Swing Set

Apr 18, 201308:43 AM

Swing Set: Cruising Full Time

Fox Town Little Abacos

(page 1 of 3)

There was quite a thunderstorm brewing on the morning we wanted to leave Port Lucaya Marina, but if I had the tides figured right, we needed to leave around noon to be at high tide when we got to the critical northern section of the Grand Lucayan Waterway. I'd decided that if we couldn't leave in time for a safe passage through the waterway, then we would stay another night and sit out the storm.

We had good WiFi at the dock, so I'd checked all my weather tools, not only for the current storm, but for the outlook for the next several days. I didn't expect to have any Internet service until we reached the western end of Grand Bahama and the Abaco Islands. The current storm was fizzling out, and it looked like we would meet our intended departure time of noon. Meanwhile, I cleaned out the sea strainers on our main engines. There was a fair amount of grass and sea shells (little ones), giving credence to my suspicion that the starboard engine running hot was due to the debris in the strainers. I also checked engine coolant in both engines, and it was full. Engine oil was full, too. We were good to go.

First, we did a quick walk around the "town" to look for a loaf of bread. We wanted Bahamian bread but wound up buying a mass-produced loaf of wheat at a small grocery for $4, the going rate. We also had to dodge several hawkers standing out in front of the many restaurants wanting to know if we'd had our breakfast yet. I must be losing weight and looking skinny for them to be concerned with me having had a good meal lately. If I look skinny, Rosie must look emaciated.

We got back to the boat, and I went up to pay our bill and get a receipt for our fuel and dockage. They'd wanted to put us on a flat rate at $15 for electricity, but I opted for the metered rate, much to their chagrin. We used 6 kilowatt hours of electricity, which amounted to a big $3.60. Cha-ching! But the rest of the bill was close to $500. Still, I'll always opt for metered electric, as we don't use much, especially if we don't run the A/C, which we hadn't. In fact, we haven't run any heat or A/C since last September.

Patience is not a virtue I possess, and once the bill was paid and the sky cleared up, I wanted to head out and Rosie was ready, too. I figured even if we left early, we could poke along and wait for high tide in the waterway if we needed to. We followed the Bell Channel east for a couple of miles and entered the Grand Lucayan Waterway, a boondoggle project if there ever was one. The eight-plus-mile canal was dug to promote housing and resort construction right before the economy collapsed several years ago. There are huge concrete structures nearly completed, but abandoned. Lots of half-built houses, too. The early birds finished their homes, some of them humongous mansions, and they sit along the waterway all alone, surrounded by barbed wire and big dobermans.

There's one bridge to pass under, but it's over 27 feet high. The waterway is lined with a concrete wall on all sides, and most of it is intact. The canal is 250 feet wide on the lower end but narrows on the upper end, and the retaining walls end there.

In the picture, you can see the narrowing of the waterway. On the plus side, the depth on this upper end was sometimes 25 feet, but the bottleneck was at the opening to Dover Sound on the northern end. Even at our slow pace, we reached the northern end of the waterway as the tide had just started to come up. I wasn't too worried though, as I'd talked to a captain that morning at the marina that had traversed the cut at the upper end at low tide. He gave me a critical pointer about shoaling on the western side, and I felt we could make it through.

Bear in mind we were pretty much in the middle of nowhere, and running aground would be a major event, so we were both nervous as we slipped between the narrow channel markers with lots of brown showing on either side of the boat. "Brown, brown, run aground," is the mantra. We got past the last set of markers and commenced to follow the course I'd plotted out to reach Great Sale Cay. By the way, "cay" is pronounced "key," so if I say "bays and cays, it's not "bees and kees" but "bays" as in "days". Oh, forget it.

The other shallow-water transiting mantra is "white, white, you just might," as in, if you see white, it's usually shallow water with a sand bottom, but not always. The trick is knowing the difference. We got through the channel, and there was plenty of white showing directly in our path. I knew, or thought I knew, that both our chartplotters couldn't be wrong, but I generally avoided these big milky patches just in case. But, I initially suspected that some underlying current, or wind condition was just stirring up the bottom. I was close.

I later read in our Dozier's Waterway Guide that the phenomenon is called "fish muds." Great schools of Bonita, or other fish, congregate on the sea floor and stir up the loose mud, turning the ocean in those spots a milky white. I soon found myself just passing through these "fish muds" with ease. They look decidedly different than a shallow sand bottom, and since we were following a known route, I was content on following the information on the chart.

We were both feeling the affects of the crossover to Lucaya on the previous day, so even though we had a contingency plan to stop at Mangrove Cay on the way to Great Sale Cay, the contingency became a necessity when we realized that Great Sale was still three hours away and it was nearing 3 o'clock when we sighted Mangrove Cay.

Mangrove Cay is just a spit of land barely sticking up from the sea, but most of the Bahamas is like that. The one advertised anchorage on Active Captain is shown on the west side of the island, but even though winds were predicted to come from the east over night, the waves were coming from the south, and they were substantial enough for us to want to avoid them for a decent night's sleep. I poked our way north of the island and set a good hook on the northeastern side, where the water was calmer.

We hadn't set anchor since we left the U.S., and at first the anchor didn't want to leave the pulpit. If anchors could think, I'd understand, but as far as I know, they can't. With a little nudge from Rosie, the anchor finally plunged into the seven feet of water. When I tried to retrieve it, so Rosie could hook our floater on at the chain/rope juncture, the windlass would turn but wouldn't take up line. I left things as they were and decided to think about it  later, as if I had a choice. The matter troubled me through a quick dinner and early bedtime.

Before turning in, we got a call on the VHF. A sailboat heading west hailed us and wanted to know how much water we had under us. He also mentioned that in all his years he'd never seen a boat anchored on the side of the island we were on. He seemed impressed to learn that we had seven feet under us, but he decided to anchor in the known spot, even after I told him my logic for picking our spot. He was planning on an early 5 a.m. departure in the morning but might slip over and join us if things were bumpy on his side. We didn't hear from him, but our night was as calm as can be. Not a wave slapped our hull all night.

As is typical, my best thinking is done right when I wake up. Then, it's downhill from there. But on this particular morning, as I awoke, I realized what the problem was with the windlass. The little tension arm was not resting against the line and capstan where it enters the locker. I went forward and gave it a little poke and back it went. I finished the surgery with a squirt of WD-40. I wish all our problems were solved that easily.

Great Sale Cay was 20 some-odd miles to our east, and it was to be our next stop no matter what. I knew the weather would hold out at least until Thursday, and even though we had no way to get weather reports except on our AM radio, I was confident we could take our time in reaching the Abacos.

We cranked up the watermaker, which also was justifying the expense for it. Since our trial in the Dry Tortugas, I had some issues with the incoming line holding a pack into the watermaker and had to prime it with a pitcher of water every time I started it up. This was not an insurmountable problem, but just added to the inconvenience of running the thing. I suppose most watermakers are mounted closer to the water line, and while ours was in the "trunk" at the stern, it was a couple feet off the water.

If I learned anything in all my years at the beer factory, it was how to transfer liquids via a pump and how to pack a line. I began shutting off the inlet valve at the filter, which is mounted right next to the pump, when I shut down the watermaker. This prevented the water from venting from the incoming line, allowing the pump to stay primed upon startup. Sometimes, a quick valve switch from "circulate" to "run" is also needed, but it only takes a second until the air is out of the system and we start pumping. Currently, every time we are in transit, or running the generator, we make water, and fresh water showers are readily available. The circulating line from the starboard engine keeps the water in the water heater nice and hot without running the water heater itself.

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