2.12.2010

Iguanas, Starfish, Turtles…. SHARKS

We have been fortunate by having so many opportunities to see many great animals. It is a fantastic chance to sit back and watch the animals in their natural habitat. I have watched frisky Iguanas chase the Captain, ocean turtles and stingrays move smoothly through the water with hitchhikers on their backs, I watched starfish slowly inch their way across a white sand bottom with destinations unknown, graciously one afternoon a flying fish hitched a ride with us, I have swam with dolphins and dove for conch. I have even seen a nurse shark up close and personal but all of this falls short to a couple of days ago when the Capt and I were snorkeling around a nice secluded bay searching for the days dinner, conch. The sun was shining, the water clear blue as a swimming pool just shocked with chlorine, the weather warm with a nice sea breeze blowing. We were approximately 50 yards from the beach, gliding through the calm waters, each in our own little worlds with our own private thoughts going through our minds. Suddenly the Capt came to a screeching stop and I noticed this sudden change out of the corner of my eye. I turned back to see what had caught his attention. As I did he calmly waved for me to come back towards him, as I began getting closer to him he pointed and there in the distance approximately 30-40 feet was a indistinct outline that looked quite intimidating. As this object began sliding closer to us we saw that it was a black tip shark. The Captain grabbed me just about the time I grabbed him and one way or the other I ended up behind him. The shark was pacing the waters, gliding back and forth, his eyes on us and our eyes on him. Even though the water was clear blue there was a murkiness lurking about him. He did not appear to be frightened or intimidated by our presence. He was slowly creeping his way closer and closer. The Captain motioned for me to start swimming to shore. Which I did without argument! I did my best to keep down my thrashing as well as make head way towards my optimal destination in one piece all the while keeping a close eye on my Captain. During one of my glances back I noticed the shark’s relentless curiosity as he attempted to approach the Captain too close for comfort. I saw him swing our conch bag, which was empty, at the shark in his attempt to spook him off. No luck, this shark was determined to check us out. The shark continued to approach the Captain, this time the Capt made a fearless sprint at the shark. The sudden movement caused the shark to have a fleeting second guess of his motives as he retreated. But, this withdraw only lasted a moment as the shark resumed his exploration of us. At this point the Captain decided to join me on my swim to the beach all the while swimming backwards keeping a close eye on this magnificent creature. We stood on the beach together as I fought off a nervous breakdown and we re-evaluated the situation. What did this shark want with us? Why was he not intimidated by our presence? Lesson we did learn … we learned that our ignorance of not only cultures but creatures can remove a blessing that may have been. What if this shark had become accustomed to the local fisherman and divers feeding him and he just wanted to see if we had any food for him? What a blessing it may have been to have had a close personal encounter with this muscular, sleek creature? How wonderful it could have been to see God’s creature up close? What a rare pleasure that may have been, people pay hundreds of dollars to go on shark dives. Can they be that dangerous? Instead of enjoying the blessing before us we let our man made fears and our own imagination fill our minds. We have decided to learn more about sharks and their behavior so if we ever have this unusual opportunity again we will be more knowledgeable on how to handle the situation.

Georgetown, Grand Exuma, Bahamas 2-12-10







We made it to Georgetown. We have internet access and will update our blog and add photos. We are waiting for yet another front to pass and the squalls are predicted to have up 50 mph winds. More later.

Cold Fronts in the Bahamas 2-10-10

Cold Fronts in the Bahamas 2-10-10

Not sure when this will get posted but I am writing it on 2-10-10. We arrived at Leaf Cay on 2-6-10 just ahead and during the passing of the previous cold front. We planned our arrival at Leaf Cay so we would have the choice of at least three anchorages to gain protection in the clocking winds of the passing front. We have moved twice since our arrival, once to Lee Stocking Island and then back to Leaf Cay. Today we are experiencing another passage of a cold front with minor squalls but powerful winds. We are thankful to be in the lee of Leaf Cay. Favorable conditions are forecast for a departure tomorrow to arrive at Elizabeth Harbor, Georgetown, Exumas, Bahamas.

The wind direction is quite predictable with approaching cold fronts. The wind starts out of the south clocking to the southwest to west and then just as the front passes the winds shift northerly. They can blow for days anywhere from northwest to northeast. There may also be a squall present at the leading edge of the front. When we hear of an approaching front, we start looking at the charts for anchorages that will give us protection and destination points that allow us to sail in the Lee of the islands with favorable winds. We choose to stay put this time as the entrance to Elizabeth Harbor can be extremely hazardous in marginal conditions. The Bahamas Cruisers Guide list not one, not two, but three cautions for this harbor entrance. We will not attempt to enter in any marginal conditions. We are about a 6–8 hour passage from Elizabeth Harbor and we will remain here until the weather settles.

The wind is like nothing I have experienced before. It is not just the velocity but the sounds, the pressure, the vibrations. The wind speed indicator has recorded gusts in excess of 30 mph and sustained winds of 25 mph. Just a few moments ago the hull of the boat was vibrating from the forces of the wind and tidal current. You do not always lay to wind at the anchorage here even with 30+ wind speeds. Mary Rose has been lying at anchor at about 90 degrees to the wind for the past few hours. This is because the tidal current directly opposes the wind and Mary Rose has a full keel. The pressure of the tidal current flowing across her keel generates enough force to oppose the wind. There were times that the anchor chain was slack and we were in a bit of a hovering position directly over the anchor. The wind is pushing one direction and the tidal current pushing the opposite direction.

Our current ground tackle consists of a 45lb CQR anchor and about 60 feet of 3/8 chain. The anchor location is marked with a small round yellow float to give us a reference of where our anchor is dug in and to allow other boaters the ability to see exactly where our anchor is located. The anchor marker is quite helpful in these conditions since we are seldom laying bow to anchor.

So we sit and wait, read, exercise, plan, study and get back some of the time we put in the time bank the last two years. Nobody Moves – Nobody Gets Hurt!!!!!!!

Captain Don Montgomery

Farmers Cay to Leaf Cay near Lees Stocking Island 2-6-10

Farmers Cay to Leaf Cay near Lees Stocking Island

We woke early and had “big daddy” breakfast! What’s on the menu for the “big daddy” breakfast? Bacon, eggs, potatoes, toast, fresh squeezed juice and coffee this day and it can vary based on what is on hand. After breakfast we discussed the timing and location of our next passage. We decided that we wanted to move when the winds were westerly so that the next cut would not be an issue. We also wanted to arrive on a rising tide so that if we happened to run aground we could float off and move to deeper water. We also wanted a passage of 5 hours or less. As we reviewed the charts for potential sites that fit our criteria we spied Leaf Cay near Lee Stocking Island. The cut looked good and there were several anchorage sites with protection from various wind directions and it was an estimated 4-5 hours south of Farmers Cay. We had thoughts of remaining where we were to enjoy another day at the festival but the westerly winds dictated our departure. We began the mental departure check list and we were off the hook and sailing in less than one hour. We still had the first reef in the main sail from the last passage and we decided to not use the head sail and set the staysail for this trip. The winds were out of the west at 25+ mph with gusts that approached 40 mph. The seas were 2-4 with swells from the west for most of the passage. We were sailing in the Lee of the islands. The reefed main and staysail was the perfect combination for this passage. We had excessive heeling angle twice and that was easily corrected with the traveler and sail trim. We had a moving average speed of 5.0 kts and a top speed of 8.0 kts as recorded by the dashboard features of the Garmin Chart Plotter. Did I mention that we managed 8 kts while we were towing our dinghy with the motor on it? We were very happy with the performance of Mary Rose in these conditions. We were about two thirds of the way to our destination when we noticed a squall looming off our stern and it appeared to be overtaking us rapidly. We decided that our current sail configuration was adequate and we donned our foul weather gear. The Admiral fired up the radar and confirmed that there was indeed a heavy band of rain behind us and it was overtaking us. We discussed what to expect when it reached us and what we needed to do in advance and during the squall. We closed up all the openings on Mary Rose and settled in for the attack. We expected a wind shift and it happened right on cue. First the rain and I DO MEAN RAIN! Then the wind shift with a temperature drop of a few degrees. The winds clocked from west to north and increased in speed and the gusts were more frequent. It was wet and loud (more on loud later) but never very rough. When we left Farmers Cay we were not expecting a wind shift to the north so we did not rig our boom brake and we did not rig it as the squall approached. This goes on the “to do” list for the next approaching squall. With the winds right on the stern there was always the possibility of an accidental jibe. With the winds blowing at up to 40+ an accidental jibe could cause serious damage and or injury to both Mary Rose and Crew. The admiral did a perfect job keeping a watch on this situation with main sheet in hand and ready to execute the maneuver to safely jibe Mary if the winds continued to clock. We never entered into an accidental jibe but we did have the staysail flutter a few times which is the early warning that you are nearing the wind angles for one to occur. The east to west cut was comfortable with the north winds and we found a great anchorage, we arrived on a rising tide and we are the only boat in sight! SWEEEEEET!
Captain Don Montgomery

ADMIRALS PERSPECTIVE:

Departure from Farmer’s Cay was a bittersweet moment for my self. We met numerous cruisers as well as locals that were a blast to hang out with. We also had the promising opportunity to have participated as crew in the local boat races. But as I adjust to the wonders of a cruisers life we must also adjust to the few down falls which includes packing up and leaving when a weather window opens up, even when we are not quite ready to go. The window opened so off we went gleefully to our next adventure to meet new people and discover what surprises that await us at our next stop. We were flying along as the Capt previous stated when the squall approached, the winds began to blow harder with gusts >40. Quite a few times Mary heeled to her port side which resulted in a nice salt water wash down for her deck and crew. I was rather thrilled as I watched the rain approach. You see living on a boat, water is a luxury. Water consumption is monitored closely since we only carry 80 gallons on board and when it’s used up it is gone until we come to a port that has potable water. It had been several days since we were able to shower, trust me, we get pretty smelly sometimes! Which is another down fall to cruising.. very limited ability to shower and body odor. Baby wipes has become the new words for showers! Any way let me get back on track.. my hair and body had been covered in salt to the extent that when I brushed my hair it was as if I had a salt shaker hidden some place! I was so thrilled to be able to at long last have a fresh water rinse! The rain came and after the initial squall line passed, the winds calmed and the rain poured down. I began blissfully absorbing the fresh clean rain water. I felt like a little kid playing in a summer rain shower. I was also able to capture a couple of gallons in a jug for later use. The problem began approximately 30 minutes after I finished playing in the rain. I was finished playing but it continued to rain and rain and rain. Then it became cold. So there I stood in my foul weather gear wet, cold but clean. I find myself feeling gracious more often these days. I am appreciative for the shower and gracious for the small stuff that I once took for granted. Once we arrived at anchor and we had the rain catcher in place, the clouds cleared and the rain stopped.

Isn’t life funny sometimes!!

Black Point Cay to Farmers Cay Bahamas Thursday 2-4-10

Black Point Cay to Farmers Cay Bahamas Thursday 2-4-10

This day was a great day on the sound with 4-6 kts of boat speed in easterly winds and seas 4- 7 feet with a few swells up to 10 feet. The big challenge came when we arrived at Farmers Cay Cut as the tide was coming out and the waves and wind were blowing in. This made for some very large rollers and it is what is referred to as a “rage” in local Bahamian terminology. We dropped sail well before we entered the rough waters of the cut and prepared as best we could for the tossing about we were about to take. Normally it would be better to leave a headsail up in these conditions for additional power to make way through the tidal current and waves. In this situation it would have been of little assistance as the winds were full astern and the head sail would have been flogging from side to side. I instructed the Admiral to take a secure position and keep a sharp eye ahead for any hazards to navigation. We entered the cut and Mary Rose began to roll from side to side, I know that a few of the rolls were at least 45 degrees. The waves were hitting the stern quarters trying to push Mary Rose sideways in the cut as the current on the nose was trying to turn the bow sideways. The pressure on the rudder was great and prompt corrective steering is critical to maintain proper heading and course through the cut. Normal cruising RPM on the engine is 1800 and I had “Mr Perkins” (the engine) throttled up to 2100 RPM to give additional power through the cut. The entire passage through the cut took less than ten minutes but the minutes seemed to turn to hours as we were being tossed about. As soon as we cleared the rage in the cut the anchorage was calm as it was protected from the easterly wind and the tidal current was less of a factor inside the bay. We took the nearest anchorage, laid out a Bahamian Moor and sat down to reflect on the new experience that had just occurred. Later we took the dinghy to the Farmers Cay Marina and met the owner and creator of the marina, Roosevelt Nixon. The “Happy Hour” had just started and we enjoyed the very best conch fritters we have ever had in any location ever! We introduced ourselves to other cruisers and the common question was….”are you the boat that came through the cut during the rage?” Then after a short conversation they would hail another cruiser and tell them…..”Come over here and meet these guys, they are the ones that came through the cut today!” We started to feel like celebrities. So if it was so rough then why did we do it? Well we had little choice as this was the safest cut within hours and if we waited out in the sound then it would be dark and we DO NOT LIKE NIGHT LAND FALLS. We could have made the passage from Black Cay to Farmers Cay by navigating through the shallow banks on the western side of the Exuma island chain but that route would have taken much longer and we would have had to run our engine most of the time. We have a much better appreciation and understanding of how and when to execute a passage through the various cuts now as we continue to learn and grow in our sailing capabilities. We are glad we went to Farmers as our arrival just happened to coincide with a traditional event known as The First Friday in February Farmers Festival. It includes local ocean boat racing, fun local food, cookies and brownies for sale to support local school event and cruiser activities. We celebrated along with the rest of the cruisers and locals and also because it is my Dad’s Birthday, Happy Birthday Dad! Be sure to read Lana’s post for fun photos and more information on the festival.

Keep the comments coming....we enjoy them.
Captain Don Montgomery