We had no plan to go to Nassau at this time -- not until much later in the trip. But now we're here. We didn't want to come here, but now that we're here we're glad to be here and planning to stay several days. Sometimes cruising is like that. It was an accident. Literally.
On 11/18 in Morgan's Bluff we got the beginnings of the weather window we'd been waiting for, and while the forecast indicated it should last through today, the expected winds and seas were not forecast to diminish appreciably through the period, so we decided we'd better take our easting when we could get it. We powered out of the anchorage at 0730 on an ESE heading for Allan's Cay in the Exuma Cays 70 miles away, straight into an ESE wind of about 15 knots and three to four foot seas. Since we planned to pass south of New Providence Island (where Nassau is), we figured the seas would abate some when we got in under the lee of the island, and this in fact happened. We completed a hard 30 miles across the deep Tongue Of The Ocean and passed over the reef onto the eastern arm of the Great Bahama Bank around 1430, as the wind backed to east and strengthened a bit. We proceeded onward another 13 miles, and because the cruising guide says not to travel on the banks at night since you can't see the occasional coral heads that crop up, we dropped anchor once again in the middle of nowhere, in 16 feet of water over white coral sand, in 15 knots of wind and a solid three feet of chop, and prepared for a bouncy night.
And bounce we did. Wind Song was pitching so much her bowsprit occasionally hit the water with a tremendous THWACK, and the whole boat shuddered. We had plenty of scope out (150 feet of anchor chain) so we weren't worried about the shock loads on the anchor or the boat, but it was still very uncomfortable -- though no worse than a lot of nights we survived just fine a decade ago on Daybreak. We didn't anticipate any problem more serious than lack of sleep.
We were wrong. At 0300 a tremendous bang woke us up. Something had let go, and very bad noises were coming from the bottom of Wind Song. Lane jumped out of bed, listened for about five seconds, then reached up over the lip of the companionway to the cabin top and felt the cable that raises the centerboard. It was slack. The centerboard pennant, a 3/16" stainless steel cable that could lift your car (3700 lb strength), had parted, the board had swung down to its full eight feet of depth, and it was snapping forward and aft with no restraint at all -- and hitting the crucial hoist block fitting that is screwed to the keel right in front of the board. With the seas the way they were, we had to find a way to snub that board fast, before it damaged something else.
The girls were absolute troopers through this, got dressed immediately for serious deck work, and we headed up on deck. The plan was to pass a rope bridle under Wind Song, bring it aft until it ran into the board hanging below the keel, then draw it aft to raise the board. This was harder than it sounds. The sailboat racers among you are sneering right now, realizing how similar this is to a procedure you do all the time called "flossing", to get kelp off your keels, but on Wind Song it is complicated by the fact that the "front" of the boat, in front of which this bridle had to pass, is in fact ten feet beyond the "bow" of the boat. It's out at the end of the bowsprit, and none of us was going out there with it pitching fifteen feet up and down on a pitch black night 20 miles from the nearest land. Fall overboard doing that and you are history.
We'll leave out the gory details and say that after three tries we had the centerboard under at least *some* semblance of control. We were left with the problem of not knowing how far down it was, which meant we didn't know how deep the boat was (with the board fully down, Wind Song is eight feet deep), so we didn't know where we'd be able to actually GO in all the shallows around here.
We went back to bed, slept fitfully until dawn, and got up to discuss what to do. You in your comfortable chair with your steady paycheck being autodeposited to your checking account every couple of weeks may think this situation looks simple -- with Nassau 20 miles away, just go there and get it fixed, right? Perhaps we should enlighten you as to what the mood has been lately aboard this boat:
We are TIRED, we are SCARED, the boat has been a CONTINUAL CHALLENGE, we are VERY WORRIED, and we are NOT HAVING FUN, OK?
At dawn that morning we considered every option from returning immediately to the US, selling the boat, and going back home with our tails between our legs, to going forward to the Exumas without even fixing the centerboard hoist, just leave it lashed up to the rails with a rope and hope for the best. But frankly, hoping for the best has not been working of late. We've been getting the s*** kicked out of us since we got to Marathon. There's a limit to how much of this we can take, and we're pretty close to it. If we don't get to the good part soon, we (as Robert M. Pirsig, author of "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance", might say) are headed for a pretty big "gumption crisis". Our reserves are GONE. Zero. Our children can't figure out WHAT the hell we were thinking when we called the Bahamas paradise, because so far it's been hell or the imminent threat of it. It's been getting a lot harder lately to keep a good face on everything.
So we just told them the truth: We're tired and scared and we don't know what to do. We're human. But we will make a decision, and we'll make it in the next hour, and we'll all live with it no matter what. Just watch.
OK. Whew. Got through that. Now what? Well, one thing was clear: Lane knew he did not have the mental strength to continue to travel on with this boat without fixing the centerboard. We had to go to Nassau, we had to fix it, we had to accept whatever damage to our bank account that would cause, and afterwards we would have to assess that damage and see if we were in a position to continue. (In case you haven't figured it out, financially speaking this is a pretty skinny trip for us.)
So here we are. And it is beautiful! Not Nassau necessarily, it's just a Third World city built around a tourist pit. But the weather! It's been great ever since we got here! And we're at anchor, not in a marina, so we're still solvent! And we've found the ONE boatyard in Nassau that has even a hope of hauling Wind Song, and we'll be doing the deed Tuesday morning. And the yard, on the basis of Lane's claim that this is about a fifteen minute job once we're out of the water (we actually have a spare pennant already made up and on board, we just can't install it without hauling the boat), has offered to just hoist us and leave the boat in the slings while we work, for half price.
That was Friday afternoon. Now it is Sunday evening. The lashup we had in place hadn't lifted the centerboard much at all, and was just barely keeping it stationary, so Lane dove down and manually repositioned the board in its "sling" with his bare hands so it could be raised fully, and raised it. Now the boat is actually shallow enough to get to the boatyard. Next, while waiting for Monday (or Tuesday), and while enjoying a blissfully FLAT protected anchorage, we got down to doing some of the chores we've been putting off because of the constant threat of the weather. Lane crawled back in the engine compartment to see if he could figure out why the batteries were barely charging, and it was dirt simple: the voltage regulator which (hallelujah) is adjustable, was set at its lowest of five settings (about 13.05 volts), so it is now at its highest setting (about 14.05 volts). The difference, for those of you who don't know much about battery charging, is profound. The capacity of the batteries has easily doubled. Not only were they not being fully charged, the lack of full charging was reducing their capacity by causing sulfates to build up on the plates, a process known as "sulfation" (ha ha). On top of which, today for some reason the alternator suddenly decided to start putting out its full rated current, which it had not been doing. That helps! We sure hope it keeps it up. And then Lane figured out where the little tiny hole is on the side of the centerboard cable winch that lets the little tiny Allen wrench in so it can loosen the little tiny set screw that clamps the cable on the reel, the one which, if he hadn't found it, was going to complicate this whole repair immensely.
Besides all this, Lynn and the girls went "into town" for a "girls' day" of shopping. Lane did not go. Maybe shopping refreshes women, but it just bores and annoys Lane (and most men, by all appearances). What refreshes Lane is to stay on the boat in the blessed calm and actually GET SOMETHING TO WORK, G** D*** IT!! Every such victory adds to the balance in the Robert M. Pirsig "gumption account". The girls came back with treasures and loot and stories and were happier than they've been in two weeks, their own internal batteries fully charged. If we keep this up, we might even make it to the Exumas after all.
Wednesday, November 24th, 2004
It's done. There was more involved than we
expected, and it took longer than we expected, but even so it was pretty
simple. And we have nothing but great things to say about this yard,
Brown's Boat Basin, and its owner/operator, Robert Brown. The details would
only be of interest to hard core sailors, so we'll let them pass. There
are some photos below. Suffice it to say, we got hauled at 0830, we got
relaunched at 1530 after the tide returned, we got the job done in two hours
flat, we got to spend five hours exploring Nassau while waiting for the
tide, it was sunny and mild throughout, and the whole thing cost us $210.
Pretty darn sweet.
There's a front coming through now, though,
with some rain predicted and 15-20 knot winds clocking from east through
to southwest over the next three days. Then things are supposed to start
to calm down again Saturday. We are unlikely to head south for the Exumas
until Sunday. This gives us four days, so we can handle our business (grocery
shopping, post office, water, and maybe a propane top-up) at our leisure.
One thing this episode has taught us, we can't push Wind Song into
conditions for which she was not intended. She isn't made for it. Lynn is
pretty happy about this fact, because about the only thing that seems to
keep Lane from leaving harbor is being on a boat that won't survive the conditions!
(For the record, Lane isn't complaining either.)
So let's just call this report complete,
assume that the next four days will go "routinely", and get this into the
mail. Note that, while the Andros report was complete and ready to mail over
a week ago, it did not get mailed because the post office near Morgan's Bluff
was not all that near. It's still sitting right here on the table. So,
as you've already figured out but occurred as an unfolding process for
us, you've gotten two reports at the same time.
In accord with what seems to be becoming
a pattern, here are some photos now that the narrative is done.
Looking east from our anchorage. Nassau Harbor runs generally east-west between small Paradise Island (on the left here) and larger New Providence Island (off to the right;. it's 7 miles N-S by 21 miles E-W), on the latter of which is Nassau city. Paradise Island is all resorts and "attractions". Those bridges connect the two. The nearer (newer) one is one-way south, the farther (older) one is one-way north. The new bridge did exist in 1994 when we were here last, an indication of further development.
Here's an example: the Atlantis
casino and resort on Paradise Island, a couple hundred yards from where
we are anchored. Look like Las Vegas? It's bigger. That yacht harbor (entrance
at lower right) accepts dozens of 100' - 175' megayachts. Several a day
roll in. On the far side is a very large artificial "natural" Bahamian lagoon,
connected to the ocean,"the largest private marine habitat in the world"
-- plus the world's largest indoor aquarium as well. It is also the only
place we've heard of where the minimum ATM cash withdrawal is $50, not $20.
A lot of visitors come on
one of these, any one of which is taller than any building in downtown Nassau
and can be easily seen over the rooftops. This is the view west from our
This is the view from the
downtown waterfront just west of the cruise ship terminal. The walk to shore
from the furthest ship is around 1/4 mile.
By contrast, here's the Nassau
waterfront just south of us. The building on far left is the Bahamian Air
& Sea Rescue Association (BASRA) building and quay. Next to it is a
lot with an abandoned house, where we land our dinghy and go ashore. To the
right (the white pillars under the palm trees) is a restaurant recently acquired
by TGI Fridays and refurbished.
And here's an even more complete
contrast: An engineless Haitian trading sloop ghosts past the Atlantis casino
at 0700 on the ebbing side.
Tania helped us celebrate
our safe arrival in Nassau with a batch of chocolate-frosted brownies. Boy
were they good!!
(left) The office and small
marine parts shop of Brown's Boat Basin (and yacht yard). We didn't ask,
but we'd be willing to bet Robert Brown lives upstairs. Robert is a white
native Bahamian who speaks in a cross between British-accented English and
the barely decipherable English-based native patois. He drives that little Daewoo pickup truck.
(right) Wind Song sitting in the straps ready for work.
Down to work we get. Lane
goes at the job of cleaning the coral growth off of everything up in the
centerboard trunk prior to trying to get the old cable end disconnected from
the board. Lynn feeds Lane tools and coordinates the supporting efforts of
It turned out we had to remove
the cable turning block (below left) out of the trunk to get enough working
room to access the front end of the centerboard, where the cable attaches.
Lynn scrapes and cleans the fitting (below right).
Sticking out at the camera
is the metal web where the cable end attaches (below left). The cable goes
up through the boat (below right) to the cabin top, where there is a winch
to pull it. The cable pulls down on the front of the board, which
pivots on a pin, so the back of the board goes up.
We go back in the water, with
about six inches under our keel. The water is so clear, there's very little
doubt what's going on down there -- at least when the wind isn't blowing!
Another spectacular Bahamian
sunset. Tania studies her Political Behavior text in the waning evening
We just had to show you this,
undoubtedly the coolest thing we've seen here yet. This is a full page ad
in a freebie "What To Do In Nassau" magazine we picked up. Right in there
among the ads for resorts, watches, jewelry, restaurants, clothing stores
. . . wow.
Oh, we almost forgot. We now
have a cell phone. Lane got it so he could communicate with his employer back
home (since he is going to be starting to do some work for them soon). It
is quite expensive to make calls to the US on it from here, so we'll be doing
very little of that, but it turns out it is much less expensive to receive
calls from the US on it. In fact, we think it might actually be
free, based on our observation that we have yet to be debited for
an incoming call. We plan to keep it turned on, and it does (we are told)
have voicemail, so give it a try if you want. The number is 242-554-0815,
and most people who have called us so far from the US have had to add "01"
in front. Depending on what's going on on the boat we may not hear it, or
we may be outside a service area, but assuming the voicemail works, we'll
return your call and ask you do dial us right back!