Friday, January 31, 2014

The Exumas - Allen's Cay

Sorry for the long gap since our last post, but we have been down in the Exumas which are largely void of any communications other than Marine VHF.

When we last left off, we were wrapping up a few days' stay in Spanish Wells which is part of Eleuthra.  From there we made a day-long run down to the beginning of the Exuma chain ending up at Allen's Cay.  Allen's is a really pretty little hidie-hole between two cays - except for one thing.  It's really crowded.  Not only is it one of the closest points of arrival from a number of directions, but two of the cays are home to giant iguanas which serve as an irresistible attraction.   We managed to nuzzle in and anchor for the night after one day-visitor departed.

Just a touch south across the entrance channel to the main anchorage is SW Allen's Cay which sports a nice, if not small cove with room for not much more than one boat.  It was occupied when we first arrived, but the next morning they departed and we quickly weighed anchor and went over to grab that location.  It was very, very nice, away from other boats, and a short dinghy ride or swim to the beach to visit the iguanas.  We also found excellent snorkling around the edges of the cove.

SW Allen's Cay

Giant Iguana

Giant Iguana

However, paradise didn't last.  That evening a strong wind came through and although we were well protected from the wind, the swell came right through the channel and around the corner to where we were.  Because the cove was so small, we were not more than about 100' away from the coral edges, so any anchor dragging would quickly become a disaster.  I set a variety of anchor alarms and spent the night in the salon propped up where I could see the anchor alarms and display of our position by just opening my eyes.  Between the constant watch  and heavy rolling, it was not a restful night.  In the morning we awoke to find another boat had come in over night and anchored about 50' away from us, so we decided to move back over to the other anchorage.  It was still pretty full, but we found a spot - at least for a while.

We were close to a sand bar and as the tide shifted, despite the strong wind, we started getting pushed towards the bar and were shortly going to be aground, so up came the anchor once again.  This time we moved to a spot between two boats that was a bit tight, but also about the only choice.  As we were positioning and dropping the anchor, one of the neighboring boat owners came out and stood at his bow, arms crossed, pouting.  He eventually started yelling over to us so I got him on the radio.  He complained that he had 100' of chain out and that on the next tide swing he would run into us.  Now mind you that we were in maybe 8-10 feet of water, so 50-75' of chain would be plenty,  so he was taking up a lot of room.  We debated repositioning again and instead decided to just get the hell out of there, so out we went.

Our first call was to Highbourne Cay Marina which is pretty much the only marina anywhere within about 50 miles.  No big surprise, they were full with boats escaping the blow.  So instead we went in near Highbourne where there are some small cays that looked like they might provide shelter from the westerly winds, and sure enough they did.  We found a very nice spot with good protection and excellent holding and settled in for the night.  Leaving Allen's ended up being a blessing in disguise.

Much to my amusement, a week or so later someone came by our boat down in Warderick Wells and said he was in the Allen's Cay anchorage when that guy was giving us a hard time.  He said that as soon as we left, the guy moved to exactly the spot he said we shouldn't be in.  Fortunately most cruisers aren't jerks - just a few of them.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Week 50 Construction update

Build progress continues at a nice pace with few to no issues.

Down in the Laz the steering gear is largely in place including all the hydraulic manifolds where the steering pumps and helms connect together.  In the far right is the AC condenser, and the smaller blue thing to it's left is one of the auto pilot steering pumps.  The second one is next to it, but mostly obscured.

Laz steering gear

A little further forward on the port side is one of the battery boxes in the foreground, then in front of the worker is a mounting panel for all the heater components.  You can see the two brass water manifolds near the top

Battery box and heater equipment

There's lots more equipment showing up in the engine room, including hydraulics (more in a later picture), fire extinguishers, fuel systems, etc.

Engine room equipment

Here's a closer look at the fuel system.  These are the dual filters for the main engine, and the single transfer filter for moving and cleaning fuel.  Below the filters is one of the manifolds for directing fuel flow.

Fuel system

On the opposite wall are a bunch of the hydraulic system components.  Furthest in the background about center in the picture is the generator and you can just see the hydraulic pump hanging of the end of the enclosure.  Moving towards us along the right is the reservoir tank, then the accumulator which looks like a small dive tank.  It's a pressurized reservoir which provides an extra reserve of fluid flow when the stabilization-at-rest needs to give a quick kick.  Next is a cluster of controls for the cooling pump, and foremost is a combiner block for the drain return lines.

Hydraulic components

Moving all the way forward in the boat, you can see the hydraulic bow thruster (lower white device), the control block above it on the ledge, and the black anchor wash pump to the right of the. thruster

Bow thruster and anchor wash

Here is the water maker installed pretty much as requested.  By handing the components on the bulkhead it frees up the shelf to the right for storage.  The only possible problem is that there is a control panel near the top of the big white box with the filters on it.  I'm a bit worried about whether I'll be able to read the display with it up so close to the ceiling.  My original placement request had it lowered about a foot for better visibility.  Communications of details like this are part of the challenge of building something from a great distance and with language differences.

You can also see that the tempering valve has been installed on the water heater with the red hot water line coming out of it.  These are really important fro two reasons.  First is safety.  Unlike your home water heater which gets up to around 130-140F, a boat heater will get up to 180F or so when heated by the engine while underway.  That kind of hot water will burn you very quickly.  The second reason is that the Whale water pipe fittings used throughout the boat are only rated for temps up to 150F.  Running hotter is unlikely to cause instant failure, but it's asking for trouble.  The tempering valve mixed cold water with the very hot water coming out of the tank to create a consistent 130-140F temp.

Water maker

In the Pilot house head we now have a toilet, sink, and faucet.  Looking good!

Pilot house head

Looking forward in the pilot house you can see the electrical panel is installed except for the lower-most part.  And all the drawers and doors are installed (or being installed)

Pilot house
The guest cabin is similarly taking shape with all teh doors and drawers in place.

Guest cabin

And same for the office

More of the pilot house.  Here, and in several other areas you will see that outlets, switches, AC controls, and heat controls are largely installed.

Pilot house

Master shower getting final touches.

Master shower

Master head looking complete with counter top, sink, faucet, toilet, outlets, etc.

Master Head
The master stateroom also shows doors and drawers in place, outlets installed, etc.

Master stateroom

Master stateroom
The galley now has all the appliances installed except the cook top.  We really like the industrial frridge/freezer door handles/latches.  We think they will both allow for easy access, and secure closing when in rough seas.


Same for the salon.  Looking very complete save for the ceiling panels




In the cockpit you can now see the standpipe for the davit, and the guy is probably making water connections to the sink which is now installed with a faucet.


Up on the boat deck the davit is installed.

Boat deck

So what's left?  Well, there still aren't any stainless railing, no stack, no fly bridge hardtop (which depends on the stainless for support).  The engines don't appear to be hooked up yet, along with all their controls and instrument panels.  The AC and heat  is clearly coming along, but not yet complete, as area a number of electrical systems like the inverters, chargers, etc.  We are also still missing the cockpit settee and table.  Best estimates at this point are that we have 2-3 months remaining.  I'm thinking I'll take another trip over in 6 weeks or so, but we will see.  The biggest concern from my perspective remains sorting out how we are going to get the heater exhaust out the stern of the boat.  It's an interesting 3D puzzle, and nearly impossible to solve from 8,000 miles away.  We may also have a few issues with the placement of the heat thermostats, but we'll get that sorted out.  All in all, teh project continues to go pretty darn well.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Gangsta Carts

Spanish Wells is an interesting and likable town.  It's a vibrant, working community with what appears to be a sound economy based on fishing.  All the fishing boats and working piers remind us of our home port of Gloucester, MA.  It's nice to see a place that doesn't live exclusively on tourism.

Also shared with our home town are Gangsta Cars, except here they are Gangsta Carts.  You know the cars that drive by you with thundering base and rattling fenders and bumpers that rap by?  Well, the have the same thing here, except like everywhere in the Bahamas, they mostly drive gold carts.  But well into the evening last night we heard cart after cart thundering and rapping down the road.  I guess some things are universal.

But this sure is a pretty spot

Spanish Wells

Today we took a day trip over to Dunmore Town on Harbor Island.  To get there you take a ferry and transit the Devil's Backbone.  There's yet another awesome name for you, just like the Dismal Swap.  The Devil's Backbone is a narrow, windy, unmarked passage through the reefs to get to Harbor Island.  All visiting boats hire a pilot to lead them through and make the trip slowly and with great caution.  But we cranked through at 20kt on a 100' ferry.  Pretty cool.

Dunmore Town, Harbor Island

Heading to the Exumas by way of Eleuthra

With the watermaker working again and the kids back home, it was time to continue on our trip and we decided to head to the Exumas.  To get there, you exit the inside waters of the Abacos and head back out to sea for about a 50nm leg south to Eleuthra.  From there it's about another 50nm to the beginning of the Exuma island chain.

The crossing was pretty interesting.  In general the weather was pretty good, but with a 3-5' swell.  It was a gentle, spaced out swell, so not too bad.

The first notable part of the trip is the depth.  No more than about a mile or two outside of Abacos, the sea depth plummets.  The picture below shows the graph from our sounder showing the beginning of the cliff.   Then the next pictures shows the next drop off going from about 1000' down to 1500', at which point the sounder loses it.  Charted depths range from 12,000' to 15,000' for the crossing.

The first depth drop off

Second drop from 1000' to 1500' before depth is lost

The second interesting part was the freighter/tanker traffic.  Distance and speeds are so deceptive out in the open water, and you come to appreciate the assistance rendered by the boat's instruments.  Just watching this freighter for 10-15 minutes, I would have judged that we were on a near collision course.  And, I'm the give-way ship in this case (he has right of way)

Crossing ship - will we collide?

The next picture shows us approaching each other on the chart plotter.  Still looks like a close call, right?
Crossing traffic show on chart plotter

Actually, in the above picture it's more clear that we are not going to hit.  The red arrows coming out of the bows of each boat represent their speed, and you can see pretty clearly that the freighter is going much faster that we are.  When the tips of the arrows are near each other, that's when you have trouble.  As a side note, you can also see that the charted depth here is about 4000 meters.

Even better than looking at the red arrows, you can click on the other ship and the plotter will tell you your CPA, aka closest point of approach, aka, how close you will come to each other.  In this case, we were quite literally going to miss each other by a mile.

And sure enough, he passed well ahead of us, yet close enough to see that he's carrying a yacht on his deck, just the way new boats are shipping over from China.

Crossing ship with yacht on deck

By about 1:00 we arrived at Royal Harbor which is a very nicely protected anchorage a few miles from Spanish Wells and Harbor Island/Dunmore Town.

Watermaker repaired

After sitting in Freeport for nearly a week, the part for our watermaker finally showed up.  The picture below shows the hose and fitting that was leaking.  Water was flowing pretty steadily from the joint where the hose enters the fitting.

These are special high pressure hoses and fittings to handle the 100 PSI of feed water pressure.  Normal water hoses can't handle that, and these Parker nylon tubes and fittings are much easier to work with than copper.  They have a clever retainer and o-ring seal that makes a tight joint by just hand tightening the nut.  But when something goes wrong you are shit out of luck without the proper replacement, and the local hardware store doesn't carry them.  I now have a note to myself to get an assortment of these as spares for the new boat.

My original suspicion was that the o-ring had split or cracked, but it looked fine.  I tried turning it around and that made no difference either.  And I couldn't see any split or crack in the fitting or nut either.

That hose was not secured until it reaches the pump at it's other end, and when the water maker shifts direction (it's like a piston that goes back and forth), the hose flops around a bit.  My best guess is that the flopping motion eventually caused a crack in the fitting.  But even after the new fitting arrived and I completely removed the old one, I couldn't see any sign of a crack - at least nothing definitive.  There were a few lines, but I couldn't say they were cracks and not just molding marks or scores in the surface.  I even stuck a couple of screw drivers in the fitting ends and flexed it to see if any of the lines opened up, but I couldn't see anything.  The new fitting works and doesn't leak, but I hate repairs where there is no clear smoking gun causing the problem.  But I now have that tube secured so it's not flopping around any more.

Fun in Hope Town, Abacos

We had a great family week in White Sound which is just south of Hope Town on Elbow Cay in the Abacos.  Our kids and their significant-others came down for a week and took over a neighboring house while Laurie and I stayed on the boat so we could get some sleep.....

The weather didn't completely cooperate, but we all still had a great time.  One of our first projects, and the request of our Daughter, was a hair cut for Zagy.  Only minor injuries were incurred.

Zagy gets a haircut

Aside from great food, including amazing rum cake from Vernon's Grocery, we got in a bunch of snorkeling, kayaking, and general goofing around.  The boat deck makes for a great jumping platform, we found.


Oh, and I celebrated by 54th birthday.  I can't think of a better place and better people to ring up another one with.

Friday, January 3, 2014

Watermaker sprung a leak

Darn, now the water maker sprung a leak.  Looks like a bad fitting, so Spectra is shipping me a new one.  We'll see if I get in any reasonable time frame.... Stay tuned.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Fixed the windlass foot control buttons...

Today I dug into the problem I was having with the forward foot buttons that control the windlass.

My first look in the space under the windlass itself didn't reveal and knocked off wires or other damage.  I was thinking maybe something got tossed around in there on our rough ride and knocked a wire off, all looked good.

It took a little digging around to find the relay box, but it looked in great shape.  I know the relay itself works because the other control stations work.  It's just the forward buttons.

Then, after verifying the relay was all good, I checked again under the windlass, and inside one of the split looms I found three splice connections, one of which looked like hell.  Here are the three connectors after I cut them out.

Non-waterproof connectors used in wet location.  The middle one had completely failed.

It can get wet under there since the chain pipe (the guide pipe that feeds the anchor chain through to the chain locker.  If we are taking spray and water over the bow, which we were big time, water gets in there.  Inside the loom was soaked.

Because it's wet in there, these connections should have been made with heat shrink, waterproof connectors.  The connectors in the picture definitely are not water proof.  In fact, one of the wires had broken right off from corrosion.

I replace all three with heat shrink butt splices, then put another length of heat shrink tubing over the butt and wires for a little added protection in the future.  Now the forward buttons are working again!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Underway again, to the Bahamas

We flew back down to Florida on December 27th and were back on board by early afternoon.  But along the way we learned an unfortunately lesson.  Just because you have a car reservation, and just because you have been a customer for 30 years, and just because you are have been a gold member for 20 years, doesn't mean Hertz will actually have a car for you.  When we arrived at the pickup lot, they had no cars, and about 50 people waiting for cars to magically arrive.  I'm not exactly a fan of Hertz, but over the years they have been less problematic than other companies I've tried, but this was strike three.  As they say in Jersey, they are dead to me now.   Strike one was when a car we rented appeared to have gone missing from the valet garage at our hotel, so I reported it stolen to Hertz.  In the end it turned out the valet has mistakenly given our car to someone else, but Hertz seemed to think the missing car was my fault and refused to rent me another car until the missing one was recovered.  They were happy to leave me high and dry.  Strike two was a month or two ago when, just for kicks, we reserved a convertible.  When we arrived to pick it up, the guy was very apologetic that they didn't have the car, and said that Hertz doesn't reserve to actual inventory.  It wasn't a huge deal, but really calls into question the companies operating policies.  Anyway, let's get back to boating.

Aside from provisioning and a handful of errands, the big task was picking a weather window to make the crossing to the Bahamas.   We've never done it before, and distance-wise it's not a far jump at all, but it involves crossing the Gulf Stream which can be quite nasty under the wrong conditions.  The water flows north at about 4kts which is pretty darn fast for current.  If you have an opposing wind, it creates short, steep waves that will kick the crap out of you.  This phenomenon of current against wind is common in boating, but in this case you are talking about a lot of water moving very fast over a very wide span, and winds that have free reign for a long, long way to build up the seas.

The trick is to get a day where there is no northern component to the wind direction so it's not opposing the current, and winds that are 15 kts or less.  It's also good for any past big winds to have subsided for a day or more to give the ocean time to settle back down.

Our choices looked like Sunday the 29th or Monday the 30th.  Sunday was supposed to be 15kts +/- out of the west to southwest.  15 kts is a bit high, but with a westerly component it would be more to our backs, so not too bad in theory.  Monday was supposed to be calmer in the 10 kt range, but with a northerly component starting to kick back in.  We were leaning towards Sunday, figuring that if the northern wind kicked up on Monday is could get pretty bad.

I then checked with a couple of people, including a professional marine weather routing guy to sanity check our thinking.  Both thought that Sunday sounded OK.  The one comment from the pro was that conditions would be improving throughout the day on Sunday, so whatever we saw in the beginning of the day was as bad as it would get.  So we decided Sunday it would be.  Plus that would give us Monday to cross the open part of the Bahamas bank when conditions we supposed to be OK.

Sunday Morning we were off, and the waves started as we were leaving the Ft Worth inlet, and never gave up until we entered the cut at West End, Bahamas.  It was not a fun trip.  Instead of 15kt winds we had steady 25-30kts.  And instead of 3-5' seas we had steady 6-8' seas.  We figured it should get better as we progressed, but that never happened.  The interesting part is that I couldn't tell you where the Gulf Stream started and where it ended.  The seas were the same the whole way.  But we made it, the boat did great, and it sure was nice to be tucked in a harbor at the end of the day.

Backing up a bit, we need to be in the Marsh Harbor/Elbow Cay area by the following Sunday the 5th because our kids and their significant-others are flying down to join us for a week.  So rather than catch a breather on arrival, we have been feeling a need to press on for fear of getting stuck somewhere by bad weather if we linger.

So off we went on Monday the 30th to cross over the top of the Little Bahama Bank to get ourselves over between Abaco and the outer islands.  The only way into that part of the Abacos is at the top of the island chain, or you need to go outside, off the bank, and all the way around.  First stop was about a 50NM run from West End to Great Sale Cay.  Great Sale is uninhabited, but a great stopping point when winds are out of the north which they were.  It was a very calm and pleasant trip over, and a nice night on the anchor, and although there were only two boats there when we arrived, there were over 12 when we finally went to sleep.

When we went to anchor, we discovered two problems.  First, the anchor wouldn't go down.  The windlass would operate, but go click click click.  I tried releasing the clutch to manually drop the anchor, but it still wouldn't go down.  The Laurie figured it out.  In all our thrashing about on the crossing over, the anchor chain had gotten tangled up.  The chain locker is accessed from the forward stateroom so I dug my way in and sure enough, the chain pile had shifted so the section that should be feeding out was buried under a bunch of chain that had shifted during the pounding.  It took some shoving and digging, but I finally got it moved around and free so we could lower the anchor.

Then we discovered problem two.  There is an anchor control at the helm, and also two foot buttons right up in the bow.  But the foot buttons weren't working.   It's been no problme raising and lowering from the helm, but I'll have to dig into that problem and fix it.  Looking at the wiring diagrams, it's probably just a corroded wire, or maybe something else got knocked around during the crossing.

By Tuesday AM there were forecasts of a Gale coming though on Thursday, so we started thinking that we should get to Marsh Harbor/Elbow Cay before that.   Just before Marsh Harbor is Whale Cay where the only interior passage (staying on the bank) is a narrow, shallow cut that requires mid to high tide for us, and preferably reasonably calm seas.  The other route takes you out through a cut to open ocean, then back in another cut a mile or so away.  Neither sounds very appetizing in rough weather, so we figured we needed to get by there no later than Wednesday.  From that formed our plan.  Tuesday the 31st we would go to Green Turtle Cay, then Wednesday the 1st we would move to Marsh Harbor, passing by Whale Cay, one way or another.

Tuesday the 31st, New Years Eve, we arrived at Green Turtle Cay, settled into a slip, and made reservations for New Years Eve dinner at the local restaurant.  The dinner was great, but we were otherwise reminded why we don't favor marinas in our travels.  If you are a party animal, I suppose it's great, but we are old fuddy duddies and much prefer a peaceful, natural environment without seeing your neighbor's face every time you look out your window.  But it served us well and we are glad everyone had a good time.

Today, New Years Day (Happy New Year!!), we got underway around 8:30 and were approaching Whale Cay around 10:00.  I could see a couple of boats coming through the outside pass and radioed to get a condition report.  They reported it to be bumpy, but no breaking waves and certainly passable, so we decided to take that route.  The inside pass was right into the morning sun making visibility difficult, and we were at a mid and falling tide, so an hour of bumping seemed better than risking running around.

Within about 45 minutes or so we were heading back in Loggerhead cut and the seas were subsiding.  Now on the south side of Whale Cay, it's clear sailing to our ultimate destination at Elbow Cay.  Wanting to anchor out, we picked a spot not too far from March Harbor with good protection from the East, turning to Southerly winds over the next couple of days.  I think we will just stay put here unless the wind swings around further and leaves us exposed, in which case we'll go find another spot.

I have to say I'm looking forward to a couple of down days to just relax and catch up on things.  It was race race race for Christmas, then race race race to get down to Florida and get the boat ready to go, and has been race race race to get positioned so we won't miss our rendezvous with our kids.  Now it's time to relax and enjoy the Bahamas.  And with this view out the back of the boat, wouldn't you?

Matt Lowe Cay