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July 04 St Thomas, USVI → July 31 Horta, Azores.
28 days, 2645nm, 7 days becalmed … a super relaxed crossing, having good views of C/2020 F3 comet Neowise…
In the horse latitudes we often took down all sails for the night and just drifted…, watching a movie, sleeping a lot at night, reading mucho during the day, writing diary on the computer without getting sick…
The crossing in July was a lot more pleasant than imagined … in all repects. It took a week longer than expected due to so little wind. Even Sparrow was mostly relaxed and turned his palm leaf parlour into his bathroom.
October 2019 Green Cove Springs, Florida → November 2019 Andros, Bahamas → Rose Island → December 2019 Exumas→ January 2020 Long Island→ Jumentos→ February Georgetown→ Calabash → Samana→ March Mayaguana→ Turks&Caicos→ Samana, DomRep→ Puerto Real, Puerto Rico→ April St. Thomas, USVI→ June St. Croix, USVI→ St Thomas, USVI→ July 04th Atlantic Xing St Thomas – July 31st Horta, Azores
May 21st, 2018 West Palm Beach. We dinghy towards custom and immigration and moor the dinghy in the marina closest to the office although it is not permitted, and the dinghy might be locked if identified as alien… Customs and Immigration is busy and not very well organized. A black guy tends to us and is pissed off because of all this work. He disappears with our passports. No questions on the whereabouts, on weapons, veggies, fruit, cigars, pets, Bahamians, Cubans or other dangerous items. No answers to questions we have regarding our stay, regarding Christa’s stay, regarding the cruising permit etc. He only wants us out of his way! Hmm. But hey, we arrived!!! Our anchorage is medium until we move to West Palm Beach downtown. We must cross our first bridge which needs to open… than anchor very protected near the public pontoon, a Publix supermarket in walking distance, a friendly tourist office, a downtown and when walking over the bridge to the Palm Beach side there is The Breakers and there is Worth Avenue, one of the most expensive shopping streets in the world! … Seriously! Palm Beach is rich, a billionaire’s place. But the small town is cozy, lots of old trees, bike lanes (!), art galleries, Mediterranean style buildings and patios and all. We cannot appreciate it enough because we do not know yet how the rest of Florida looks like. The lady in the tourist info is very proud of the just opened high speed train link to Miami. Wow, we have a look … and must giggle. In Europe this would count as a normal commuter train – it is not even electrified (and definitely not high speed), but yes, by all means, build more of this! The train is empty, of course. To use public transport is way beneath the average American. Freight trains are big in America though and of course xxl in length. The train horns blare day and night and should u ever stay in a hotel near the railroad – I promise, you will not sleep much.
There is bad weather in the Bahamas, threatening to come our way. We decide to let it pass, staying put in West Palm Beach. Being in town for a couple of days now I realize what is missing. I have to contact our friend Tom: Where are all those obese Americans? …have I not heard about the oxycodone scandal in Florida?!? Oxycodone??? Well, read John Temple, “American Pain” than you understand.
The threatening storm dissolved, and we leave northbound. Where to exactly? Not sure. To a cheap marina in Florida, store the Christa, buy a car, go on a loooong road trip? Or sail up to fabled Maine and Nova Scotia? Not sure yet. Really certain is only one thing: Going back south will be miserable. Whereas miserable must be seen as a euphemism. Since we started in Puerto Rico we had pushing winds, pushing currents and waves running with us. We realized soon that going the opposite direction will be a trail of tears. Once more we understand why many Americans celebrate themselves as heroes and stay put once they arrived in the southern Caribbean.
20.05.18 we leave direction Fort Pierce. Announced were southern winds with 16-19 kn. In reality we have 0 kn. Also, after passing the inlet – 0 wind. But we have no waves either although 1.30m was forecasted. If we would have taken the Intra Coastal Waterway (ICW) we would have had to motor as well. But out here the Golf Stream is pushing us north with 1-1,5 kn – no bad decision thus. Just a little reminder once more that going south will be agony… Against our expectation the current is flowing out of Fort Pierce inlet at our arrival with brutal 4,5 kn and we must press our way in with sail and engine. Inside it is very shallow but we find a little place in front of an island. The water is disgusting – something that is so hard to get used to coming from the Bahamas… at least Sparrow is happy with our anchorage.
Next day T wants to continue inside, on the ICW. The Golf Stream will not help much from now on, forecasted are only 5 kn wind and so we are on our way after calling the bridge to open for us. Reality surprises us with 15 – 18kn S and soon we thunder up the narrow ICW channel, rigged butterfly, no engine needed, through bridges and all. Feels crazy but we get jealous looks and thumbs up from fellow sailors motoring down south. After 32nm we are tired and anchor for the night in the middle of nowhere. We looked out for a place deep enough and outside the dredged canal. Not so easy to find in the Indian River because in most places the depth changes immediately from the dredged 2m of the channel to 0,9m, everywhere little islands from the excavated material. It is raining and the shore is bushy but Sparrow wants a walk and so we dinghy in rain jackets towards the shore and try to find a place to land. A wrecked pontoon from the last hurricane serves us and we go explore. We find big vultures, huge mussel shells and beautiful horseshoe crabs – everything seems to be XL in America. Walking straight east along an overgrown path we soon cross a street and find ourselves at the Atlantic beach. Beach and water have true North Sea charm here, just warmer. Every 10 m we find turtle tracks. Hundreds must have been busy here last night to lay their eggs.
In bed at night we hear these weird noises. It does not sound like a typical Christa noise – but outside, in the cockpit it cannot be heart at all, going back in it got louder the deeper we get into the salon. Strange. I decide it must come from the water underneath us. Yes, it is clearly loudest when we lay down on the floor and press our ears on it. What could that be? Thousands of horse shoe crabs at war with one another … or having fun with each other mating??? There is a nonstop sinister rattling and crackling and sizzling. It is just after full moon – no idea if that means something. The rattling continued for many hours.
For the entire week there is zero wind forecasted. We start late – it is anyway unbearable to motor the entire day. Noon brings surprisingly some wind which we can use for a fantastic sail, just like yesterday. Then suddenly the sky turns black, wind comes on the nose and it starts raining. With magic timing we anchor in Cocoa, in front of Merrit Bridge in 2,5m black water. With anchor beer in hand we watch a heavy thunder storm racing over us… and congratulate ourselves – in the canal it would have been nasty. Sparrow is trembling like mad.
June 2nd: Cocoa – Titusville. We are looking for the optimal anchorage without having the Apollo Building blocking our view of Launch Complex 40. Tomorrow night Falcon 9 with SES 12 satellite on board will be launched from Cape Canaveral and we want to sit in first row. We have a day to explore Titusville, were all those crazy nuts lived who planned and engineered the Apollo landing on the moon – there is worse towns in Nofla, but Titusville’s heydays are definitely gone. In the supermarket I want to buy some vino, but a big cardboard sign informs us: On Sundays alcohol sold only after 1pm. After church thus… OMG, where are we here? Anyway, we whale away the Sunday afternoon and do as the locals do – drink margaritas in the beer garden just opposite our anchorage and listen to an obese (finally) guy playing guitar, singing old southern rock songs. Fantastic voice!
Waiting for the launch, scheduled for midnight, we start hearing those strange noises again, coming from the water. We have internet and so I am searching and searching what the source might be. After a while I find the surprising explanation – pistol shrimps. Yes, shrimps are responsible for this noise. They are hunting by shooting a cavitation bubble at their prey which is killed or stunned by it. Pistol shrimps are tiny but the noise they produce can reach more than 200 decibels.
Just after midnight we saw the lift off from Falcon 9. Awesome!! We had the view and the live video from the launch complex running and watched this fascinating spectacle. Shortly after the clean start the Falcon was already half way to Africa accelerating to crazy speeds… We were so happy it worked out and we stayed the extra day – it was uncertain till the last minute if the weather would allow the planned start.
During the afternoon we had met another German sailor anchoring on the other side of the bridge and alerted him of the launch. Franco from Frösi was happy to talk to us – he was sailing solo since many weeks and appreciated some company. Since we were all northbound we agreed to sail on together for a bit and keep an eye on each other.
Monday we motor on through the ICW, direction St Augustine. It takes us 4 days to get there. And we are not impressed. The climate in Florida is really bad, super-hot, moist, aggressive mosquitoes, no-see-ums, dirty water, no breeze… Most houses we pass have housed in verandas with mosquito mesh, looking like giant aviaries. We conclude very brightly: To make you ruin the look of your house as severely like that must mean the mossi plague is spoiling most evenings outside… There is house after house after house after gated community … for miles no public land in between so we have sometimes a problem to land the dinghy and go for a walk. Nobody cares much for public needs in the US…
We have big discussion on how to proceed with this trip. Sail up further north? To Main? Newfoundland? Or rather park the Christa somewhere cheap, buy a car and drive around for a year? So far the US was a flop. Ship chandleries in Florida are specialized in accessories for the weekend fishermen, seeking a break from their wives, a good stereo, and a safe place to stow their cold beer. It is crazy hot, no-see-ums everywhere, travelling in sewer-like water, terrible Americans, everything is forbidden, hardly common land, dogs must be leashed at all time, lots of heavily armed police guys, rangers, law enforcement dudes, sheriffs etc., glorification of war, seriously meant America-first latrinalia jump in your face everywhere … yuck… In Titusville we had a little incident going by dingy underneath the small bridge where people like to fish. Two people and two police officers were hanging over the balustrade staring into the water. When we got closer one police guy was shouting something at us. Because of the running outboard I could not understand what he said and raised my hand to my ear to signal that I did not understand. The immediate reaction of the black police guy was to put his hand on his gun – in an instant he realized that it might be a bit over the top to shoot us and let his hand sink. T was mightily pissed off. The problem, it seemed, was a manatee that got entangled in old fishing line. Ok, we slowed down, maybe from 2 kn to 1 kn – it was anyway not in our path – passed the bridge, moored the dinghy and were deeply impressed with the American idea of conservation. It is a miracle anyway that manatees can survive in this sewer water. Manatee protection signs everywhere, how cute they are and what their habitat is (pictures of manatees in crystal clear water), to have respect and not disturb them or face fines. But the official speed limit in the dredged canal is 30kn!! No manatee will ever make it to get out of the way at this speed. If conservation efforts are threatening American fuel consumption habits or speed induced feelings of freedom – that´s when it comes to a full stop. Tom is giggling that we are already “in trouble” with the police, so shortly after entering the country.
The faint idea is creeping up, that it might have been the wrong move to sail with Christa to the US, wanting to drive around, see the country. Christa is demanding more and more repair work and the US does not seem to be the place to do it. Our new friend Franco is also highly indecisive about what to do. His plan was to do the big loop with his friend – but his friend signed off in the Bahamas and sailing alone was not exactly his big dream. At the moment he did not even have a dinghy – a situation which would have driven me insane big time.
June 5th during anchoring in the evening our engine makes very funny rattling noises, giving us the creeps. T filled up oil into the gearbox and the Volvo sounded immediately much better. Next morning he realized that the expansion tank for cooling water was empty. He filled it up and had a good look at the cooling water pump when we left. Drip, drip, drip … damn, it’s on the fritz! Time to go to Green Cove Springs Marina – cheap and probably not very nice, but Christa had decided for us where to go.
Today we are sailing into Jacksonville and must time our arrival according to the tide. Tidal range is more than 1m there – currents accordingly. To lose your engine in those conditions is a horror imagination and we are extra happy that Franco decided to come with us and also stay in Green Cove Springs for a little while, take a break, do some repair work, organize a dinghy, listen deep inside to find out how to proceed… Jacksonville is tricky due to strong currents and at one point we face 2.6kn foul current although according to tide tables it should push us in. We throw anchor to wait for better conditions – it does not get better than 1,5kn, so our little Armada is pushing on.
It takes the whole day to pass Jacksonville including waiting for bridge openings etc. We anchor when we are out of town and left all bridges behind us. Since 2 days we have no more milk for our coffee and are miffed. In West Palm Beach we had found UHT milk, a liter for 2.70$. Now that beats anything we were ever asked in the Caribbean and of course we did not buy it. The milk powder that could be bought in US supermarkets was either low fat or no fat which is also not suitable to produce frothy milk for the morning coffee. Up here people in the supermarkets did not even know what UHT milk is… Poor United States…make us drink mocca. Shorty has found a Walmart near our anchorage and so we get transport with Uber and do a substantial shopping. We try fresh milk and find it is foaming ok – only problems: it needs cooling and does not last forever – and we do not have an American size fridge on board and also no car to go shopping all the time. But we take it easy and stay for another night. All this motoring got to our nerves and as Shorty likes to mention: We are not on the run! For Sparrow the last weeks were terrible. Every evening we have heavy thunderstorms just when it is strolli time – Sparrow is trembling and instead of running around happily all he wants is hiding. Often enough there is only a parking area available for a walk for lack of common land.
June 11th we are chugging towards Green Cove Springs Marina, our new home for the next weeks. It is a slight understatement to say: we were surprised when we arrived. A marina so dirty, so …. … wow, that is hard to find, even on the poorest Carribean islands. But going elsewhere is no option – Christa needs repair. NOW! We take a mooring and Franco also has to take a mooring because there is no space on the pontoons. Kinda shit without dinghy but we are quite surprised anyway that he does not turn around and leave immediately …
April 1st, 2018 Lady Slipper Cay, Atwood Harbour, North Acklins. Our anchorage is nice and quiet. Since Turks & Caicos the water is crystal clear everywhere. Huge white sand beaches, nothing and nobody there. We have a Canadian neighbor though and T stops bye to say hello to cat Xala. I also swim over to see if our neighbors are any nice. Lots of big barracudas surround me immediately and reaching our neighbors I see the big nurse shark that is sleeping underneath Xala. Wow, just in bikini and goggles I feel a bit vulnerable but of course I do pretend I am not impressed. Our neighbors were indeed nice. They were also not cleared in yet because the immigration lady in Mayaguez was unable to accept a credit card payment. After all those days in solitude we had a happy little chat, than back to cleaning and tidying business on board. Our neighbors planned to leave early next morning. We stayed another day. Our binoculars appeared to not have survived the hard fall due to Christa´s wild jumps in the Mona passage. Now we must squeeze the left eye tight in order to see something in the less damaged right ocular, pirate style.
Next destination is Clarence Town on Long Island, the next port of entry. We need to clear in and are a bit nervous due to our illegal status. Our plan is to leave at 3 am since it is far. In the Bahamas it is a must to arrive in daylight! All anchorages are super shallow and usually scattered with coral bommies. But during the evening our little bay became super rolly and since we could not find any sleep we thought we might as well leave. At 1.30 am we were on our way. Through the reefs in pitch black night … always exciting, also following a track! Very little wind was forecasted but we were lucky and found a nice eastern breeze of 15 kn. The Bahamas are supposed to be a great fishing destination and so we throw in our new lure in first day light. Bzzzzzzz, fish alarm! I start reeling in our dinner and wack, there it goes, including the new lure. My knot has slipped. Damn slipknot! But… no wonder, I am completely out of practice. Fiddling with the fishing line I thought my knot will last even though it was not looking completely perfect. … as always on a sailing boot: immediate punishment for sloppy work! The first can of bully beef is opened. Sparrow appears pretty thin, we also have lost weight on this exhausting trip. After 10 am the wind dies down and with only 8 -10 kn we have to rig once more butterfly.
We arrive at 1.30 pm at Clarence Town and decide to clear in immediately. After a quick, illegal stroll we lock Sparrow on board and dinghy to the marina office. Sparrow is whining like mad, after all these long and terrifying sailing trips he is scared to be alone on board. It is heart breaking but we feel we need to finally legalize our status. From the anchorage it is a long dinghy trip of about 1km, nobody will hear him and we hope it is a swift procedure to pocket our 300 $. The lady at the marina office was very nice and let us use the marina phone to call immigration. I received the overwhelming message that the officer must come from (nearby) Stella Maris and this would cost 100$ extra, 400$ in total thus. Absurd! But what can we do?! We did not want our boat confiscated so we reluctantly agreed although it felt like rape. Furthermore, we were asked to moor the Christa on the government dock which is located opposite the marina, the customs guy is on his way. That was an unexpected request. Going back to Christa we had a look at this dock and decided to do that under no circumstances. The dock was made for little freighters and trying to more there with Christa would for sure mean to damage her during this maneuver. What to do? We decide to anchor in front of it and wait for the guy on the dock. Dinghying back to Christa the outboard died after ¼ of the trip. No more cooling. Susi dead! Head wind, head waves, time pressure and a very long way to row. The rowing was helped by the big rage we felt. Rage because of these extra 100$, because of this demanded dangerous maneuver, because of this impossible timing of Susi´s breakdown, because of worries if everything will work out with Sparrow who we must hide. We arrive wet and angry, change cloths, motor over to the government dock, anchor, row on land and wait for the customs guy on the pontoon. There is no shade to hide from the burning sun and what should be the gateway to town feels more like a stinky garbage dump. We waited for an hour when I lost patience. I walked over to the marina to call customs and ask what happened. Surprisingly Mr. Customs guy was sitting already in the pleasant marina bar, enjoying the view (that also included anchored Christa). A pudgy black guy in a crisp white uniform with gold rings sporting a strong perfume. Well, we have not really moored to the dock, have we?! Uncomplaining he accepts my explanation that we cannot moor there without damaging the boat. (Must have heard that before.) Well, do we think we can moor to a marina dock? He says he must have access to the boat if needed! Of course, there was never a plan to come on board, never would he lower himself to set foot on a small old sailing boat. But it is a rule! So, I walked back to T, we rowed back on board, we moored to the appointed dock with Sparrow locked in our berth. Sparrow is devastated but -sensing our extremely bad mood- he is pretty quiet. By now we are fuming but must swallow it. Apparently, it is not enough to just PAY the money, no, you have to THROW it at the jerks…. Would I not have gone over to the marina we could have waited until doomsday on the hot, trashstrewn government dock. The guy did not dream to walk or at least drive over to this garbage dump to announce his arrival nor his special request to moor at the marina. There were so many things to do on the Christa, tidying up, repairing the much needed outboard… but instead we are being patronized by a cocky official, having to pay big time for this doubtful pleasure. We must fill in lots of papers with charcoal copies, not that sb will ever read it – it is just part of the patronizing treatment. In T´s passport Mr. Pudgy sees that T holds a doctor degree. He wants to ask something, probably regarding his porcine wellbeing. I want to say that a consultation cost about 400 bugs, but T kindly explains that he is a ‘doctor for machines’ to meet his intellectual capacities. At some point we are done. Motoring back to our anchorage we vent our bad mood, full throated we scream out what we feel about this absurd situation, about the wicked feelings of being patronized by arrogant officials, about ex slave countries, etc. etc. Slowly we understand why it is pretty empty in the Bahamas, why the Antilles are so busy and why an American sailor, coming from the Bahamas to e.g. St Martin must think it is paradise. Even though the water is not so great down there, the beaches not so fantastic, the bays for anchoring are crowded and comparatively unspectacular. But being cleared in in 10 minutes for 2,50 US$, having access to a bakery like Sarafina, being able to walk to a SuperU filled with French food, to lots of ship chandleries …. nothing to be sneezed at!
At 6 pm we are back at our anchorage. Sweaty, salty, angry and exhausted. The customs guy was clean and cool, had a drink in the pleasant (expensive) marina restaurant, watching us waiting for him. Now he drives home in an airconditioned car with 400 US$ in his pocket and we wonder how much of this money will make it to the entitled authority. What is going wrong here?!? Hmmm… Bahamian nature is undoubtedly very beautiful, certainly where there are no Bahamians/garbage. But will that outweigh all negative feelings and impressions? We will see…
Due to very little wind we stay a whole week and get a much-needed rest, licking our wounds. I find more salt water in my cloths and in the bag with our emergency money. Everything needs to be laundered and dried. T is busy with the teak deck. Susi is repaired. Xala turns up 1 day later and wants to clear in too but we alert them about the extra fee, so they make the decision to clear in in Georgetown instead.
We have a good time together, light a big beach fire one night and their list of Bahamas highlights is much appreciated.
Xavier whips up a drone video of the Christa and we are amazed how quick and professional the result is. https://youtu.be/7ML5mUXQncE
Sparrow is not so happy here because of all those condense stripes that suddenly scratch the sky. T thinks he is so depressed because of his illegal status…We also get to know sand spurs and no-see-umms which are in my mind the most annoying plants/animals of the whole Caribbean/ Bahamas! The Bay is infested with big sharks and I had Pat screaming at me when I swam over. They had just seen a big tiger shark. The long swims I liked to have in Bonaire seem a bit of a crazy undertaking here… Anyway, Pat & Pat confirm our assumption that going the legal way of clearing in your pet is likely a frustrating experience. You must announce your arrival a long time before you turn up, you and a vet have to fill in papers in advance and fax them to the black hole of Bahamian authorities. This is also where a fee goes (the hole), to be paid in advance of course. Then, theoretically, you receive a permit by snail mail. We never stayed long enough at one place to have a post address and to even consider this procedure. Plus, it is let’s say not unknown that you do not receive an answer, like it happened to the Pats- time and money gone, dog still illegal. Discussions a waste of time.
Clarence Town is no place to stock up on provisions. The Super Value has been shredded by hurricane Joaquin 2,5 years ago. All we could find was the shop’s foundation plate. Time to leave.
Rum Cay, April 9th. Rum Cay is different. An interesting little island that Sparrow liked a lot more. No airplanes and some trees, a small, easy going-population which we also liked, lots of hurricane damage still with a completely shoaled harbor. The anchorage is extremely shallow (we anchored on 2.10m) with lots of serious coral bommies around us. At high tide it is untenable rolly because the waves come over the protecting reef. We would have liked to stay some days, explore the Hartman Cave in particular, but the rolling drove us crazy. No idea how these other 9 sailing yachts could take that. Admittedly they were ‘strange’ people – not sure how to describe them. They were all Americans, but not these die-hard or elegant sailors you meet further down south in the Antilles. They were more like happy kids, happy to have made it down this far, enjoying their time at this little pirate island, with no infra structure and no keep out signs, with its relaxed peeps that are not prepared to hysterically phone the police to report suspicious behavior all the time. Keith’s Bar at the destroyed government pontoon doubles up as the food store since that was a hurricane victim as well. For 20 bugs we buy 1 bread, 12 eggs, some potatoes, 4 chicken wings for Sparrow and some suspicious minced meat in a plastic tube. Everything is frozen, including the bread, and comes out of huge ancient freezers with an energy efficiency class of approx. … Z minus? I decide to try the dodgy minced on Sparrow first. After all this dog food Sparrow is extremely happy to get rice and minced that surprisingly even started to smell like meat once frying in the pan.
We are leaving late next morning, it’s only a small trip to Calabash Bay. Our fishing rod goes off immediately and I start to reel in the line. It’s a barracuda ☹. We will certainly not eat it because of the high ciguatera risk in this species. But during reeling our barracuda gets attacked by a shark and bitten in half. Wow, that’s a stark reminder to exercise some caution when swimming. With a mini breeze of ESE 8-10kn we arrive at 4.30 pm and throw anchor in the quiet water just in front of Cabo Santa Maria Resort. Cabo Santa Maria itself looked spectacular when we passed it and we decided to hike there next day. A monument had been erected in honor of Christopher Columbus’ arrival AND the indigenous, peaceful Lukayan people. The Lukayans were seized as slaves and finally annihilated as a result of Columbus’ landing and we thought it to be a bit awkward, to say the least, to honor a conqueror and his victims with one and the same monument…
Sparrow is behaving very weird. He is apathic and spends lots of time inside, dozing and sleeping, hardly drinking anything. Usually he is barking at big fish, at sea turtles and birds but currently he is not watching his boat. On our hiking trip he was very slow, not exploring, not running, needing lots of rest. That is not the happy dog we know. This is something different than just the airplane phobia! We need a vet …but we are far away from civilization.
Thursday, April 19th. With 10-12 kn NNE we sail direction Georgetown. Georgetown is not very pleasant but after shopping we take the Christa over and anchor on the opposite side, in front of Stocking Island which is really charming. Very nice hiking on Stocking island on real hiking trails in dry rain forest. We were prepared to not like this place because it is ‘touristy’ but in fact it was nothing less than nice. There is a big yachting community with a cruisers radio net every morning, like in Grenada. Funny to listen to that once or twice and we were giggling when the noodling class was announced … but … whatever it takes to make people happy.
Georgetown has the first supermarket-like shopping facility since we left Puerto Rico and even though prices are crazy we are happy to stock up on fresh things, veggies, eggs, bread and meat, disgusting cookies etc.
Sparrow is doing worse and we find a tick and bloodsucking lice infestation. I had heard about that but never seen what infestation really means. In the cause of 3 days I plugged about 300 ticks and countless lice off him. Totally shocking. The ticks were tiny, and they were everywhere. 50 on each ear alone, on his snout, on the belly on the back… just everywhere! The vet comes every 3 weeks to Georgetown which is no help. I google and google and come up with horrifying news. Anaplasmosis, Ehrlichiosis… the local ticks seem to transmit lots of serious diseases. And Sparrow is so groggy that we are worried he might have caught one of those terrible sicknesses. I use the rest of the Fiprokil Spray which I had once bought in Martinique to treat a flea infestation. But as I re-read it is also supposed to kill ticks. Indeed, Sparrow is slowly feeling better and starts to eat again. I had emailed to the vet’s office and some volunteer answered me that I had just missed the vet’s visit. She suggested Next Guard pills to stop the current infestation and also to prevent a new invasion. I know this is a strong medicine that has not only supporters amongst the veterinary community, it also comes at a steep price at 56$ for a 3 months supply but in our situation it sounded like advantages will out-weight the disadvantages. We took the Christa down to anchor as close as possible to the vet’s office. Another hairy maneuver in the shallow waters of the Exumas – but everything worked out well. I would have loved to have Sparrow´s blood checked for any of those horror diseases but that needs a vet. No idea where he caught the tick bomber, no idea what the reason was to make him feel so bad – the iguana meals in Puerto Rico? Something tick transmitted? Something else? Nothing we could do about it. Most important: he was feeling better.
Thursday 19th we are off north. Today we need to navigate a cut for the first time and are pretty excited. Sailing up on the eastern side of the Exumas a cut must be passed to get to an anchorage on the protected western side. Cuts are narrow openings in the island chain sporting unbelievable strong currents at times due to the tide. If weather is rough and waves are big – conditions can be scary especially with wind against waves. Thankfully it is quiet currently, still the prudent sailor avoids entering a cut at outgoing tide and therefore we leave early. At 2pm the wind dies down and we have to motor the rest. Cut of choice was the Rudder Cut. What a current! Due to having no wind we are spared any dramatic conditions. When we arrived at Darby Island I filet the Nassau grouper we caught. T had cut him off the fishing hook and cursed because of the hard bones. Now I was cursing because I found 2 fat worms in the belly of the grouper. Sad how infected and infested even wild animals/fish are… I throw him over board, for the sharks or whoever is interested. Our anchorage is a new record qua shallowness. I rather take the ladder to get in and see that we have about 10 cm of water underneath the keel. That is not much more than the famous ‘handbreit’. Hopefully our tide information is correct!
Big Darby is a private island but abandoned. To visit the deteriorated castle and the mysterious world war II submarine hiding place of rumored nazi sympathizer Guy Baxter was since a long time on our list. Now we are here, incredible… We moor the dinghy right at the canal dredged for German submarines and are greeted by serious keep out signs. Immediate imprisonment for trespassing of course, no second warning. The castle is built in a strange German ‘folklore’ style. But even the massive mahogany floors and mahogany furniture are almost completely dilapidated in this climate.
Next morning we follow the official suggestion on how to treat your garbage at uninhabited places. Burn it! I know it sounds odd to any person living in civilization. But over here it is just practical and even a bit fun. We enjoy our little fire and also burn some trash we found on the beach. The secret is to keep the fire going long enough until everything is properly burned. It is just amazing how much energy the plastic garbage contains.
In a hurry (because of the tide) we sally forth to the next island, David Copperfield’s Rudder Cut Cay, in just 1 nm distance. Now Copperfield’s underwater sculpture of mermaid and piano needs inspection. T felt a big ambition to anchor as close as possible to it and I am relieved that our anchor did not hit the mermaids head. We have so much fun to try and make a nice video of our underwater visit. Well I have -T is ‘miffed’ because his hair gets wet and his ears hurt from diving down those 3- 4 meters… Mermaid Claudia is very pretty but needs a cleaning badly. The stainless steel she is made of is inhabited and lived on by all sorts of underwater creatures and I can only envision how bling bling the sculpture must have been when it was new. The next bay is more suitable for anchoring for the night and we join in with another 5 or 6 yachts. Bahamian law has it that everybody is allowed on any beach up to highwater mark. Higher than that you can litter the place with as many keep out and threatening signs as you please if you own the island. In the Exumas there are quite some islands sold to the rich and famous. Good for them but how much time can you spend on your island when you are rich and famous and want to stay that? In fact, most of those private islands are hardly ever lived on or visited by their owners after some initial excitement and returned to a state of wilderness which we find a great way of protecting the environment. But to prevent those few passing-by sailors from taking a little walk on a deserted island is a bit over the top we feel and sneak on land whenever it seems uninhabited or when we heard through the grapevine that nobody stays on an island to enforce the no trespassing signs. On Mr. Copperfield´s island this is the case and we have a great walk over to the Atlantic side.
April 21st – we are leaving at 11 am with rising tide. We want to stay on the inner side and must pass twice a 1.50m depth spot. Our draft is 1.60m so we need high tide for that. Our plan was to go to Musha Cay, but it did not appeal to us, so we continued to Big Galliot Cay. Nobody there. In the evening we go on our stroll to explore the little island when THE DISASTER happened. I was only in Bikini and flipflops when we were climbing back to the dinghy over old elevated coral. I fell onto the coral rocks and apart from a couple of scratches and cuts I saw my white thigh bone through an enormous hole in my left upper leg. The sharp coral had cut through my skin and muscles like a big knife. Lots of blood and panic. T, who was quite a bit ahead and out of sight, heard my scream and knew immediately that something terrible had happened. He sent me Sparrow for comfort and hurried to get the dinghy and pick me up. Back on board I knotted a tea towel around my thigh to stop the bleeding and we went frantically through our big medicine box in search of something suitable, whatever that is. Lots of expired stuff! Most things were still from Wolfgang, T´s school friend, who is a surgent and had packed our emergency box 12 years ago for the sailing trip to Patagonia. We never needed anything from this box, but always felt we had a superbly stocked medical box. Five years ago, before we left for this trip, my plastic surgent friend Ilona had given me some more stuff and most importantly instructed me on how to suture a wound but… that was a long time ago and I had never practiced since although it was quite some fun to stich up some chicken breasts and thighs. But I could not get to the wound anyway since it was at the back of my thigh. T never had a dry run to use a surgical needle, tweezers and needle holder and so I declined his friendly offer to stich me up firmly, … if not hysterically. Silver sponges, Inu gel and lots of emergency stuff for messy wounds had dried up and were useless. What seemed suitable was a gel plaster. It was big enough, it was made for nasty wounds and I had made a note on it that it can stay up to 5 days on it. It kept everything in place as it was sticky on the whole surface and felt ok. Now we could sit down and start thinking more clearly, with a slowly lowering adrenalin level.
2 other yachts had anchored near us in the meantime. T went over to try our luck and see if there is coincidentally a doctor on board. It is of course only a tiny chance, but he came back with an older lady and a smile. Gosh what a crazy luck in this wilderness! Strange that she did not bring anything with her, but we have everything, threat and needle, even local anesthesia. The French doctor asked very coy if we had cleaned the wound which we had not. She said the gel plaster was a very good choice and started to peel it off. Now THAT WAS PAINFULL. She splashed water into the wound and covered it with some of the sterile gaze we had. It must be sutured she told us. Well, ok, we knew that much and looked at her expectantly. She said, if she would do it here, under these circumstances it would be a bad job. Much better to go to Nassau to a proper hospital. We are disappointed – Nassau is far away, too far away! But what can we say? …and I should take antibiotics! Good point, we dug out all antibiotic pills we had. She liked the amoxilline, but it was expired since 2 years. Well, she can give me some. Hers are also expired but not that long. She got ready to go. For some reason I read panic in her eyes… No idea why. T brings her back to her boat. Desperation comes back. What can, what should we do? Nassau is too far away, it is more than 100nm to sail and we need a doctor fast! Thankfully we have internet and can search our options. It is Saturday evening and tomorrow is Sunday – extra bad. There is a mini clinic in Georgetown staffed with a doctor, ~35nm south. There is a governmental clinic in Blackpoint staffed with a nurse ~10nm north. We decide to sail back to Georgetown very early in the morning and try to track down a proper medical doctor. To sail off now and navigate the cut at night does not appear as a clever idea.
We leave in first daylight and after all those days of having no or very little wind we are hit with 18kn of SE. Directly on the nose. We have to tack and sail out East. Christa is making wild jumps, waves are washing over the deck. I am not only no help, I have to use all my energy and attention to not bang or stretch my wound – with medium success. After 2-3 hours we have lots of water in the boat. The carpets in the salon are swimming. What is that?!? Grand kack! It looks scary and T is cursing, screaming and crying – HIS UNFAILING BOAT – SO UNGRATEFUL!!! Well, not much time for big emotions, if we don’t want to drown we have to change course. So, we point Christa’s nose south, towards Blackpoint, it is going to be the clinic with nurse thus. To get there we must pass the Dotham Cut – according to our nautical guide this cut is the worst in the Exumas chain and best avoided because it is so narrow and scary. But we have no choice. We must take it and we must take it in the conditions we find. What can I say… it was scary, but we made it. We anchor and clean up the worst.
T and Sparrow go to scout where the clinic is, so we can be there first thing in the morning. We do not have much hope to obtain any help today, on a Sunday afternoon.
But to my surprise he comes back and says: Los gehts! He found the nurse who is of course not very amused, having to work on a Sunday evening. But… she had grabbed her worn handbag, the clinic key and some different cloths in the meantime. We meet at the dinghy pontoon and march together to the nearby clinic – the slightly grumpy black nurse with pin curlers still in her hair; deranged, pierced me with a big blood-soaked dressing on the leg; my disillusioned skipper and confused Sparrow who did not want anybody near me. A Bahamian governmental clinic is probably not exactly what most people imagine when trying to picture a clinic. Clinic means in this case a brightly pink painted shag, some scruffy old furniture in the waiting area and office, handwritten files as there is no computer nor printer, some cupboards with stuff… that’s it. We must learn that in the Bahamas there is a deadline for suturing wounds. After 12hrs it cannot be done anymore because chances of infection are too high. She looks at all my wounds and when she sees the big one I hear her say: “Wow!!” … not very encouraging I think by myself. She seems somehow unhappy that it took us so long to get here, (not much use to explain sailing boats, winds, conditions, distances…) but no, those 12 hours are exceeded big time, no suturing! I find reassuring that she calls the doctor on duty somewhere in the Bahamas to quickly discuss my case and to reconfirm that she cannot stich up this wound. We send a WhatsApp picture to Dr. Jones who seems to be some sort of God for our nurse here. But no, no mercy. It takes me a while to get friendly with this idea to have to let it heal by itself and get a Frankenstein scar as a souvenir from our Bahamas trip. She cleans the wound professionally, puts on a dressing and says I should come back in 2 days or so. We pay 55$ and walk back to the dinghy. With a deep and big wound like that one would expect crazy pain when trying to walk. But no, I had to take maybe 3 or 4 Paracetamols over the day and can walk almost normal. The rock must have slit nicely just between the big muscle fibers being stopped by my thigh bone. Sometimes I have a bad moment and hope to not lose my leg due to a mega infection… But then T tries to make me see the positive side: could have been my kidneys…
Our anchorage is safe and we decide to stay the next couple of days here to see how this whole thing develops. Now it´s Cinde time! It seems crazy to put the outcome of this injury exclusively into the hands of an old nurse who has been trained 40 years ago somewhere in the Bahamas and probably never had an update since. My friend Cinde is a doctor in Colorado and my first choice for e-mail consultancy when in big shit. So, I send some pics and explain the story. I get the second ‘Wow’ and lots of advice on what to use, what to NOT use, what to do, what not to do… We feel really dumb, have so many questions… but neither of us had to care for such a serious wound EVER. Cinde insisted on cleaning it at least twice a day! So, we decide to go back to the nurse tomorrow, Monday morning. Lots of things the nurse used were on Cinde´s absolute-no-go-list. But there were no alternatives here. It took us some days and many e-mails to establish a routine that seemed to work. In the mornings I went to the nurse for wound care, in the evenings it was T´s turn. Normally this is something he would refuse to do – a disgusting looking deep wound, blood, lacerated muscle tissue…no thank you. But under the circumstances he had no choice and grew with his challenges. I opened our holy emergency operating kit from Wolfgang with a sterile blanket which I used to set up all the needed stuff. Our “sterile” blanket was probably the most reused specimen ever – it served us for many weeks…just felt better to drape all tubes, bottles, swabs etc. on something formerly-sterile. Pulling the tape off my skin was usually the most painful part and after some days my skin was so irritated that we fixed the gaze with a wraparound bandage.
Of course, we watched countless YouTube videos on wound caring but to establish a sterile routine on a small sailing boat is just hopeless.
We settled for the following procedure:
First washing and disinfecting hands, then cleaning the outside of the wound with a gaze or cotton wool drenched in (expired) Dettol, then flushing the wound with boiled (‘semi sterile’) water from a syringe. Than flushing with a syringe filled with saline solution (either for wound irrigation or IV drip, later self-made). Once a day whipping the actual wound with a sterile wet gaze to take off the bio film. Than cleaning/ drying the outside of wound again. Than putting antibiotic topping around the wound and press some on a sterile gaze to cover the wound with it. Take another sterile gaze on top and tape/fix it to the leg. The nurse would occasionally pour hydroperoxide into the wound (one of Cinde`s no-nos) and use betadine on the outside (another nono) which is great stuff but apparently not good for frequent, long-term use. We could not find any Neosporin free topping and had to use what’s there. If you have a choice – use Bactroban.
For 3 days I took the Amoxy from the French lady. Cinde advised me to take them longer so I asked the nurse who went through her stuff to find me something similar. And I had to have a tetanus refresher shot. Unbelievable that my last shot was 10 years old, now of all things, that I needed it.
The goal is to let the wound heal from bottom up. It cannot crust and close on the top first, that will result in disaster. Sometimes a tiny piece of rock or debris was transported to the surface.
Every day I send a picture of the laceration to Cinde for evaluation. I feel so fortunate that I can bug her like that. And I honestly do not know what the outcome of this story would have been without her advice and expertise.
Pati writes me that I have to avoid irritating foods. I have no appetite anyway and remember from my beloved Indianer – childhood books that the Native Americans would not eat at all when they had serious injuries (like an arrow shot) to help the body healing. The only thing I worried about was to take in enough vitamins, or better any vitamins. Nothing fresh to buy here, no fruit nor veggies and so my main meal is a cocktail made of freeze dried acai powder, some muesli and chia seeds in water – which I still have to force in due to no appetite.
The bills at the nurse were not too bad. Due to the basic facilities I received my quittances from several old receipt books which she pulled sometimes out of a drawer, sometimes out of her handbag. I could only hope that my health insurance will accept those. Depending on the mood of the day, on overtime or things she sold me like tape, antibiotics, saline solution etc. my bills were anything from 15 to 55USD/ visit. I always wondered why Wolfgang had packed so many packets of sterile gaze, so many serious dressings of varied sizes – but now I do understand. Should something like this happen, the dressing must be changed often, and our supposedly big stock shrank in very short time. So, look into your box and stock up!
We also have to take care of Christa’s problem. Where did all this water come in? We opened up the cupboards in question, cleaned out the closet and T poured buckets of water on deck. I am ready inside with a torch to find the leak. Nothing, just minor trickles that cannot be pinpointed and certainly not explain the amount of water we had in the boat. More buckets… No, not here! I suspect the front closet but T declines firmly. Not possible because he took care of that bit just some months ago in Curacao. More buckets. I insist the problem must be in the front closet. Reluctantly T cleans out this closet too. It contains our heavy drogue anchor and is no fun. Then we see it: We basically have a waterfall at the starboard chain plates. After reaching a certain level it trickles into the other closet and from there onto the salon floor. Nope, not very impressed with the silicone quality. It must have shrunk dramatically! T can only fix it temporarily with loads of more bad silicone –for we are in the Bahamas…
After one week I feel stable enough to move on. Blackpoint is a good stop to wash cloths at the local laundry. But apart from that there is nothing to see or to do and the only other person doing business in this little settlement was a tiny black lady baking bread, selling it for 7 $ to those few sailors that had stopped to wash cloths … or needed a nurse.
So, we hoist sail on April 27th, after my last clinic visit, direction Staniel Cay. We anchor between the Mayors, which is just around the corner from diverse tourist highlights like the famous swimming pigs beach and Thunderball Grotto (Remember James Bond?). Going up the channel we experience incredible currents. Our sea charts were not exactly very detailed, here of all things, where the strong current makes it critical already. Than ‘bleep’ the tablet goes black. 0% battery although it is plugged in. Redundancy! With Tallon and meanwhile acquired water reading skills we arrive safely at our desired anchorage. Unfortunately, there is only a mini beach accessible for a stroll.
It is weekend and for 2 days we look at this micro cut between the islands. In no known nautical publication is this mentioned as navigable, sometimes not even shown as a cut in the maps. We hold our breaths when we see a motor yacht passing through… On Monday morning we too take the short cut to get to the local nurse, an exciting little passage, in the true sense of the word!
This nurse is young and makes a capable impression. But she is a stand in on her first day and cannot find the antibiotic topping although she turns the place upside down. That means she cannot evaluate the wound nor change the dressing. She is super embarrassed and gives us lots of dressing stuff and new saline solution even without charging. Shame, but what can we do? Back to skipper treatment. We anchor in front of pig beach and T goes to have a look. Finally, a tourist attraction. I do not dare to come – those beasts are known to bite sometimes and I do not want to find myself having to run away or into the water…… T comes back with a cheerful smile. Totally enjoyed it. I am happy for him. Diving into Thunderball Grotto he does not find so desirable. That would have been my highlight. Well, … would! During the weekend we had watched this super old Sean Connery movie from 1965. Totally not watchable anymore, 007 behaves like an arsehole… Only fun because we are at the location. Than Cinde is raising alarm. She does not like the red rim around my wound and when I send her a fresh picture she advises me strongly to start antibiotics again. It is so frustrating, I have to cry. We never wanted to go to Nassau but now I want to see a real doctor in a real clinic for peace of mind. A tropical wave is rolling over us, but we still move on to Hawksbill Cay.
We can stay on the western side of the chain and do not have to deal with any big waves, but we have standing 25-30 kn. Hawksbill is super shallow, the depth sounder shows 1.40m ☹. But we stay, it is low slack tide. It is blowing the whole night and we decide to stay another day. We cannot leave for Nassau before the weekend anyway, the next tropical wave is coming already. It is blowing and raining like mad. No telephone network there – no Cinde advice. T says there is nice hiking on the island. No sand spurs and Sparrow indeed comes always back with a smile.
May 5th – we move on to Highborn Cay, our jump off point to Nassau. The wound looks better. Today I took the last of my antibiotics, the bottle is empty now. The antibiotic topping is also nearly finished. High time for civilization. I wonder for how long I can take antibiotic pills before I wreck my system completely? 2 weeks are a long time and in a way this is all self-medication. Cinde suggested doxycycline … but no have…
As if it was not bad enough – T broke his little toe. Shit, shit, shit! Are we too old now? Too slow? On the other hand, we look at elderly people all the time who have a job climbing into their dinghy or super fat people who are hardly mobile anymore. We watched bizarre, even dangerous moments – but how to make this decision for yourself?
Our anchorage is rolly. At 2 am we have a heavy thunderstorm going over us. We are not sure if the anchor will hold. The engine is running for 1 hour, then back into a rolly berth. Next morning T is in a very bad mood. He is working, working, working, he got up early, and still everybody else is gone already: what am I doing wrong, am I too old…rarara, the whole bad mood program… I am not any better. I had asked Cinde how long this might take to heal as the wound made only little visible progress. She had just mailed that this could take 8 weeks and more. That would mean end of June! I am devastated! Our weather forecast is bad. Calms and thunderstorms. Armin does not help with his storm and catastrophe announcements all the time. 5.30 pm we arrive at Rose Island, just before Nassau. T loves it and comes back from the stroll in high spirits. A real pine tree forest!!! Smells like Europe!
Monday morning, May 7th we are motoring towards Nassau and anchor not far from the praised Doctors Hospital. The admission lady tells me that they have only emergency consultations and 2.000$ will be booked off my credit card immediately. Should it cost less I will get a refund. It did not sound like it will cost much less and after having gone through all this drama I did not feel like a proper emergency patient not caring about costs at all. So, I walked around the corner to the recommended Walk Inn Clinic. It is still no comparison to a European clinic, but compared to the local government clinics this place was pristine and organized. Here too it was all about costs, baby. My doctor was a black girl married to a Dutch guy. Everything about her oozed high maintenance life style. She could not believe it had not been stitched. She also thought I took antibiotics for a very long time now. But she did not seem especially worried about the healing progress and suggested a Rocephin shot. I had no idea what that is but agreed of course to those extra 80$. Anything that is helping the healing. The nurse asked me if someone was waiting for me to take me home. I found this question strange. 10 minutes later I knew why she had asked. She did a very good job giving me the shot “right in my boody” as she said with raised eye brows. Out on the street ‘my boody’ started hurting like mad. Suddenly I could not walk properly anymore and started limping. I did not know that a Rocephin shot is so painful and will be agonizing for days! OMG whatta mess. I was tired and exhausted and all I wanted was to lay down. Instead I had to walk back to the other hospitals pharmacy to try and get the urgently needed new antibiotic topping and new dressings. And lots of it because there will be no chance to stock up before arriving in Florida, however long that takes. I get the Bactroban but no dressings. We cannot sail on without those, but I can only drag myself back on board for now. No more walking possible!
I write a complaining mail to Cinde: having had to pay 377$ for a look, a shot, a new plaster and some topping I find pretty steep. But she tells me in the US this would have most likely cost the double or even more and the Rocephin was a brilliant idea. Wow!
My wound looks much better now and healing is visible. Only my bud hurts terribly from this shot. After all this invisible repairing in the deep layers I feel content for the first time. Cinde even thinks letting it heal by itself might have been the better option since it was so deep.
We are walking to the big pharmacy to buy wound dressings – my size is not available. Annoying. And Nassau is the Bahamian epicenter of shopping… meanwhile the wind has turned north and we cannot leave as planned. Rose Island is also no option in these conditions, so we are stuck in Nassau. N a s s a u might sound like a tropic dream, but it is an ugly place with not so much to do – except THE aquarium.
We are anchored right opposite Paradise Island. So, we decide to groom ourselves, put on nice cloths and sneak into the magnificent Atlantis resort as hotel guests to admire the famous aquarium. Luxury hotels belong under normal circumstances to a life style that is so contrary to our way of living and thinking, such a paragon of absurdity to us but in this case it was nothing less but a fabulous experience. The aquarium has the mysterious elegance of a sunken Greek temple ruin. Megalomanic but still gemutlich. Of course, one of us had to wait with Sparrow nearby, watching the hotel guests coming and going, which was an experience in itself. Seriously rich people, wannabe rich people, once in a life time afford something like that people…Mingling with this crowd made us feel sort of proud that we can still do it, but it also emphasized in what a different world we are living now. We walked back to our Christa not only with lifted spirits but also feeling totally content with our situation. For the rest Nassau is highly uninteresting and mainly a slum. We are happy to leave with the next window May 12th. Our anchor is trapped and for 10 minutes we try clever maneuvers to get it out. When we finally leave Nassau harbor there is rain and thunderstorm. Shall we stay? No, we rig butterfly and sail on direction Berries. Thunderstorms and calms – typical Bahamas weather really. We stay overnight in Harbour Cay. Shallow of course but ok. The next 2 days are gray and rainy, blowing with 20 -22kn, so we decide to stay here even though our anchorage is not particularly safe. Armin has obviously cell service and sends horror messages: 30% chance of hurricane in the Golf of Mexico – the season has started!
May 16th, we leave direction Stirrup Cay. Since days the weather forecast promises 15kn SE but in reality we have thunderstorms with wind from any direction and in between calms. We are hiding from this iffy weather behind Devils Cay and are surprised how calm it is here. Should have done that earlier! We visit Hoffmann’s Blue hole and when we are back on board I go for my first mini swim since the disaster happened. My leg heals happily and to T´s astonishment the wound changes appearance every day. It is not completely closed yet but bathing does not feel like a stupid thing to do. Due to this laceration we have missed most of the really beautiful places of the Exumas and now the Berries will be my last chance to swim in clear water. I look immediately at 4 big and curious Remoras. Nice!
Every day we have big fires and burn the garbage of other people. Devils Cay is really pretty and we cannot understand how people can be so dumb and ignorant to leave their damn garbage on this cute little island.
May 19th – with 20-22kn and big waves we sail on to Great Stirrup Cay. Our isailor app/maps are of no use anymore. We get a max scale 1:50.000, after that no more detail. We have tried everything from refreshing, updating to de- and re-installing. The support never answered our email of how to solve this problem. We are quasi blind and have to navigate with Tallon and depth sounder. We hoped the easily accessible anchorage will serve us for the night, but it was too rolly. So, we had to motor into the super narrow channel with a pushing current and wind from 180°. Cannot get worse. To spin Christa in these conditions is an absolute stunt, in fact hopeless. But T can make her do the impossible. Going backwards with a constantly roaring bow thruster he managed to park us just in front of the little island, just out of the channel and next to the beach, not on it…
My leg is closed now but the times of crystal clear waters are over. Also, the weather is gray since more than 2 weeks, with or without rain and like that snorkeling is not this joyful activity anymore. Even worse there is a tropical storm lingering over Cuba looking like coming our direction, towards North Bahamas/ Florida. Lots of oracling going on in the sailor’s community. We want to stay ahead of it and make the jump to Florida before it possibly arrives. Everything on board is moist due to sea water or rainwater. Serious boat building sites are casting their shadows. Our mood is bad, and Christa appears like the famous bottomless pit. Great Stirrup is also a private island – it belongs to some Norwegian company selling the ultimate all-inclusive holidays to their countrymen. They operate cruise ships and disembark their clients on this resort island where people are not disturbed by any inhabitants – humanoid or general. There is also no harassment by shade or vegetation, just concrete apartments and neat sunbeds. We cannot believe that this appeals to some people as attractive … but as I always say: Thankfully it does!!
Next day, May 20st we leave for West Palm Beach, Florida. Of course, we want to arrive in rising tide or slack water but that is very hard to time. We do not particularly trust the weather forecast. Due to permanent thunderstorms it is impossible to make a decent wind forecast. And we must cross the Golf Stream for the first time. Some call it the big washing machine. We have lots of respect and calculate with a 2 kn current offsetting us, adjust the course accordingly in our planned route.
Leaving 2pm we get out of our little hole without any problems. We have constant winds of 17-22kn ESE – which is for us 180°, we are rigged butterfly thus. But it is the one constellation that the wind pilot cannot really handle without lots of yawing which is a bit dangerous in stronger winds like that. We decide to use the much more accurate electric auto pilot instead and rather switch off the fridge for the night. It is sort of hazy and we dearly hope that we will be spared bad thunderstorms during the night. We have already a 2m wave and do not look forward to any rougher conditions… Our ETA is surprisingly late between 1-5 pm tomorrow. We are fast but due to a counter current of 1-2kn we do not cover that much distance. After leaving the Bahamas the counter current slowly dies. Our ETA is changing accordingly. Sometimes we thunder down a wave with 9kn… The Golf Stream is not as wide this time of the year, so we only felt its pushy powers close to Florida. Wave height was thankfully stable with ~2m.
We can make out Lake Worth Inlet, but it would be just too easy to sail right into it without any freaky incidence. There is lots of traffic close to Florida´s coast. Lots of pleasure craft but also many commercial vessels. A big MSC freighter comes with 17kn right at us and seemingly does not care to avoid a collision. Our CPA is and stays zero. As a sailing vessel we have right of way but… we would not even leave a scratch on his hull. Being rigged butterfly we are not very maneuverable and have to rip down our genoa in an emergency maneuver. The reef line jams in the winch and the freighter comes merciless at us. We clear the line, take in the genoa and let the freighter pass in front. But without genoa we become a silly ping pong ball in the waves. Could have been so nice…
Anyway, we motor sail through the inlet and throw anchor in Palm Beach on the 21st of May at 10.45am.
With SV Tayrona and SV Livingston we sail to Caja de los Muertos, an island about 12nm from Ponce. The weather is calm, so we can inspect the little Isla. Supposedly there is a nice walk up to the light house. But we find it completely blocked by huge cactus trunks making the passage a thrilling (spiky) little experience – should you slip or fall….. There are 2 wardens living on the island and we wonder if the hurricane left THAT much damage or if the wardens are just excessively slow workers… Their TV is blaring and we wonder if it is a good idea to provide telly reception to this place. The next morning we take a walk on the eastern beach although it is forbidden. We are the only ones and enjoy ourselves until we see one of the wardens coming our way. Darn… in my head I prepare the Spanish vocabulary to tell him that no, we did not see any sign that dogs are not allowed and neither a sign that beach access on this side is forbidden (they are hurricane victims)… But the warden is super friendly and tells us that we, as foreign tourists, are welcome to walk on this beach and also to bring our small dog. It is just the Puerto Ricans that litter and destroy everything! Oh my, he did not have a high opinion of his countrymen we giggled when he was gone…
We waved Livingston good bye and we were pretty sad having to say good bye to Tayrona too as we had spent so many weeks together. They sail eastward – we leave westward to visit the to us unknown southern and western coast of Puerto Rico. Next stop: Gilligan’s Island.
With only one other yacht it seemed a lonely anchorage which was surprising because according to our nautical guide this was an IT-place. When we dinghy to Gilligan’s island we start to understand why it is praised. Very clear water at those tiny islands, very shallow – you can walk/swim from one island to the next, very nice sand between the mangrove trees … a little idyllic place. What puzzles us is the number of oil drum trash cans on the tiny, tiny place. Wherever you decide to place yourself you are never further away from a can than 5 steps. Seriously. Despite of that we find an amazing number of carelessly thrown away plastic cups and bags and Styrofoam food wrapping, capri sun style Mojito bags etc. Hmmm. What’s going on here? We are all by ourselves so I take off my cloths and swim with Sparrow through the little channel to the next island. Same story there. ?? Are there marauding, uncivilized crowds haunting this place? Hmmm, no idea. We clean up the worst eye sores.
The riddle is solved when we see the ferry operating from Tue – Sun from 11am, bringing lots of people who pile up to spend a great afternoon on the island, lying in the shallow water, in the sun or in the shade of a mangrove tree with a drink in their hand… life is good! Walking 5 steps to the trash can, or 4 or 3 or 2? Nooo, … R U crazy? Life is too short for that! Weekends are especially drastic and if you want to find a sober person after 4pm in Puerto Rico … good luck, it might turn out to be a frustrating project! Anyway, we have an enjoyable time in the Bay making friends with Gerd, the “surfer dude” who is surprisingly German. Gerd and his wife Toni escaped from winter in Seattle and live in one of the pretty houses on the beach. For some reason they decide to like and pamper us and we are allowed to use their kayaks, their garden shower, their internet and tap water whenever we like. They give us a lift to the AT&T shop so we can finally buy a sim card and stop at the supermarket. Is this sweet or what? We invite them for coffee and serve (exotic) Dutch stroop wafers from Bonaire. Tony surprises us with a fabulous self-made Hefezopf. Lecker!!! We take Sparrow and the kayak and paddle to the wild beach behind Gilligan’s. It is a national park and sort of hard to get to. No people, lots of coconut, lots of iguanas… – just how we like it. We drink as much coconut water as we can, fill our bottle with it and pack the kayak with as many coconuts as we can accommodate. Sparrow also likes coco water and even eats the coco flesh. A great “hunting trip” for all of us.
After a week or so we say good bye to our new friends and sail on to praised La Parguera. I want to burn our nautical guide written by Mr. Pavlidis. No idea if our reception is so different to that of the author or if the places have changed so drastically during the last 3-4 years… T and I agree that they can stick their deep-fried shit food where the sun never shines. Looking at garbage, sorry souvenirs and fat, drunk people does not provide so much amusement to us really. We regret to have left Gerd and Toni so soon. But there is no turning back, we sail on the next day. There is not much more to come – we sail around Cabo Rojo and are at the west coast of Puerto Rico already. From here we plan to do the big leap to the Bahamas and must wait for the right weather. Our Spanish friends who sailed on to the Dominican Republic had stopped for one night on Mona island but they could not go on shore because of the weather and the anchoring situation and because it is hunting season. For us there are no exciting destinations left in Puerto Rico. We throw anchor in Boqueron, according to Mr Pavlidis it is THE anchor bay of PR… but we are the only ones. A stroll through ‘town’ quickly reveals that all there is is a bar at the pontoon, a gas station, some hotels that might be used as a prison without changing a thing, an ugly beach, a tiny mini market (Sparrow was allowed in!). All the telephone numbers to rent a car or for taxi service provided on a big sign at the marina prooved wrong or dead. Hmmm. We decide to anchor in the mang, away from town. Sparrow LOVES it. He is very busy hunting iguanas … to an extent that he not listening at all and we decide it is time for the leash and some heeling exercises. On a morning stroll when I was doing my gymnastics Sparrow came suddenly to lay down next to me. He looked at me with a happy smile and started to crunch on something that I identified as a big iguana tail. Hmmm, I was intrigued. Sparrow started to be independent thus and had solved his food misery. I always spoiled Sparrow with rice and meat dinners but currently, in this shopping desert, it was not possible anymore. Sparrow is on dog food, just like any ordinary dog and he is not a huge fan. When he gets his dry food, he looks at it in disbelieve, then he looks at me, then at T, then away and then… he eats it with a slight expression of disgust in his face. Now he augments his diet obviously with iguana meat! Of course do I feel sorry for the poor iguanas but we have learned that these animals are not indigenous to Puerto Rico and that there are efforts being made to introduce this animal as a cheap protein source to the local people…
I always admire the beauty of iguana skin and consulted the internet on how to tan it. During my research I find some information on how dangerous iguanas can be to dogs. The bacteria on their skin and claws can induce serious illness to dogs and so Sparrow’s iguana diet ended quickly ☹
We watch the weather closely to find a good window to leave direction Turks & Caicos and define Sunday, March 25th as leaving day, wanting to clear out Saturday thus. Customs sits in Mayagüez, a town about 25km from where we aren no good anchoring conditions there. We have a hot number for a taxi. George is charging 40$ for driving there and back including a stop at a good supermarket. When I call him, he is amazed that we want to go on a Saturday – he thinks the office is closed. Moreover, he is currently in New York but will be back on the weekend. I call customs and indeed, the guys are closed on weekends – phhh very happy I checked. Calling back George to prepone our trip to Friday. He is stuck in a snow storm and his plane will not leave but he says he can organize the boyfriend of his daughter to take us – “he is a responsible kid”. We agree on Friday 1pm at the gas station. Ruben turns up. In a … car. Junk heap would be too much of a compliment for this. Ok let’s go. Ruben is quiet and fully concentrated on driving. I am not sure if this is chemically induced. We are taking the scenic way and I hold my breath a couple of times. Not because it is so beautiful, more because he is driving very far on the right for my taste. I also feel that the steering of his car is sort of stubborn. We pass no hotel that does not remind us of a prison, no restaurant that couldn´t serve as it´s canteen. Shame. But we make it ok to customs and are out of there in 15 minutes. A new record. The officer finds it odd that some countries still want a despacho. The DomRep wants one for sure but as it turns out later the Bahamas do not need this paper so in fact we could have just phoned to give notice of our departure and save ourselves this trip. The supermarket stop is very welcomed though. We spend 270$ and I would have liked to buy more stuff – but Christa is full and cannot handle more food plus all fruits and veggies are cooled already so it is no use to buy lots when it cannot be stored in the fridge…
Sunday is a gray day and at 6am it looks like squalls and all – not exactely perfect sailing weather. After T stuck his nose out oft he cockpit he says: Ich glaube wir bleiben heute im Stall!… Erst mal Kaffee kochen…
We analyze the newest weather and come both to the conclusion that even though it looks nasty outside, it is still better to leave today because we might run into too much wind and waves of more than 3m after 3 days – if we wait. Last stroll for Sparrow und los gehts.
Sailing through the Mona passage turns out to be quite an uncivilized adventure. We have 20-27kn wind and big waves. One squall after the other is racing over us. In between the wind drops to 8 or 9kn leaving us bouncing like a ping pong ball in 2.50 – 3m waves before the wind picks up again. We see a big tree trunk floating past in boats lengths… Sparrow is so terrified that he starts smelling bad. I am not sure if we smell any better. We do not feel very well in this sudden roller coaster ride. In the charts there is one area in the north of the passage marked with tide rips and big waves anytime! Worse than now?!? It already feels like the passage Ushuaia – Cape Town instead of Boqueron – Turks & Caicos. Please Poseidon have mercy!
After about 1 day the Mona Passage has puked us out, we have left the Caribbean… With 20kn of wind and a 1.50m wave we should feel better … but we find about 20l of salt water under the bathroom floor, the carpets are wet and water trickles through the deck on various places. Does this never stop? … I guess the right answer is NO, IT`S A BOAT, STUPID! I spend the day preparing mentally for the next big building site … in Florida.
At night wind and waves pick up again and make for a rough trip. Waves are washing over the boat, all hatches closed, the drains start smelling bad, Sparrow is trembling through the next night. Far away we see a big cruise ship … and wish we could be on board there. Another shrimp cocktail, honey?
At noon, 27th of March we arrive at Big Sand Cay. Just a sand pile in big waves but the closer we get the more it looks like it is possible to anchor there and have a break. Our average speed was 6 kn which is unusual fast for us. We both lose our bet, there is one other sailing boat. T is rowing on land with crazy Sparrow who has a mega peepee, then to our French neighbor to say hello. Than the big cleaning up starts… grrrrhhh. Sparrow is just eating, drinking and then sleeping in assumed safety.
Wind and waves pick up again and do not allow an evening strolli. The next day is not any better and we watch disappointed how the waves crash onto the beach running all the way up and over to the other side of the little island. We thought, if it is too risky trying to land with the dinghy I could still swim to the beach … but no chance …Meteo Fax announces 11 feet waves for our area, tomorrow 6-8 feet. Can we believe that? With our stern anchor the situation is surprisingly comfortable on board even though we seem to be in the middle of big waves and lots of wind. Our neighbor disappears sometimes in the waves – he has obviously decided to also stay a day longer and wait for calmer conditions. Unfortunately we cannot visit each other – impossible to leave the boat alone. We stay another day – hope dies last – but regret it, no landing possible. We thought it would be extra dreadful for Sparrow to look at land, not being able to go there. But he also watched the crashing waves and seemed to understand very well that this would be a desperate undertaking. He did not even whine.
Good Friday, we are leaving. No change for another landing. We are sorry we wasted yesterday here. For today we set 3 options: Long Cay, Fish Cay or Six Hill Cay. What we want is: hiding from Turks & Caicos customs, land access and calm conditions to have a good sleep. Clearing in and out T&C would cost us each time one day and 50$ (or 400$ in total if staying longer than 1 week). But we only want to pass through and enjoy the adventure of crossing the Caicos Bank with its 2-3m deep turquois water. Astronauts say apparently that the two most impressive features looking from space onto earth are the Chinese Wall and the Caicos Bank.
Option 1 works out already although anchoring in this super shallow area and particularly in this tiny sandy spot for throwing the anchor is … exciting. From now on we have to be aware of the tides – in the Caribbean they are hardly noticeable and totally neglectable but from here on it makes a difference of 30 to 50cm, becoming even more the further north we go. We agree that I go snorkeling and T is going on a stroll with Sparrow who is quite desperate to go on land. It is so shallow now, during low tide, that T has to pull up the outboard at one point and row and then even get out of the dinghy and pull it to the beach. When he comes back he is totally upset – Sparrow ist ein totaler Arsch! He killed an Iguana before he even peepeed. There is so many of them that he freaked out completely. Such a nice place, unspoiled and this fckn dog behaves so bloodthirsty. No more strolls without leash! I think T is exaggerating and overreacting. We all went for the evening stroll. Sparrow is whining and squeaking in the dinghy. I let him jump and swim because I think he was so excited at noon that he forgot to pooh and now he is so desperate. But no, he is racing on land, runs straight to the next iguana and tries to kill him. I must use all my authority to stop him and put him on the leash. My god I have never seen that many iguanas and they are of a different kind than in the Caribbean too. I also have never seen Sparrow behave THAT crazy. Hmmm, this is indeed not a place for dogs.
We leave 8.30am next morning direction Sapadillo where we want to hide another night before sailing over to Mayaguana, Bahamas. 15kn E, starting with the main sail only. We do not want to be too fast in case we misinterpret the water color and collide with a coral bommy. Turquois water 2,50 -3m deep – as far as the eye can see. Wow, this is unique! And in perfect sailing conditions too! Nautical guides advise strongly to not sail in the dark. If you run out of daylight just anchor and wait for the next morning. Feels like a funny idea but is absolutely feasible. In these shallow waters it probably takes a pretty rare constellation to produce a wake that might ruin a night on anchor. We follow the Pearl channel with all electronic help we have on board. CPN charts are absolutely useless here but nevertheless running. iSailor is running with the Navionics charts and this is our best bet. Standard depth sounder and old fashion stingray depth sounder run constantly. We start in 3-4m deep water but from noon on the depth is decreasing. We agree on starting to worry at a depth of 2m. Despite of being in a properly surveyed channel you have to watch constantly what is in front of the boat. Not every bommy is marked, no channel is just a straight line you can follow blind on auto pilot. The day is super enjoyable and T is even climbing up the mast to take some great pics. Around 5pm just 3 miles from Sapadillo we suddenly see this motorboat charging at us. It is the police boat racing full throttle with its 1000 HP to position itself just next to us and sign us to answer the VHF. Apparently they have called us to identify ourselves but we did not hear the call. T & C have quite some installations (radar and spy boats) to prevent boats from cruising through their archipelago without paying this absurd fee. What T&C and also the Bahamas charge feels like modern-day (water-) way lays. You must pay a lot of money and you get absolutely nothing in return. How charming is that? And does it make you want to come back? And why are they not celebrating bloody Easter, at home with their families? What happened to religion? Since when does the British Empire leave ex slave colonies in a state of secularity? Not obeying Christian festivities?
The skipper of the intimidating police boat is passing us on to Provo radio. We say, we are on our way to Sapadillo when asked for our plans. The Provo radio guy is actually really nice and wants us to call him back once we are on anchor. The police boat is racing off. Now, what to do? We think it is pretty safe to assume that if we anchor, we have to clear in and pay – and they will not let us off the hook. The dot we make on their radar has now our name on it! Damn, we should have stayed over in French Cay and leave the Caicos Bank from there. Our problem is not only the payment. Ex – English always means Sparrow is highly illegal and cannot be cleared in without a big drama. We agree to sail on than, sail to Mayaguana and clear there into the Bahamas. But how do we sell it best to the Provo radio man? According to IMO rules innocent passage of an archipelago must be tolerated by local authorities. But how interesting are IMO rules to way layers?!? We agree to call him as late as possible, after he must have seen, that we are not going to anchor in Sapadillo. Our story is, we just checked the latest weather which is favorable to sail on and we still feel fit, so we decided to sail through the night. The best is, that this is not even a lie. We just would have preferred to anchor for the night and go for a peepee on land – but if that cost 100$ and 1 day and a stroll is not possible and we have to deal with a whining Sparrow the better solution is just to sail on indeed. T calls Provo radio. No answer. After 5 minutes he calls again. No answer. Are they finally celebrating Easter???
Bye bye Turks & Caicos… 30 minutes later Provo radio calls. T is very charming and innocent. The Provo radio man too. It turns out he wants to go through a safety checklist and wishes us a nice trip at the end of the conversation. We zip through the reefs with last day light leaving T & C archipelago. Our trip is pleasant and fast and we will arrive at Mayaguana around 4 am in pitch black night. That is a very unfortunate timing because entering Abrahams Bay in the dark is absolutely impossible. Even if we would know the place, even if we had a track we could follow, even if we were crazy … Abrahams Bay is infested with coral bommies and allows navigation in good daylight only. We decide that waiting for daylight just to pay way laying fees and loose a day or 2 in unspectacular Mayaguana is stupid. Wind and waves are great for us and we are making good progress – so we decide to sail on and consult the nautical guide for a suitable stop at around noon. Atwood Harbor in the North Acklins seems to be ok for us. After having had just a little sleep during the night an approach through the reefs is always extra nerve racking and needs forced concentration. But conditions are easy and soon we are on anchor. Stroll with Sparrow, cleaning up the worst, eating something, sleep.
Somehow this clearing business is haunting us lately. It is so easy in most of the Antilles, especially in the French Antilles. Everybody loves this civilized way of clearing in and out. You just go to any harbor office or snack bar that agreed to host a computer and a printer for clearing. You do it yourself and you have to pay a marginal fee of 1 – 5 Euros for the print out. Done! In the Bahamas they threaten to confiscate your boat, imprison the skipper and charge you with a fine that will truly change your life. I am not sure if this is part of the pay-back-the-white-man schedule or if that ought to be a terrific way of making easy business?
Bonaire is a pleasant place to stay – not so much because it is so pretty (the kackplek is not!). But life in Bonaire is very easy. It is safe, the water is mostly very clear, you can swim and dive from the boat, customs and immigration are friendly, it has 2 big, mostly well stocked supermarkets, dogs are no problem, there are numerous restaurants and even more dive shops. And this is where it ends.
The plan was to stay a couple of weeks – then go west, to Columbia, San Blaas, Panama, Guatemala. Having had time to think about it all we slowly got uncomfortable with our plan. At first an indefinable intuition it slowly arrived at our cognition: Sailing to Central America can still be done when we are old(er) but to rove around Americas Midwest, spending lots of time on a bicycle, go hiking a lot, live with very little comfort (even less than now :-))… demands a lot more energy and is better done while still feeling fit, capable and willing to undertake little strenuous adventures.
So we decided to knock over our big plan and go North instead, sail via The Bahamas to the US and drive/hike/cycle through Colorado, Utah, Arizona. Yeah, looking at the new plan felt like the right thing to do and so we started to look for a weather window with East, possibly South Eastern winds. I did not buy a tank refill card at convenient Yellow Sub Dive Shop because I thought I will not be able to suck out 21 tanks in this short time. Instead I landed -as usual- at Wannadive which is further away and often an ordeal to moor the dinghy, but they have tenner cards. During the second week of January appeared a weather window which cat Saya used to sail to the DomRep. We were toying with the idea to also hoist sails but then decided to wait for a better window. Our goal to reach at least Ponce in Puerto Rico seemed a bit optimistic with this forecasted 70deg wind. East is what we want, South East a dream… It appeared to have been the last chance for weeks. Just like a year ago we are waiting and waiting and … but apart from strong North Easterly winds kicking up 3-5m waves there is nothing else to be seen in the forecast. Wanting to sail in North Easterly direction from ABC seems to be a mighty hopeless plan during the months of January and February…
In the meantime I dug out my dive equipment again, bicycles are out, T busied himself designing 2 plexiglas “ears” to turn the cockpit into a dry place when it rains. This nuisance of 40 years is now being taken care of in meticulous, DIY-from-scratch-T-like manner.
This year I jumped at the chance to do the “ostracods -dive”. A fabulous under water bioluminescence spectacle happening 2-5 days after full moon. A bling bling really special dive I shared with Bernd from Viking.
Winter arrived in Bonaire! We wake up to ‘freezing’ temperatures of 24 deg C in the boat at 6 am. The water temperature also dropped from 28 to 26°C and everybody is dreaming of a long neoprene suit. I also toy with this idea but do not buy one. Firstly, out of principle – we are in the tropics after all. Secondly, due to space issues to be honest.
Our bike trips lead us usually to the islands eastern side. We have been there before but cycling in this moonscape, in howling winds and close to huge waves is an epic experience.
Bonaire enjoyed a “heavy” raining season this year. During some weeks it rained every day and we caught many liters of rain water. Due to heavy rainfalls the ground can be very muddy in places and what used to be a mountain bike track might have dastardly mutated into a salty mud trap. On one of our trips we promptly got stuck in this slush. Looking at solid ground in just 20m distance we did not want to give up nor face reality. Even pushing the bikes was impossible due to the mud building up on the wheels, the brakes, the gears and the next escalation step to carry the bikes was impaired by mud building up under my shoes / sucking in T´s flipflops, refusing to release them. Ohhh lots of cursing … We made it… but at what a price… The bikes had to (!) be washed in the salty water of the lagoon in order to get back a working bicycle. That was a painful act of unavoidable destruction – I do not believe that our beloved bikes will ever recover from this maltreatment – even after being washed and brushed in fresh water the next day.
T decides that Sparrow needs a new bicycle-basket and starts to build one from – yes of course – glass and epoxy. Sparrows bicycle trailer cost a lot of money but went straight into the garbage in Curacao marine. To hang something behind your bicycle and tow it is good for doing your shopping. But your effort of getting a bike as lightweight as possible to do trips in the mountains or off-road terrain is dead simply ridiculed if you hang a trailer on it! Although the trailer amazed us in terms of how hard a beating it could take … it did turn any bike trip even including just a gentle hill into agony.
So, we are waiting urgently for a window to leave – also to meet our friends Tom and Kirstin again who are on their way down south from Antigua. We do not mind a little detour via e.g. Guadeloupe for a fun ‘family meeting’. LOADS of things to talk about after 2 years … when T breaks his toe. …sailor’s classic, …happens every so many years… At least 3 weeks of pain and exercising caution in flip flop climate. Sparrow did not help by jumping twice onto the fracture when hopping into the dinghy… I cannot remember many occasion to have seen my skipper in such a state of … ecstasy.
During the winter months Bonaire’s water is clear but not crystal clear – putting Armin and Marisol in a miffed mood… Sometimes we go snorkeling together in their fast dinghy, sometimes I go hunting lion fish with our neighbors Sheri and Lawrence who have taken this past time into perfection. It adds a whole new dimension to diving and I am happy I can join in every now and then. T and I have our first lion fish filet. We had no high expectations but had to change our minds – Sheri and Lawrence prepared the filets in milk and bread crumbs and we found it a surprisingly tasty (and ciguatera fear free) affaire!
The weather is stubborn and we spend many, many days playing through different scenarios in a weather routing program. Since we know next to nothing about our next big destination, the Bahamas, we spend lots of time preparing this trip. If you arrive in a plane it is sort of up to you how much effort you want to spend gathering information on your destination. If you come with your own boat you need to know the rules of clearing in, where is a port of entry, where can you anchor your boat safely, in what winds, at what depths, which papers are needed, which costs are involved, what’s the etiquette etc. etc. When choosing places to go, especially in the Bahamas your draft plays a significant role as the Bahamian waters are extremely shallow. And you must always have a plan B and C. Part of preparing the trip to the Bahamas is also mega food shopping as shopping facilities over there are scarce or more often than that simply nil. So, we are cramming all sorts of foods into every space we can find – and poor Christa is sinking in deeper and deeper once more. Sadly, there is hardly anything to see from this recently raised water line. The selection of foods is kind of odd since we have no freezer and very limited space in the fridge. What is keeping well without refrigeration and is still tasty and nutritious? Not many things! We are schlepping basmati rice, oats, salamis, tuna cans, lots of crispbread, cookies, muesli, jam, dehydrated potato mash, pulses … on board. Should anybody come and visit – it will not be a culinary Highlight, unless we catch fish!
Apart from that T is sinking himself every day into serious boat projects. Amongst other things he installed the extra solar panel, the subwoofer is now hidden behind Christa`s planks, the storage behind the sofa was perfected, he built customized AC adapters for our computers, he got weather fax running, installed the ubiquity bullet, charcoal filters in Christa`s water system, varnished the teak veneer on the salon floor, build and glued lids onto the water tank hand holes…..
I withdrew myself from the real world for a one week fasting.
Almost every evening we were watching lectures on sociology or philosophy or watched YouTube clips of KenFM which is the greatest and most interesting thing internet has to offer in the news section – at least in the German speaking sphere. Should you feel any interest in understanding the modern human’s behavior, any desire in understanding your latent feeling that things seem to go wrong – I do recommend to watch those interviews of Ken Jebsen with Europe’s currently most interesting people.
The end of February finally brings a change in weather and allows us to leave. Many boats have been waiting and are desperate to go north east. Due to that Bonaire’s mooring situation was unusually busy. For our northeastern course the wind is not perfect but we are so ready to go that we started even 1 day earlier than planned because the weather forecast showed more and more calms south of Puerto Rico.
So, we march to customs and immigration and clear out on Tuesday, 27th of February. We are in good spirits and all is well until we hit a strong current of 2 kn after the first day of sailing, setting us off to the south and west. The best we could do was making straight north, which is bringing us to the Dominican Republic instead of Puerto Rico! Hmmm, it was nice sailing though – with waves not so high, wind not to strong, hardly any water on deck. At night we could doze in the cockpit on a mountain of pillows looking at the full moon. But our direction? During my first night watches I had fantasies of what I would buy at Macy´s, once we are in Ponce, Puerto Rico. Usually, when sailing, I do not allow myself thoughts of what I will do when I arrive somewhere until I did arrive. Call it superstition but whenever I do this – things do not look like they will work out. For the first 3 days it dead simply looked like: arrival in the DomRep. I could only make peace with this once we decided to try and anchor at Mona island. At night we had to dress in long pants and socks and long sleeve shirts for the first time in ages. Looking through our cloths before we left we discovered that T does not even own a pair of long comfy pants for sailing – so I had to be generous and give up my running pants. I have not done much running during the last 5 years admittedly – certainly not in long pants!
Miraculously the wind sported a completely unannounced Southern component during day 3 and 4 and like that we did arrive in our designated destination, arrived in Ponce after 3 days and 17 hours.
We have cleared in Ponce before and the procedure is straight forward, normally. You call Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and the officers come to your vessel which can be moored either in the marina (100$/day) or to the special clearing pontoon on the opposite side. The problem was – the hurricane has destroyed the clearing pontoon completely. Now what? First things first – we anchor and go illegally on land with Sparrow, who is of course close to crazy seeing land after 4 days. Under lots of protest and shame he did 2 peepees on board during the trip – so he urgently needed to do many things. Another reason why we must go on land illegally is – we have no telephone to call and must ask someone on the street if we can use their phone to alert customs and immigration of our arrival. Phoning is the only way of contact. The first call always takes minimum 20 minutes to pass on all data (boat and crew), spell and reconfirm everything. So, using a non- US phone would truly cost a fortune! We run into a sweet Harley Davidson rider who is happy to help. I use his immaculate iPhone and have a problem to make CBP understand that no, they cannot call us back because we have no telephone! Not having a working phone is outside the imaginativeness of an American Citizen, especially when employed at customs and boarder protection. Finally we agree that the officers will call us on radio although I get the feeling that VHF is something unknown to this branch of officials. Also where and how to come on board is unsolved because the customs’ pontoon is destroyed, the yacht and fishing club is probably as unwilling as ever to help and let visiting yachts use the fuel pontoon for the procedure. When I offered to pick up the officers in the dinghy the guy was laughing and declined firmly because the officers will be dizzy.?! But no worries they will contact us later… On our way back we stop at Tayrona and interview Armin and Marisol who had arrived 2 days before us. They said they just phoned and moored to the fuel pontoon for the clearing procedure which was super swift, the officers even sweet. We were very tired and went to bed early, switching off the radio at some point. A couple of yachts had arrived during Friday evening wanting to clear in as well. That gave us a good feeling because so many yellow flagged yachts cannot be ignored or neglected. All of the others had opted to hire a mooring in the fishing club. Next morning all yellow flags were gone, Puerto Rican courtesy flags up instead. Hmmm. They must call us this morning we assumed! I went for an early (and illegal) stroll with Sparrow taking the handheld VHF with me, ready to rush back should the officers announce their arrival. Nothing. We wanted to be cleared in asap to be free to go! So we walked through the fishing club after my return in search of a telephone to contact CBP again. The lady in the office was not only unwilling to help – 2 years ago to call this toll-free number had a price tag of 10 $ and the fuel pontoon could not be used. This time a phone call was absolutely impossible, for no price, and of course the fuel pontoon still cannot be used – we have to use the pontoon on the opposite side for clearing she told us. Our hint that this pontoon was shredded by the hurricane was answered with a cold shrug. Our hope that people would help each other when things are rough e.g. after a hurricane strike seemed a complete outrage, like altruism has never played a role in human evolution… We were fed up and just wanted to leave this place – but we still needed the papers!!! On the way back to the dinghy we ran into some American fellow sailors who seemed friendly and indeed asked us in, happy to help with their phone. Yes, the officers were in the marina very late yesterday and obviously did not call us anymore. Today only 1 officer is on duty. He is busy at the moment but will contact us later, in about 1 or 2 hours. I pointed out that there will be no permission to use the fuel dock but the man on the telephone seemed not impressed. Ok than we wait to be called on the radio. Of course we were not contacted and in the afternoon, we dinghy over to Tayrona to phone again. Thankfully Armin had bought a Puerto Rican – sim card in the meantime. The officer is a bit puzzled that we have not been contacted so far and told us, that customs and immigration is not working on Sunday. So, we should feel free to go on land and walk around Ponce. But we will be contacted on Monday morning, must be ready from 8am. Slowly we felt like starring in this stupid movie with Tom Hanks where he is stuck in the international transit zone of the New York airport because the little Russian Republic he was just coming from that had that authorized his papers was suddenly nonexistent after an uprising and immigration did not know what to do with this guy. It is a movie I had to switch off after some time – it drove me crazy with its screaming senselessness … and now we had our own set. We were also tired of begging strangers to use their phone to have funny conversations with divers employees of CBP.
At least we have permission to legally step on land now. So, on Sunday we walked all the way to Macys and the Pueblo Supermarket and on Monday… you guess it… nothing happened.
I go on a quickie stroll with the VHF in my pocket, we have breakfast after my return and by 10am we feel that we need to do something. We crashed into Tayrona’s breakfast and used Armin’s phone again. Funny how fundamentally different our clearing experiences are… Finally we seem to have somebody on the phone who can think clearly. We agree on coming over to their office – which is a 10 minute dinghy ride away – with all our papers and the money for the cruising permit. I have programmed myself on the ZEN-mode. We do not know if they want to make an example of us because it was such an ordeal or what will happen in this office. But everybody in the office is super friendly and Sparrow can even come up into the office. I do not dare to raise the subject why this was not possible on Friday or Saturday already or why this is not the standard routine when a yacht on anchor wants to clear in… I just want to leave this world of screaming unlogic, inefficiency and charade behind me…
So we are smoothing and sanding, smoothing and sanding… on the side we take care of the teak deck. A copper band has been glued to the hull to be grounded better. One coat of the smoothing is prepared with graphite to increase the conductivity of the hull (HAM radio is still one of these projects that do not run and nobody knows why). I lost track how many layers of smoothing went on before we turned to filling particular dents only…
My right arm and shoulder are hurting from mixing all this epoxy smoothing. Vast amounts are needed and micro balloons do not mix in easily. It is this small repetitive movement of stirring a viscous mixture with a little spatula… Now I understand why these stirring and shaking machines in medical laboratories were invented pretty quickly. We hardly ever change jobs because my smoothing skills are not so impressive. Sanding on the other hand is a job we can share.
The big day comes on October 24th. We start fiber-glassing. Christa´s hull is split into 4 sections – we decided we cannot do everything in one go. The chosen try out quarter is front starboard. The plan is to laminate 2 layers of glass, wet in wet. Everything goes wrong. Very wrong. We had painted the selected section with epoxy primer and wanted to start. The dry glass mat did not stick at all to the hull which left us pretty perplexed… standing there with our prepared epoxy mixture we looked at the misery in complete disbelieve. We knew it will not be easy and it was the first time having to laminate big vertical and even over hanging surfaces but what we wanted to do felt like wanting to stick an egg to a greased Teflon pan which is turned upside down. Hmmm… We tried overpainting the primed surface with normal epoxy and stick the glass scrim to that – not working. By now everything was super messy with a big piece of partly epoxy drenched glass. We cut the glass vlies -that was meant to go on as one piece from top to bottom – into smaller pieces (easier to handle) and wetted this with epoxy before it went on the hull. This finally seemed to work out. The result looked ok but one thing was clear: we can impossibly do the whole hull in this messy manner! Ourselves, our work table, our tools … everything was soiled with epoxy. Yuk!! We had realized that the primer became more sticky after some time and we had learned that it is a big help when gluing the glass vlies into position with tape. We re-read the specifications on the stuff because this behavior was very unexpected. Everybody is forever worried about epoxy getting hard to quickly or having a massive exotherm reaction turning your mix into waste immediately. Everybody has heart about the pot life of a mixture but our phenomenon was quite different. Glass scrim did not stick to the wet primer although it was specifically designed to be a component for layering, for wet in wet, for osmosis protection. Slowly we got the hang of it and found that the primer needs 1 – 2 hrs to dry and gel, then it can be over-painted with our normal epoxy mixture and only than the dry glass sticks and can be ‘massaged’ carefully onto the hull and subsequently trimmed and drenched with epoxy. Becoming friends with our chemicals we could throw away the heavy chem guard gloves (that took a heavy beating during our first day) and work with a lighter version that allows more control. In my horror I had cycled to Caribbean Fasteners hardware store to buy more (a lot more) gloves and found those sturdy cotton gloves coated with a thick yellow layer of nitrile. For this industrial process we were now busy with those thin blue nitrile gloves we used for smoothing were not only a mere joke. Being in those thin gloves for longer than half an hour or so leaves the skin completely macerated to an extent that you do not recognize your own hands anymore…
Two layers of fiber glass are a BIG job. The clock is ticking as you work wet in wet and from the time you start to the time you are finished with your chosen section of hull there is no break, no food, no peepee, no nothing except the occasional zip of water from a hot water bottle. 5-6 hours of that in 40 degrees – how hard do you want to be to yourself? ( and afterwards a stroll with Sparrow and cooking dinner in a 100°C kitchen). Apart from my personal judgement that Christa’s hull did not need such a severe treatment at all because she is still super sturdy and those little osmosis blisters did not affect her stability in any way – even T admitted that two layers of glass might be a bit over the top and only one layer will be more than enough. That made a substantial change and progress was a lot faster. In one week the hull was completed. People were often stopping by, wondering what we are doing. Even though most people are sailing around on fiber glass boats dear fellow sailors came by and congratulated us on the kevlar reinforcement or asked if that was carbon fiber… phhhhh…. Of course it is nice to have a little chat and maybe meet somebody interesting, but sometimes I wanted to kill those perky anoraks without any feel for the right moment – especially when I was busy on the electronic scale making a new mixture – which takes all the concentration. Mixtures must be accurate to the gram or you have a bad result. What is a bad result? Resin or hardener do not have a chemical reaction partner and do not harden. That means you have to scrape off the mess; time gone, money gone, work gone, …sanding the mess. Thankfully that has never happened. Not once. Working outside with an electronic scale can be quite nerve-racking, especially when the wind is up, even light gusts. Than the scale goes gaga or it screams: unstable! and refuses to work!! It just needs lots of concentration, improvisation and occasionally waiting for a quiet moment.
We always hoped that nobody is nosy enough to pet the freshly fiber-glassed hull. It looks interesting for sure but the hardened fiber glass is so spiky that it can hurt your hand quite nasty when wiping over it leisurely….
Sparrow is heavily neglected but on our short strolls I talk to him a lot, promise nice long strolls in beautiful nature in the future! Lots of green, lots of shade, swimmies, fury friends… someday. Don´t know when yet but I promise that someday… we gonna get outta here my doudou…promise!!!!
In the meantime the marina filled up with boats and people to get ready for the new cruising season. We have lost track and currently it is not of so much interest to us who is who from which boat. By now we are all itchy from handling and cutting the glass scrim, day after day after day. Mini glass fibers get everywhere, hurt and itch and break the skin open. Preferably in the neck and under the flip flop straps… Showering is the best time of the day and so I exchange our cheap shower gel for a nice one I once bought. Even T is impressed and we enjoy our Brazilian coffee and Acai shower.
Next step is sanding pure glass fiber. Itchy… very, very itchy this. We wear full protection including glasses, re-breather, micky mice, full body overall, gloves … and flip flops… I read that putting on body powder helps so glass fibers do not stick to and break the skin. Not sure if that really makes a difference but it feels good anyway. Tom and Kirsten -being in Bonaire- are convinced we must be crazy by now – if not from the heat than from all this “Geheimchemie”. We are giggling when reading their mail. Maybe not so wrong this apprehension…
At one point the hull is sanded and we can continue with … yeahhh smoothing and sanding. The little difference is: now everything must be maximum hard so the smoothing mix contains no more micro balloons but only thixotropic agent which is fast to stir in – but a bummer to sand.
Terry comes over to tell T that he has been working a lot with epoxy and now he is allergic. I am happy he told him because T seems to think he is immune to that. Terry also told him about the Nine–Feet–Rule. I am even more happy for that because this rule gives us something to hold onto when trying to decide what is perfect, when to stop. It says to step back 9 feet and what you cannot make out as a flaw from this distance is unworthy of getting more treatment.
At one point we make the difficult decision: shape and feel of the hull is acceptable! Now we can start putting on primer followed by plenty of barrier coats. Especially the blue paint is fantastic stuff. It is a bright ‘electric’ blue with a shiny finish, like varnish. People stop by and tell us how much they like the blue and to congratulate that we are finished. But after the blue layer comes a grey layer then a blue layer, then grey, blue, grey, blue, grey, blue. 9 layers in total. Every 3 hours we paint another layer, wet in wet to avoid sanding. Also at night! Everything is better than having to sand again. People are puzzled – have we gone crazy? Why so many layers? Cha, why??? Because it is there! We divided the hull again into quarters so this painting session goes on for 4 days and nights solid. No, not finished – the patches for the stands need painting too! 5 days and nights in total thus. We look like zombies….
T is sanding the fabulous finishing layer of electric blue in preparation for the ongoing painting. Tatiana, the cleaning lady, gets a fright. Why did we do that? Did we not like the color? It was so nice. The next 3 coats are a silver antifouling primer. Wow, also very good looking. But no, even that has to be overpainted. Now Christa´s hull is black with 2 layers of antifouling. Tatiana is disappointed… common black… It is December 1st when all coats are on and we consider the hull finished. Now the water pass tape can go y voila! Voila big problem!!! With all those coats and after such a long time the tape does not want to come off anymore and rips the paint. No! No! No! T is busy with a hammer and a putty knife to get this off. Big frustration and repair work of the water pass.
But all this is nothing compared to the biggest frustration, the biggest impudence of our shipyard life. Super Yacht Jack´s Sin moors in Curacao Marine to have a service done on their engine. Like this the yachts own generator cannot run and they need external electricity. The marina cannot supply 380V and so this huge old black generator is moved in with a stapler. I look at it suspiciously – they cannot possibly consider running this beast that close to us?!? They can! And because it is so hot the doors must be opened otherwise it is over heating and dying down. 100 decibels and more are constantly hammering into our heads. White torture from 8.30am to 6pm. No break! No escape!!… we try to buy a longer cable and put it somewhere else… it´s only for 2 or 3 days, we are looking for a quieter alternative… bla bla bla… 7 days solid. Everyday. 100dB from breakfast to sunset. Sometimes I am close to tears or to cracking up. If it was a straight forward information that this will go on for 7 days I would have insisted to pull us to another spot in the marina and everything would have been bearable, costing a small effort, some honesty and admitting to reality but these delay tactics were such poor behavior!!! You might imagine how relieved we were when Jack´s Sin came back from sea trials with everything approved! Don´t even try to imagine how baffled we were when this yacht came back one week later to have the second engine serviced… This time the marina had provided another generator. Very big and a lot quieter …unfortunately dying down after 2 or 3 hours because of a leaking heat exchanger. Back to black and the +100 decibel living and working environment, for another 7 days… I have no words to describe this time…
But we survived! Not only those 2 weeks of Guantanamo but 3 months of working and living in extreme heat and being flooded twice with muriatic acid which is used plentiful by local contractors to chemically dissolve barnacles from hulls in order to prepare a yacht for a new anti-fouling treatment. No heavy sanding is necessary when 3-5 gallons of 31% muriatic acid are sprayed onto a hull. The acid river was crossing the street, continuing underneath Christa, poured forth into the sea. In Europe, the marina would be closed. In Curacao, we rescued our stuff lying on the ground, tried to avoid stepping into the acid stream in our flipflops and warned people to watch out when unassumingly stepping into it on their way to the office.
One other big achievement worth mentioning is the replacement of the exhaust hose. This was long overdue and a big point on T´s list since quite some time. Before we left T took measurements but the hose is not easily accessible so the needed length and even the diameter was more an educated guess than an exact measurement. The new hose came in our boxes from Germany and was a perfect fit. So perfect, that it was almost a surprise. When we removed the old hose it crumbled in our hands and we congratulate ourselves for taking on this project just in time. Knowing that there is no way back should the new hose not fit for any reason we were very relieved and pleased. T had seen lots of possible difficulties, a job with a high frustration potential. But it went all smooth and was done in one afternoon. Big smile and a couple of early, happy beers. No “Agnes treatment” necessary. Agnes treatment? We were always giggling about fellow sailoress Agnes` way of treating problems: something goes wrong or has no immediate solution at any time of the day? – you go to the bar, open the fridge, take some deep breaths of frigid air, remind yourself that no, you cannot sit in the fridge for a little while, you drink a couple of beers, you get over it and you start think about solutions…
SPLASH on December 7th. Finally and thank God and never again 3 months working on the hard in big heat!!!! I spend the last 3 days polishing the hull and kissing good bye all prettifying projects inside – like the wooden floor in the salon or painting the bathroom floor and installing the iridescent surface under the toilet. Nothing can be important enough to stay even one day longer on the hard. NOTHING! Our worries that the diesel in the tank might have degraded in all this heat on the hard, causing engine failure did not come true. We saw quite some yachts having to deal with this problem when wanting to leave the shipyard…
Last projects, like drying the little but persistent sea water well in the bathroom installation had to be solved mooring in Curacao Marine. Finally we could leave the place for Bonaire on December 13th. For good! We stopped in Klein Curacao for the night and had a pleasant surprise – Cat Saya is also mooring there. But first things first. It is shortly before dark and this is supposed to be Sparrows first nice stroll after 3 months of misery. Sparrow knows immediately!!! Swimmy, the local dog from last time to play with, running on the empty beach, digging a big hole… Life is good! Smiling dog! On our way back we stop at Sibylla and Stefan who promptly invite us in, wine and dine us spontaneously – and we also have a big happy smile in our faces. What a great first evening `in freedom`.
We stay one day longer and have a fantastic sail with rare southern winds to Bonaire. Another small sailing yacht left shortly after us direction Bonaire. Soon this other yacht became smaller and smaller and even disappeared on the horizon. My god this has never happened before. With a renovated hull and good sails we seem to be ‘fast’ now. Bonaire mooring situation is relaxed and now we can start doing what we dreamed of all the time: do absolutely nothing, nada for 3 days. Ahhhhhhhhhhhh.
That leaves me wishing you all a Merry Christmas and a Very Happy New Year 2018.
Un maravilloso año nuevo from a swimming (!) Christa.
PS: Unwort des Jahres ist mal wieder mal eben. Ein Januswort, das in seiner hinterhältigen Boshaftigkeit auch dieses Jahr nicht zu übertreffen war!