Swing Set

Aug 31, 201301:47 PM

Swing Set: Cruising Full Time

Back in the U.S.A. with Some Final Thoughts on the Bahamas

It really makes no sense to visit the Atlantis Resort Marina to just sit on your own boat and not go out, but everything at Atlantis is offensively expensive. We ate out for dinner on the two nights we stayed there, and it was nothing special. Staying at Atlantis is not visiting the Bahamas, though. It's no more the Bahamas than New York, New York in Vegas is like the Big Apple.

I have been mentioning that we've had some mechanical issues with the boat. The main engines have been overheating for the last two or three months. Changing impellers hasn't helped. I think it's the heat exchangers. They get deposits on them and can't cool the engine coolant via the raw water. I need to get them taken off and "boiled out" (really, just cleaned with acid our caustic), or I might rig up some hoses and clean them in place.

The generator needs the raw-water impeller replaced. I didn't want to do it in the Bahamas in case I had a problem and needed some parts. I'll attempt to do this myself now that we are back in the States. With the generator operation being at questionable issue, coming back to the U.S. became more of a necessity for us.

The other thing is that this August was only the sixth year since records have been kept that there were no hurricanes. The forecasters say that the piper will be paid in September.

As it is, we really only came back two weeks early. In order to get to Key West by October 1 and get some doctor visits and other things taken care of, we needed to be back sometime in September anyway. There are some other reasons that it was good we decided to return.

We left Nassau mid-morning last Thursday for a 35-mile run to Chub Cay, which is on the southern tip of the Berry Island Chain. The ride was fairly pleasant, and we set a hook at mid-afternoon with the skies threatening rain. I dove on the anchor to find that I had dropped it in what looked like sand, but was hard marl. The only thing keeping us from blowing into the nearby reefs was a thin sea plant of some sort that our anchor was hooked around. I swam back to the boat in quick order and got us out of there before the wind got worse.

We took the boat to a spot just outside of the entrance to Chub Cay Marina and found good sand and a calm anchorage, until the tide started changing and the surge had us bobbing around most of the night. But before we went to bed, two things happened. One good one and one bad one. First, we checked our water tank level and found that the tank was only half full, and we had just filled it up on the day before. Hmmm.

We were finishing up dinner when a local in a skiff came up to our boat. I went out to ask him what he wanted, and I wasn't in a good mood. We know of some folks who have been approached near nightfall at an anchorage to be told they had to go into the marina. The locals do this near nightfall because it's hard to find another anchorage in the dark. The threaten you with "calling the authorities" if you don't comply. If you call their bluff, it still means a sleepless night hugging your automatic.

Our visitor turned out to be a fisherman wanting to sell us some lobster. He had seven of them of various sizes and he only wanted $20. I asked him if they were de-veined, and he said yes, but it was a lie. No big deal, but it's something that should be done as a matter of course. When I asked Rosie to get me a 20 out of my wallet, Holly ran out and scared the crap out of the fisherman. Good dog.

We left Chub Cay at daybreak for an 80+ mile run to Bimini. Rain clouds were on our stern, but the Great Bahama Bank was tabletop smooth. Back in the day, I would have wanted to barefoot ski on it. The Bank is only a few feet deep, and we could see the bottom very clearly until the clouds overtook us and formed in front of us too. Lightening in the distance got our attention.

The skies darkened and we prepared for rain. We were out of range to use the weather radar on the iPad, so I turned on the boat radar and dialed it in to see rain clutter. We avoided one big squall by altering course to the northwest some, but soon we were outnumbered and were going way off course. It became time to bite the bullet and just head into the storm. My radar array told me that the storm was only about eight miles wide, so at our speed of eight miles per hour, I figured we would only have to endure the rain and lightening for a half hour or so, which not only turned out to be true, we were spared the lightening, and the rain wasn't all that bad anyway. Nice to know that our 17-year-old radar was good for something.

We had intended to stay at Bimini Sands for two nights, but I looked at the charts again and found that some anchorages at Cat Cay had good reviews on Active Captain. There is one spot on the banks that is only six feet deep at low tide, and you have to transit it whether going to Bimini or Cat Cay, so once through this skinny spot, I just altered course and went to Cat Cay with the intention of staying one night and then on to Miami.

It was at anchor off of Cat Cay when I discovered that we had a leak somewhere in our fresh water system, but when I took a trip below into the engine room, I couldn't see anything leaking. We were headed "home" anyway, but not having fresh water was going to be a hardship if we wanted to stay on the hook when we got to Miami.

Rosie made leftovers, and we cooked up two of our newly acquired lobsters. They were excellent. After the rainy day, we were treated to our last Bahamian sunset, and after a very long day, we turned in early.

By 7 a.m. this morning, we were off! The seas were as smooth as one could want for a Gulf Stream Crossing, but the going was rougher on board the boat, as some personal issues came to bear. Moods did not improve when we learned that Dinner Key Marina was full for the holiday weekend. How were we going to anchor out with no water? I was making water during the crossing, but it wasn't much.

I called a marina near Coconut Grove to arrange fuel and to take on water. They had a slip we could get for $3 per foot per night. We signed up for the Small Vessel Reporting System, and Rosie called Customs and learned that we couldn't check in by phone until we had arrived at a dock. How do they know if we are at a dock? That firmed up our plan to head for Grove Harbor Marina, next to Dinner Key Marina in Coconut Grove.

We entered a busy Government Cut into Miami and turned south. Everyone seemed to be out boating on this Labor Day weekend, and they also didn't seem to be aware of the same boating etiquette or rules of road that I am accustomed to. I was a nervous wreck.

We found Grove Harbor and pulled up to the fuel dock as the skies were turning black to the west, heading our way. We fueled up, and I asked about that slip that was available, and it still was at $3 per foot. I could tell on our way in that most of the better anchoring spots in Biscayne Bay were already taken by the holiday boaters, so we decided to stay at least for the night. When I went to the dockmasters office, I explained to the two young girls that we would like to stay for a week or so, but not at $3 per foot per night. Could they do better than that? I was told that they would have to speak to the dockmaster, who wasn't there at the moment. We left our paperwork blank where I needed to fill in the price and how long we were staying.

We got Swing Set safe and secure in a very nice slip, and then I went below to the engine room for a thorough inspection for the fresh-water system. I thought I had the problem solved when I felt hot water running across the hull bottom very near the stern. I figured that the plumbing to the cockpit shower had sprung a leak, so I took the shower panel off to check the fittings on the back. They were dry. I was hoping this would be a quick fix.

 

Back below, I crawled further back into the bilge. Yes, it was hot water. I tasted it earlier to make sure it was fresh water and not salt water. (Something to remember.) My trouble light soon revealed the source of our leak. It is the hot water tank. This is bad news.

The quick fix for the short term will be to bypass the hot water heater. I already had the fittings tie-wrapped to the water heater because I used to bypass the heater when I would winterize the boat. I'll bypass the heater in the morning and then decide whether to install a home-style unit or break out the big bucks and put original equipment back in.

Meanwhile, I took a shower and went back up to the dockmasters office. Tony, the dockmaster, was back, and even though this marina does not allow liveaboards under any circumstances, he agreed to lease us a slip for a week at $2 per foot per day. He was very nice. This will allow me to take a look at our generator and perhaps install a new impeller. At the very least, we will be able to give Coconut Grove a thorough look-see to determine if we want to stay here this winter after we leave Key West.

Some friends have wondered why we would want to leave the Bahamas. In the first place, we have a commitment to be in Key West in October, as was explained earlier. In the second place, we need service work done, and according to everyone I have spoken to, there is no one you can trust to do the work properly in the Bahamas. Many folks over there will say they can do the work, but they'll take your equipment apart and then not be able to repair it, or get parts. No thanks.

We would like to go back when there is more going on, like in the winter. We had originally thought that we would do our Key West thing and then turn right around and return to the Exumas, but we have been traveling nearly non-stop for a  year and a half. We're thinking a break this winter will be good to bolster up future ideas of wanderlust.

We may have gotten too spoiled being in air conditioning while at Atlantis.

I wanted to post a couple of pictures. The one above is of Rosie entering the library in Staniel Cay. It is a real treasure that most of the locals don't appreciate.

We found that the abandoned developments and projects were depressing. The people are poor and have little motivation. The big resorts come in and drive prices up, and only the very rich can afford things. The locals think that anyone arriving in a boat must be very rich. In comparison, this may be true, but we don't like to think that we are responsible for supporting the whole Bahamian economy.

On a more positive note, I wanted to show you this picture of Holly. We would take the dinghy to the Chat 'N' Chill and just hang out on the beach. Holly would relax under her umbrella in the shade, and we would get more people remarking about how cute she was. Anyone with a camera would take a photo of her.

The last photo will be of Rosie at Bimini Road restaurant at Atlantis. I wish I could keep Rosie this happy all the time.

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