80* 03.090' W
Distance:                                                             25 miles
Total Distance:                                                   8,879 miles
 


Thursday, January 14, 2010

We all, I suppose, view future prospects with a certain degree of anticipation or dread--depending on what we think lies ahead--but this abstract notion has always been a little elusive for me.  Yes, I can worry about tomorrow or eagerly await the day after, but if the time from now until then gets to be more than a few days it is hard to relate.  For over ten years I have understood that sooner or later this whole project would require a crossing of the Gulf Stream in a too-small boat, but the prospect never struck me as something to worry about.  It was too far away to capture my attention.  On occasion, I would think about it and contemplate the odds of success (very high) and the most sensible strategy for getting there, but all this was by and large an intellectual exercise with little visceral involvement.  Only now with the actual event looming do I begin to chew on it and mull it over with butterflys in my chest.

The distance from West Palm Beach to the west end of Grand Bahama Island is 64.5 miles.  With calm conditions and a peaceful ocean surface, Kobuk is capable of covering that distance in under three hours.  But I know, I absolutely know, that conditions will not be completely peaceful and that even on the very best of winter days it would be foolhardy to expect that the crossing can be done in under four.  And now let's be realistic: the most probable scenario for a calm winter day is conditions that permit a top speed of only slightly more than planing speed--say 15-17 miles per hour.  This suggests a crossing time more in the neighborhood of five hours.

I should think that instead of contemplating the best-case scenario it would be more advisable to think about the worst-case.  The worst case--well, not actually the worst case but the case that would be worst if nothing disastrous goes wrong--is if a few miles after departure the main engine gives problems and for some weird reason I decide not to turn back.  In that case, the crossing would have to be done with the Yamaha which pushes Kobuk at six miles per hour on flat water.  Assuming I have chosen a day when neither wind nor waves  are obstructing our forward progress, that speed would get us across in eleven hours.  These January days here in Florida are have sunrises not long after seven in the morning and sunsets that occur around six.  In other words, by starting in the gray light of pre-dawn, it should be possible to reach West End (the harbor at the west end of Grand Bahama) before dark.  Anybody who has spent time boating knows that there are all sorts of unforseen potentialities, but the reasonable expectation should be that a daytime really is possible.  It is all a matter of gettinbounty at Peanut Islandg the right day.

I do find myself thinking about all this as Kobuk pushes north along the ICW toward our final haven before setting off across the Caribbean.  Noon has barely passed when the high rise buildings of downtown West Palm Beach show themselves off the port bow.  We pass the downtown and continue on for another half hour before coming to one last bridge, the final marker of ICW protection.  Just beyond it, the Lake Worth Inlet is a broad opening to the Atlantic off the starboard beam while straight ahead Peanut Island presents itself.

Peanut Island is a circular blob in the middle of this long, skinny Lake Worth.  Its diameter is sufficient to nearly fill the breadth of the lake and its position is such that if it were to move only a few hunred yards to the southeast it would plug the Lake Worth Inlet channel.  It is a state park with only a handful of low buildings on it and a landscaped perimeter that has campgrounds, a scenic pathway all the way around, a couple places where boats can dock during the daytime hours, a snorkeling beach with rock pilings to attract the fish, and a special pier along the south side where the Bounty--a working replica of the original--is parked for visitors to inspect.  As Kobuk approaches, it is the first notable thing that we can see on the Island.  I steer us around the island in a counterclockwise fashion, passing by the Lake Worth Inlet and fetching up to a visitor dock on the northeast side.  It is a pleasantly warm day and for the next couple hours I do a terrestrial circumnavigation of the premises to get a feel for what this park is all about.

Peanut Island, West Palm Beach                     26* 46.534' N  /  80* 02.552' WHngry Bird at Peanut Island

The bulk of the island, its entire middle, is a broad, flat-topped mesa that cannot be more than twenty feet above sea level.  Evidently, the entire island was created by dumping sediment at this site, lake bottom material dredged to create deeper canals.  The tailings made the island and then later in the 1960's the island was converted into a secure bunker for President Kennedy--in the event that doomsday came when he was on holiday down here, I guess.  I suspect that the circular mesa is really nothing more than a dirt-covered bunker.  Anyway, its secret role during the zenith of the Cold War days is now a thing of the past and the place has no more mystery or exoticism than any other state park would have.

Overnighting on the island is strictly forbidden, it seems--unless you're going to set up a tent in a reserved campsite--so in late afternoon Kobuk and I set out to find New Port Cove Marina.  This particular section of Lake Worth is chock-a-block development along both shores, however and so it turns out to be harder than I expected.  There are marinas and harbors and waterside developments everywhere, and so which should be the New Port Cove Marina is not so easy to figure out.  We wander around for an hour or so trying to get a bead on the place, but success only comes after putting in at a public boat ramp and calling the marina office.  Tim gives us directions and soon we are in the right place, tied off at a floating dock.

New Port Cove Marina, West Palm Beach     26* 46.804' N  /  80* 03.007' W
Distance:                                                           20 miles
Total Distance:                                                 8,899 miles


Friday, January 15, 2010

It is a double-down day.  The winds are up and I am reeling from a headache that just won't die.  It is not a hangover; I don't know what it is.  But it came on in the middle of the night and lasts all day.  Late in the morning, for an hour or so, I manage to drag myself over to the marina office where it is possible to do a little online work, but as soon as the minimum acceptable is completed I return to Kobuk and spend the rest of the day lying on the floor aft of the cabin, wallowing in self-pity.   The hours tick by and I drift in and out of sleep.  Finally, evening comes on, so then sleep becomes the socially acceptable thing to do and I pursue it even more purposefully.  The forecast does not sound good for tomorrow so  there is nothing lost, I suppose.

Peanut Island
Saturday, January 16, 2010

When morning light comes and I awaken, the headache is gone.  At first,everything is tentative: will it come back as soon as I get up?  No.  Will it return if I bend over?  No.  It really is gone, and gradually I begin to believe that life will continue.  I am weak from hunger and thirst, but this abates as soon as there is something in my belly.  Sitting here waiting for the right weather is great good fun now that I feel healthy again.


Sunday, January 17, 2010

We have strong winds out of the northwest and Kobuk will stay in the barn as long as this continues.  I have things to do so there is no reason to dwell on the boating life when nothing is happening.  The forecast looks as if the southerly flow of air expected by Monday will not arrive until Tuesday so I am not gearing up for an early morning departure tomorrow.


Monday, January 18, 2010

The wind has shifted to the east and it blows hard enough to keep Kobuk rocking and bumping.  Last night I had to get up three times to rearrange the mooring lines before at last Kobuk stopped her occasional banging against the dock.  The vigor of the wind is preying on my nerves.  I usually like the exhilaration of a gusty day, but with the crossing constantly on my mind it does little but remind me of the sort of condition we might get caught in out there if we are unlucky.  Small craft warnings have been posted for the past few days and are not supposed to lift until this evening sometime.  The forecast still calls for light winds tomorrow with a shift of direction to the southeast, and that is pretty much what we are looking for.  During the day, I consider setting out at dawn but the forecast claims that Wednesday will be as calm as tomorrow, with a slight shift to the more advantageous direction of South.  Everything I have read claims that it often takes the sea a day or more to calm down after a stretch of raucus weather, so in the end I decide to put off departure until Wednesday morning.  Thursday, the winds are expected to pick up but shift to the west.  Even if that were to come on early it would not be disastrous.  Unpleasant, but not disastrous.
 
gulf_stream
Tuesday, January 19, 2010

The forecast is holding and today is turning out as NOAA said it would: the wind has died and what little remains slips up from the southeast.  It is a beautiful day, actually, and the quiet conditions make it easier to relax.  The morning is spent checking over gear--making sure that both engines start easily, taking a swim to check that the intake for the jet drive is clear, replacing the line used as a rode for the anchor, double-checking the GPS waypoint for West End, etc. and so on.  In the middle of the afternoon, when everything I can think of has been gone over, I leave Kobuk behind and pedal over to Singer Island where the Marriott Hotel overlooks the Atlantic.  From there one can look out to sea and for me it is reassuring to see a vast expanse of water on which small boats now appear to be maneuvering without a care in the world.  I know very well that the view from land is a poor indicator of what is actually going on any distance away, but even if it is only an illusion I find it comforting.  It is not rational, but there it is.


Wednesday, January 20, 2010
Departing West Palm Beach
We're five miles off the coast when the main engine overheats.  It is wonderfully calm seas and the day is ideal for the crossing, but there behind us is the West Palm Beach skyline with highrises glowing in the morning sun.  All is quiet when I shut down the engine.  So mild is the breeze that the seas only tip and rock us as we sit there dead in the water--no slaps or smacks, just a gentle rocking and rolling with the West End water tower sixty miles over the horizon to eastward.  To cross the Gulf Stream with no backup engine is inadvisable, but the day is likely to be the only one when a Kobuk crossing will be possible before I have to return to Utah on February 8th.

It is eight in the morning and we have between ten and eleven hours of daylight left.  Ordinarily, the little Yamaha can push us at about six miles per hour, although with the Gulf Stream setting us northward there is a real chance that our forward progress would be reduced to five.  Sixty miles--five miles per hour.  That means arrival shortly after dark.  But sixty miles at six miles per hour means we make it before sunset.  Arriving anywhere in the Bahamas after dark is foolhardy--even with a GPS and chartplotter--since Bahamian harbors are not consistently marked and lit and entrances usually require a narrow passage through a reef.

But on the other hand, the main engine seems to be running okay.  It is running too hot, but the temperature gauge seems to stop out at about 195 degrees and not inch higher.  I think the alarm for the overheating must be calibrated to keep us on the safe side, so it should be that the alarm indicates danger, not damage.  What if, I carry on for another hour or so using the Yamaha, and with the cover for the main engine lifted to facilitate cooling.  Then when the engine cools sufficiently perhaps she can be run again for a short while until the temperature creeps high enough to trigger the alarm again.  That way, the big engine could help us cover a few of the miles quickly every once in a while, and the Yamaha can do the major share of the work.  Even ten miles covered at twenty miles per hour with the big engine would shorten our estimated time of arrival enough to bring us into port before dark.  This is the thinking that eventually prevails and so we carry on.

Almost immediately after this, we enter the Gulf Stream, and I am shocked to see that the little engine is only able to push towards our destination at 5.1 miles per hour.  Then I recall that for slow boats the key to crossing the Gulf Stream is to go with it, so I veer about 30 degrees off  to the north of West End (where there is nothing but open ocean for a few thousand miles).  Our speed immediately increases to 6.7 miles per hour and I am reassured that we can negotiate the Gulf Stream reasonably quickly and then, after the worst of it is over, adopt a compensating course.  Also, if the main engine does cool as expected, it can be run and we can angle well into the current to make up for the amount we have been set downstream.  Just as an experiment, I try using the Yamaha to run us directly into the Gulf Stream and our speed drops to 3.9 miles per hour.  Going completely with it, however, we clock along at almost nine.  So now the strategy is set: bear off just enough to get our speed up over six miles per hour and then, when the big engine can be run again, drive at speed on a course 20-40 degrees south of our destination, thereby getting us up to, or with a little luck to the other side of, the rhumb line course between West Palm Beach and West End.

It takes over an hour for the engine to
West End cool adequately, but then we try out the plan and actually manage to get ten miles under our belt before the warning light and buzzer once again signal overheating.  But the strategy for now is working.  The biggest worry now is the perverse tendency for problems to build on each other in a situation like this--an almost certainty when boating or mountain climbing.  The thing I most worry about is a failure of the GPS.  I do not have an adequate backup plan for that eventuality.  There are two mounted compasses on board (plus a compass in the binoculars), but neither mounted compass has been swung and both are in serious disagreement not only with each other but also with the GPS.  (It is to be expected with the GPS, of course, since the course made good is not the same as a straight ahead projection of the bow of the boat).  It seems that the best plan for anticipating a GPS failure is to get a reading on what one compass says when the the GPS is giving a compass bearing to West End.  Every half hour, I note this down in my note book along with the time and the GPS coordinates.

In the end, there is no accumulation of problems and everything works out as planned.  The main engine is run twice, each time driving us for about ten miles before overheating.  This is enough to get us to the barn by 3:30 in the afternoon.   West End first appears only as a  colorless  watertower some eight miles out, and as we close in the low, flat land strings off from it to the south, at first as a series of windswept treetops floating on the water and then as a darkened line with light smudges for buildings.  Another hour passes before we motor in the entrance channel looking as unconcerned and unhurried as a laden burro trooping across a level plain.

West End Marina, Grand Bahama     26* 42.052' N  /  78* 59.460' W
Distance:                                              71 miles
Total Distance:                                     8,970 miles


Thursday, January 21, 2010

When we arrived yesterday afternoon, the first order of business was to clear customs and immigration, an undertaking with rather more protocol and bureaucratic brouhaha than the modern world of intercontinental air travel could conceivably understand.  First there is the yellow flag that must be flown from Kobuk's starboard side, something we manage by tacking it to the VHF antenna.  Then there is the undistracted Captain's trek to the customs and immigration office where a variety of forms must be filled out documenting details about all passengers, all valuables on board, and all sicknesses and deaths that were experienced during transit.  Because of the relatively small numbers of people processed in a harbor like this, the whole undertaking is not what one might think of as automated.  The officials in charge are free to explore most any topic they choose, an option available to but rarely exercised by airport officials.  The two men in the office take me through the whole deal in about forty minutes, after which I emerge with my stamped permits and my wallet $150 lighter--the standard rate for any boat under thirty feet in length.  The first order of business back on Kobuk is to replace the yellow quarantine flag with the courtesy Bahamian flag, an signal that we are legitimate.  The Bahamian flag, incidentally, takes on a delightfully gay aspect when it is fluttering in a tropical breeze.  When you see it in a book it looks rather too colorful and complicated, but when Kobuk is flying it above aquamarine waters with green coconut palms in the background, it somehow looks perfect for the environment.  I won't describe the colors and patterns of the flag, but someday when you get a chance look it up.
West End Entrance Channel
Did I mention breeze?  Yes, we do now have a breeze, a bluster in fact running out of the south with enough oomph to it that the coast running southeast from West End is absorbing a surging, foam-wracked beating from indigo waves that are piling up against its rocky shore.  The onslaught is expected to continue for quite a few days, although the direction of attack may change.  The windy conditions make me acutely aware of the fact that yesterday was the perfect window of opportunity for the crossing from Florida.  It is doubtful that another such opportunity will present itself until spring.  For me, there is a thrill in knowing that we are here, that with the crossing we have opened the door to all the Bahamas.  These islands stretch southwestward from here for about 600 miles, but the passages between them will be shorter--in no instance more than forty miles.  For me on Kobuk, there is a whole world of difference between 40 and 65 miles.  Forty miles certainly is a far cry from line-of-sight voyaging, but since even these horizon-hugging islands are visible eight miles out (on a good day), the passage out of sight of land should not exceed 25 miles, four or five hours with the little engine and only one with the big.

Good fortune or ill is so foolishly discounted on land where there is an illusion that we humans are in control.  At sea, there is never any question about it: a lot depends on luck.  If yesterday I had made the "right" decision, the prudent return to port when trouble arose with the main engine, it is very likely that Kobuk would not have gotten across before having to be stored once again on the Florida side of the Gulf Stream.  Already, it has been a year since we first were positioned to cross to the Bahamas.  Last January we were in Stuart, Florida waiting for the right day when a sequence of inappropriate ones finally drove me to head west instead and take Kobuk across Florida to the Fort Meyers side.  We ambled down to the Keys before I had to return to Utah, and then eight months passed before I could get away to make another try at the Bahamas.  But after I returned, engine trouble kept us in the Keys for over a month and not enough time was left to make the crossing.  Now on this third attempt we are successful, but the word "successful" is little more than human hubris.  What it amounts to is that nature decided to let us cross.  We were lucky.  And what would have been the effect of not getting across this time?  Well, perhaps just another delay for some unknown number of months, but sooner or later the momentum can be drained from any undertaking as outside forces begin to intrude and then the whole enterprise will end.   There is nothing inevitable about this voyage--it is not driven forward by any sort of economic imperative or psychological need.  It is not encouraged--hardly even condoned--by social norms and expectations.  Without forward momentum it is at severe risk.  Forward motion can be on turtle time, but no forward motion at all is a big threat.  We are lucky to have gotten across not just because of the event itself but also because of the lurking hazards associated with inertia.

That is not to say that all will now be easy.  In fact, yesterday's crossing uncovered a new and deeply disturbing problem: Kobuk leaks.  This means there is watersoaked wood down below that is going soft and will only hold for some unknown but limited length of time.  Twice during the crossing, when switching over to the main engine, I ended up pumping out about 20 gallons of water--a small volume insofar as physics is concerned, but a deluge from the point of view of its long-term implications.  I will carry on with her in this weakened state, but now when storage is arranged in the Abacos (hopefully), it will have to be dry storage and an assessment will have to be made about whether repairs are feasible.  It may require a major psychological readjustment on my part.  Instead of dreaming about returning to the Bahamas in a few months to do some leisurely cruising I will most likely have to get into my mind how much fun it is going to be to do major repairs and refurbishing for a month or two.  Just imagine--camped out next to a tropical beach, a canvas awning rigged for shade, spending hours each day mending and patching and sanding and painting, before pedaling off to a nearby shack where a three-stool bar serves beer each evening.  I know very well that this is not how it will go down, but it is nonetheless the way I choose to visualize it.


Friday, January 22, 2010

She blows like stink out there and its still from a southerly quadrant so there's no escaping from West End today.  The marina rates are onconscienably high but I am so euphoric from our having made the crossing that its going to take more than a few blown dollars to get me down.  Everybody agrees that the marina is grotesquely overpriced, especially considering that it is two thirds empty, but it appears that the management counts on days like these to extract money from people.  Why else would they have a weekly rate that is much lower but that you can only claim if you state your intentions on the first day?  Just to give an example, Kobuk's nightly rate is $80 (although I cajoled them into a 10% break) because the going charge is $2 per foot, with a forty foot minimum.  Anybody so foolish as to need a regular supply of water at the dock has to pay a flat rate of $25 per night--plus supply their own hose.
West End Waves
Money aside, this is a charming place.  The marina waters are like glass tinted the color of green talc.  Even here in harbor, a view down into the water shows every nook and cranny on the bottom surface, every fish swimming and every wavering blade of sea grass.  And yet, if you look across the surface it is a milky sheen of translucent aquamarine.  The surrounding buildings and grounds are properly maintained, and the site runs along the eastern side of the peninsula so that it fronts on the waters of the Little Bahama Bank--a shallows extending for over 150 miles northeast to southwest and at least a few dozens of miles in the other dimension.  It is colored the variegated hues of of blue-green for which the Bahamas are so famous and the broad expanse of water is so shallow that winds can only chip the surface.  Throughout this lesser of the Bahama's two great banks, the water depth rarely will exceed 30 feet and most of the time is half that much or less.  The temperature--ahhh, the temperature--is delicious.  Perhaps less torrid than most sun-lovers desire, but perfect for someone like me who starts to get a little unnerved whenever the thermometer inches towards 80.

The people working here I must assume are typical of the Bahamian mentality.  Perhaps with time my view will modify, but first impressions leave me thinking that Bahamians are not particularly preoccupied with such concepts as "efficiency" and "forethought."  They perform their resort functions with a sort of bustle and perkiness intended to convey attention to the job, but really their hearts are not in it and the results of their efforts would hardly make the grade in some posh resort stateside.  But does it matter much when they exhibit such unfailing good humor.  Any stranger is treated as a good reason to exchange pleasantries which almost always include outbursts of laughter and expressions of delight.  People here make you want to stay put for a while and soak up a little of the easy socialization.

In the evening, I visit the small bar wherein are assembled the handful of fellow boaters whom I already know.  Kenny is there, a trimly dressed elf of a man with the clean-cut looks so often associated with money.  I don't know how much he has, but he had his 40', teak-encrusted yacht built to specs and not a single stainless fitting fails to glisten, not a single teak plank looks unscrubbed.  It's mildly humiliating, actually considering Kobuk's chronic condition of flawed paint surfaces and oil-starved woodwork.  Kenny is a gregarious companion who slips into conversation as if it were as natural as breathing.  He is a fifty-something yuppie who lives in Vail when not on his boat.

 Odder and more fascinating in a way are the curious couple with the brogue.  Tom and Hazel are Scottish to the core with a willful desire to never become Americanized--at least as far as speaking the English language is concerned.  Tom has these black, scrub-brush eyebrows that arch steeply above his fierce eyes and threaten to meet at the bridge of the nose.  He is surprisingly lean for someone nearly fifty whereas his wife Hazel is a short, slightly plump bundle of electricity with the unlined face of a twenty-something, even though she is older than her husband.  My fascination with them is based on more than their looks, however.  Tom spends hours explaining to Kenny and me that he has a patent pending in Britain on a new type of power source that will be fueled by an inexpensive liquid and that will have the capacity to totally revolutionize the prevailing conditions of energy generation.  It is not easy for him because
Near West End he is trying to convince us of his impending success as an inventor even as he constantly has to hedge what he tells us so as not to reveal any of the secrets to his revolutionary idea.  Eventually, his wife Hazel (who incidentally strongly confirms every one of her husband's claims) gives him respite by fetching her guitar and launching into a wildly vigorous set of Gaelic tunes that range from ballads to jigs to obscene dittys.  She has a clear-tone voice and a professional delivery and her solitary jammin' keeps everybody in the bar stomping and chorusing and greedily listening.  She has spent a professional career as a musician and now she only does it for fun.  Her husband Tom looks on with dark-eyed delight, pride oozing from his comments about her and his attention to her.

All the while, Kenny is busy trying to get Heather drunk.  Heather is Hazel's niece, a 25-year-old lassie whose brogue is no less thick.  She is a fair lassie whose moderately good looks have more to do with a trim figure an
d clear-eyed openness than with any sort of classical concepts of beauty.  Her appeal, though, is fantastically enhanced by her unaffected happiness and gaiety, unconscious and unflagging.  Kenny is smitten, of course, and has designs--but the program is complicated by the arrival of Beth.  She has just flown down from Rhode Island to join Kenny on his boat for a while, and she is more his own age--which only an hour or two ago Kenny was saying he finally has come to realize is better dating material for him than young women.  Like Hazel, Beth is of Scottish heritage and when we get to talking I discover that her family has land on Cape Breton Island.  In fact, they own substantial acreage fronting on St. Peter's Canal--the one that Kobuk and I used when we left Bras d'Or Lake for the crossing to Canso.  Beth tells me that if ever I am up there again I am free to use their home even if they are away.  Considering how much and how often I daydream about returning to that part of the world, her offer is a very, very appealing prospect.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

De win' she blow, mon,  but now her angle of attack has changed.  She's longer a southerly--now she's coming from the northeast with a late afternoon shift to the east anticipated by the folks who predict such things.  That opens the door for an escape from West End and we will be able to run down along the southeast side of the island to Freeport.  The distance is not so far but a proper captain would make an early departure to avoid the eastward veer late in the day.  I'm not so dedicated to doing the right thing, though, so we're well along toward midday before I untie Kobuk from the dock and we run out through the entrance channel.

Off shore, the waves are building so the strategy we have in mind is to hug the shore where there will be insufficient fetch for them to become troublesome.  According to the cruising guides, reefs and coral head are scattered about close in, so we opt to navigate by depth sounder and follow the 75-foot line along the coast.  This puts us out a good distance from shore, but keeps the waves manageable.
Tankers
 The coastline is only rarely studded with signs of settlement or marks of development.  Few beaches appear; most of the time the flat, wooded land butts against rubbly, white chunks of rock that look not in the least polished or smooth.  Of course we are out too far to judge that very well.  After a few hours we begin to see large tankers straight ahead.  They are stationary in the water, just offshore from the channel entrance to Freeport Harbor.  As we close in, they appear to be anchored while waiting for something to happen, but few are the signs of activity around here and it is hard to see what that might be.  There are two elongated piers out here offshore where tankers can tie off and pump fuel into pipelines that go to land via the bottom of the bay, and three of their four sides have tankers tied to them, so maybe the anchored vessels are merely waiting their turn.

It is only a few miles from here to where we plan to put into a marina, but Freeport harbor is located at an elbow of sorts, a bend in the island such that now we must make our way east north east instead of southeast and in the process take a drubbing from the wind and waves that the weather forecasters warned me about.  We make it, slowly, and finally pull into the channel leading to the Xanadu Hotel and Marina.  Evidently, it was built, named, and owned by Howard Hughes who kept the entire top floor as his personal penthouse.  But Howard Hughes is dead and the hotel nearly so.

I snag a rickety dock and get ushered to the hotel where the front desk clerk "checks me in."  There are two other boats in the marina, but they look like long-term vessels--somebody's arrangement with the management for a quasi-permanent berthing.  Really, the marina has no separate facility at all and the only person working there is the all-purpose security guard who monitors not just the waterfront but the entire hotel grounds.  All this is perfectly acceptable to me, actually; I like the security that comes with such a low level of activity.  I really don't know how the hotel is staying in business, though.  It must be about ten stories tall with lots of rooms on each floor, but at night there appear to be fewer than a half dozen rooms that have lights on.  That's enough to make anybody sleepy so I go to bed.

Xanadu Marina, Freeport:     26* 29.654' N  /  78* 42.033' W
Distance:                                 28 miles
Total Distance:                       8,998 miles


Sunday, January 24, 2010

There are few things less appealing than faded glitz.  It is like a movie starlet gone to seed.  Xanadu is in this category, I think.  The staff here are laboring to make everything right for the guests, but there is a certain tawdry emptiness when a place that is expressly designed to provide an illusion of glamor fails in its task.  The hotel was never meant to be snug or comfortable but instead to be impressive.  Since it no longer does the latter and never even tried to do the former, it really has little to recommend it.  Even though the staff are turning themselves inside out trying to pump a little life into the holiday experience of the people who are staying here, their efforts are only able to temporary lift the gloom that shrouds the place.  The moment they flag in their efforts, a funereal silence settles on the scene and the guests retreat into their individual family units.  They talk in low voices with their spouses or children and cease paying attention to the Bahamas.  One young man  I meet in the lobby is completely on his own here.  He is really not so young--perhaps in his mid-thirties--and he has come down here from Michigan at substantial personal sacrifice to have a one-week vacation before returning to school.  He has spent his life at blue collar jobs, had a wife and a daughter (now in her teens), gone through divorce, and now trying to get a degree so that he can get a better job.  It is so sad to see him--a lonely man in an empty place, trying to have a good time.  Now as for me, I may be alone but I'm not so lonely--and besides, I'll be gone tomorrow.

I would be gone today, but the wind is too strong.  In fact, it may be a bit much tomorrow as well, but pretty soon it will calm down and then I'll move on.  After spending a few hours doing work, I pedal off in the afternoon to take a look at Freeport.  It is only a couple miles away, but the route there takes me through nothing other than suburban settlement.  There are no stores or commercial establishments or factories or anything other than private homes--well, maybe a few single story lodges that look empty.  Freeport itself is a puzzle to me.  It is the second largest city in the Bahamas, but the downtown is more spread out and undeveloped than any place I have ever seen.  City blocks are large, and even in the very center of the city as much of a block is empty land as is occupied by buildings.  The empty land is not raw vacant lots awaiting development; it is grassy or vegetated with trees and shrubs as if this is the way a city ought to be structured.  Well, maybe it should, but I'm not used to it.

Many places are closed on this Sunday, but I do come across an open air bar that has two customers and a bar tender--and a television about to show the NFC playoff game between the Indianapolis Colts and the New York Giants.  I check in for the game and spend a couple hours acting like an American.  It is strange, actually, that I like watching football since I never played the game and have even failed to learn its basics.  I don't even know all the positions.  Still, the men on the field are so athletic that it is hard for me not to be fascinated by their acrobatics.

When the sun goes down and evening comes on, I repair to Kobuk where the wind is trying its darndest to get a grip on her.  She is tied in a location that is just around the corner from the entrance channel into the marina, and the wind is blasting down the throat of the channel.  We have enough protection that no harm can come to us, but there is still a bit of eddied turbulence around--both in the air and in the water--and as a result Kobuk is often lurched sideways until she smacks against the pilings to which she is tied.  There really is no way I can string any fenders so the bumping is a merciless routine, sporadic and unpredictable.  But I am good at sleeping.


Monday, January 25, 2010

The high winds continue and I am not disposed to move until they abate.  There is plenty for me to do so I don't mind spending my time in this forlorn place. 

Most of the guests in the hotel are here for a Sunday-Saturday week, so as a regular thing the Hotel has a Monday night party in the beachside clubhouse.  A point is made to invite each guest individually, and that even includes their lone occupant of the marina.  At six I make my way over to the clubhouse where everyone is gathering.  Now that I have been so negative about the hotel,  it is time for me to expend a little negativity on the guests.  There are fewer than two dozen of us altogether and this really means only about eight or ten separate parties.  Almost all the guests are approaching or in the retirement years, myself included, and hardly anyone seems to be very exhuberant or enthusiastic.  There is a live band and they really are very good, but all their efforts to enliven the crowd are 80% futile.  The woman who organizes the whole affair gets up and drags different guests out onto theSwimming Pool at a Lucaya Hotel dance floor--me being her initial victim.  I'm quite happy to be dancing with her, actually.  She is vivacious and outgoing and really quite good company, for a short period of time, but our example does nothing for the rest of the crowd so for the next half hour she keeps cajoling different individuals into dancing, with a reasonable amount of success, I suppose.  Still, the event never really takes off.  It is not a bust, but the crowd never does justice to the efforts made on its behalf.

In particular, the band is quite simply talented.  They play virtually everything to an island beat, even western ballads and songs from the forties, but they do it well and the lead singer really has a voice.  He and his three backup musicians play non-stop for two hours.  They have energy.  They never look bored.  They are professional in the good sense of the word.  Even though the party was not what one would call animated, the band and the organizer did the best possible with what they had to work with.

By the time the party is over, I have been put into a good mood.  I have a new T-shirt for having been willing to make a fool of myself on the dance floor and I have couple new friends that were sitting at the same table as me--a man and his wife from Windsor, Ontario.  At least half the crowd was from Canada, incidentally.  When I walk outside, the wind is still blowing in from the ocean but the temperature is comfortable so I decide to go out on the beach.  The beach appears to be the private property of the hotel--and indeed even has the look of a stretch of imported sand.  It only stretches for a few hundred yards along the ocean, but it extends inland almost the same amount of distance.  A grove of regularly spaced palms have been planted in its broad stretch away from the water--not the swayback type of palms but the perfectly upright ones.  They look like surprisingly organized for a tropical place like this.  Out near the water, on the part of the beach that slopes towards the water, a few of the lounging chairs have been left.  I lie down on one and feel myself carried magically away by the sensory experience--the most memorable hour of my time so far in either the Bahamas or Florida.  The waves are rolling in with the sort of oceanic sound that I have not heard since leaving Hawaii thirty years ago.  The strength of the wind ruffles me and tingles the skin with its cool touch.  The black sky is studded with stars and the half moon puts the silhouettes of puffy clouds against the velvet cloak.  I lie in sensory splendor.  It is one of those rare times when what I hear and what I feel is at least as satisfying as what I can see.


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

In the morning the wind is howling still and Kobuk lies restless dockside.  We dip and bob and occasionally bump up against the pilings as the air ed
dies around in the small harbor.  But then, virtually instantaneously, the action stops and it is still.  A front must have gone through, but it sure didn't hang around to enjoy the scenery.  When I walk up to the hotel, I can see that out on the open ocean there is still some amount of breeze, but it is not nearly as strong as before and no longer does it blow up thPort Lucaya Marinae throat of the channel.  It is our opportunity to escape so without further ado, I pay our bill and set off for Port Lucaya.

This is only a few miles along the coast, but it makes sense to stop because it is the action center for Grand Bahama and I doubt I'll be back t
his way any time soon.  We end up at Port Lucaya Marina where a large complex of condos, shops and plazas encircle the marina facilities.   The design for this development is what one might call faux-Bahamian.  The buildings all contain elements reminiscent of the commonplace in the Bahamas: rectangular wood structures with no wings or complications, broad verandas and bright Bahamian colors.  But then there is also a wedding cake veneer to many of the buildings, a level of detailing and accenting that goes way beyond anything I have seen elsewhere on the island.  It is a sort of fantasy Bahamas, and its differences from the norm are much more striking than its similarities.  It somehow accentuates the degree to which we are settled in a visitor industry enclave.  But anyway, there are some people around and although the place is far from full, it also is busier than anywhere else I have yet been on Grand Bahama.

The approach of the marina staff is not exactly as it would be back in the States.  There is nobody out at the gas dock and when I go shoreside to find the
marina office it is tucked away up on the second floor of a waterfront building, but with no windows that would make the harbour facilities visible from within.  A young woman is working at a computer behind a high counter and I seem to be a sort of interruption to her bureaucratic tasks.  She treats me very nicely, so it is not the attitude that surprises.  It is the general ambience of the place--as if the point of the office is somehow a self-contained secret that has nothing to do with passing boaters.  But as I say, she is very agreeable and gracious.  I suppose all this sounds as if I am put out to not have been treated more like a customer, but really I am just surprised.   Anyway, she checks me in and takes my money and explains the facilities and I am free to return to the gas dock where Kobuk is tied and to which the attendant has been called by radio to give me assistance. 

Port Lucaya Marina:     26* 30.826' N  /  78* 38.510' W
Distance:                        9 miles
Total Distance:              9,007 miles


Wednesday, January 27, 2010


See the man with the rope in his hand?  He's 82 years old and still out boating--not just boating but cruising around the Caribbean with that yacht he is standing on.  Home port: Virgin Islands.  If he can do it at 82, then why can't I ?  Last night he was sitting in a chair up where the other fellow is but on the other side, and a marina employee asked him how old he is.  When he answered, the employee was impressed and remarked on how surprising it is to see someone of his age still captaining a ship.  The old man shrugged it off with comments about how easy it is to handle a modern
82_and_cruising yacht.  Later in the evening, after dark, the fellow behind him spent an hour or two playing the accordion for the three of them.  Since Kobuk was parked nearby (where I stood when the photo was taken, actually), I got to hear the entire concert.


Cruising in your eighties sounds like a proper way to spend time.  He's right that there is little work involved in driving a boat--maybe a little more than driving a car, but not much.  Of course there is always the possibility that something can go wrong--a storm or a mechanical failure or whatever--but I think that once past the age of eighty we are old enough that we need not worry about the consequences of such a thing.  We have had our fair share of time on earth and anything extra is just dessert, so why worry about the risks?


Since Port Lucaya is a reasonably attractive place with some life to it whereas the Xanadu Marina was not, I decided to spend a day here in order to improve my overall impression of Grand Bahama Island.  It is working.  The neighborhood here is the sort of place where people with money spend their time.  That means everything is pretty, nothing is dirty, and more things than usual actually work.  The shower, however, is a bit nonconformist since it only delivered hot water after a five minute wait--by which time I had resigned myself to a cold shower.  Of course, a cold shower in the Bahamas is nothing like a cold shower back home in Utah, but we all develop certain expectations that shape our reactions to things much more profoundly than do actual conditions.


In the afternoon I take Bike Friday out for a spin just to get a better sense of what is around here.

 
Thursday, January 28,  2010


Now we've seen the sights of Freeport and Lucaya, it's time to set course for the Abacos.  Just a few miles east of here, there is a canal that runs across Grand Bahama Island, connecting the north and south coasts at a place where the transit is only about seven miles.  To get to the canal we have to take to deep water and run eastward along the coast a short ways before heading into the south side entrance for the canal.  This we do on a sunny day when the breezy wind is fronting us and and tossing spray in our faces.   Kobuk leaps and plunges with the oncoming chop.  I knew it would be like this, but there are only a few miles to cover before we enter the protection of the  canal so we can put up with the buckaroo ride.


As we approach the projecting rock jetties that flank the canal entrance, the current comes on strong and cuts our speed by a third.  There are no locks or barriers anywhere in the canal and the ebb and flow of tides occurs at different times on the two shores, so a strong current is to be expected pretty much all the time.  We happen to have hit it when the current is against us, so the sensible thing to do is overwhelm this flat stream of rushing water with the Mazda.  Cruising at 20-25 miles per hour, we make quick work of this winding waterway.  It is lined in concrete with regularly placed embayments and side canals to both left and right.   The Grand Lucayan Waterway, it is called, and such would it be if in fact theGrand Lucayan Waterway intended devlelopment along both banks had ever materialized.  Vacant lot after vacant lot line the banks, with only only the occasional house appearing.  Of the few that exist, some are finely finished and thoroughly landscaped but a significant number look as if an elegant home design came up out of the ground only to be thwarted in its growth by a shortage of funds.  In these cases, the building is now finished but looks as if a semi-skilled home builder took on the task of completing the construction project.  Rarely in these cases are there any grassy front yards or strategically planted palms.   All in all, the waterway project  looks as if its real estate dreams were dashed, and virtually nonexistent are any signs of a comeback.  Nothing is going on here.


The economy of the Bahamas obviously has been crushed by the recent collapse of the "world economy."  That phrase "world economy" certainly is misleading.  It is actually referring only to the integrated economies of the rich countries.  For poor countries like the Bahamas, what little exists in the way of money generating enterprises is (1) owned by the world economy and (2) utterly dependent on the world economy for survival.  In the case of the Bahamas, the main dependency is in the form of tourism: no tourists, no money.  The tourists are staying home these days and so it is that the big hotels are virtually empty, the beaches bare, the tour buses idle.


The second half of the Grand Lucayan Waterway is less ambitious.  A narrower channel with piled rock walls runs through an unmodified scrubland with not a home in sight.  The narrowed channel increases the speed of the contrary current so when the Mazda overheats and has to be shut down the shift to the Yamaha has to be done on the fly.  But now of course is when the little outboard decides to act up.  With Kobuk slipping backwards remorselessly towards rocks and rubbles I scramble around from one end of Kobuk to the other trying to get the outboard to go.  After quitting twice, it finally starts to purr the way it ought to and I then find myself trying to maneuver poor Kobuk so as to point against the stream.  This is not easy since the strong current makes it hard for the Yamaha to turn the heavy hull through 180 degrees in less distance than the width of the channel, a problem made even more acute by the fact that in reverse the flow simply overwhelms the little engine's ability to turn the hull at all.  I go sluicing by two young boys on the rocks fishing and one of them yells to me asking if I need help.  "I don't know yet," I yell back--about as close as I can come to admitting the truth.  But anyway they are out of voice range after that.  Somehow, before we brush the rocks, Kobuk manages to assume her favored broadside position for drifting, and then I can get the Yamaha to complete the 90 degrees of necessary arc before we hit the other side.  So it's back up against the current we go, passing for the third time the two boys fishing, and headed for the final exit into the open waters past the north end of the canal.


From here we have about a twenty mile run to get up to Mangrove Cay, the only potential anchorage for miles around.  Actually, if you're not fussy about protection, there is anchorage pretty much everywhere.  Here on this side of Grand Bahama Island where the Little Bahama Bank is situated, it is always shallow enough to drop the anchor, and lots of places are sandy enough to hold an anchor.  This is a curious circumstance when so much of the time you are out of sight of land here.  I find it reassuring, though, to know that if things go really wrong out in the middle of this shallow sea I can if I wish just drop the hook and think about things.


But protection would be nice so we aim for Mangrove Cay.  When we're still six or seven miles out, it hoves into view, and an hour or so later we motor up snug against its southwest shore, protected reasonably well against the east wind.  During the night the wind is expected to veer to the southeast, so we cheat to the north as much as possible.
  I drop the anchor in six feet of water and then try to use the Mazda to back away and set it.  The reverse won't work, however, so we'll make do with the Yamaha which seems to set it well enough.


The little island is about as long as a battleship, but not nearly as high.  In fact, it is a pancake overrun with low scrub but with a single stubby palm tree near its northwest end.  It cannot be more than twenty feet high, but it stands out like a giraffe in a herd of zebras.  As night comes on, the solitude intensifies.  There are no other boats, no other lights, no sign at all of human awareness that Mangrove Cay even exists--except for a thin pole angling out of the water off the island's northwest end--a typical Bahamian navigational aid.


Mangrove Cay Anchorage:     26* 54.881' N  /  78* 37.184' W
Distance:                                  40 miles
Total Distance:                        9,047 miles



Friday, January 29, 2010

I've been thinking that it will be necessary to head out eastward towards the more settled Abacos as quickly as possible because of the need to not be out of Internet range for too long.  Two days is acceptable, three is marginal, and four is too much, so the constraints of work have been preying on my mind.  But it suddenly occurs to me that up north of here is a cluster of small islands called the Grand Cays where there is supposed to be a funky little marina and a small village.  Why not head up there and see if they don't have Internet service?  It is almost inconceivable that any town with more than about seventeen people in it would be without the Internet these days.  If I could check in up there, then that would create a new two-day window, and such a prospect is irresistible.  Grand Cay is up near the far northern edge of the Little Bahama Bank, and so a trip there is going to give us a little more experience dealing with this kind of shallow water ocean.

Calms on the Lesser Bahama BankWhen we set out in the early morning, the wind dies even before we clear mangrove Cay and for the next four hours we motor across a glass pool, oily calm, with the water so shallow it is hardly deep enough to drown in.  If Kobuk were to sink here her antenna would stick above the water and I could stand on the cabin top to look around at the 360 degrees of empty horizon.

About five miles before getting to the Grand Cays, we expect to raise Triangle Rocks slightly off the port bow, and so I keep a close watch for the hazard.  Through the binoculars, they do appear about when they should, but as we close with them I find their compass bearing to not be quite right.  Not only that, they appear to be substantial dry rocks, not reefs that only expose themselves at low tide.  I puzzle over this for some time, wondering if we are where the GPS says we are, until at last--after a few more miles--it becomes clear that the pile of rocks actually is the Grand Cays, and the long, thin navigational pole actually is the 200' Batelco tower for the little town.   Distance, it seems, is terribly hard to judge on very calm days.  I had the same embarrassment on Lake Michigan when with very calm conditions what I took to be sinking runabout the size of Kobuk turned out to be a Great Lakes oil freighter just beginning to hove into view.

The harbor for Grand Cay is a narrow, open-water cut between two Cays.  Off to port is one long skinny cay with the town on it; off to starboard is another with a water desalinization plant.  I run Kobuk up to the gas dock next to the town center and buy a couple jerry cans of fuel before making arrangements to tie off at a slip.   Getting into the slip is a little tricky since the main engine won't back the boat and the Yamaha is slow to steer, but nobody is around to pass judgment.

The village of Grand Key is a string of houses set to both sides of a concrete walkway.  The island swells and dips so the walkway through town takes you up and down small risesRosie's, Grand Cay along a route that is not at all straight.  The houses on one side of the walkway face the open waters of the Little Bahama Bank.  The houses on the other side have a view across the harbor.  There are no cars here, of course, but many families do have golf carts.  The town is in a sort of precarious state perched half way between picturesque and run-down.  There are all sorts of non-functional tools, boats, and equipment lying about, but then many of the houses are spruced up with reasonably recent paint jobs and simple but thoughtful landscaping in the front yard.  Bahamian colors are gay and bold, but usually in a pastel sort of way.  The boldest color, I think, is the black--the strikingly black skin of most of the people.

Everyone looks intimidatingly reserved but then most everyone upon seeing you waves a greeting or calls to you.  Before my walk around town, when I was settling Kobuk for the night, an older man came onto the dock and asked me about her.  We talked briefly about what a nice boat she is before he went on his way.  Then when I take my walk, he is standing in a front yard.  As I approach he hails me and asked when I am coming back to Grand Cay.  I say it will probably be a while, and he says I need to come back soon.  I ask why and he grins and says "Because I want to buy your boat!"  His name is Red, and when I get ready to leave he asks again how long it will be until I return.  I have to answer something, so I say, "Oh, probably a couple years."  He becomes somewhat disgruntled because he thinks that either someone else--in one of the "big towns" farther south--will buy Kobuk before then, or else he'll be dead.

All that plotting scheming regarding Internet access came to nothing.  Grand Cay does have Internet and many of the homes on the island receive service, but today it is down and the person who can repair it will be coming in tomorrow.

Rosie's Place, Grand Cay:     27* 13.145' N  /  78* 19.484' W
Distance:                                 30 miles
Total Distance:                       9,077 miles


Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Abacos are a string of small cays perched out along the northeast edge of the Lesser Bahama Bank.  The top of the string is oriented almost east-west, but gradually the perimeter of the bank curves around until their trend is north-south.  They have the Atlantic offshore, usually a couple miles distant where a discontinuous reef marks the perimeter of the bank and beyond which the ocean floor drops away quickly.  But within the cradle of their arc are the extensive waters of the bank.  Here near the northern end of the Abacos Cays, the large island on the far side of the bank, well to the south, is Grand Bahama, but then as the string of cays curls around they come to have the island of Abaco facing them across the bank.  But when you get far enough south that the cays are facing Abaco, the open water between them has narrowed down to the point where one can always see land.

Grand Cay TurtleRight now, Kobuk and I are up near the north end of the Abacos cays and the Grand Bahama is much too distant to see across the water.  Any land that is in sight will be the next islet along in the string of Abacos cays.  Right now, for example, here in Grand Cay, we are on one of a cluster of about a dozen cays, all so closely packed that from sea they look like a single island.  A couple miles farther northeast along the string, the next islet is Walker Cay.  It has a runway on it, and a few houses, but the runway consumes about a third of the island and all the houses are clustered at the other end.  Walker Cay is easily visible from the village of Grand Cay.  Ironically, many more people live here in Grand Cay, but they have to commute via runabout if they wish to take a flight to Grand Bahama or Nassau.

In the other direction along the string--to the southeast--one can readily see the Double Breasted Cays, another cluster of about a dozen small islets.  They are only a mile or two removed from the end of the Grand Cays.  The land area of the Double Breasted Cays probably is about the same as the Grand Cays, but I don't believe anybody lives there.  Most Bahamian islands are uninhabited, many even here in the relatively accessible Abacos.

Farther along the chain to the southeast there is a cluster of a half dozen islets known as Carters Cays.  I think today we shall go there and spend the night in a little cut between two of the cays.  But getting from A to B now becomes a more complicated matter than it was when we crossed over from Grand Bahama to here.  Up here in the "far northwest," the Lesser Bahama Bank generally maintains a reasonably uniform depth of shallow water, but now as we begin to make our way southeast the charts show sandy shallows forming berms that are only very few feet below sea level.  Kobuk probably could pass right over virtually all of them, but most cruising boats with their 4-6 foot drafts could very easily get grounded.  To be safe, we will pretend that we are like them.

In late morning when we leave Grand Cays, the wind is coming in off the starboard bow and for a while it is slow going.  Gradually, though, our line of travel bears away from the wind and the windward task becomes noticeably easier.  About the time we are approaching Little Sale Cay--more or less half way to our destination--I change my mind and decide to put us on a course for Fox Town instead.  Fox Town is a community on the north shore of the main island of Abaco.  There is nothing special about it--I just changed my mind.

The run to Fox Town is considerably longer than the planned trip to Carters Cays, so my calculations suggest that we won't arrive until very near the end of day--probably around quarter to six.  We carry on comfortably enough, but as the hours pass and Fox Town draws nearer I realize that the sun is getting awfully low in the sky.   I don't relish arrivingFox Town after dark since the entry into Fox Town requires two sharp doglegs to avoid rocks and reefs, and then calls for a passage between two of a string of four house-sized islets in order to reach the government dock.  Well, we are lucky.  The sun sets as we approach the second dogleg and we make the passage between the two islets in gray twilight.  The government dock has a high, bright light illuminating it--another piece of luck--and Kobuk snug up to next to the outer pier when the sky is bruised almost to black.  In the garish glow of the dock light, I tie off the lines and reorganize everything onboard.

Once Kobuk is comfortable, the only thing to do is take a stroll along the one road of the town and see if there is a place to eat.  Sure enough, a few hundred yards east there is a bar and restaurant.  The bar is busy; the restaurant empty.  Quite a few people are in here and most everyone makes a point of introducing themselves.  Ronald the bartender asks me what I would like and when I say that I'm both hungry and thirsty he asks me what type of beer I would prefer.  I say Sands (a local brew) but his search in the cooler turns up nothing by that name.  "Well, then, Kalik," I say, and he smiles as he delivers one to me.  He also takes an order for food which in this case means conch fritters since that is what is being made in the kitchen.  As I'm finishing the beer, Ronald asks me if I would like to eat in the bar or in the restaurant (which is a separate room).  I opt for the restaurant so he sends me out there as soon as the food is ready.  When I go into this separate room, it is completely empty--but that's okay: I'm ready to take seriously this matter of eating.  Over in the corner of the dining room there is a desk with a computer, so I take out my laptop to see if there is wifi here.  There is, and for the next hour or two I catch up online.

Government Dock, Fox Town, Abaco:     26* 55.222' N  /  77* 47.587' W
Distance:                                                    42 miles
Total Distance:                                          9,119 miles


Sunday, January 31, 2010

As I walked out on the government dock last night to get to Kobuk, a small Boston Whaler was tied close in to shore with two young men unloading conch and processing them on a small wooden counter put there for the purpose.  I couldn't see how the job was done, but each shell was somehow hacked with a knife to get the inside critter free.  The sound of cracking a conch is a distinctive and sharp report--rather like that of chopping wood--and when I crawled into bed I went to sleep with that sound drifting in.

Early morning, before any gray light and I am awake with Kobuk lurching unpredictably against the pilings to which she is tied.  The wind has shifted.  Yesterday and all through the night it was out of the south which meant that our north shore location was as placid as you please.  But now, the wind is pounding down on us from the northwest and Hawskbill Cay off to the northeast is giving no protection at all.  Kobuk's oak rubrail is tougher than the softwood pilings so for now it is the dock that is taking the damage, but with time even the oak will break down.  Besides, it's impossible to sleep.   Since the wind has clocked around to the northwest, there is no reason to think it may not swing even more with time--to the northeast and then the east.  Spanish Cay is our immediate destination and it's directly east of us.  We had better get moving before things deteriorate.

To get around Hawksbill, we have to plow into pretty heavy water for a couple miles, but with the speed off it isn't so bad.  Finally we are out to sea far enough that we can turn right and take the seas slightly aft of the beam.  Then the fun begins.  The wind is hard--I'd say over twenty mph--and the waves are small but swift, with whitecaps here and there.  The surface of the water has the rippled, mottled look that the wind gives to it once it's blowing strong enough.  The waves are not so big, but big enough to take Kobuk surfing.  Every once in a while we catch one right and Kobuk accelerates as if touched with a cattle prod.  As the day develops, the sky is a sombre black with the mint green waters of the ocean wriggling and squirming.  The sun occasionally shoots a penetrating ray through the overcast off our starboard bow and whenever it does a lively flutter of molten silver streaks a path towards us.  Oh, it's dramatic.   Kobuk is rocking and rolling and we're surging forward as each passing wave gives us about three-quarters rock and one-quarter roll.  This is the one time that the thrill of cruising in Kobuk resembles that of being under sail.

Half way home, we put End of the World Rock off the starboard beam.  This dark pile of rubble is not much bigger than Kobuk and appears to be true rock with not a plant in sight.  The little waves are exploding against it and the ejecting spray looks half respectable since the rock pile is so small.  This little piece of useless real estate is an example of the power of words: there is really nothing remarkable or distinctive about it, but it is well known and appears on post cards.  I can only assume it is because of the suggestive name.

We gradually close in on our destination: Umbrella Cay, guineaman's Cay, Allens-Pensacola Cay, Big Hog Cay, Alec Cays, Prince Cay--they all pass  by to windward, gradually narrowing the stretch of water between themselves and the north shore of Abaco.  The wind remains as strong as before, but the waves lose their edge.  They are no smaller--at least, not noticeably so--but they lack the wildness and the intensity of destructive purpose they seemed to have before.  By the time we close with Spanish Cay, the wind has begun to shift around and head us a little, but now the land is protecting us and we can motor into harbor in peace.
Spanish Cay Marina
Spanish Cay Marina is a pretty big development.  There  is a protective stone breakwater over a quarter mile long that  creates a harbor out of a slight indentation in the coastline, and inside there are three long dock capable of accomodating over 80 boats, up to 200 feet in length.  When Kobuk enters, there are only two others already in slips.  Those two are monsters, one of them over a hundred feet in length and the other perhaps 70, but their size does little to make the marina look busy.  I slap Kobuk against two or three pilings before finally managing to jockey her into one of the many empty slips--steering the little Yamaha is something I need to practice, especially now that the Mazda can't stop us or back us up.

It is a funny thing about these big yachts, absentee-owned and manned with a hired crew--they so often have names that in one way or another talk about money.  The last one I remember seeing was called Numbered Account and its Zodiac tender (about the size of Kobuk) was named Legal Tender.  Now here in Spanish Cay the big yacht is called Buckpasser.  It's good to know that the rich are no less obsessive than I am.

In addition to the yacht docks and the fuel dock, we have here a collection of expansive, broadly porched buildings that include lodging as well as a store and dining facility.  There is a swimming pool and a hot tub.  The grounds are fitted with gazebos and little slopeside decks strategically placed  for viewing the harbor and the Sea of Abaco.  Mint, yellow, powder blue, peachy red--these are the highlight colors used to paint the smaller stuctures as well as the railings and window frames of the fundamentally white larger buildings.

All the time I am struggling to get Kobuk positioned in a slip, I see nobody--absolutely nobody (good thing, considering the mess I made of it). Finally, with things more or less shipshape, I walk up to the porch of the main building and enter the store.  The store is spacious and off in one corner is a man working at a computer.   When I ask him about a slip for the night, he directs me to Richard out in the kitchen.  Richard comes out to greet me and fixes me up.  When I ask about dinner, he says that at 6:30 he will be making dinner for the folks on one of the large yachts and suggests I come in around then to eat.  That sounds good to me, so I wander off to have a shower and see the island.  When I go back up to have dinner, Richard sets me a place in the bar and serves me a lobster dinner while a large streen television shows the Concafe final soccer match for women under 20.  The US is playing Mexico, and this cutie named LaRue scores for the US with only minutes left in the match.  That and lobster tail--not bad.

Spanish Cay Marina:     26* 56.289' N  /  76* 31.446' W
Distance:                        21 miles
Total Distance:              9,140 miles


Monday, February 1, 2010

My excuse is that I don't have access to weather reports right now, but actually there is no excuse for what I allowed to happen.  It is, like yesterday, an overcast day but the clouds are thicker and a fine mist of rain drizzles down periodically.  There is a wind, but we are protected from it so that the marina is only gently rippling water whereas out to the southwest in the open it does look quite choppy.   Time is running out for me, now--I only have a week left in which to find a place for storing Kobuk, cleaning her up, and getting back over to Grand Bahama Island to catch my Utah flight flight neSpanish Cay Marinaxt Monday.  That may sound like plenty of time, but little can be taken for granted here in the Bahamas.  Where will I be able to find a good storage arrangement and how will I get back to Grand Bahama?  If I arrange storage in a large marina the price is likely to be much higher and the odds of being able to sleep on Kobuk whilst repainting her when I return are not so good.  Small scale operations, on the other hand, probably will have to be found out about by asking around.  It would be best to store some thirty or forty miles south of here, in the vicinity of Marsh Harbor, since that is where most people live, most supplies will be available, and air transport to Grand Bahama is most likely.  I am motivated, therefore, to get down in that vicinity soon--especially since the coming weekend probably will not be a good time to make arrangements.

All of this has me in a state of mind for getting south.  Green Turtle Cay is a run of less than twenty miles from here so I make that our destination.  My check of the wind indicates it is blowing from the east so our voyage there should put the weather on our beam.  I motor out of Spanish Cay around one in the afternoon, between rain showers, and head off to the south-southeast.  As soon as we are past the end of Spanish Cay, there is an open passage across an inlet from the Atlantic, and almost immediately it starts mercilessly battering poor Kobuk.  The waves are coming straight at us and we
are shipping waves over the bow and up the windshield even throttled back to four miles per hour.  The punishment is unremitting, but I figure that we are taking things head on because the waves coming through the inlet are radiating around like waves do when a stone is dropped in a pool.

This proves to be idle theory, though, since the farther we progress across the mouth of the inlet the less things change: still we are getting slammed on the nose.  By the time we reach the anticipated protection of the next cay along, I have been forced to revise my view of what is going on.  The wind is out of the south, not the east, and the waves we are dealing with will neither lessen nor change their angle of attack.  By this time, we are about an hour into the voyage--a quarter of the way to Green Turtle Cay--and I reject the sensible idea of turning back.  Only three hours to go, and surely things will very gradually improve as we approach the narrower waters off Green Turtle.  Things do not improve.

Sometimes, a train of lesser waves allows us to pick up speed and move across the cauldron at nearly 4.5 miles per hour, but then every few minutes a sequence of terrible square waves comes out of nowhere and throws us up and down so forcefully that it is hard not to think it is with premeditated murderous intent.  I hang on and Kobuk copes, and with time I learn to letGreen Turtle Cay her veer off course so as to soften the blows.  Once the worst is over and the conditions are merely bad, I bring her back on course and we continue for a few more minutes before the next round.  The rains come on, and now they are beating down like the classic tropical squall.  All sight of land disappears in the mist and smoke of such conditions, but also the rain beats the waves until they assume the aspect of insubordinate submission, rather like a mean cur under the lash of a cruel master.  Then the rain will let off a bit and the waves will spring back to life with frantic vengance in their hearts.

Four hour it takes us to cover the seventeen miles, and only in the very last mile as we are approaching the coast of Green Turtle Cay does the landmass to windward begin to domesticate the waves.  We motor into Black Sound soaked and beaten, and very grateful to have arrived.  It is only a little after five, but the overcast is so heavy that already lights are starting to come on around the bay.  I tie us up to the end of the dock at Black Sound Marina when, thankfully, the rain finally has let up.  There is nobody in the marina facility so I lock up Kobuk and walk to New Plymouth town, only a few minutes away.  There I take dinner at Macintosh's Restaurant where a wall mounted television is reporting the news and weather.  Southern Florida, it appears, is under meteorological assault.  Miami already has received a record amount of rainfall for one day and one small Florida town has reported receiving over eight inches.

On the way back to Kobuk, the rain resumes, but only a light drizzle that allow me to get back on board before becoming soaked.  As I prepare for bed, however, the drizzle turns to downpour and I go to sleep with the sound of rain reverberating through the boat.

Black Sound Marina, Green Turtle Cay:     26* 45.620' N  /  77* 19.482' W
Distance:                                                        20 miles
Total Distance:                                              9,160 miles
 

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

The dawn breaks clear and fresh, a welcome change from the last couple days.  The task now is to find a suitable storage arrangement for Kobuk--a place where she can be hauled out of the water, where the storage yard is as protected as possible from any potential hurricane, where I will be able to work on her when I return, and where the monthly rate is not too high.  The next few days, we'll be moving around to different towns here on the little Sea of Abaco doing our shopping.  Here on Green Turtle Cay, the place everyone recommends is Abaco Approaching Treasure CayYacht Services so I cycle over there to get information and rates.  At first, I am told that there would not be space for Kobuk during the busy summer season, but when her small size is revealed she becomes much more acceptable to them.  The place is an option--the price reasonable and the other criteria mostly met--but this afternoon we will push on over to Treasure Cay to inquire about the dry storage facility located over there.

Now with a fallback plan in place, I carry on cycling up to the other end of the cay, to White Sound where the elegant Green Turtle Club and Marina serves me breakfast in an open air restaurant overlooks the charming bay.  After this, I slowly cycle back to Kobuk by way of New Plymouth and begin to prepare for the crossing to Treasure Cay.  An Avon motors across the bay towards us and a man named Bill introduces himself as the owner of a nearby C-Dory anchored in the sound.  Since his boat and mine have a lot in common, we end up talking for a few hours and, among other thing, I learn that he knows Annie and Neville, the owners-builders of Peace, the 52' Wharram catamaran that I was tied up next to when coming through the lock at the north end of the Dismal Swamp Canal in Virginia.  Annie and Neville, Bill tells me, are holed up just a few miles northwest of here in a bay of Manjack Cay.  During yesterday's miserable voyage, we motored right by them.  It would be nice to go up there and surprise them but I don't think there will be time.

Our conversation goes on for so long that Kobuk doesn't clear Black Sound until mid-afternoon, which once again means I am putting us at risk of arriving after dark if anything holds us up.  But it is a lovely day and hard to think what (besides engine failure) might go wrong.  That is the great thing about these little day voyages: more often than not something does go awry to make things a bit more interesting.  In this case, it is the shallow passage through sand bars and reefs that lead to Don't Rock.  This is a short cut to Treasure Cay that only shallow draft boats dare attempt so of course I want to capitalize on one of Kobuk's most valuable traits.  I plot a course through using GPS waypoints and approach the area with a sense of smug satisfaction.  All that disappears quickly when I arrive on the scene.  There is a passage to the Atlantic in this vicinity and ocean swells are rolling in.  In deep water, swells areSerge nothing more than a gentle motion that lifts and lowers Kobuk like a lady handling a china teacup, but now here where there are shallows and reef, the swells are peaking up, and bunching up, and breaking on reefs only barely below sea level.  There is a passage where no white water is visible and it does correspond to the GPS route so I steer Kobuk through with more activity nearby on both sides than I had bargained for.  I might have chickened out and gone around, but that would have meant arriving after dark.

With a little time to spare, Kobuk motors up the channel towards the Treasure Island Marine, outside of which a large number of boats are anchored in a basin.  As I pass one of these boats--a black sloop--the couple on board is whistling to get my attention and motioning me to come to them.  I am puzzled because it looks as if they want a lift to shore, but they have an inflatable and if they were to go ashore with me they would have no way home.  But anyway, I go over to see what they want.  When I reach them, I discover that it is Serge and Joanne Robitaille, the couple from Montreal with whom I locked through on the St. Lawrence Seaway three and a half years ago.  The offered Kobuk and me a slip in their _____ Yacht Club and I spent some time talking with them on that one day.  They had a small sailboat at that time, but Serge's plan was to quit his banking job and buy a larger, ocean-voyaging sailboat so that he and Joanne could become liveaboard vagabonds.  They did it.  He quit his job.  They got the right boat.  About six months ago they headed south and ended up here.  I am very happy to see this couple and it pleases me to no end that they have managed to grab their dream.  Kobuk ends up anchored nearby, and that evening they have me aboard to share one of Joanne's home-cooked meals.  There are special moments in the cruising life.\

Treasure Cay Anchorage:     26* 40.244' N  /  77* 16.989' W
Distance:                                14 miles
Total Distance:                      9,174 miles


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

I have already learned that a young fellow named Nicholas Lowe operates a reasonably priced storage facility for small boats here in the vicinity of Treasure Cay.  It only remains for me to get ashore and track him down, so in the morning I pull anchor and head in to where I can tie off at the marina and make inquiries.  Since the Bahamas are the sort of place where everybody knows everybody else, it takes no time for me to get a phone number for Mr. Lowe and talk with him on the phone.  He says he can store Kobuk for me and agrees to see me in the early afternoon to discuss the matter.  When he appears and we start to talk, I am immediately put at ease by his evident competence and his willingness to answer questions in a direct fashion. He explains the nature of his service and drives me up to see his outdoor storage facility (near the airport, reasonably isolated, relatively distant from the ocean, and secured with a fence and locked gate).   Others already have told me that he operates a reputable business and that he is very reliable, but now I know it for myself and so we arrange that the day after tomorrow Nick will bring a trailer to the Treasure Cay launch ramp and pull Kobuk from the water.  Nick will leave Kobuk and me on a grassy patch not far from the launch ramp where I'll do final prep work for storage and spend the night aboard.

Since all this gets settled before the afternoon has much progressed, I decide to run on down to Marsh Harbour just to see what is there.  We make passage along the western flank of the Sea of Abaco on a relatively calm day, and Kobuk completes the trip in about two and a half hours.  We take a slip at the Harbour View Marina and I have a chance to bicycle around town before sunset.  Although Marsh Harbour is one of the largest towns in the Bahamas, it doesn't take long to do the rounds.  The more touristy part of the town is a single street that wraps around  most of a slender, elongated harbor whereas the more mundane part of town containing the standard set of commercial establishments is arrayed along a different street that runs away perpendicularly from the harbor front off towards the airport.

As evening settles in, I walk over to Snappa's Bar and Grill which is right beside the marina.  The place stands on stilts and hangs out over the harbor.  It has open air "windows" on three sides so the lights and sounds of the yacht infested-harbor are easy to enjoy as you eat your dinner and drink your beer.

Harbour View Marina, Marsh Harbour:     26* 32.752' N  /  77* 16.989' W
Distance:                                                       19 miles
Total Distance:                                             9,193 miles

Treasure Cay Beach
Thursday, February 4, 2010

There is no reason to hurry back to Treasure Cay since Nicholas will not be pulling us out of the water until midday tomorrow.  I use the morning to become more familiar with the town of Marsh Harbour and learn that even though it is a small place it does have a good array of facilities for all the things needed to do boat repairs and maintenance.  There are certain things that cannot be found (like Bruce anchors), of course, but on the whole the place is well fitted out to serve the needs of passing yachts.  When I return in the fall it should not be hard to locate all the essentials for putting Kobuk back in shape for more time on the water.  I am settled with the arrangements here and that is a relief since boat storage and repair in the Bahamas was something I had been pretty ignorant about.

The afternoon run back to Treasure Cay is a time to think about how far we have come.  Kobuk has made it to the Bahamas.  Not only has she made it across the Gulf Stream; she has navigated around Grand Bahama Island and on through a number of the small cays that make up the Abacos.  In other words, we're not just to the Bahamas but actually in them.  We're about 175 miles off the Florida coast.  And yet, the Gulf Stream is a thing of the past us and the next long crossing will not have to be made until we reach the Turks & Caicos which are many hundreds of miles southeast of here.  When I get back in the fall, I can look forward to casual interisland cruising with no big crossings.  From here to the Turks & Caicos virtually all the island hops will be less than thirty miles.  A crossing of this length using the outboard takes us out of sight of land for a few hours, but our experience on the water is making that prospect less intimidating than it used to be.

Treasure Cay Marina is a remarkable facility since the dockage can accommodate quite a large number of relatively large boats.  The harbor itself is extremely well-protected and has a large basin in which dozens of yachts can anchor.  On shore, the marina has the expected mix of lodging and dining facilities.  It all looks to be centrally planned -- not unlike a company town -- but its problem right now is that there's nobody here.  Only a handful of boats are tied to marina docks and the condos all seem to be empty.  This lack of visitor industry business has been glaringly obvious everywhere we have gone so far in the Bahamas, but it is even more sobering when you observe it in a high-capacity place like this. 

What makes Treasure Cay such a treasure is the beach that runs along its external perimeter.  The harbor and all its facilities run along the inside of a giant hook of land that curls around like a claw to create a long reach of protected water.  But when you are deep in the harbor at the marina you also are only about 150 yards removed from the outer perimeter of the claw and that is where the beach is.  The beach runs for miles.  Its sands are Dutch clean and delightfully white, especially with the emerald waters of the Sea of Abaco stretching out away from it. 
 
Treasure Cay Marina:     26* 40.433' N  /  17* 16.768' W
Distance:                           19 miles
Total Distance:                 9,212 miles


Friday, February 5, 2010

 Nicholas arrives on schedule and in minutes we have Kobuk sitting on a trailer with nicely trimmed grass all around.  Now it is clear why Kobuk has been leaking: there is hull damage that needs repairing.  Fiberglass repairs from previous seasons have become delaminated and in some places this has exposed patches of raw plywood.  Repairs, repairs -- they never end.

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