Ship's Log

January 25th, 2008 / Norman's Cay, Bahamas:

Well, we've been in the Bahamas for almost two months now, which is a good indication of just how well we've taken to the idea of "island time".  We always thought it was a phrase made up by feckless beach bums, but it's true - a person definitely calms down and stops rushing down here.  The scenery is just too gorgeous and the snorkeling and diving are just too good to rush through.  We've become what Bruce Van Sant calls "Leisure Sailors" - we take our time, wait for the proper weather before leaving anywhere, and do our best to appreciate all of it.  What's the sense in rushing around?

The color and clarity of the water here is totally absurd!  From far away, all the colors of Malibu Barbie's swimming pool are there.  From directly overhead, even the minutest details on a big cartoony starfish twenty feet below on the bottom are easy to make out.   

Another tough day!

Navigating in water like this is a blessing and curse, though!  On the one hand, you can stick your head out over the side while you're underway and watch a little show - we've seen turtles, dolphins and even a big shark pass along peacefully beside us.  On the other hand, sometimes from far-off, harmless clumps of sea grass look the same as boat-wrecking coral and rocks to our inexperienced eyes, and we worry about whether the boat will get smashed or not based on our educated guessing.

But we're slowly learning to distinguish what's rock, what's coral, and what's actually only a shadow being cast on the water by an overhead cloud. Winding through a labyrinth of coral and rocks to get to a safe anchorage requires a lot of concentration and care.  But as soon as the anchor's down, those same obstacles become a really cool place to snorkel over!  Our favorite anchorage for diving so far was between a small island and a reef that bordered the open ocean.  On board, the swells coming in from the ocean made things uncomfortable, but at the reef we saw thousands of tiny neon fish, waving anenomes, a sting ray, a school of snappers, and a sea turtle the size of a riding lawn mower who did not want to be friends with us
.  Now whenever we anchor in a new place, we can't wait to put on our wetsuits and jump over the side for a look around.

We took great pains to avoid hitting these rocks earlier in the day.

We spent the holidays in and around Marsh Harbour and at the last minute Alicia's dad flew in to join us for Christmas!  We had a great time stuffing ourselves, going to the beach, snorkeling and just showing him how we live.  He stayed with us on SARABANDE and adapted to boat life quickly. Being a Marine for 30 years meant we didn't have to explain the finer points of a Navy shower!   For Christmas day, we anchored the boat outside Hopetown and attended church services under a big, ancient fig tree.  The priest and a gang of musicians showed up in a fishing skiff before setting up the altar on a simple folding table. Parents let their children to sit in the branches overhead, and the priest performed a couple of numbers with the band at the end of the service.   Sitting outside for a Christmas mass was a nice change, and it was the un-stuffiest church we'd ever been to!

Applause for the singing priest!


TFC and AMC on the way back to Marsh Harbor.

After Alicia's dad flew back up north, it was time to tackle some repairs that we'd been putting off until after the holidays.  SARABANDE had a few bumps and bruises we needed to attend to before moving on from Abaco.  We spent entire days trekking to the outskirts of town on wild goose chases for obscure parts.  We checked each little store, asking for help and chasing leads, but at least it’s a good way to really get a feel for a place.   Once we were away from the shops obviously geared towards cruising yachts and tourists, the prices went down and the people who worked there were more helpful.  You pass by all the posh resorts and see houses with the chickens scratching in the yard and little kids coming home from school. We ended up finally rounding up everything we were looking for, and got to know our way around pretty well as a by-product.

Alicia explains coconuts to Louie on one of our all-day part searches.

The unofficial dog breed of the Bahamas is a medium sized, earth-colored mongrel called a “potcake”.  They were all over Marsh Harbour, walking along the roads, sleeping in parking lots or abandoned buildings, and on isolated back roads it’s possible to encounter packs of 5 or more.  Turning a blind corner and seeing a bunch of rowdy, barking dogs charging at you is not something working an office job in Manhattan prepares you for. 
Somewhere Alicia read that approaching dogs will instinctively back off if you bend down as if to pick up a rock (or better yet, why pretend?  Actually pick up a rock and be ready to throw if need be).  This seemed like an excellent opportunity to test out this piece of trivia, and lo and behold, it works!  Must be some primal memory dating back to our days as wolves and monkeys.  A pretty handy thing to know. 

Potcakes love to hang around busted out old cars!  And who doesn't, really?

Mostly the potcakes meant no harm, though.  Very rarely did we need to resort to the rock pantomime, and thankfully Louis has good dog manners.  Usually after the initial burst of bravado, they’d size him and us up as OK, then go back to sleeping or lazily walk along with us for a little bit.  One of them in particular really wanted to come home with us.

Eventually we found every part we were looking for and made all the necessary repairs.   We said goodbye to Marsh Harbour and sailed our way down the sea of Abaco, anchoring for a few days just outside of Little Harbor to wait out a blow.   We had our sights set on Nassau, which our guide book assured us had cheap, good fishing supplies and fresh produce.  It was a 75 mile passage, and we needed daylight to navigate through the rocks outside the harbor, so we left at 5 pm in order to arrive at our destination with the sun high in the sky.  Just before nightfall, our fishing gear at last began paying for itself and Alicia hauled aboard a beautiful, struggling king mackerel!  We poured rubbing alcohol into its gills to help it pass into the next world and watched it expire on the cockpit floor with pangs of remorse.   The remorse faded when we had six huge portions of spankin’ fresh fish safely tucked away in the fridge. 

Goodnight, sweet prince.....

Encouraged, we put the line over again but the only thing we caught for the rest of the night was a small, scary black thing with big teeth that looked like an eel crossed with a barracuda.  By the time we hauled it in it was already dead, and something else had even taken a bite of it, so we cut it up and salted it to use for bait later.  The head got tossed right overboard though, because those creepy eyes wouldn’t stop looking at us.  

Fishing aside, it was a peaceful overnight passage with a full moon and 15 knots of wind on the beam.  It was a nice reminder that time at sea can be relaxing.

In Nassau, we had our first official boarding experience by two members of the Royal Bahamas Defense Force.who wanted to see our cruising permits and passports and such.  It seems they were checking random boats in the anchorage, and at first we were a little nervous.  wanted to see our cruising permits and passports and such.  We were in the middle of some projects and SARABANDE was a mess inside.  It took us several minutes to remember where we’d put our cruising permit, but they assured us that we were the nicest people they’d met all day. 

Alicia cautiously offered them gin and tonics, since it was late in the afternoon and we were embarrassed to offer them lukewarm water, the only other beverage readily available.   But they declined, checked all our documents and officiously went on their way.  Watching them leave, we worried about whether we’d offended them by offering them alcohol. 

About half an hour later, a resounding THUNK hit our hull and we hurried into the cockpit, thinking our anchor had dragged and we’d been blown into another boat.  But instead we found the same Bahamian officials, very embarrassed about accidentally hitting our boat (it was a windy day), but wondering if our offer still stood.  They explained that their shift was nearly done and so they were more comfortable accepting a drink from us now.  Gin was poured all around and we spent a pleasant half hour together, telling each other a little bit about our lives.  No harm was done by their bump, and we parted as friends, even got invited to a Super Bowl party! What a difference a little hospitality makes.  It doesn’t seem like serving up booze to the US Coast Guard would fly, though.....

because we've been touched to receive emails from several potential cruisers in the spot that we were a year or two ago, we started a new section with little blurbs about some of the more mundane, day-to-day tasks aboard a cruising sailboat.  We're amateurs, but we are managing pretty well and thought perhaps what we had to say might be of use to someone.  

Alicia & Brian


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