Saturday, December 25, 2010

Happy Holidays 12/25/10

Dear Family and Friends,

We wish you the most joyous holiday season and a 2011 filled with Peace, Love, Prosperity and Perfect Health.

Judy & Steph
Mary the Sailing Kitty

Happy Holidays from the Bahamas!!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Allen Cays

Saturday, 12/11 –up at 0625 for weather, breakfast and departure.  Harbour Central fuel dock opened at 8 and we went over to load up with fuel.  The forecast was light and variable winds from the ENE (we had 10-15 knots), and we had a nice motor sail  (and at times shut off the engine) to Allen Cays.  We found a spot to anchor and went ashore on Leaf Cay to meet the iguanas.  Here is another unexpected surprise, I felt like Dr. Mautrin, a figure in the Patrick O’Brian series of golden-age-of-sail books. Every island he gets a chance to visit is another tropical zoological / botanic holiday.  This tiny ring of islands is home to an endangered species of Iguanas found nowhere else in the world.  Like the bears at Yellowstone, these critters are accustomed to people and are fed so regularly that they come running for chow when a boat pulls ashore.  Judy brought some of Mary’s kibble which no longer interests her.  The Iggies, as Judy calls them, were happy to oblige. Click, click, pictures taken and we relaunched the dink and back to our boat. There were three other boats in the anchorage and we stopped by “Kiwi Pryde” to say hello to Vernon and Sandra Pryde on their Lagoon Catamaran. This was the third significant “pride” of our trip.  I asked if they were using a New Zealand spelling, and they offered, “No it’s our family name.”   They are staying here for the big blow, we decided to also.
 It’s a constant surprise that it gets dark at 5:30 when it’s 80 degrees outside, and when the sun sets here it’s like instant dark.  Weather issues made our nature tour short and sweet.
We were happy to be in this protected anchorage as a full gale (34-47 knot or 39-54 mph winds)was anticipated and Norman’s Cay, our original “hurricane hole,” seemed inadequate (too dangerous to get into) after rereading the cruising guide. And so we hunkered down. The other three boats in this ring of cays appeared to have two anchors out, and I got nervous.  We have anchored out almost every night of our trip, and we were blessed with wonderful, or at least relatively benign, weather.  Tonight (actually the next two and a half days and nights, it turned out) would be a test for our anchoring skills, the holding quality of the local bottom and the new Delta anchor.  The other boaters were futzing around with their ground tackle in a way that must have made them feel more secure. It had the opposite effect on me.  Then I remembered reading about the use of a kellet, or sentinel.  The kellet is a weight deployed part way down the rode (anchor chain) which acts to flatten the caternary curve of the chain making the anchor end of the rode more horizontal and increases the bite or hold of the anchor.  I pulled out the Chapman’s and boned up on the details.   I unlashed the 22 pound Wilcox-Crittenden “Danforth” knock-off which had sat securely on the after deck since New York.  This was our number three anchor, our lunch hook, to be used for short stops, but it was the right size for this job. I put a chain through the shackle and around the seventy feet of chain I already had in the water.  My scope was eight to one and all chain.  This should be enough for most circumstances, but the holding and wind strength was an unknown factor.  I could have let out more of the hundred and seventy feet of chain I carried, but for the other boats around us, and the shallows beyond them.    Judy had selected our spot well, projecting where the big wind was forecast to blow from.
So I dropped the kellet chain, like a garland around the rode.  Ideally I would have had a large shackle which could slide down the chain, and/or I could have deployed the rig with the initial drop, placing it exactly where it would do most good.  Since it was too late in the game, and too small in the shackle department, my rig slid out about ten feet from the anchor roller on the bow and stopped there. Well, it was better than nothing, as it did act as a snubber, dampening the effects of the 35+ knot gusts that ripped through here, and after a three day blow, we were right where we dropped the hook to begin with. Bravo to us. 
Sunday, before the blow, we installed our new autopilot fluxgate compass.  When you install a new compass for the autopilot, it needs to be “swung,” or driven in circles, to get itself oriented.  Space was a bit tight in the anchorage and the current was strong and we went lightly aground, then the engine started conking out so we re-anchored and prepped for the storm.  The wind started to build Sunday afternoon and got so strong that we decided to take turns on watch all night going into the cockpit every 10 minutes to make sure all the boats were in the same spots and not dragging their anchors…this would have been a good night for rocker stoppers….and the winds were due to be heavier on Monday.
On Monday we had sustained winds 25 + knots, gusting higher and we were really rockin’ and rollin’.  Steph put out rocker stoppers but they did not help much.  We worked on the blog, with Steph writing and me working on photos.
On Tuesday the winds began to subside and we ventured out to visit other folks in the anchorage.  Vernon came over to say hello and we met Chris and Heather from Alaska (and doggies Kira and Minnow) on “Legacy” and had a nice afternoon eating Heather’s fresh baked cookies and our cheese and octopus canapés.  We also visited Allen Cay, which was between us and the brunt of the wind.
Steph decided to change the fuel filter and oil when we got back to the boat.  Two tasks not attended to since we left home, a couple of hundred engine hours ago. It became a very frustrating experience, because it meant bleeding the fuel system……which is a very time consuming and nasty thing to do.  Well, we had planned to leave on Wednesday, but the engine would not run.  I was resigned to spend the rest of my life on this desert island, or at least until a favorable wind could take us back to Nassau and a mechanic. Vernon had offered to help us do it, and after we got totally fed up with it, (I have a very short attention span when it comes to cold iron) we enlisted his help.  It took him about three hours, but he finally did it.  While Vernon, a retired successful commissioning engineer found the Perkins frustratingly finicky, i.e. he needed to run through the complicated, messy, contorted  bleeding process four times before success, he was tenacious in his resolve to beat the machine. Another angel in our midst….Needless to say, we did not leave on Wednesday so we were able to accept his and Sandra’s invitation to join them for Sundowners.  NB  “sundowners”, “It’s always five O’clock somewhere” or “The sun’s below the yardarm,” all terms for evening libations. Traditionally everyone brings finger food to share and beverages for their own consumption. I told Vernon the drinks are on me, as long as he drinks rum.
This was my first visit aboard a fully functioning catamaran outside of a boat show. This Lagoon was a beauty.  The day before, Chris and Heather on board their monohull, “Legacy” said that even though they have lived on a monohull for the last eight years (eight months a year,) it’s like living in a basement apartment.  Now on the cat, I could see the point, windows were at normal level instead of above your eye level.  Vernon said that since you spent so much time on board, on the hook, you ought to be able to enjoy the view.  I told him I was a traditionalist and aside from being fast, level, spacious, wife kindly vessels they were too untraditional for me.  He brought me acropper (turned me around)saying that in his hemisphere, multihull boats have been the norm for over a thousand years.  Touché. He added that this was their house “with a sail on top.” “Kiwi Pryde” has changed the way I look at cats.
We spent a lovely evening with them and look forward to seeing them at some other time this winter.  Before visiting them at sundown, we took a last dink ride over the Leaf Cay to visit the ruins and the Iguanas.  We also met Michelle and Jean Pierre from Montreal on “Blue Marie 2”.

Total relaxation....

Iggie on Leaf Cay

Iguana tracks

Bestest freinds

Three days on the hook--perfect arc

Heather, Kira and Chris on Legacy

Beach erosion from the storm

Fish were blown/washed ashore

Outside Allen Cay

The anchorage from Allen Cay with Leaf Cay in background

Vernon and Dr.Pepper

Sandra aboard Kiwi Pryde

New friends


On Friday, after listening to the weather forecast and getting our act together, we departed the boat with our shopping list and credit card in hand and went ashore to go and (hopefully) provision for our out island voyage.  We found a taxi driver named Joe who was willing to take us to Robin Hood.  He said he had never been inside but that his wife shops there at times.  Well, after driving “over town” and passing another store that we would come back to, we arrived at Robin Hood.  Part of it had a sign that called it “All-Mart” . J  We entered the store and bingo!  The shelves were full, and the selection WAS enormous.  We had thought it would take us about half  an hour (according to the other stores we had seen, but we went up and down EVERY aisle and bought much more than we had planned, because it was THERE.  We have learned that if we see something that we will want in the future, it is better to get it when you see it.    We even found wheat free bread, so I (Judy) can actually have a sandwich!!! We also needed propane cylinders for the BBQ and alcohol for our galley stove, and the place to purchase those was at Kelly’s, a variety store in the mall. We picked up a mini Christmas tree and a string of light while we were there to remind us of the holidays here in the land of sand and sun.  As we came out of Kelly’s , Joe came up to us and said that his taxi’s batteries had died, but that his wife’s car was right here at the mall and he would take us back to Green Parrot in her car.  We transferred all the bags to his wife’s car and proceeded to return home.  When we got back to the restaurant, we loaded all of our purchases into our tote bags, a huge IKEA bag and our backpacks and trudged out to the dingy dock.  As we were passing through the restaurant, a waitress said, “Goodness, you did some shopping!”  We got back to the boat, stowed our purchases, ate dinner and prepared for an early departure.
FYI Preparing for departure entails strapping down anything that can move on deck, and stowing/strapping down anything below that could fall off or become a dangerous flying projectile, including computers, books, water bottles, shoes, toiletries, etc.
Robin Hood..get your cart before you go in!

"All-Mart" and our driver Joe

The ethnic aisle....

Junior Junkanoo

Judy gave a gloss of the festivities which I’ll try to fill in here. 
Although  we have been able to wear shorts ever since we crossed the Gulf Stream a month ago, the weather was surely cooling off, and our vague plan was to be heading south by now.  The water, as clear as it was was a little too cool to be inviting, though fit for a dip.  Now word of Junkanoo was in the air, but we were not prepared to be parked in a city harbor waiting for December 26, Boxing Day. Junior Junkanoo was our chance to get some of the flavor.
Now let’s get real.  I anticipated this to be like a high school play vs. the real thing on Broadway.  This was pretty much on point, but it was great fun and we did get a sense of what we will miss. Most of the schools on NP present a program, and some of the out islands participate as well sending well rehearsed and costumed contingents to compete.  After all, this is the place to do Junkanoo. As I see it, the schools’ program is divided into age groups. As Judy alluded, there is a theme, represented by a colorful wheeled float pulled or pushed by students.  Flag twirlers and dancers follow, driven on by the blare, clang and beat of the band.  Stupendous costumes fashioned of corrugated cardboard dwarf the wearers, covered with Jewels, feathers, mirrors and bright paint jobs, each more towering and complex than the next. The visual affect, as spectacular as it was, lit up under bright stage lighting was insignificant compared to the music which was of another dimension.
Cut off as I am from my normal sources of research, much of my commentary is conjecture.  The band is made up of three primary parts; brass, kaliks and drums. The brass section appears to dress in orange and yellow shades, which may include shaggy leggings, proto-primitive head dress, tabard and apron. The kaliks (cow bells) are in similar garb in shades of sky and sea. Like drummers everywhere, these seem to dress as they like in t-shirts and jeans.  The kaliks seem to also be the regular whistle blowers, although any one not blowing something else can play whistle.  Even some judges and folks in the stands chimed in.
Trumpets, coronets, flugelhorns and sousaphones (my own marching tuba at New Utrecht H.S.) played more or less together, and as loud and bright as they could, stirred up by the deep throbbing of the goat skin or clear plastic headed drum. Wikipedia suggests a possible West African derivation of the festival. In olden days, the British colonial powers were so afraid of uprisings and the use of drums to spread the fever and the word, they outlawed drums.  The melodic steel band was created using recycled oil drums.  Some of the stronger marchers here also use oil drums for a powerful heart pumping beat.  The drum syncopations and count-offs followed up by the whistles and bells cannot be ignored. The effect is primal and stupefying, and this is the just the junior version.  As much as we dislike long range plans, we could very easily find ourselves in the Bahamas again next year.  If so, you can be sure we will have Boxing Day, and / or New Year’s in Nassau as a don’t miss.
I should also mention the crowds.  We stood on the sidelines with lots of folks unwilling or unable to shell out $40 for Ground Zero bleacher seats--families rooting for the home team, kids scarfing conch fritters and teens dressed a la mode, to see and be seen. Again everyone was laid back and shoulder to shoulder. An enormous number of “officials” vied for street space with the performers; Judges, bleacher marshals, group marshals, costume straighteners, dance masters and stage moms and dads.  Hooray for Junior Junkanoo!
Please enjoy the pictures taken under difficult circumstances.  I have posted a short video clip on my facebook home page.  If we ever get high speed broad band we will share more with you.


Wednesday—Atlantis  -- Imagine, if you can, your desire to see Disneyland/ World as a kid….imagine your awe…imagine experiencing the same thing as an adult-- x 10! That was how Atlantis struck us.  We kept sayingWOW, OMG, this place is beautiful, it is over the top, it is AWESOME!!!!
At anchor in Nassau, Jean-François had advised us that for the price of a marina stay at Atlantis, everyone on board gets full access to the attractions. This makes the minimum $4/foot and  40’ minimum a bargain if you have a boatful.  So with Harry and Carol on board as crew, we sailed into the marina which is a man-made cut to the interior of the island.  We were met by Captain Arthur, the dockmaster, at slip #9, who assisted us with tying up at their sturdy concrete pier.  Besides the ram-shackle dingy dock offered gratis at the Green Parrot, floating docks seem rare, even where the tidal range would make it a no-brainer.
The utility station for each boat offers a selection of electric amperages, cable TV, Telephone, metered water and free pump out.  Wireless is available for $14.99 for 24 hours and was the quickest we’ve found so far. The trip from the Marina to the dock master’s office and from the office to the attractions is a long one, we were actually in the “low-rent district,” but Arthur and his golf cart chauffer service is only a VHF call away on channel 09. Actually we preferred to dingy to the attractions, as it gave us a rare chance to motor under the cascading nautilus fountains and through an arched passageway few get to travel.
We walked past Murray’s Deli and Marina’s Pizza, two of twenty six food purveyors around the grounds.   NOBU, Mesa Grill, Café Martinique and Dune are at the top of the food chain. Entering the main hotel tower building through a palm fringed balustrade piazza we got maps and guides to the grounds.  We were also offered an opportunity to listen to a 90 minute time-share presentation and earn $125. Unfortunately the last chance today was starting now, and you couldn’t participate on the day you were leaving.  Alas and alack, maybe next time.
We headed for the “Lazy River” ride which took us alongside a shallow pool of nurse sharks. Unfortunately the River was out of season till Christmas so around we went and through the Casino towards the “Aquaventure “water park. Like so much here, the walk through the casino is awesome, featuring several massive Art-Glass works by Dale Chihuly .  Here we are in another domed lobby more ornate and larger scaled than the last with columns reaching a series of mythic Greek / Phoenician tableaux of the lost civilization.
 A winding marble staircase leads down to series of underwater views of the ruins of that fabled culture complete with 50,000 living sea creatures.  A dimly lit passage to the right, “The Dig” is the archeologist’s field camp and museum of purported finds. These include artifacts and artifictions of great imagination, linking the civilizations of the past with possible travelers from other worlds.  As a big science fiction and science fantasy fan, I was in heaven, or at least in Paradise.   Many of these artifacts were underwater and feature some of the more exotic living creatures from local waters juxtaposed with statues, obelisks, stele, gratings, masonry, amphorae etc, & etc.
Then, there’s the water park, writ LARGE. The Mayan Temple was first, featuring four different slide attractions. The four of us took turns taking pictures and being in pictures.  First the “Challenge” features twin slides from the top of the temple. Judy and I raced to the bottom, and the timer indicated a clear win for me.  The “Leap of Faith” is a single nearly vertical drop from the top of the tower.  This slide’s cousin in Dubai was featured in “The Amazing Race” where it ended the race for one team whose partner “chickened out.” At the bottom of the drop, you slide through a tank of sharks,(although you are in a separate tube) and are deposited in a smoking rush of water to the egress.
At this point, Judy hollered and shrieked.  She had stepped on a bee.  The bee’s stinger was in Judy’s toe and the bee was dead. At this point the bee felt nothing but Judy was in agony.  She held its lifeless body in her fingers so it could be identified.  A Killer Bee perhaps?  An associate arrived with a wheel chair and Judy was on her way to the Nurses Station where she was cared for by Bahamian royalty.  Princess Knowles RN fixed Judy up almost good as new except for slight swelling and residual discomfort.  The associate told the Princess that Judy was keeping the bee to give it a decent burial. Since we had to get our dry clothes out of the locker by 5 PM, there was not a moment to lose so up on her feet and let’s find “the Rapids.”
The Current and The Rapids are a combined mile long float ride featuring waves, rapids, chutes, steam and lifts.  It winds its way through the park with beaches and chaises along the way.  You can pick up or leave a single or double tube and enter and exit where you wish, or go around and around and around. When Carol and Harry returned from their tour, it was getting chilly in our damp suits and we were ready to leave.   We will have to return to go to the Power Tower where there are 4 or 5 more exciting slides and the Dolphin Cay where we will have live interaction with Dolphins.
At the end of a lovely day, we dinked back to Bentaña and then all four of us hopped into a taxi and went to the Otterbein’s for a lovely dinner that Carol prepared for us.  And we had real, live looooonnnnnggggg SHOWERS with hot water !!!!

Slip 9, Capt. Arthur awaiting us

Birds gotta swim, fish gotta fly....

Ready, set, ....


Leap of Faith...looks straight down, right?  Well, it almost is!