Friday, January 22, 2016

El Niño and its Wrath

A walk on the beach before the latest gale set in at
Long Bay, Green Turtle Cay
     So far this winter it seems Simple Life has been dodging the bulk of bad weather complements of El Niño that has plagued a swath of the much of the Bahamas as well as south Florida. Although, this last weekend after gale warnings were posted most boaters in Green Turtle Cay and the Abacos were installing chafe gear while checking anchors and lines. Fast moving storm clouds reminiscent of those I'd seen before the onset of a hurricane rushed by around nine o'clock Saturday morning ushering in an ominous aura of impending doom. While sipping coffee in the cockpit and assessing the look of things I suggested that Joe might consider dismantling the rain catching system before the storm arrived. He did and also shut down the wind generator. It free wheels when winds pick up over 30 knots and we were expecting gusts to 50 knots. No need to have blades overhead spinning out of control. I always imagine one of them flying off and imbedding in my brain. That's my inner voice in overtime, not exactly the eternal optimist.
Joe at Settlement Cove in Green Turtle Cay

     It was also time to relocate my garden and store the plants in the galley sink before they toppled over in wind gusts that began rocking the boat at a steady rate around 10:00 AM. A short time later a nearby boater announced over the VHF radio that a dinghy had taken flight and was moving by unoccupied in the sound. These things happen during the height of storms and sometimes later when things calm down after lines have chafed through during the blow.

Joe dinghied ashore this morning for eggs & bread before
the onset of high winds & squalls 

      It's not always a picnic out here. There are days when we're boat bound with no chance of going ashore. I don't mind though when we have adequate food stores on board. I am vigilant when it comes to supplys. We can't always run out for bread and milk before the unexpected onset of a gale like we used to during Rhode Island winters before snow storms.That was a practice instilled upon our young lives after experiencing the Blizzard of 78' when Rhode Islanders suffered through a week of no power in mid February with below freezing temperatures, no transportation, waist deep snow and food shortages. Since then a visit to any grocery store in Rhode Island prior to any storm forecast albeit winter or summer will reveal empty shelves of bread and milk hours before the storm's arrival. It's strange to see this practice continue each year, but it's imbedded in Rhode Islanders' history. Kind of akin to our parents' accounts of The Great Depression, but in a weather format. Perhaps this explains my need for thorough provisioning aboard the Simple Life.
Stocking up at Sid's Grocery at the Green
Turtle Cay settlement

Sid's Grocery is an example of a large grocery store
in the Bahamas with three aisles of groceries!
     I have to admit that Joe and I eat well. This evening I prepared beef stroganoff with dried Shitake mushrooms I had stored onboard. There wasn't a fresh mushroom to be found on Green Turtle Cay. The mailboat that delivers fresh produce and other supplies wasn't able to negotiate the Whale Cay Cut due to rough seas for over two weeks! I was skeptical at the dinner's outcome. I wasn't certain the mushrooms would enhance the recipe, but the meal was surprisingly delicious. Whenever I use an item in our food stores, I replace it regardless of when it might be used again. That way I'm able to plan meals as easily as if I lived on land. I think of Simple Life as my large pantry where I squirrel things away. My only problem is that much like the squirrels sometimes it's hard to remember where I've buried my acorns.

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Saturday, January 9, 2016

Green Turtle Cay, Bahamas

Double rainbow over Black Sound, Green Turtle Cay, Bahamas
   Even though weather has been less than desirable it is somewhat a relief to be settled in the protection of Black Sound in Green Turtle Cay, Abaco. It has been extremely windy for days with gradient wind in the high 20's with gusts to 30 and above. A rare Derecho inflicted winds from 50-over 100 mph in the Exuma Cays a few days ago. Boats lost anchors and chain and many sustained damage from being cast ashore.
A serious game of double 12 dominoes in
process aboard Simple Life. No TV, no internet...

The Loyalist Monument at Green Turtle Cay celebrating
those who were loyal to England during the Revolutionary
War between the States and England.
Photo by Joe Boulay

Joe checking the menu at The Wrecking Tree Restaurant where he remembered having the best conch burgers ever during our visit in 2004.
(they were just as good in 2016)
     A few days ago, a short walk ashore reacquainted us with the small settlement of New Plymouth. It's the only settlement on the island. We last visited here in 2004. It seems not much has changed. Things still move slowly here on Green Turtle Cay. The Batelco station is opened one day a week on Thursday. Joe waited in a long line with everyone else in the settlement to buy a SIM card for our phone. At least we have have intermittent Wifi for communication. Joe was able to call his mom after we'd been here for more than a week.

     Last year there were so many weather fronts and so few crossings during January that we made the decision this year to cross whenever the opportunity was positive. Our crossing from Lake Worth was relatively tranquil in the sense that the seas were benign, there was enough wind to motor sail at 6.5 knots and we even sailed at times for hours with no engine. The entire trip took 30+ hours. Lake Worth and the Abacos were not our usual choice for crossing at this time of year, but with the unpredictable weather patterns from El Niño we began questioning "What is usual or normal anymore? Take what you get and go with it."

The teak in the main salon oiled and beautiful.
This is our dining table in the folded position.
The Dickinson fireplace is mounted next to it. 
My Nissan Thermal Slow Cooker
in the galley. Meatballs & sauce ready
in six hours.
     Boat projects that have been neglected for months have become priority since we have been aboard due to weather. Much needed interior teak oiling has become my manifesto. Each day I work on a specific section. Joe has taken another look at the AIS installation and made modifications. This morning I cooked a large pot of meatballs, sausages and homemade sauce with fresh basil, oregano and Italian parsley from my onboard garden at 10:00 AM. The contents were transferred to my Nissan Thermal Slow Cooker for the remainder of the afternoon. This is a wonderful addition to any boaters cookware since no electricity is needed. Dinner will be served at 6:00 PM. Joe also set up our rain catcher since 2-3 inches of rain are forecast tomorrow. So far, we've captured 5 gallons with intermittent rain showers. We'll see what tomorrow brings.

The beach at Gillum Bay where we enjoy beach combing for
sanddollars and sea biscuits.
Joe equipped with backpack, snorkel & mask
enjoying the beach at Green Turtle Cay.
     For some reason the crossing seemed to settle us. We have arrived. We have crossed and the anxiety that accompanies the crossing has subsided. Now we will explore, beach comb, swim, snorkel and fish. There are no plans now. No calendar, no place we have to be. It feels good. This is why we sail the Bahamas and for now Green Turtle Cay is home.

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Sunday, January 3, 2016

Timing is Everything

Headed out for the deep blue ocean. Crossing the Gulf Stream
on January 1, 2016
    The alarm rang at 6:30 Thursday morning. It's one of those windey non electric kinds that scares the crap out of you when it rings. It was still dark and its aggravating discordance permeated the cabin. Knowing it would eventually stop ringing gave me solace. Joe was already up and out of bed. From the aft cabin I could hear the clangorous sounds of the assembly of the stovetop percolator clinking against the galley sink. A somewhat familiar and comforting sound knowing Joe had begun the morning's coffee. Within a short time I heard the SSB radio's granulated static tune up signaling Chris Parker's Bahamas forecast. For some reason after all the odd cabin sounds modulated I immediately fell back to sleep, but did awaken periodically to hear a few snippets of information pertaining to our crystal ball being Chris's high confidence forecast for a Gulf Stream crossing to the Bahamas on Friday!

     After savoring a cup of Joe it was time to get serious. We were now in preparation mode. Mooring lines were dropped and Simple Life was steered in toward the fuel dock in a driving rain squall for a diesel top off and much needed water fill. The squall lasted only a few minutes and we were ready to begin fueling. Next stop? Lake Worth, Palm Beach where we planned to anchor on New Year's Eve staging for a hop off early morning on Friday along with an overnight passage to somewhere in the Bahamas. As of departure we knew only that we were headed offshore. Plans were to see how strong the winds and current were and only thereafter to determine our arrival plans.

Chuck & Sandy SVSummer Wind, Joe & Michele SV Simple Life
Kaye & TJ SV Shearwater after enjoying
Christmas dinner at Mulligan's, Vero Beach
     Actually, this is quite a strategy for us. Originally, back in the beginning of December, we formulated an action plan to head south to somewhere around Miami and cross from there. That didn't work out. High winds have kept most cruisers in anchorages stateside. We hung out in Vero Beach for six weeks! I love Vero, but since we are also cruising sailors...felt it was time to move on. Although, Vero has much to offer cruising sailors with free bus transportation, great shopping, beaches and numerous restaurants. Certainly enough to stay entertained. Vero Beach has acquired the nick name Velcro Beach for a reason. It's easy to make excuses to stay here. Even when a high confidence Chris Parker forecast has been presented Vero tends to tug at you. There always seems to be that little voice whispering, "Stay a few more can work on boat projects, they have showers & laundry here, things can be delivered, you can shop here...TJMaxx is on the bus line."

Joe at the helm notice the tanker and another sailboat in
the background. I was checking them on AIS.
     We began our Gulf Stream crossing on Friday January 1, at 7:00 AM. It's now 11:00 AM, January 2, 2016 and I'm happy to report that Simple Life has arrived safely across the Stream, the Little Bahama Banks and into the anchorage at Green Turtle Cay, Bahamas. The crossing went well with calm seas and at times wind enough to sail without listening to the engine. Joe will head in shortly to clear Customs with our paperwork for our 90 day visa and cruising permit.

Screen shot of the AIS laptop display ( I added black arrows
for illustration purposes)

Happy to report that my
boat garden did fine during
the crossing.

      My Christmas gift (AIS) worked well. So well in fact that both Joe and I managed to relax enough on this passage to actually sleep when our watches were over. Joe slept so soundly that a good shaking didn't wake him after I'd spotted approaching lights on the horizon which became increasingly brighter as we neared. A quick check on AIS and no boats came up on the screen. Same result with radar. Befuddled, I attempted to wake Joe again by shaking his shoulders, calling to him and knocking on the cabin ceiling. My first thought was, "He's dead! " I'm obviously a pessimist...after a quick check for breath and pulse (both positive), I ran quickly up the cockpit steps and continued to check the vessel headed in our direction. In a bit of a panic I began banging on the fiberglass from the helm station in the cockpit. Joe groggily stumbled out. "What's going on?" I pointed out the lights. After peering through binoculars and checking the chart he said, "I think that's Fox town on Little Abaco Island. I think the bright lights are Christmas lights on houses." I guess I should learn to trust the new equipment. Maybe I'll sleep even better next time. I know Joe will.

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