Give Me A Home Where The Customs Apps ROAM

In the past, returning to the United States meant we’d have to pay a visit to our friendly neighborhood Customs and Border Protection office to clear back into the country. It was never a convenient thing to do, because we’d usually be at the Navy marina in Boca Chica or at Boot Key Harbor up in Marathon and have to rent or borrow a car to go to the CBP office in Key West. I’d started the process once to enroll in the Small Vessel Reporting System or SVRS, which could have theoretically let us clear in with a phone call, but I never got around to finishing. I guess having to make an annual trek to Customs upon our return to the US wasn’t enough of a hardship to push me to finish submitting the paperwork and scheduling the in-person interviews necessary to enroll in SVRS. Well as it turns out, that will no longer be necessary. While we were off enjoying ourselves in the Bahamas this past Spring, CBP apparently rolled out their new Reporting Offsite Arrival – Mobile, or ROAM, app.

Our friends Mike and Jen on S/V Sanitas first told us about it, and then Deb and TJ on S/V Kintala filled in the details for us. While sitting on a mooring in Boot Key Harbor one morning, I downloaded the CBP ROAM app from the Google Play Store and installed it on my Samsung tablet. After entering our personal details, it prompted me to use the app’s camera feature to snap pictures of both our passports and upload them. Next I entered our vessel details. I’m pretty sure the personal and vessel info is a one-time entry, as it appears to save the information to your ROAM account. Finally, I answered a few quick questions about our recent travel and where we were returning from and clicked submit. A moment later, the app requested permission to open a video chat. A smiling Customs agent then appeared on my screen, confirmed that I was Robert, and then asked me to show him Rhonda. I pointed the tablet at her, she smiled and waved, the Customs agent thanked us, and we were done. A moment later it notified me that we were cleared back into the US.

From start to finish, it took about a half hour to get everything set up. I thought I’d hit a speed bump when I learned I needed to purchase an annual Customs border crossing decal for our boat, because I had to input the decal number as part of our vessel information. But the ROAM app launched me out to the appropriate website so that I could order the decal, and then let me use the order confirmation number to complete the vessel info.

My intention when I downloaded the app was to just set it up and explore it a bit. I wasn’t expecting to suddenly be video chatting with a CBP agent. I didn’t even have a shirt on! Apparently using ROAM, you can clear into the country in your pajamas or underwear if you wish to.

The app does say that this is a limited release and not currently available for use at all ports of entry. It’s apparently in an advanced Beta stage, with CBP planning to eventually roll it out for use nation wide. For now though, it supports Customs clearance through all Florida ports of entry, so it’s now the primary means to clear in if you’re returning from the Bahamas or points south via Florida.

One thing I’ve learned is that sometimes procrastination does pay. ROAM replaces the SVRS, which means if I had bothered to jump through those hoops, it would have just been time wasted.

Night Games

During our final night passage on our return trip to Pensacola, in order to reduce the anxiety caused by all the thunderstorms we encountered, we started playing a little game we called “I Can’t Wait To…” It worked like this. Rhonda and I would take turns saying, “I can’t wait to go to (blank) and have (blank).” We’d name one of our favorite restaurants in Pensacola and the meal we were most looking forward to having there. I guess it was partly a reflection of the fact that no matter the charms of the Bahamas, the cuisine leaves a lot to be desired. A few months of conch fritters, conch salad, cheeseburgers, French fries and baked macaroni and cheese, the most commonly available dishes in the islands, left us with some pretty severe food cravings.

Now you wouldn’t think that a little town like Pensacola would offer enough dining options to make the game interesting. But it actually lasted most of the night. When either of us would name a restaurant and meal, we’d both go “Mmmmm,” and then mentally savor the food for a period of time. Sometimes the other person would continue the game after just a few minutes. Other times 15 or 20 minutes would silently pass before the next submission. But regardless, it kept a smile on our faces all through the night, during some pretty unpleasant conditions.

We’ve only been back in town a little over 48 hours, but we’ve already checked three spots off our “I can’t wait to…” list. For lunch the first day, we went to the Oar House for their excellent fresh shrimp baskets. Last night, which was Gallery Night in Pensacola, the monthly downtown street festival, we hit the Sonny’s BBQ food truck for some savory pulled pork. And this morning, we made the hike up to Polonza Bistro for their weekend brunch and some of their excellent Cervantes frittatas.

One with grits and toast, and one with potatoes and a biscuit, please!

We’ll have to start pacing ourselves. At this rate, we’ll complete the entire night’s list in just a few weeks! #It’sGreatToBeHome

That’s A Wrap

Two thousand seventy-nine nautical miles traveled. Three hundred thirty-four hours spent motoring.  Two hundred twenty-three gallons of diesel fuel burned. Six hundred gallons of seawater turned into fresh water for drinking, cooking, bathing. Over a dozen islands, Keys and Cays visited. A mainsail repair, a broken topping lift, a deflated dinghy air deck. And of course, a shattered kneecap. But on June 15th at 9:20 AM, we tied up to the fuel dock at Palafox Pier & Yacht Harbor in Pensacola, Florida, and our 2017/2018 cruising season officially drew to a close.

It’s been a hell of a season. We made new friends, faced new challenges, visited new places, took thousands of pictures and created some wonderful memories. But for the next four or five months, we’ll be waiting out the bulk of hurricane season here in our hometown. The time won’t be idle. After over seven months away, Eagle Too is dirty and a little tired. We’ll be spending a lot of time in the weeks and months ahead cleaning, repairing, upgrading. Getting ready for our next season of cruising and whatever adventures life has in store for us.

Eagle Too and her crew have so far traveled over 6,500 nautical miles, with many more hopefully still to come. For those of you who have traveled with us on some or all of that journey, either in person or virtually via this blog, we’re glad to have you along and we hope we’ll stay connected in the future. While we may not be actively cruising over the next few months, we plan to try to write more about our cruising experiences and lessons and sharing useful info for those who may be preparing to follow in our wake. After all, it’s not pictures of pretty sunsets that prepare you for adventure, but hard information about what to expect and how others dealt with the unanticipated.

Has it been an easy seven months? Not at all. But I recently read a quote by Henry David Thoreau that spoke to me. It said, “There are none happy in the world but beings who enjoy a freely vast horizon.” To me, the worst thing possible is a boring life. But if there’s one thing we can confidently say about this Life On The Hook™, it’s that while it is at times difficult, uncomfortable, even frightening, it is hardly ever boring. And the horizons it offers are truly vast.

That’s all for now. We’re going to take a few days to relax and decompress from some pretty harrowing, storm plagued ocean passages. If you find yourselves in the Pensacola area, please look us up. Till next time, Eagle Too out.

A Matter of Survival

We’d never seen anything like it. We were comfortably motor sailing north along the Florida coast toward Clearwater Harbor in gentle swells and a light breeze when the wind began to strengthen. We’d been eyeing some approaching black clouds to our west for the past several hours, but the weather app on our phones predicted they would dissipate before reaching us. But when the wind starting gusting to 20 knots, I thought it would be prudent to roll up the sail.

Barely 10 minutes later, the wind starting gusting into the 30’s and the seas began to build. We held our course a while longer, but we were sideways to the gale. As the waves built past six feet, they started rolling the boat severely. We couldn’t continue taking them on our beam or we’d risk being rolled over.

“Turn her into the wind and hold her there!” I shouted to Rhonda at the helm. I had my hands full trying to rescue Eaglet, our dinghy, which we had been towing behind us. Gusts flirting with 40 knots had flipped it upside down, and it was plowing underwater like a giant sea anchor, dragging our speed down below 2 knots. I struggled to get it turned upright again, but the wind was just too much. The best I could do was pull Eaglet’s nose tight against our stern to reduce the immense drag.

It’s just a squall, it will be over in 10 or 15 minutes, we thought. But it didn’t relent. The seas built past 10 feet, and the wind held steady at 35 knots, gusting higher. For almost an hour Rhonda wrestled the helm to keep the boat pointed into the weather, while I fought to maintain my grip on our dinghy’s tow bridle.  We were burying our bow into the huge waves and then rocketing upward at nearly 45 degrees before slamming down and plowing into the next approaching roller. The sea began disassembling our dinghy, sucking out the inflatable floor, which was now dragging behind. My hands started to cramp from clutching the bridle.

This was no squall. We didn’t know what it was. There was no lightning or thunder, and hardly any rain. Just an angry black sky and gale force winds that just went relentlessly on and on. For an hour our course had taken us directly offshore, out into the Gulf. That’s exactly where I didn’t want us to be heading. We had to turn the boat and make a run for it. Rhonda didn’t think she could do it. I couldn’t let go of the dinghy. And the wind and waves just kept coming.

We finally managed to get another line connected to Eaglet, which I was able to lead to one of our deck winches. This let us winch the flipped dinghy tightly against our stern, and freed me to take the wheel. With a hope and a prayer, I spun Eagle Too around and starting running downwind. We’d traveled far enough offshore that our course to Clearwater Harbor now put the wind and seas on our port quarter instead of directly on the beam. The rudder fought me with every passing wave, but the pounding stopped and I could hold the course, although the boat rolled deeply with each swell.

It took another hour to make the entrance channel, the winds and seas persisting. As we approached the coast, the shoaling water caused the swells to lift the boat and throw it surging forward. I struggled to maintain control to avoid the channel markers. But finally, after two hours, the wind began to relent. Thirty-five knots became 30, and then finally dropped back into the mid-20’s. We cleared the channel, passed under the bridges, and made the turn into Clearwater Harbor Marina, arriving safely at the dock. But Rhonda was shaking like a leaf, and our two hour survival struggle left us feeling like we’d been to war.  Post Traumatic Storm Disorder set in, leaving us physically and emotionally drained.

Early that morning, it had seemed like a sensible plan. We had about 36 miles to cover, from Sarasota Bay to the Clearwater Municipal Marina, where we wanted to stage for our crossing of the northeastern Gulf to Apalachicola. The weather report called for winds of less than five knots and one foot seas. Rather than have to deal with a half dozen draw bridges in the ICW, it looked so much quicker to just head out the mouth of Tampa Bay and run north along the coast to Clearwater. We’d had several days of afternoon and evening squalls, but they passed in 15 minutes. I felt pretty sure we’d be safely docked before any weather built up, but if we were to encounter a squall, I thought we’d be better able to handle them offshore where we’d have room to maneuver, than within the narrow confines of the ICW. Nothing is more frustrating than having to mill around in circles for a half hour waiting for the next scheduled bridge opening while watching a squall approach.

But we hadn’t counted on encountering whatever in the hell it was that was waiting for us out there. Something that would turn a calm day and flat seas into two solid hours of gale force winds and huge breaking waves. Something that felt like we were tangled up in the heart of a tropical storm. Something that delivered the worst day we’ve ever experienced on the water, by far.

In retrospect, I guess we’d have been better off in the ICW. We’d have probably been blown out of the channel and driven aground. But it’s all mud and soft sand in this part of Florida, and that’s why we pay for SeaTow coverage, afterall.

But in the final analysis, nothing broke (we were able to put Eaglet back together), nobody got hurt (other than shaken nerves and a blow to our confidence), and we do have a good story to tell.

No pictures though. Unfortunately, we were just a little too busy to stop and take storm selfies. I’d say maybe next time, but we’re both sincerely hoping we’ll never see anything like that ever again. Ever.

Weather Karma

It wasn’t much more than six or eight weeks ago that I was smugly telling my brother that I could count on one hand the number of rainy days we’d experienced since leaving Pensacola last November. While the folks back home were being soaked by an endless succession of cold fronts, we were living in a climatic bubble in St Petersburg, where some curious quirk of geography brings endless sun. In fact, at one time the St Petersburg Evening Independent, the town’s afternoon newspaper, offered copies for free after any day that the sun didn’t shine. Over its 76 years of publication, they only had to stand by their “sunshine guarantee” three or four times a year.

Even once we left St Pete and finally started heading south, good weather seemed to follow us. We were pinned a few times by some blustery days, but hardly ever had to deal with wet weather.

Everything changed on the 1st of May. The day after arriving in Salt Cay, Long Island, the sky turned cloudy and threatening, with occasional rumbles of thunder, and it’s stayed that way ever since. Four weeks later, we’re holed up at Bimini Sands Marina while heavy weather generated by TS Alberto blows through. During those four weeks, we’ve been dogged by squalls, chased by thunderstorms, besieged by blustery winds, and tossed about by swells and chop, forcing us to seek refuge in marinas to get some relief.  We’ve had a boat near us hit by lightning, ridden out 35 knot gusts, and sat at anchor trying to sleep while the boat pitched up and down at least five feet. I’m not really sure where my sunglasses are as I haven’t needed them in weeks, and I believe our tans are starting to wash off.

I think we’re experiencing weather karma. Some cosmic retribution for being so smug about how fabulous things were initially.

It’s currently blowing 15 knots gusting to 25 with occasional heavy rain, compliments of Alberto. Our best guess is that it will be another couple of days before things calm down enough to let us resume our journey homeward. Yesterday afternoon we walked over to look at the entrance to the marina, and watched breaking waves sweeping into the channel.

A center console fishing boat nosing its way out was launched at a 45 degree angle by the surf. Not a chance we’d try to push our way out through a swell like that. Today is Memorial Day, and the seas are supposed to be running 5 to 8 feet in the Gulf Stream. But they’re calling for two foot seas and 10 knots of SE wind by Wednesday, so we’re making preparations to head back across to Florida. I think we’ll try crossing from here to Fowey Rocks near Miami, and then hang a left in the Hawk Channel to start working our way down the Keys. It’s not the route we would have initially picked, but the weather has pushed us further north than we’d normally want to be for a Gulf Stream crossing.

But that’s a concern for another day. For now, we have some good books on our Kindles, we can pick up TV and FM radio from Miami, and being plugged into shore power means it’s cool and dry onboard since the air conditioning is running, so I think we’ll just have a couple more fruity rum drinks, relax, and wait for the sun to come back out. I mean, it has to eventually, right?

Dear Bahamas: About Your Weather—We Need to Talk.

Over coffee this morning, Rhonda and I discussed just throwing in the towel and becoming permanent residents here in the Bahamas. Staying here and embracing the fact that we can’t leave because we can’t seem to get a break in the weather would not only give us a jump on next year’s cruising season, but also put an end to our continual weather frustrations. It was a tempting notion, but we ultimately decided we’re not quite ready to surrender. Almost, but not quite.

Our daily weather in the Exumas

Thunderstorms and squalls started over three weeks ago. Then the wind started blowing. It’s been raining or blowing (or sometimes both) every day since. We’ve been trying to work our way back to Florida for a while now, but it seems to be just one weather thing after another standing in our way.

For starters, we spent a week or so working our way up the Exumas from Long Island, dogged by thunderstorms the entire way. We were chased into Warderick Wells to wait out a line of storms, and while we were there, the boat on the mooring in front of us was struck by lightning. All their electronics were blown out, and they couldn’t get their engines started afterwards. We felt terrible for them, but we counted our blessings that it wasn’t us. We got out of there as soon as we could.

That’s the boat that was hit by lightning. Too close for comfort.

We’d been having increasing difficulty getting our engine to turn over, which left us feeling pretty vulnerable. We knew if we were out on the water and got overtaken by a storm, we’d need to be able to start the engine and turn up wind to get the sails down and then motor through the squall. Maybe salty sailors would just batten the hatches, lash themselves to the wheel and ride the whirlwind, but we’re a little old (or maybe just too sensible) for that kind of thing. We needed to know that when we needed it, the engine was going to start, no question. And that wasn’t the case. I suspected a dying starting battery. It was only three years old, which is a bit premature for it to expire, but it was also a potentially easy fix, so I was hoping that my suspicion was correct when my diagnostics pointed to that as the culprit. There aren’t many batteries to be found in the Exumas, though, so we decided to head back to New Providence and Palm Cay Marina. We knew we’d be able to use the marina’s free courtesy car to hunt down a new battery or anything else we may need. If you’re looking for repair parts in the Bahamas, Nassau is the place to be.

We joked on the way into the marina that we hoped we wouldn’t get stuck here yet again for 7 to 10 days. It seems that every time we decide to go to Palm Cay, circumstances conspire to trap us here until we’ve spent at least a thousand dollars.

The good news is that our problem did turn out to be the battery. They have a large NAPA store on New Providence, and it was an easy errand to borrow the free marina courtesy car and go pick up a marine starting battery. It cost twice what we would have paid in Florida, but they had five in stock with a date code of April 2018 and we were able to walk out the door with one, so there are no complaints. After swapping the new battery for the old one, a quick turn of the key resulted in the engine firing right up. She was her old self again. Problem solved and confidence restored!

Unfortunately, I guess in the great cosmic ledger, we still owed Palm Cay Marina some more money, and it was our fate to remain until we had surrendered it. Even though we were able to fix our problem in 24 hours, for the next few days the wind blew way too hard for us to get out. We thought we saw a window after a couple of days, but then Mike’s Weather Page, an amateur weather resource a fellow boater introduced us to, began warning that advance models showed a possible low forming in the Caribbean and moving north toward Florida.  It looked as though if we left Palm Cay, we’d be heading right into the path of a potential tropical storm. In addition, a persistent strong southerly flow sucking moisture up from the Caribbean has erected a wall of squalls and thunderstorms between the Bahamas and Florida, which we had absolutely no interest in trying to sail through.

This wall of thunderstorms persisted all week

So now it’s a week later, which means we’d once again pulled in for just a few days and ended up staying until our bill exceeded $1,000. The low that the amateurs started talking about almost a week ago has finally attracted the attention of the professionals at the National Hurricane Center, which is giving the system a 40% chance of development over the next several days.  But it looks like we have a few better days coming up in which to move the boat before conditions are predicted to deteriorate (still rainy, still windy, but not so much that we can’t make a go of it). We’ve decided to cross the Great Banks back to Bimini and then hole up in a well-protected marina we know there to wait out the approaching low and the predicted 40 knot winds. At least that way we’ll only be a single day’s travel from the Florida Keys when things finally settle back down. Whenever that may be. Possibly next month.

Since we had some time to kill, we did manage to have some fun while here.  A couple we befriended back in St Pete (who offered Rhonda and I a lot of support and assistance when I had my injury) were in the marina also, and we got to play tour guide and take them to some of our favorite places in Nassau. Here are a few pictures.

The Queen’s Staircase

Historic Fort Fincastle

The Governor General’s House

The famous Greycliff Estate

The parlor at Greycliff

The restaurant at Greycliff

In addition to a hotel and a restaurant, Greycliff has factories for both hand-rolled cigars and hand-dipped chocolates.

Our friends had heard of an area called The Fish Fry, which featured dozens of locally owned Bahamian restaurants. We checked it out and selected one for lunch.

Great food at a really good price

The Conch shell pile behind the restaurant. There is apparently an infinite supply of this Bahamian staple.

And of course, when in Nassau you have to pay a visit to Atlantis.

In a final note, we got to meet this fellow the next day, swimming around our boat. He (she?) had latched on to a water hose and was happily sucking down gallons and gallons of fresh water, and didn’t seem to mind a bit when people swam over to pet him.

As always, we’ve enjoyed our time here on New Providence. It’s nothing like the majority of the other islands we’ve visited in the Bahamas. But sometimes you just need a dose of civilization or ready access to spare parts. Tomorrow we’re departing for the Berry Islands, and then on to Bimini. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that we can make it safely in to Bimini Sands Marina before the weather goes south.

The Calendar Waits For No One

When we left Long Island, we’d planned to work our way north through the Bahamian Out Islands to check out some places we hadn’t yet seen. But when 10 days of stalled fronts degenerating into troughs bringing day after day of thunderstorms required us to keep pushing off our departure, we finally ran out of calendar. Hurricane season starts in just a couple of weeks, and it was time for us to start our journey back to Florida. It has been a short cruising season for us this year, but after shattering my kneecap in January and undergoing surgery to repair my leg, we didn’t initially think we were going to have any season at all, so we’re happy that we were able to salvage at least a couple of months.

A brief break in the weather let us jump from Long Island to Rat Cay in the Exumas, and then on to Big Majors Spot just off Staniel Cay (home of the original Bahamian swimming pigs) the next day.

Anchored off what we call “Pig Beach,” home of the original and world famous Bahamian swimming pigs.

We’re now back in the land of megayachts and mini-cruise ships, we’re sad to say. When we pulled into Big Majors, it looked like a major fleet exercise was underway, with dozens of 100+ foot yachts and their collections of associated water toys filling the bay. M/V Wheels caught our eye, so we looked it up online. It stood out because it was 164 feet long and came with what looked like a 70 or 80 foot sport fishing boat, a 35 foot center console tender sporting four 350 hp outboards, a large dinghy, and the usual assortment of smaller water toys. It apparently belongs to someone who owns a NASCAR racing team, and it can be yours for seven days for a mere $200,000, tax and gratuities not included.

Needless to say, we already miss Long Island…

Anyway, we’ll be here at Big Majors Spot for a few days waiting out some more thunderstorms, and then it appears that we’ll have a two or three day window to get back up to New Providence and the Nassau area before a big blow with 30+ knot winds starts early next week. We weren’t originally planning to stop there again, but we’ve been having a bit of trouble getting our engine to start, and I suspect our starting battery has met with an early death. When trying to crank the engine, I’m only reading 6 to 8 volts on the starting battery, and when I take the cell gravities they look pretty screwy. Replacing the three year old battery seems like a good place to start, and that means back to Nassau we go. If it turns out to be something more than a battery, I feel a lot better about yanking the starter and installing our spare if we’re in a nice marina where we can actually get parts and don’t have to worry about having to start the engine to deal with a dragging anchor in the middle of the night. We’re just hoping we don’t get stuck there for a week to 10 days again, as seems to happen every time we enter Palm Cay Marina!

Salt Pond, Long Island—The Un–Georgetown

We’ve said before that Georgetown, Great Exuma, is something every cruiser should experience at least once. It’s one of the great gathering places for our tribe of sea gypsies, salty dogs and scalawags, and joining the hundreds of boats of all shapes and sizes swinging at anchor within Elizabeth Harbour affirms your place in this community. The sight of the night sky illuminated by a constellation of anchor lights, each bright sparkle representing a person, couple or family that shares a common dream and experience, is truly something to see.

But we’d had just about enough. We immensely enjoyed attending our second National Family Island Regatta. But after eight days at anchor, we’d had all we cared to handle of loud music booming from beach bars until 3 or 4 AM, boats roaring through the anchorage at all hours throwing wakes, and constant radio traffic on the VHF. Some people enjoy water aerobics at 0930, volleyball at 2PM, and beach yoga at 4 o’clock every day. But to paraphrase the great Jimmy Buffett, we don’t need that much organization in our lives. We were craving some peace and quiet.

We found it on Long Island. It was an easy six hour, 35 mile journey to Thompson Bay and the little town of Salt Pond. It was a beautiful day on the water, and during the passage we crossed the Tropic of Cancer, putting us once again in the tropics.

Approaching Long Island

We dropped the anchor in clean white sand in 8 feet of clear water, turned off the engine, and then marveled at the stillness of it all. The gentle lapping sound of water against the hull and a distant crowing of a rooster was all we could hear. We shared a bay that’s easily over a mile across with less than a dozen other boats. The radio was blissfully quiet. It was the un-Georgetown, and just what we were looking for to decompress from the past frenzied week.

True to its name, Long island is a very long island. It runs about 80 miles roughly north to south, but averages less than a mile wide. A single two lane road runs the entire length of the island, passing through a handful of resorts and a string of a dozen or so small settlements, and the island is most easily toured by car. Tucked into Thompson Bay behind the broad finger of Indian Hole Point, just off the settlement of Salt Pond, we were well protected from forecasted high winds that were expected to arrive within the next few days.

Thompson Bay, Long Island, Eagle Too in the center distance.

Salt Pond offers almost everything a cruiser needs. It has a well-stocked market (mailboats arrive weekly), a liquor store, a well-equipped marine supply store, a rental car agency and Sou’ Side Bar and Grill, which can all be accessed from a conveniently located private dock that the owner graciously allows cruisers to use to come ashore.

The dinghy dock, right down the hill from the grocery, restaurant and liquor store.

The market.

Small but well stocked, Rhonda even found the orange marmalade she was looking for to make a marinade for chicken.

Perusing the produce section.

Sou’ Side Bar & Grill

Stopping for lunch at Sou’ Side Bar & Grill

A 10 minute dinghy ride across the bay takes you to Tiny’s Hurricane Hole, a cute beach bar and restaurant run by a couple from California. It was there that we met Penny, a part time Long Island resident who runs the local VHF cruisers net. She lives ashore, but loves interacting with the cruising community by running the morning net. The season being basically over, she’d packed away her radio and was getting ready to fly back to the US for the summer. But she was a wealth of information about things to see and do while we were on the island.

Tiny’s has free WiFi!

Happy hour at Tiny’s. Penny is on the right. She runs the daily VHF cruisers net.

It had been almost a month since we had last done laundry, and it was high on our list of priorities. Tiny’s offered a pair of washers and dryers for cruisers to use, but at $5 per load per machine, we thought we were looking at $30 or more to wash clothes. Plus it was sort of implied that if you were hanging around the bar for three hours doing laundry, you should probably be ordering some food and beverages, so we were contemplating a $100 laundry run. But we heard of a place in the settlement of Deadman’s Cay where you could drop off laundry, and pick it up the next day. It was too far to walk or dinghy to, but we wanted to rent a car to see more of the island, and so a plan was born. We made arrangements to pick up a car at 11 AM and head south to Deadman’s Cay, find this rumored laundry, drop off our clothes, and then go sightseeing. We’d either pick them up on the way back to Salt Pond, or early the following morning, since we had the car for 24 hours.

Loaded down with laundry.

Our ride for the day. Glad I can still drive a stick shift!

It took a while to find the laundry. The locals know where everything is, and so you don’t see a lot of signs on businesses.

It worked out really well, as Nadia, the woman who ran the laundry, only charged us $2 per load to wash, dry and fold. The total bill came to $17 for two large plastic bags of clothes. We felt that we saved enough to pretty much cover the $65 car rental.

One of our sightseeing priorities was to see several of the churches of Father Jerome. He and his churches really deserve their own post. He was an early 20th century renaissance man who learned architecture, became an Anglican priest, converted to Catholicism at some point, and made it his life’s work to rebuild Bahamian churches that had been destroyed in hurricanes. His designs featured stout concrete construction that was intended to withstand future storms. Long Island has several Father Jerome churches, and we went in search of them.

Another island highlight we visited was Dean’s Blue Hole, which claims to be the world’s deepest saltwater blue hole at 663 feet deep, although apparently a deeper one was found a few years ago in China.

Dean’s is the site of the international free diving championships, where divers set world records descending to incredible depths (greater than 300 feet) while holding their breath. We brought along our snorkel gear so that we could explore the site, and since there was no one there the day we visited, we even swam out to the platform the divers use to train and compete. Entering the hole from the beach, it was amazing how in less than three or four paces the water went from ankle deep to bottomless.

After swimming at Dean’s Blue Hole we stopped for a late lunch at a little roadside bar and grill called Max’s Conch Bar…

and then crossed the island to explore several of the beaches on the Atlantic side. We saw an occasional footprint, but otherwise had the east coast of the island all to ourselves.

The island also has several large cave systems that can be explored. We’d hoped to see at least one of them, but we just ran out of day, parking the car and dinghying back out to Eagle Too shortly after sunset. Next time maybe. Because I think we’ll probably want to pass this way again next year to finish exploring all Long Island has to offer.

Full Contact Racing

Twenty-eight sailboats came to the starting line. They formed up abreast of one another, dropped their sails, set their anchors, and waited for the starting gun.

Everything was quiet for a moment, the crews tensely waiting at their stations. Then the loud report of the gun kicked everyone into action. The anchor men started furiously hauling in the rodes, pulling the boats across the starting line while the line handlers begin hauling up the sails.

The helmsmen tried to lay in a course that would avoid the jam of other boats twisting to find the wind while giving them each an advantage off the line. Everyone was shouting orders, warnings, insults. It was pure pandemonium!

This was our second year attending the National Family Island Regatta. If you haven’t been following us for long, please go back and read this post from last year’s Regatta to better understand what an awesome event it is:

The Family Island Regatta: The Reason We’re Here in Georgetown

This year, though, the races were taken to an entirely new level. Gusty, variable winds challenged the crews to maintain control of their vessels. Some would set a reef in their mainsail, others wouldn’t, and it was anyone’s guess which decision the fickle winds would favor. The boats seemed to stay bunched tighter together, resulting in high drama while rounding the marks. And to top it off, we decided this year to anchor Eagle Too in Kidde Cove, closer to the race course. At times, wind shifts actually put us inside the course, with race boats coming down both our port and starboard sides. How close were we to the action? This close!

A dozen boats tried to round the mark where there was only room for half that many. Boats were colliding, crew members were yelling, pushing other boats and in some cases jumping or falling from one boat to another.

Then boats began to sink. Whether from collisions or wind gusts, boats were tipped on their sides, emptying their crews into the harbor and disappearing underway, leaving only their masts visible. Then unbelievably, other boats actually started running over the sunken vessels with their crews treading water. It was literally a waterborne train wreck. Damn it was fun to watch!

A cruiser chasing the boats in his dinghy gave color commentary on VHF channel 72. Blow by blow, turn by turn, he excitedly called out collisions and sinkings and strategic moves like a professional horse track announcer. His excitement was infectious. Full contact demolition sailboat racing. If ESPN would broadcast this, I think the ratings would be phenomenal!

Twenty-eight boats came to the starting line. By the end of the race, four were sitting on the bottom of the harbor, and six more had been towed off the course, unable to complete the race. But no one was hurt, so in the end, it was just an exciting place to be.

We enjoyed some of the finest sailboat racing you can imagine. From little Class E dinghies with a crew of one or two:

to the stars of the show, the big Class A sloops, with their crews of 14 or more:

it was four full days of fast action and high drama on Elizabeth Harbor. If you love sailing and you haven’t attended a National Family Island Regatta, you really should put it on your short list of things to do someday! We’re so glad we had this opportunity to experience it again.

We have some videos to post, but it will have to wait for a time when we have a better internet connection. For now, here’s just a sampling of the hundreds of pictures we took.

How We Broke The Boat

In a head-to-head battle between a boom vang and a topping lift, apparently the boom vang wins. Now I have to admit that there is a certain logic in this. You see, in the ongoing adventure that is a life afloat, Murphy’s Law reigns supreme. Breaking the boom vang is something that could be safely addressed from deck level. But the topping lift? Repairing that means that someone has to be hauled to the top of the mast, six stories above the water. So obviously, the one that requires the greatest physical danger to repair is the one that will cry Uncle.

Some background: a boom vang is used to pull downward on the boom to control mainsail twist. A topping lift is a line that pulls upward on the boom to keep it from falling downward when the sail is lowered. In our case, we use our topping lift to keep the boom elevated to the optimal angle for unfurling and furling our mainsail, which rolls up into the mast like a window shade. If the boom angle is off, the sail won’t roll in and out smoothly, which can be kind of a PITA.

Here’s a picture I found online of a vang in case you’re not familiar. Pulling the line on the vang shortens it, pulling the boom downward.

So there we were in 10,000 feet of water, crossing from the Great Bahamas Banks to New Providence, and the wind was dying. We’d started off moving along well, cruising at 6 knots in an 8 knot (apparent) SW wind. But as the wind lightened, our speed started dropping into the mid-5’s, and at times our knotmeter would read 4.9. We were trying to delay starting the engine for as long as possible, because damn it, we’re a sailboat, and we should be able to do more sailing! But we wanted to make it to New Providence by dinnertime, and we still had over 30 miles to go.

Since we’re cruisers, we don’t normally obsess over sail shape like racers do. As long as the boat is moving along at 5 knots or more and we’re not heeling excessively, it’s a happy day. But since we had places to be, I started fine tuning the mainsail to get everything I could out of what wind was left. I noticed that the top of the mainsail was twisting off to leeward (downwind) enough to spill air from the top third of the sail, costing us speed, and I wanted to fix it. So I tightened the vang, pulling down on the boom, and reducing the twist in the top of the sail.

But I forgot to loosen the topping lift. Because it’s set to a particular boom angle, I hardly ever touch it. And because we don’t race and aren’t constantly looking for ways to wring out another tenth of a knot, I usually don’t mess with the vang much. So I just didn’t make the connection when I noticed I had to winch really hard on the vang to pull the boom down. I didn’t think about the fact that I was stretching the topping lift. Not making excuses really, just a mea culpa.

A few minutes later, a cascade of line rained down onto the port side deck. “What the hell was that?” Rhonda and I asked each other, until I looked up and saw we didn’t have a topping lift any longer.

“Crap.” That’s about all I could think to say.

We were in the middle of a pretty good weather window, one that was supposed to last for several days, and our plans were to stop for the night in New Providence, and continue south the next day to the Exumas. But now we had a change of plans. It looked like we’d be heading to a marina in the hopes of finding a rigger who could fix our broken boat.

We learned an interesting thing about Nassau in the next few days. While it seems that there are sailboats all over the place, it turns out that there aren’t actually any people here who work on them. No matter where we called, looked or searched, we couldn’t find a single business that did rigging repair (note: I see a possible business opportunity for someone who wants to semi-retire to the Bahamas). I even texted our rigger back in Pensacola to see if he had any connections here. He suggested a person in Miami, who referred us to a contact on the island, who passed us on to the same local sailmakers loft that I had already called and who told me they didn’t do rigging. It took two days of phoning around just to find someplace that sold the line we needed, and then they only had it in red. (Red’s fine, red will work, we’ll take the red thank you very much. How much? $190? Sigh.)

We finally felt that we were making some progress when we approached the operators of NavTours, the local sailing charter base here at the Marina. “Sure, we have some people that can help, but you’ll have to talk to them and arrange something, and they’ll have to do it on their own time after they get off work,” we were told.

The next three days were spent talking to a succession of NavTours employees who all claimed they’d be happy to help, but then always failed to come through for one reason or another. Finally, we met Yasmin, the wiry French-Canadian, who said that if we’d move the boat at 7AM to a slip on the other side of the marina that faced into the wind and then take down our mainsail so he could use the halyard to ascend the mast, he’d do it for us. We shook hands and a plan was finally in motion.

We settled on the 0700 appointment for two reasons. Yasmin had to start work at NavTours at 10, which would give him three hours to help us. Also, the winds have been lighter in the morning, picking up significantly in the early afternoon.  Dropping and then reinstalling our huge mainsail would be impossible in any kind of significant wind. So underway at 0700 it was. But that meant the alarm had to be set for 0530. Being retired for several years now, neither of us had been up that early in longer than we could remember. But we rose to the challenge (and the alarm), and at five minutes after 7, we were sliding into the designated slip that faced into the wind, and I started taking down the main.

Things actually went pretty well from that point on. Yasmin fixed up his bosun’s seat to go up the mast, and I cranked him up while Rhonda tended the spinnaker halyard, which he used as a safety line. Of course, it was 10x harder than it sounds. About 50 turns on the winch to lift Yasmin was all my poor heart could handle before I’d have to stop, gasping for breath, and then take a break. It took at least seven or eight episodes of winch, gasp, pause to rest, then resume before he was finally at the top of the mast.

Going Up

Almost There!

Finally At The Top

Rhonda manning (womaning?) the safety line.

It was then that we discovered that I hadn’t just snapped the line. It looked like I had overloaded the topping lift masthead sheave (small pulley) so severely that I’d bent the axle, rendering it unusable.

That shaft is supposed to be straight!

The topping lift normally runs from the end of the boom to the top of the mast, over the sheave, down through the mast to deck level, and then back to the cockpit so it can be adjusted underway. But with the sheave destroyed, there was no good way to run a replacement. So it was on to Plan B. I passed a length of 3/8ths line up to Yasmin, and he tied it to the top of the mast. I could then tie this to the end of the boom, effectively acting as a replacement topping lift. Only it wouldn’t be adjustable. It would have to be set to a specific length and tied off. But that’s OK. We can work with that. It will allow us to keep sailing the boat, until we can make it back to Pensacola, land of readily available parts, overnight delivery, and easily obtainable rigging services, and have a proper repair done.

Yasmine came back down, the mainsail went back up, and a little after 9AM we were slowly sliding back into our original slip, all before the winds started picking up. A $100 bill changed hands, I tied off the new temporary line at what looked like a good height, and we were back in business.

Of course, it took five days to work out a solution, it caused us to miss what had been an excellent weather window, and it now looks like it will be about three more days before the winds again turn favorable for us to continue south.

And that’s the story of how we broke the boat. A simple little cautionary tale about how a brief lapse of judgement led to a week’s delay and over a thousand dollars in unanticipated expenses counting parts, labor and marina fees.

Just another day in the Bahamas, mon!