We departed Little Cambridge early in the morning bound for Rock Sound, Eleuthera. The crossing was uneventful, except we caught no fish. This was frustrating, as we'd had little time for fishing thus far, due to inclement weather. Fortunately, we have an ample supply of pasta, soup and canned tuna fish on board. Our arrival at Powell Point was exciting, as we transited from water over 2,000 feet deep to water 20 feet deep in the space of about 100 yards. These bottom conditions cause the waves to pile up and the onshore winds didn't help. The Naiad stabilizers paid their dues yet again, and we survived this part of the journey unscathed, except for a lot of salt spray over Duet's bow and sides. We pulled into Rock Sound around 3PM, set the hook in the sandy bottom and had a quiet evening.
Rock Sound, known in the past as Wreck Sound due to it's inhabitants' primary occupation, is a large community. In the 70's it was a popular tourist destination, with multiple luxury hotels and a Club Med. Unfortunately, according to the locals we talked to, the politicians changed the tax structure and the golden goose went elsewhere. Today there is little tourist traffic and the airport, which in Rock Sound's heyday managed two 727's a day, is deserted. This economic downturn has been hard on the local population, but they remain friendly and glad to see cruisers. Rock Sound has recently (and deservedly) made it on the cruiser map, this year they experienced a high of 36 boats in the anchorage at once. This is in contract to 350 in Georgetown during regatta. The anchorage at Rock Sound is as sheltered as Georgetown, the people are as friendly and, in our opinion, the provisioning is better, so we expect to see Rock Sound become more crowded as the years pass. There are two major drawbacks to Rock Sound. First landing a dinghy is a challenge. Eleuthera has about a 3 foot tide and the harbor is only mildly sloping, so when the tide goes out all the docks are dry. Thus the dinghy must be tethered some distance from the dock during a time of falling tide and if you return to it after the tide has risen you must wade (or sometimes even worse, swim) to it. Fortunately, on Duet, Captain Ron fetches the dinghy in these situations, while Nancy keeps track of Tristan and Maggie.
The second issue with Rock Sound is the amount of trash found on the beaches. It appears that much of the town's refuse is dumped into the harbor and fetches up on the western harbor beaches. Thus, not only do you have to walk around it on the beach, but you also get to watch it float across the anchorage. We're not sure why this is, but Rock Sound, along with Georgetown and Marsh Harbor, is one of the dirtiest harbors we've been in. It may be due to the towns' sheer size, Rock Sound is the largest town on Eleuthera, while Georgetown is the largest in the Exumas and Marsh Harbor the largest in the Abacos. Fortunately, the beaches on the other side of Eleuthera are pristine and beautiful, as they are in Georgetown and in the Abacos. In the Bahama's defense, US beaches are also often littered with washed up detritus..
Dinghy landing and trash aside, we greatly enjoyed Rock Sound. On our second day we journeyed ashore and met Chris, of Dingle's Automotive. Chris is a fifth generation Eleutheran and a big supporter of the cruising community. He goes out of his way to make boaters feel welcome; whenever he is at Dingle's he calls every boat entering the harbor via VHF and personally welcomes them to Rock Sound. He is a great source of local information, he warns the anchored boats when the mail boat is expected and generally goes out of his way to make sure your stay is a good one. Almost as importantly, Dingle's has not only an Internet connection, but also sells Dominos pizza and Edy's ice cream. Duet's crew took full advantage of these latter two luxuries on our second day in port. We also visited Rock Sound's Blue Hole, which is right in the center of town. It is a quite a large blue hole, complete with fish and a resident gentleman who sold us half a dozen pieces of local fruit, at what we're sure was at least triple the going price.
The next day we walked across the island to Rosie's, a local island lunch place, on Chris's recommendation. On the walk, which was about 2 miles, we were able to assist three local men who needed a push start for their truck. The reality is that the truck's passengers outweighed us about 2 to 1, so we're not really sure what muscle we actually provided, but a good time was had by all. Handshakes were exchanged all around, Ron dodged a rather enthusiastic embrace and we walked on, having refused a lift on the grounds of needing some more exercise. Lunch was outstanding, with a super view of the ocean beach side of Eleuthera, and we cadged a lift back from the chef.
The next day we rented a car from Chris, actually a station wagon, so Tristan and Maggie could come with us, and headed north to see the rest of the island. Ron drove carefully on the left hand side of the road, the dogs barked at all the local beasts and we journeyed slowly to the Glass Window, a sight we didn't want to miss. The Glass Window was a natural rock bridge which joined the north/middle end of Eleuthera to the very northern end of the island. Some years ago a hurricane destroyed it and it was replaced with a man made bridge. Recently, a large wave, generated by a storm far north of the island, struck the bridge causing it to move several feet laterally on its supports. In typical Bahamian style, the bridge was not rebuilt but the approaching road now makes a sudden turn to line up with the newly located bridge. We were assured that a civil engineer had inspected the bridge and deemed it stable in its new location! Chris had warned us to drive over before looking underneath, which turned out to be good advice. The water under the bridge is a truly astounding sight since the water on the ocean side is 1000's of feet deep, but on the Banks' side it is 8-10 feet deep! It is easy to imagine how a storm could stir up quite a bit of wave action. After this sightseeing opportunity, the team was hungry. So we took ourselves off to a small but exclusive restaurant nearby, on one of Eleuthera's famous pink beaches. After some discussion, Tristan and Maggie were allowed to join us at an outside table where they sat quietly waiting for their turn at the pizza. Our little group occasioned some local comment, as it was obvious we weren't from around there but the presence of the dogs caused some confusion, as they clearly hadn't come in on the tourist plane. We did nothing to enlighten anyone about how we had gotten there, but had a good laugh about it later. After lunch, we all felt in need of some exercise so we went for a walk/swim on the pink beach, gawking at the expensive homes along it. The beaches really are pink, which we believe results from the crushed coral mixed in the sand. We took the bartender's dog along to guide us back in case we got lost, although that would have been hard to do, even for us.
After an enjoyable week in Rock Sound we pulled the hook early and journeyed north to Royal Island, on our way to the Abacos. We had decided, after much discussion, to take Duet north for the summer, in preparation for cruising New England in the summer of '05. While we have much enjoyed the islands, we feel the need for a change. Ron will now work some different combination of months, yet to be determined, and we will cruise the Chesapeake Bay and, if we can get the schedules sorted out, the coast of Maine. In the meantime, we will have our beloved Duet close at hand in Maryland, so we may work on her and take little trips on weekends during this summer and fall of '04. As we hadn't visited the Abacos since we chartered there in the mid 90's, we thought a stop on the way north would be fun. Also, we might catch up with old friends, many of whom are in the Abacos at this time of year.
We tried our fishing luck again on the way to Royal and this time we got lucky and actually caught something. Unfortunately, all we caught were barracuda, which we don't eat, so we released them for someone else to catch. One was actually bitten in half as we reeled it in, thus demonstrating that there is always a larger fish out there, even if we can't catch it. We did catch a tuna on the way to Marsh Harbor from Royal, but it was a skipjack and therefore not a "good eating" tuna. The trip to Marsh Harbor was otherwise uneventful, except for a squall offshore with brief periods of wind in the 30's and lots of rain.
Entering the Abacos was a real eye opener for us. There were boats everywhere, lots of radio traffic and much to do. It was rather like getting back to South Florida the previous year, we suffered from re entry for several days. This quickly wore off, however, and we were able to participate with the best of them. Our first task was to find a safe place to weather a rather strong front, which arrived right on our heels. We planned to anchor in Marsh Harbor, which is one of the only completely sheltered anchorages in the Abacos. This seemed to be everyone's plan, so the harbor got rather crowded. These were the tightest anchoring conditions we'd ever experienced and we were none too comfortable. We've commented before that many cruisers' anchoring skills give us pause, and in these conditions, with boats a scant hundred feet apart and winds well in excess of 25 knots forecast, we were heartily reminded of why we don't like anchoring in close proximity to anyone.
While we sat trying not to watch yet another boat shoehorning itself into our vicinity, Nancy chanced to look out the window at the docks and spied our old friend Yankee Nomad. We leapt into the dinghy and barreled ashore to say Hello. Grady and Dottie were, as always, welcoming hosts, and during our chat it occurred to us that possibly we should actually tie up in a marina to ride out the front. We've not done this in the past, but the lure of dinners out, drinks on Yankee Nomad and extensive provisioning ashore, without having to endure a wet dinghy ride every time, lured us in. So we took a slip for several days and heartily enjoyed it. Not only was Yankee Nomad in town, but soon after we spotted A Cappella pulling up, several slips down. Jeff, Karen and Tucker (their 2 year old Labrador) updated us on their adventures (including a truly hair raising story about dragging anchor in Allens Pensacola and having to drive around all night in 30 knots of wind) and joined us for social events. We even met up with Traveler, from the Exumas, who came ashore for the Jib Room rib night, which was much enjoyed by all. We viewed a Titan missile launch from Yankee Nomad's large boat deck, ate out too much, bought coconut bread for French toast and generally enjoyed Marsh Harbor. Tristan and Maggie enjoyed it too, as they walked with Tucker every day and were extensively admired by everyone ashore.
Soon enough, we all needed to move on. Yankee Nomad was headed stateside, where they will await the birth of their fourth grandchild. We hope to see them again in the Chesapeake. Traveler was also headed north, bound for the Chesapeake for some refit prior to departing for Europe. A Cappella set off with us and we established a vague plan to travel north together if we could get the time, the weather and the destinations lined up right. First though, we returned to Guana Cay to spend some time on it's magnificent beaches and take advantage of the dining at the Sunset Cafe.
After a week at Guana we felt we should move, even if only to prove we could. So we sneaked out the famous Whale Cay Passage, which has a reputation for nasty wave conditions, and dropped the hook at Manjack Cay. We'd not visited there before and found it to be a beautiful deserted island with a magnificent beach. The anchorage is well sheltered, except from the west, so we stayed a week or so, exploring the local haunts. A Cappella, meantime, trundled off to visit Hopetown.
During our stay at Manjack we engaged in a cruiser pastime, namely creating a memento to mark our visit. We had not done this before, although we'd visited many islands where other cruisers had left some indicator of their passage. For some reason, which neither of us can determine, we decided to join them this time and leave a Duet marker. First, we had to find the right object. Then Ron carefully inscribed it with the logo of our design and proudly showed off the result. Finally, we took it ashore and carefully placed it in the hut on Manjack's long deserted beach. We forgot to bring the camera to record this final exercise, so you'll have to take our word for it that it's there, or go see for yourself.
Unfortunately, while we were at Manjack we received news of an emergency in Nancy's family. We immediately moved the boat to Green Turtle Cay to take advantage of the telephone system and figure out what to do. After several days there, we decided to return to Fort Pierce so that Nancy might be closer to her family. While we were sorting out our options, A Cappella came through the Whale Cay Passage and anchored near Manjack. After some discussion, they decided to cross the Gulf Stream with us, despite the less than desirable weather conditions. We steamed out of Manjack together early in the morning, bound for the Gulf Stream via Great Sale Cay, which was to serve as a hidey hole in case the weather worsened. The forecasts stayed pretty consistent however, so we continued on and crossed the Gulf Stream overnight. A Cappella pulled ahead (she travels about 1.5 knots per hour faster than Duet) and set her course for Cape Canaveral, while Duet stayed pointed at Ft. Pierce, as it was the closest US port with a decent all weather inlet.
Conditions during the crossing were rough. The wind had been blowing hard out of the north for several days and, while we did at least wait for it to turn south before we left, it had only turned south/southeast about 12 hours prior to our arrival in the Gulf Stream. It was also still blowing hard, some 15-25 knots throughout the crossing. NOAA was calling for waves in the 4-6 foot range, which may have been somewhat optimistic. After the trip was over Ron calculated that 20 knots of wind with unlimited fetch will produce waves of at least 4-6 feet with outliers of as high as 12 feet, even excluding any washing machine effect from the Gulf Steam current. These seas were on our beam most of the trip. Since our crossing was accomplished in the dark, we don't know how high the waves were. We do know that Duet was thrown around more than we've ever experienced. Sleep was impossible and moving about was difficult, but we never felt that the boat was at risk. The dogs did very well, staying put and not getting at all agitated, although we're sure they questioned our sanity. A Cappella's crew excelled; this was their first offshore overnight journey and they accomplished it with flying colors. Both Nancy and Ron took the European seasickness drug Stugeron, every 4 hours, as did Karen on A Cappella. Karen and Ron remained well the entire time and Nancy, while she did get sick during the last 4 hours, has never felt so good on an offshore journey. (Unfortunately, Stugeron is not available in the US, but we had purchased some in the Bahamas). During the crossing we saw no other recreational vessels, only commercial traffic. We arrived at the Ft. Pierce inlet at dawn, made it into Harbortown Marina without incident, tied up, checked in with customs and then took a well earned rest. A Cappella continued on to Canaveral, arriving late the same afternoon, also without incident.
We are very glad we returned when we did, even though we broke all our rules about not traveling in bad weather. Our readers may ask why didn't we fly back and leave the boat? Nancy could have, but we couldn't get air transport for the dogs, so she would have had to face this alone. Further, Ron's presence and support was valuable to her family, and having him stuck in the Bahamas until she could get back to help him move the boat, seemed counter productive. So we went, Duet took good care of us and we hope never to have to make a journey like that again.
Once family matters had been taken care of, we began the process of moving Duet north to the Chesapeake Bay. We decided to make this journey without Tristan and Maggie. Tristan has become very arthritic and we are concerned that he will fall and break something while offshore. So we fished our truck out of storage in Jacksonville, drove the dogs north to Maryland to stay at their favorite home away from home, Sunchaser Kennels, and flew back to move Duet. We departed Ft. Pierce into a perfect weather window, at least 5 days of gentle winds from the south and no fronts in site. We planned to make Cape Fear and possibly even Beaufort NC, if we didn't get too tired. The last thing we considered was that Duet would have a problem, as she never has problems. This time, however, it was to be different.
Our first day was perfect, calm, sunny, little traffic and no seasickness, courtesy of Stugeron. By the beginning of the second day, however, things were not going well with the diesel fuel. After our Gulf Stream crossing Ron had noticed that he had to change the secondary Racor filter on the main engine sooner than he would have thought necessary, as it was heavily clogged with what can only be described as "black gunk". Normally these filters are changed about every 200 hours, this one had only 80 hours on it. By the time we began our second day offshore on this journey, the filter needed changing again, with only 24 hours on it. This was not a good trend, first because something was clearly wrong with the fuel and second because we only had 4 filters left. So we decided to change course into Charleston, arriving 48 hours after leaving Fort Pierce.
We tied up at City Marina and took stock of the situation. First, we needed more filters, so Nancy was dispatched to West Marine to acquire some. Second, we needed, at a minimum, to polish the fuel so we could continue our journey. Third, we needed a longer term diagnosis of where the "black gunk" was coming from, as it hadn't been in the fuel when we left the Bahamas and we hadn't taken on fuel since then. Ron found a fuel polishing service, with a lot of help from the folks at City Marina, who somehow managed to get us moved to the top of the polishing list. The mechanic showed up first thing the next morning and spent all day with Ron polishing 400 gallons of fuel. He and Ron then cleaned each tank, mopping out the bottoms with diesel diapers on the end of the boat hook. After the first tank, it became very obvious what the problem was, the bottom of Duet's tanks were covered in "asphaltene" deposits which had precipitated out of the fuel.
At this point some background is necessary. Regular readers may recall that we had the fuel polished and the tanks "cleaned" in Jacksonville. Closer examination revealed that, while the front tanks were probably cleaned, the rear tanks had never even been opened. This incident further reinforces our desire to never, ever, ever have work done on the boat when we are not present. Further, the fuel polishing firm had advised Ron not to put biocide in the fuel, so he didn't.
We now need an aside on diesel fuel. Diesel fuel management, for those not in the know, is only slightly less complex than genetic engineering, and there are as many methods as there are diesel mechanics. The origin of diesel fuel precipitates is not fully understood, judging by the diversity of opinions expressed in the marine literature and by diesel mechanics. On the one hand, ‘catalytic cracking’ allows the fuel industry to extract more diesel fuel from each barrel of crude oil compared with older methods. However, some authorities claim that this comes with a cost: The resulting fuel molecules are more unstable. Over time they slowly clump together forming ‘asphaltene’ deposits. These are typically black, tarry precipitates. This is what we found in our fuel tanks. A simple minded view might suggest that biocide would not prevent this problem.
However, other authorities claim that microbial contamination accelerates the process of asphaltene formation. According to this view, a biomass of microbes need not be large enough to see with the naked eye (apparently, extensive contamination with algae shows up as a dark greenish slime, which we definitely did not have) but its metabolic activity could cause asphaltene deposits to form. If you subscribe to this theory, then biocides would certainly help to prevent problems. Perhaps Ron should not have heeded the advice of the Jacksonville polishing service??
After considerable study, Ron has decided on what we hope will be a definitive solution to the problem. We dislike using biocides because the compounds are both toxic and carcinogenic. It is virtually impossible to avoid contact with treated fuel during boat maintenance procedures. Magnetic fuel treatment seems to offer a safer solution. Proponents of this technology claim that by passing fuel through a strong magnetic field, microbes are killed and diesel fuel molecules are altered in such a way that gross precipitates do not form. Although the mechanism of action seems a bit murky—at least to our simple minds—what does seem clear is that commercial interests and the military have been using this technology successfully for a number of years.
Thus, this winter Duet will be upgraded with a new fuel polishing system based on technology provided by ESI, a Virginia based fuel management systems company. The system will include magnetic fuel treatment devices (DeBug) manufactured in New Zealand plus large capacity Racor filters and a commercial grade fuel transfer pump. The fuel lines will also be enlarged to facilitate faster pumping and treating capacity. Finally, Duet’s current fuel transfer system sucks fuel from the bottom of the tank but returns to the top. The new polishing system will return fuel to the bottom of the tank, thereby creating the necessary swooshing to loosen any particles which remain or survive the magnetic bombardment. The implementation of this new system will be covered in a separate log.
In the meantime, we figured we could limp home with clean fuel, semi clean tanks and a good supply of Racor 900 2 Micron filters. So, after her crew enjoyed an excellent dinner at Magnolias, Duet chugged back out to sea bound for the Cape Fear River. We decided, given the fragility of our fuel, that we wouldn't risk rounding any capes, as they often involve rough water. We didn't want to shake up any more gunk from the bottom of the tanks, since we figured that all this had been precipitated by our rough Gulf Stream Crossing. That said, we're glad it happened, as it was an early warning to clean the tanks and rethink our fuel management policies, prior to any real damage being done. Asphaltene is quite corrosive and can damage tanks, even causing leaks if it is left to fester.
We reached Cape Fear without incident, except for the minor inconvenience that someone had moved the entrance channel. We arrived around 4AM and Captain Ron noted that the entrance buoys shown on the radar did not line up with the entrance buoys shown on the chart. So we waited until sun up and discovered that the channel had been moved significantly east and straightened out. Obviously, we need to update our charts before we come through here again. We proceeded up the Cape Fear River and into Snow's Cut, where we came face to face with the new reality of the ICW, namely it no longer has any water in it as the dredging budgets have been reduced to zero. Snow's Cut channel was down to about 20 feet wide in some places and we saw less than 6 inches under the keel at mid tide as we transited the ICW adjacent to the Carolina Inlet. We are not big ICW fans, preferring the open ocean, but we do like the convenience of being able to travel in inclement weather when an ocean jump isn't feasible. Further, we worry about how boats which are not ocean capable are going to make the journey down the ICW this year, as we gather there are areas that are well nigh impassible. Many of the small towns along this route are also going to feel the pinch as fewer cruisers tie up, eat out and buy fuel.
We anchored at Wrightsville Beach (for once without an incident) for the night and continued on the next morning via the Masonboro Inlet. This inlet, while not a commercial inlet, is deep, straight and well marked, posing no threat in good weather. We arrived in Beaufort by mid afternoon and tied up at the "out of town" marina just north of the bridge, which we much prefer as it is less crowded and cheaper than the Town Dock. We had a great tuna dinner, a good nights sleep and continued on the next day, bound for Norfolk and home. The rest of the trip was pretty uneventful as our trips go, the fuel stayed clean, the boat ran beautifully, the weather cooperated and we arrived in Herrington Harbor South Marina on Herring Bay 10 days after we left Fort Pierce, having covered 1,100 nautical miles, the fastest trip we've ever made.
We are now living life back ashore, with Duet resting at Herrington Harbor South. Numerous projects are underway, including a repeat cleaning of the fuel tanks, reworking of our fuel polishing and transfer system, relocating the salon A/C unit and repairing some related water damage, evaluating/installing a new radar and Nancy's usual teak and waxing song and dance. The fuel mega project will be covered in it's own Log while the others will be detailed in our usual updates. In the meantime, we always welcome visitors as an excuse to stop working on the boat, so do stop by if you are in the area. Logs while we are on land will be less frequent, as we seem to have fewer adventures while we are tied up. Duet will spend the winter on the hard at Herrington Harbor North, returning to the water in early Spring '05 in preparation for our New England journey.