We hope our readers had a great winter and spring; Duet and her crew definitely did. When we left off last December Duet was docked at Palmetto Bay Marina on Hilton Head Island. We remained there for 6 weeks, until after the New Year, despite our determination to depart quickly for the Bahamas. There were several reasons for our tarrying, a major one being that we really enjoyed Hilton Head. A kind slip neighbor gave us a visitor's pass to the exclusive Sea Pines Resort so a part of almost every day was spent walking Tristan and Maggie on Sea Pine's splendid beaches. As an aside for dog oriented readers, Hilton Head is very dog friendly. Dogs are allowed on the beaches off leash, provided they are under voice control. Maggie understands this concept, but Tristan suffers from occasional deafness, which he maintains is due to his advancing years. There is a park near Palmetto Bay Marina which has a meadow specifically for dogs. It is funded by a local law firm, which provides free tennis balls, much to Maggie's delight. For Duet's human crew, Hilton Head has numerous good restaurants, as well as a deli with great pastrami sandwiches. Further, the people at Palmetto Bay demand special mention for their friendliness and willingness to help. As is usual in our cruising adventures, we got to know a number of great people, as well as their pets, including Wendy the dog and Little Man the kitten, who was so cute that Nancy began to rethink her resolve not to get another cat. Ron successfully fended off this desire, much to his relief. A highlight of our stay in Hilton Head was a very pleasant Christmas Day at a cruiser's potluck dinner. This event was held in the Parts department of the Palmetto Bay boatyard, which, at least as far as Ron is concerned, is a great place to hold any sort of function.
This brings us to the second reason we remained so long in Hilton Head, namely working on the boat. On our journey down from the Bay, one of the main engine's coolant hoses had begun to leak and the others were looking cracked and aging. So our intrepid mechanic decided to replace them. How hard could it be, he said, they're just hoses. So when we arrived at Hilton Head hoses were ordered and arrived in due course. The first three were a piece of cake. The fourth one was quote/unquote "a little more difficult", which Nancy correctly interpreted as almost impossible. The reason was simple: To remove the hose you first must remove the coolant circulation pump. Ron called Lugger in disbelief after figuring this out, but Lugger said "yes you have to remove the coolant pump and yes it's not the smartest design anyone ever came up with". To remove the coolant pump you must first remove the front of the engine, to allow access to the offending pump. After a day of work, the pump finally came loose and the hose was replaced, which turned out to be a pretty small job once access was established. Then the pump had to be reinstalled, which meant a new gasket. Lugger parts, for those not in the know, often originate in Seattle, where Northern Lights (manufacturer of Lugger engines) is located. Further, we were doing this over Christmas, so needless to say, considerable time was consumed by delivery of said parts. Finally all was settled and we were ready to go. The engine started first try, with no leaks from the hoses or the water pump, Captain Ron wiped his brow, and we started looking at routes south. As our regular readers will remember, our '02/03 cruising season had so far been one of difficult weather. Even tied up in Hilton Head, we had one memorable day and night with gusts of up to 40 knots and opposing current in Broad Creek, which produced small waves breaking over Duet's transom. Finally, however, fortune smiled on us and we got a perfect window to journey south to Ft. Pierce Florida. We departed Calibogue Sound (thanks to some local knowledge from the folks at Palmetto Bay) into the Savannah River inlet and turned Duet's bow due south to warmer weather. We traveled 325 miles in 49 hours offshore, about 2 miles out, with winds of 10-20 knots on our stern, which gives Duet a truly comfortable ride. This was the first time we'd spent two nights at sea and it went very well. We got a chance to try out our new air mattress, deployed on the salon floor. Previously, we have slept in the guest stateroom during offshore journeys. Because of its amidships position, there is less motion than up forward where the master stateroom is located. Unfortunately, the guest stateroom is adjacent to the engine room bulkhead, and can be quite noisy and warm. The air mattress on the salon floor was very comfortable. Ventilation was excellent, motion was acceptable, and it was much quieter. Ron even took naps during the day. The mattress has it's own inflation pump and folds up into a small size. The best part of this plan, according to Ron, is that the guest stateroom is now entirely dedicated to storage of parts and tools!
The only problems revolved around Nancy's overenthusiastic identification of possible ships; during one night watch she carefully tracked two airplanes and a rising star as possible oncoming targets. Our friend Bill Lynn, on our arrival in Ft. Pierce, suggested she spend less time looking out the window and more time believing the radar. We arrived at the Ft. Pierce inlet about 4AM and waited for first light to enter. During this journey we passed very close to Cape Canaveral and saw a space shuttle on the pad, waiting for liftoff. Cape Canaveral is an awesome place, the scene of some of mankind's greatest triumphs and greatest failures, which we remembered as we passed it with the sun setting over the launch pads. Ironically, the shuttle we saw awaiting launch was the Challenger, which we later saw take off (from Ft. Pierce) and which unfortunately met an untimely end on her return journey.
Ft. Pierce city marina managed to make room for us at the last moment and we struggled into our slip around 9AM. Struggled is the operative word, as the currents at Ft. Pierce have to be seen to be believed. The marina itself is half current and half not. We knew this from a conversation with Donna and Ray Forrest, our good friends from Beaufort, NC, who were already tied up there Our slip was in the non current section but, unfortunately, we needed to transit the current to get to it. This was accomplished traveling sideways, with plenty of propulsion. The current stops rather suddenly; fortunately our intrepid helmsman realized this prior to plowing into the dock sideways. A successful landing was achieved and Duet's crew took a well deserved break.
This break, accompanied by multiple social dinners and lunches, stretched out for a week, as not only were Donna and Ray (and their yellow Labradors Lobo and Dandy) at the marina but also our good friends Bill and Julin Lynn, who also happen to be previous owners of Duet. A great time was had by all, and as always, it seemed too short when it came to an end. Nancy did manage to get in some waxing, with lots of help from the canine team, but most of our time was spent socializing. We finally tore ourselves away and moved out to the anchorage, where it was more difficult to go out to dinner as we had to traverse a mile of open water. We did manage to make it in for lunch several times, in particular to meet Karen and Mark Zarley, old friends from our Bay cruising days. They'd just returned to their Defever 49, Paydirt, after over a year's absence so they were much happier to be back aboard. During our stay in the anchorage a number of projects were completed, including a favorite of Nancy's, the installation of speakers in the pilothouse. Duet carries a rather eclectic music collection, ranging from Tomaso Albinoni to 311 and these would give us a chance to exercise it while cruising. Music adds a great deal to the moment, for example entering the Gulf Stream off Miami at 5AM definitely requires the Ride of the Valkyries while the sighting of Cat Cay in the Bahamas calls for Jimmy Buffet's Banana Wind.
After moving to the Ft. Pierce anchorage we waited about a week for the weather gods to favor us. We departed on a Monday morning offshore for Miami and possibly the Bahamas, depending on how the Gulf Stream looked. Ft. Pierce did crystallize one issue for us: After waking up one morning to a temperature of 40F, Ron looked at the Abacos and decided that moving 150 miles almost directly east wouldn't solve the temperature problem. Our island destination changed to the Exumas, some 300 miles south. We had an uneventful trip to Miami, broken only by cargo ships plodding up and down the coast. We traveled close in, about 1-2 miles offshore. This had the advantage of being out of the Gulf Stream and the shipping lanes, with a great view of Florida's Gold Coast.
We arrived off Miami at dawn and circled while considering whether to cross the Stream. The wind was still slightly out of the north (opposing the Stream which can make for rough conditions) but another front was expected within 24 hours so we chose to cross, rather than wait and run the risk of being caught out in the front or missing the window entirely. There were several boats ahead of us, so we had reports that conditions were pretty good, which turned out to be accurate. Initially, we had 6 foot seas off the port stern but as we drew closer to the Bahamas these calmed and we had benign conditions. The 45 mile crossing to Cat Cay was accomplished in about 8 hours for an average speed of under 6 knots. The Stream packs quite a northward punch and we were going a little south across it. Our arrival at Cat was uneventful, except we had some trouble setting our hook.
Duet carries rather robust anchoring gear and we'd not had this problem before. Much of the Bahamas is grassy, which is difficult for any type of anchor to grab. We persevered, dropping far more chain than we normally would and backing down slowly, giving the anchor time to set, which it eventually did. We then spent several hours staring over the side through the crystal clear water, making comments like "I can't believe we're really here, can you?" After a good night's sleep the excitement level died down somewhat and we prepared to hide from the next front, a practice which is repeated every 3-4 days at this time of year in the islands.
Prior to hiding, however, we needed to let the Bahamian authorities know we'd arrived. We motored over the the Cat Cay marina (a beautiful if somewhat pricey facility) and Captain Ron checked us in. He showered, changed to clean shorts and shirt, spoke respectfully and had all the paperwork. Even so, we were only given a 90 day stay despite requesting 6 months. We didn't do too badly, though, since we met other folks who had received only 30 days from the same customs office. We were surprised that the customs officer reprimanded us for not checking in immediately on arrival the previous afternoon. Our cruising guides indicated that it is acceptable to check in within 24 hours of arrival. We thought we were being accommodating, since our afternoon arrival was around 4:30 PM, and we did not want to make the customs officer stay late! Oh well, we will know better next time.
We traveled about 7 miles to a sheltered anchorage behind South Cat Cay to ride out the next front. This front was projected to be a doozey, with winds up to 35 knots. We hunkered down, with plenty of chain out and awaited events. They came soon enough, with a blow of 30 knots out of the north west. The Dollar Harbor anchorage is small for a boat our size so we had to do some careful positioning as the wind clocked to insure we didn't end up too far to one side or the other. The first time we moved was exciting as we'd never moved the boat in conditions like these and worried the hook wouldn't set again, but it all worked out fine. That made the second move less stressful, even though it was blowing even harder that time.
During frontal passages at anchor, we have learned to supplement our direct observations with information from our instruments. Radar gives us useful information about distance from shore. We mark our anchor drop location on the chart plotter and draw a perimeter around it equal to our rode length. We also set an anchor drag alarm on the GPS. Obviously, one should not forget to look out the window. However, these other sources of information are wonderful when the wind is howling and you can't see diddly because it is nighttime or raining cats and dogs. It was reassuring to get up in the night (which one of us did at least once an hour) go up to the pilothouse and see that we're basically in the same place, as it was pitch black outside with nothing to provide perspective. The blow lasted 2 days and nights, with steady windspeeds in the mid 20', frequent gusts to over 30 and a healthy chop when the wind opposed the tidal current. After this experience Ron dug out our Fortress anchor, a hook of some stature, to give us an alternative to our primary 105# CQR. So far we haven't used it,but it sure looks super.
After it was over, we got some sleep and then started off across the Bahama Bank, bound for the the Berry Islands. The weather was predicted to blow 10-15 out of the northeast, which our guides maintained would provide comfortable conditions. Unfortunately this wasn't to be the case. We had choppy head seas the entire way, which our regular readers know are not our favorite. We anchored just off the Russell Beacon, in the worst conditions we've experienced at anchor. We got what sleep we could on the saloon floor and the pilothouse settee. Tristan and Maggie did very well, sleeping on the pilothouse floor, and uttering long suffering sighs every now and again. The most dangerous exercise was setting and recovering the anchor, as the bow was rising and falling through a considerable arc. Ron donned his self inflating PFD and conducted the entire exercise on his knees to maintain a low center of gravity. Even so it was nervewracking. We felt better the next morning when we noticed two other sail boats anchored near us, so we weren't the only ones to get caught out in this weather.
We departed early the next morning and made Chubb Cay with plenty of time to spare. We anchored off Frazers Hog, which provided some shelter from the next front, expected within 24 hours. We set the hook well, with 200 feet of chain out and took the dogs to the beach for a well earned walk. Upon our return we found our stern in shallower water than expected so Nancy went to start the main engine to move to a deeper area. Unfortunately, nothing happened when the key was turned, and life rapidly got more complicated.
During our trip over the Banks Ron, during a standard engine room check, noticed that our fuel distribution manifold was leaking slightly. This manifold, as regular readers may recall, had been the source of main engine problems before, when the valves leaked and the engine ingested air rather than diesel. So, even though the cause of our problem was at least partially obvious (air in the fuel line), the solution was not since the engine wouldn't run reliably even after it's fuel lines had been bled of all air. Only later did the cause become apparent. For the present moment, we were in a good but not great anchorage, in shallower water than we'd prefer, with a front bearing down and less than reliable propulsion. No immediate answers presented themselves, although getting in the dinghy, going ashore and checking into the Chubb Cay hotel did cross our minds.
Fortunately, we regrouped and noticed a small marina about 1 mile south of us. We raised them on the VHF and they had a slip big enough for us, with theoretically enough water in it. Tied up aground seemed like a better answer than remaining in our current predicament so we fired up our wing ('get home') engine (at 27 hp, it can propel us at 4 knots in calm water) and began moving to the marina. The wing also draws off the same fuel manifold so we figured it would develop an airlock soon enough. We just hoped it would keep going until we reached the dock. Our back up strategy was to push Duet with the dinghy. We didn't have to resort to this, however, as the trusty wing got us there, admittedly rather slowly. Donald from the Berry Islands Club caught our lines and we heaved a great sigh of relief. After we tied up we noticed that the generator was running hot. So we shut it down, plugged into shore power and had a beer, figuring there wasn't much we could do that night.
After a good night's sleep we took stock of the situation. We needed a new manifold and, coincidentally (?!), a new fuel lift pump. This explained why the lugger wouldn't run well even after the fuel lines were bled. Perhaps the pump was marginal and the air in the fuel finished it off. Regardless of the explanation, we clearly had two problems effecting our main engine.
Interestingly, the fuel manifold was leaking at a weld joint. We learned from Bill Lynn, Duet's former owner, that the manifold had suffered a similar failure once under warranty and had been replaced. Ron has concluded that this manifold is not one of Nordhavn's better part designs. Getting a new manifold in the islands was not possible. Fortunately, MarineTex lives up to its reputation and we were able to patch the leaking weld.
Consultation with our competent hosts revealed that Bimini Island Air flies into Chubb Cay once or twice a week from Ft. Lauderdale and could deliver parts. Multiple iridium sat phone calls later a new fuel lift pump was on its way from Ft. Lauderdale.
The generator problem was a little trickier, eventually being diagnosed as.a dirty heat exchanger. Once it was cleaned and the coolant replaced the generator ran beautifully. Enough with all these gremlins!
The Berry Islands Club is a nice place. It's over 50 years old, in the oldest house on Frazers Hog and was originally established by the Stamford Yacht Club in the 40's as a place for their members who traveled the islands. There are 7 people living on the Club end of the Cay and a booming population of 15 at the other end. They generate their own power and bring supplies in from Nassau on the Club trawler, a Defever 43. Donald and his partners have owned the club for 5 years and are slowly putting it into shape. The building weathered 100 MPH winds in Hurricane Floyd but lost it's roof (and all the marina slips) in Andrew. The foundations are stone, as are the walls, and have been here since the Club was built.
There were several boats on moorings when we arrived, and we all gathered for dinner at the Club the following night. The most interesting of these was Diad, a 48 foot aluminum catamaran, custom built and closely resembling a tank. A great evening was enjoyed by all, with excellent local grouper prepared Cajun style by Donald, accompanied by Kalik beer. Despite our mechanical problems things were not so bad for Duet. People say that cruising is actually working on your boat in exotic locales. This isn't far from the truth for Duet, at least in the Berry Islands.
So we settled down in our little slice of paradise, waiting for parts, diagnosing the generator and generally participating in island life. Our first close encounter with the different methods here in the Islands was the Swamp Buggy. We journeyed to the Chubb airstrip in this vehicle, which was quite comfortable, if a little noisy. The only slightly difficult moment was as we prepared to descend a steep hill Donald and Ron said simultaneously "don't worry, we've no brakes but it should be fine". Nancy felt rather strongly that Ron should have mentioned this to her earlier, but she hung on and we arrived at the airport without incident. Donald's brother David arrived on the Bimini air flight with a cold 6 pack, so an enjoyable return journey was guaranteed.
Prior to this treat, however, we had to ransom the fuel pump. Our second encounter with the Bahamian authorities,wasn't much more enjoyable than the first. The regulations, according to multiple cruising guides, are you don't need to pay duty on parts which are intended for repair/replacement on the boat, if you have a temporary cruising permit. Donald told us the same. When we politely queried the customs official regarding this technicality (and presented our temporary permit) rather than receiving an illuminating answer we were told brusquely "fill in the form". We were then assessed duty tax without further explanation. We were in no mood to argue since the fellow ahead of us in line had had his parts confiscated since he lacked the proper paper work. All of us, including the pilot of the plane, were severely lectured because the pilot gave us our parts from the back of his plane, rather than giving them directly to the customs official. We're not sure why we've had these problems with the Bahamian bureaucracy. We've been polite, worn proper attire, had all our paperwork and explained why we did what we did, yet we couldn't seem to make the system work. We've met other folks with similar experiences, so we guess it's just the price of cruising here. Unfortunately, it does a leave a sour taste. In all fairness, we have also heard stories of helpful Customs and Immigration personnel, so we're hoping to meet some eventually.
We departed the Berry Islands Club after a week, all equipment functioning properly. We will have the fuel manifold properly repaired this summer, during our hiatus from cruising. Meantime, the MarineTex is holding beautifully. For additional security, Ron plumbed a line directly from one of the fuel tanks to the main engine, bypassing the manifold. We can switch this line on if the MarineTex gives out at an inopportune moment. Our departure from the Club was accompanied by much waving and goodbyes, plus a gift of secret Cajun spices, after Ron much admired the Club's Grouper ala Cajun.
We then traveled some 20 miles to an anchorage between Devils and Hoffman 's Cays, still in the Berrys. This was our first taste of the truly beautiful anchorages to come. We visited two pristine deserted beaches and a Blue Hole during our two day stay, and marveled at the softness of the sand and the warmth of the water. A Blue Hole, for those who haven't seen one, is a supposed bottomless pit, usually in the center of a Cay, which fills from the sea. The accepted practice is to jump into it, preferably from the highest point of the cliffs which surround it. We didn't follow this procedure. Nancy jumped into a quarry in Maryland during her youth so she knew better, and Ron has always been wiser than that. Tristan, on the other hand, is a little too intrepid and had to be restrained from leaping straight in.
After Devils Hoffman we journeyed to Norman's Cay in the Exumas, overnighting just outside Nassau at Sandy Cay, which was convenient but a bit rolly. Norman's is justly famous for having housed the Columbian drug runner, Carlos Ledherer, in the 70's. He was eventually removed by the authorities and now Norman's is a peace loving friendly Cay, the only reminder of it's previous life being a sunken plane in one of the anchorages We spent a pleasant week at Norman's, enjoying the warmth and the sun. During this period we experienced several fronts, or what passes for fronts south of 25N. Here in the Exumas, this late in the season, a frontal passage is a little different from further north. Rather than wind, we get calm, as the front passes north of us, and then the wind clocks around. It can blow quite a bit as the high fills in but we haven't seen the brutal frontal passages we experienced further north. So we had finally reached the Exumas, a year later than planned but at least we got there, and the best was yet to come.