Duet departed Hilton Head on January 15, bound for Ft. Pierce. Originally, we had planned to go to Palm Beach, tie up and visit with Ron's relatives. Marina rates in southern Florida, however, have risen astronomically since our last visit, so we decided to take it easy on the budget and go to Ft. P, which is still relatively reasonable in comparison.
The trip south was uneventful, we had a good window from Hilton Head and arrived after about 60 hours at sea. We did not deploy the paravanes on this journey, as we were trying to make time to get in ahead of the next front. We planned to deploy them in the Bahamas, where we could go out for a day and "play" with them, rather than trying to fit a test into an offshore trip.
We did use our new wonder drug, scopolamine (Transderm Scop), and Nancy had the best journey she's ever had. She doesn't get sick anymore, but the scop has some interesting side effects, including very dry mouth, balance issues early on and poor close in eyesight. It also causes severe indigestion which Ron says is due to effects on muscles in the stomach lining. He is experimenting with other drugs to counteract that side effect. We both feel that these side effects are definitely worth it, as by the second day we feel almost normal. Better living through chemistry is our motto, so "scop" will continue to feature prominently in our ocean journeys. As an aside, Nancy had a great deal of trouble finding more in Ft. P; she had to go to 5 pharmacies, which rationed her only 2-4 doses each. Apparently scop is quite popular with fishermen there, which leads to short supplies, at least in N. Florida. Scop was easy to find in Hilton Head.
We stayed in Ft. P for about a week and drove to Boca Raton for a wonderful evening with Ron's cousins, whom we see whenever we pass this way. Nancy and Fred, of the trawler Diligence, whom we met in Annapolis, also stopped by, it was wonderful to see them again and catch up on the news. In the winter they are based in Tampa, and have family in mid Florida, so a detour to Duet was not a big deal. Nancy, as usual, brought presents, including "senior" biscuits for Maggie. While we were neighbors at Herrington Harbor South last summer, Nancy used to stop by at least once a week with offerings for Maggie, taken from various meals on Diligence. These "leftovers" were so good that Ron seriously contemplated eating them, but he couldn't face Maggie's sad looks as he opened the packages.
After an enjoyable time, we topped up the fuel tanks and departed in the early dawn, bound for the Bahamas. About 4 hours into the journey, Ron announced that the main engine alternator was on the fritz and we needed to pull in to replace it. Funnily enough, the alternator had begun making odd noises on the way down from Hilton Head and Nancy advised Ron to order a new one, just in case. Well just in case had arrived, and we anchored in West Palm Beach for a day or two, while Ron pulled off the old alternator. That wasn't so hard. Transferring the pulley, on the other hand, proved interesting. As Mark from Paydirt said later, "don't you have a pulley remover?". The answer of course was no, as we didn't know such a thing existed. Ron assembled one, from various bits, and the pulley eventually yielded. While this creative exercise was challenging, in the future we will order new alternators with the pulley already installed.
For the experts in our audience, yes it is possible to change an alternator underway, but Ron felt, since he had not done this before, it would be safer to do it on the hook. We could have run with the alternator not making electricity (using the generator to keep the batteries charged), but we were worried that the alternator pulley could seize, and this would interfere with the engine's cooling pump (common belt). So, all in all, stopping was the right thing to do.
Once we got the alternator fixed, the weather decided to start fluctuating. We sat in the West Palm Beach anchorage, opposite Rybovitch Spencer, for a few days, until a short window appeared. Short enough that we left in rather unpleasant conditions, traveling with 20-25 knots on the nose with 2-4 foot chop, and pounded our way down to Miami about a mile offshore. With this type of weather, spray tends to fly over Duet's pilothouse roof and up the mast, which must be quite spectacular for folks watching from other boats. We put up with this part of the journey (secure in the knowledge that the scop would keep us comfortable) on the theory that, by the time we got far enough south to cross the Gulf Stream, the weather would settle and the window would open. Fortunately it did and we zoomed across the Gulf Stream and into Chub Cay. Ron's weather forecasting, aided by full time Internet access in the states, has become quite sophisticated and really paid off in this instance. Relatively speaking, this was a no risk overnight jump, aside from the discomfort, because, if the window didn't open, we'd just pull into Miami and wait for the next one.
We have noticed that now we have the paravanes, people tend to think we are an experienced ocean going boat. We're not sure why, possibly they think if we can figure out how to work all that gear we must know something. This phenomenon was clearly demonstrated in the West Palm Beach anchorage. As soon as we started raising the hook, multiple boats hailed us on the VHF wanting to know where we were going, what we thought the weather was going to do, etc. Weather forecasting for others is not something Ron likes to do, as we don't really want mother duck responsibilities, but we do try to tell folks generally what we are doing and why. Notably, no one followed us out of the anchorage that day.
We arrived at Chub Cay at midday and found that things had changed - a lot - since we were last there. The marina has been purchased (by Americans we were told) and dramatically enlarged, houses are being built and rates had hit the stratosphere. We stayed one night, checked in with customs and immigration and departed post haste. We saw a lot of this type of change in the Bahamas this year, much to our dismay. We know that these new facilities provide local jobs, or at least we hope they do, but to us they make the islands much more like Florida, which we can't like. We have also heard rumors that many of the jobs are going to immigrant labor, rather than Bahamians. Interestingly, Bahamas's May election removed the party which has been in power through much of this change, and we were told it had a lot to do with corruption. It is hard to know who to believe, but we much prefer (and try to give all our business to) locally owned and operated marinas, groceries, fisherman, etc.
Our weather guru was predicting a significant front, so we traveled around Chub to Frazer's Hog, where we have ridden out many a blow. There we met up with Mark and Karen on Paydirt, who had arrived several days before. Unfortunately, the wind kicked up almost immediately, so we could only exchange welcomes via the radio, not in person. This front was a bit of a cranker, with gusts into the high 30's and sustained winds in the middle to high 20's for 3-4 days. Everyone did just fine, except we airlocked the watermaker because the bow was pitching up and down so much the salt water intake came out of the water. This was the first time we deployed the flopper stopper and it rapidly became apparent that we were not going to do any future anchoring without it. While we did pitch a lot, we didn't roll much at all, and even the pitching was dampened by the flopper. While it would take us some time to get the deployment and retrieval of this new toy figured out, it was immediately obvious that it might eclipse even the dishwasher in Nancy's regard.
The flopper stopper, for those who have not seen one, is two stainless steel panels, held together by a hinge in the middle, with a chain welded to each corner. The chains are brought together in a single steel ring, to which one attaches the line from the paravane pole. The whole apparatus is quite large, about 3 feet by 4 feet and weighs about 15 pounds. Deploying or retrieving it was interesting, as it swings about a bit when going into or out of the water. We decided to deploy on the starboard side of the boat, where the saloon windows are beyond the companionway, rather than on the port side where the windows are flush to the hull. At least that way we figured the flopper would only chip the fiberglass, not take out a window. The first few times we deployed it from the starboard companionway, which proved to be tricky; we now find it easier to deploy from the starboard side of the upper deck.
We planned to deploy the flopper-stopper at a depth slightly less than Duet's draft, to allow us to anchor in shallow water. Thus, it needed to be attached a good way up the paravane chain, which normally deploys the fish 15 feet below the surface. Attaching it that high up the chain meant that Nancy had to hold it up in the air while Ron hooked it onto the chain. After several tries at this, Ron devised a series of pulleys which could lift it up to the proper height and Nancy could hold the line, rather than having to support the entire flopper stopper above her head. This worked pretty well and also provided great entertainment for other boats.
The next issue was that the flopper stopper spins around on the end of the chain, so it needed a swivel of some kind. Also, the trip line we attached to it, which enables us to raise it slightly to ease the load when we raise the paravane pole and also helps to control it as it comes up or down, got rapidly entangled in the chain. Initially, Captain Ron unwound it 2 or 3 times a day, but this got old quickly. Once he figured out how to attach the line above the swivel things went OK, until we ran afoul of the dissimilar metals issue.
The flopper stopper and it's attendant bits are all stainless steel. The chain it is suspended from is galvanized steel. These two are galvanically incompatible, especially when exposed to seawater. This has not been a problem for us before. For example, our primary CQR anchor is galvanized steel and the swivel is stainless steel. Corrosion has not been a problem there. Ron thinks that the flopper-stopper issue is different because instead of a large piece of galvanized steel in contact with a tiny piece of stainless steel, the flopper is a huge piece of stainless steel in contact with a tiny galvanized swivel. Hence one day, when we recovered the flopper, we noticed that the galvanized swivel was almost completely eaten through and would have given way pretty quickly had we not caught it. Once more Mr. Science came to the rescue, and cobbled together insulation from an old piece of fire hose (thank you Allan Field), which solved that problem. Further down the road, we also tried using Amsteel instead of chain to suspend the flopper stopper from the paravane pole. The Amsteel was much easier to handle and could be cut to the right length instead of having to double up the chain. The problem with the Amsteel is it tends to twist severely despite the use of a swivel, which isn't helpful. The latest idea, to be implemented once we get back to the US, is to use stainless cable, cut to the right length.
One of the advantages of working out the flopper stopper was we also got to tune the overall paravane rig. Once we put the flopper stopper in the water it put some strain on the overall rig, which allowed us to identify tuning issues. The only major one was the starboard strongback, which needed some adjustment to prevent banging. The flopper stopper, while not as stressful for the rig as the fish themselves, does take a lot of load when we sit to swell. It is actually rather fun to watch, when the wave comes it flashes open like a huge fish lure and then there is a soft underwater "boom" as it takes the load and prevents the roll. One flopper provides sufficient at anchor stabilization for our 46 foot boat; Nordhavn usually equips their 62 footers with two floppers the same size as ours. Even if there is very little discernable roll the flopper stopper makes a significant difference as it seems to take the edge off all types of boat motion. Basically, it slows her down and smoothes things out, so it improves comfort in any conditions.
Also, it makes it possible to use the FollowMe TV, which we had almost consigned to the dumpster. Previously, we could not receive TV in the Bahamas at all, this season we could watch CSI Miami anywhere. Ron did also realign the FollowMe unit, adding some clamps to it so he can align from side to side as well as top to bottom. This probably contributed about half the improvement. Whatever the case, we were able to keep up with important topics like who won an Oscar, etc.
This brings us to another major change in our boating, the availability of wifi. On our last trip to the islands the only way to get Internet access was to take the laptop ashore to Batelco and stand in line for a dial up connection. Now every marina has wifi, and in some cases it actually works. Seriously, it works most of the time, and, while it can be extremely slow, we found it changed our approach, because we could get much better weather information. We do not have an external wifi antenna, but will be adding one this summer for use in the Caribbean.
We also subscribed to Chris Parker's daily update, via email, which came daily around noon. The email version meant, first, we didn't have to get up early to hear him on the SSB, and, second we didn't have to worry when we couldn't hear him on the SSB because of poor reception. Further, it comes down with our regular email update, rather than purchasing it separately (for about the same price) from Ocens, which requires a separate data call.
We promised our readership a report on Ocens. In a word, superb. The email compression software is excellent, we used less than 2 minutes per day to send and receive on the Iridium phone at 9600 baud, and we made no attempt to limit our emails. Their weather products mirror what Ron gets in the states, the only problem is that they cost some serious dinero, so the budget committee was forced to place limits on their use. After some fiddling around, we used Chris Parker exclusively unless we were planning a passage, and found him to be right on target. He uses the same models and sources as Ron, so Ron found his emails quite clear and easy to follow. When we planned a passage we would either tie up to get wifi or get the basics from Ocens, supplemented by Chris's material.
This brings us to another change we made this year; We tied up during bad weather. As our regular readers may remember, we used to ride out whatever nature sent at anchor. Having done that for two winters, we decided that we had definitely qualified for the anchoring merit badge and it was now time to spoil ourselves. Tying up worked out very well, Ron was able to see the weather coming well in advance (with help from Chris P) and we never had a problem finding a slip. We also found the variety very nice, being tied up means being able to get off in bad weather, go out to dinner, etc.
Anyway, back to Frazier's Hog, where, we admit, we had not yet developed the tie up in bad weather process, so we rode it out. This was the last front we rode out on the hook and, as such, it did its job by reminding us what we really don't like about riding out fronts at anchor. Fortunately, it soon passed and we set off in company with Paydirt, for the Exumas. Nancy excelled on this trip by catching a fish within 15 minutes of putting a line in the water, while uber fisherman Mark on Paydirt came up empty. Little did Nancy know this was the last fish she would catch this season, while Mark went on to capture a 54 inch monster mahi mahi off Little Farmers later in the year. Ron's new filleting method, learned from Mark, worked like a charm, and we dined on fresh mahi that night while anchored off Salt Cay, just south of Nassau.
We journeyed on the next day to Highbourne, while Paydirt waited for guests to join them via Nassau. We didn't see Paydirt again until several weeks later, when we met for a memorable dinner at Lorraines in Black Point. We had not been to Highbourne before because it is a rolly anchorage, but it was no match for the flopper stopper. We continued on the next day, down the Exuma chain to Hawksbill Cay, where we spent several nice days reintroducing Maggie to the joys of swimming in warm water. We did some swimming of our own too, and lots of beach walking. In what was to become an established pattern this winter, we then holed up at Highbourne Cay Marina for a front for several days. After that we moved further south, to Emerald Rock in the Exuma Land and Sea Park.
A note on the Exuma Land and Sea Park. There is a new ranger, apparently much admired by all, who is engaged in increasing the Park's revenue stream via the installation of moorings all over the park. Thus, there are now moorings in our favorite anchorage at Little Cambridge, at Hawksbill, at Shroud, etc. We tried a mooring at Emerald Rock, and, after an assist from a friend on Sea Dog (who bravely stood in his dinghy holding up the mooring pennant as Duet bore down on him) managed to tie up. This was the first time we had ever picked up a mooring with Duet, and her high bow, while very welcome when pounding in a head sea, does prove a bit of an impediment. You will notice in the previous picture that, despite the fact it is absolutely calm we have the flopper stopper out. We found that always deploying it at anchor or on a mooring (if there was room) was a good idea, first because you can't tell when the wind might kick up a bit and, second, it significantly reduces the number of boats which anchor near us.
Ron, naturally, set out to design a better mooring recovery method. There are several problems, first actually reaching the mooring without hanging too far over the edge and falling in. Since Nancy grabs the mooring while Ron pilots (thereby reducing our chances of driving over the mooring and getting it tangled in the prop) she welcomed all the help she could get. So Ron taught her how to fully extend the boat hook, which turns out to be a lot longer than she thought it was (please note that your author is consciously resisting any attempt at humor here). Second, once you have got the mooring pennant it needs to have a line run through it. The other end of said line then needs to be tied to Duet, creating a loop through the mooring pennant. At that point, you can relax and figure out how to actually attach the boat correctly to the pennant. As an aside, just leaving one line running through the pennant is frowned upon, as the line will saw through the pennant. We use two lines, one through each side hawse, running to the pennant. This creates two loops, neither of which can saw back and forth, and which also provide back up in case one comes undone.
So Ron thought about this second issue for a bit and came up with a great solution - attach a carabineer to one end of the line and just clamp the carabineer through the mooring pennant. Presto, a one step clip on, even Nancy could probably do that. So the next time we picked up a mooring, again at Emerald Rock, we gave this a try. It failed magnificantly: Nancy captured the mooring pennant on the first try, slapped the carabineer on the pennant, and discovered that the pennant line was too thick to fit through the carabineer. This produced somewhat of a kerfuffle (technical term) as she tried to figure out what to do with the mooring pennant. Letting go of it was out of the question, then she'd just have to grab it again. Fortunately, Ron noticed her dilemma (actually he listened to it real time over the headphones we wear when carrying out these types of exercises), rushed out and jammed the mooring pennant over the bitt.
So we were secure. Rather too secure it turned out, as the stress of the boat pulling on the pennant made it impossible to remove it from the bitt. After about 45 minutes of attaching and detaching various lines, we figured out a way to take the stress off by tying a line to the pennant and cranking it in with the windlass, so Ron could safely remove the pennant loop from the bitt and get us tied up. So much for the one clip gig. Now we just grab the thing, jam a line through it and hope for the best. So far that seems to have worked. We will get lots of practice at this in the Caribbean, where there are more moorings than anchorages.
Enough of moorings. We also spent a great deal of time on the anchor between fronts, most of it at Staniel Cay, home of the Staniel Cay Yacht Club. All in all, we spent about 7 weeks on and off at Staniel during the winter, and consumed way too many conch burgers at the Club while we were there. We ate a lot of hamburgers at Sampson Cay and managed dinner at Fowl Cay before it closed, so this was definitely a calorie oriented trip. Staniel became almost a home away from home for us, as we met many new friends and several old ones while there. We consciously chose to stay at Staniel, rather than continue to Georgetown, as it provides more options to cruise around during the strong prevailing easterlies we had this winter. So, for example, we would spend a week at Staniel, then go to Compass Cay to tie up for a front, return to Staniel via a stop at Emerald Rock for a few days, then stay at Staniel for a week, then go to Compass....
While we met many folks during our trip this year, several stand out. First, we were reunited with David and Linda, of the Tayana 48 Sandpiper. Regular readers may remember that we first dined at Fowl Cay when it opened with David and Linda in 2003. This year we dined there with them before it closed (it has been sold) thereby being there for both the beginning and the end. Our meeting with David and Linda was actually quite amusing, as we were anchored at Staniel and noticed Sandpiper coming in. We remembered them but were sure they wouldn't remember us. The sight of David waving his arms and bellowing "Duet, Duet, Duet" however, made it clear that they had not forgotten.
In addition to Sandpiper, we also caught up with our friends Mark and Janel of the Tayana 58, Nanna Maria. Readers will remember that they are also from Herrington Harbor South. We knew they were in the Bahamas, but didn't know where, until Nancy noticed a man in a large floppy hat circling Duet in his dinghy. This was not unusual, as, while Duet was often noticed before we put the paravanes on, now she is a boater magnet. People will stop and explain to each other how the paravanes work, which can be quite entertaining. Anyway, Mark turned out to be under the big hat. Nanna Maria was anchored around the corner and joined us off Big Majors the following day.
We also caught up with Joe, previously of Nordhavn 46, Lucent, whom we had met several years previously in Marathon. Joe had since sold Lucent and purchased a beautiful little Camano, on which he and his wife cruised the Exumas several months per year. When we met Joe this time his wife had just returned to her home country of the Dominican Republic to be with her ailing mother. Joe was thus a bachelor and carefully tended by all the ladies in the anchorage. Nancy baked him muffins, he was invited to every party and he generally enjoyed his time in Staniel.
Joe also journeyed with us, and others, to Emerald Rock. Here he and Nancy are seen carefully puzzling out the directions for a long walk to the other side of the island. Interestingly enough, on that walk we had 10 folks who had collectively traveled tens of thousands of sea miles, but we couldn't find our way from one side of the island to the other! Emerald Rock is a marvelous place, part of the Land and Sea Park headquarters at Warderick Wells. Emerald Rock is easily accessible and is free of the strong tidal current which runs through the main Warderick Wells anchorage.
This brings us to a brief discussion of the Staniel anchorage. We anchored there more this year because the flopper stopper removed the roll which drove us away in previous years. We also anchored closer to the beach, when it was't crowded. This gave us an excellent view of Pig Beach, where a family of pigs, placed there by the locals, entertains cruisers and tourists by eating anything you bring to them. This year there were 5 adult pigs and two litters of piglets. The piglets only came out when the beach was quiet, usually in the evening, although as they got older their mothers began to bring them out more frequently, to educate them in the fine art of separating people from food.
The funniest incidents involved people who didn't know the pigs were there. These folks were usually from rental houses on one of the surrounding cays. These "newbies" would cruise into the anchorage, notice the pristine empty beach (of the 3 beaches at Big Majors, the pig beach was the only one unoccupied for any period of time) and assume they had gotten lucky. Often the pigs would get to them before they even reached the beach (pigs are very good swimmers) but sometimes they'd get their beach towels all laid out before the cavalry arrived. The pigs are aggressive (no one takes a dog ashore there) and require a firm hand or they will literally climb into your dinghy. It also helps to have food to distract them. In the worst case you can throw food towards them while running the other way! In all seriousness, they won't hurt you but you must speak in a strong voice and clearly show them you know the drill. The newbies don't know the drill and a rapid exit usually ensued, accompanied by the pig swim team, which would keep up until the offender was well offshore.
Anyway, back to old and new friends. In addition to Sandpiper and Nanna Maria, we linked up with the Grand Alaskan 53 Sunny Days, run by Andy and Carin, from Georgia. They had a young poodle, Charlie, who was learning to swim. We were fortunate enough to be present for his first lesson, and we were also there when he jumped off the back of Sunny Days, straight into the water and swam boldly about. Charlie was a little too enthusiastic for Maggie, so we did separate beach visits, but we spent many pleasant hours with Andy and Carin.
Having all these folks in the anchorage obviously required that we give a party. Actually we gave more than one party, usually a going away party when we left to go somewhere and then a welcome back party when we returned, but one particular one stands out in our memories. We had about 8 folks over, which is about as many as can assemble in Duet's salon (although we did have 10 once) and we all watched the sunset. Since most boat parties begin around 5 and the sun doesn't set until around 8, everyone had a chance to sample various liquid concoctions guests had brought along. So, when everyone but Ron saw the famous green flash (just as the sun sets on the ocean, if you have just the right atmospheric conditions) he was certain it was because he was the only sober member of the group. Further research indicated that you can actually see the green flash drunk or sober, and Ron did see it several evenings later.
Our stay in Staniel also precipitated Ron's new role as the Barefoot Boat Doctor. Linda, on Sandpiper, pulled a back muscle and requested Ron's aid. He spent several day visiting Sandpiper, prescribed ibuprofen (of which we had literally hundreds of tablets) and life proceeded peacefully, until several days later, we were at the Yacht Club enjoying yet another conch burger and a beer. Our waiter, who knew us pretty well by now, approached mid lunch and asked if we were indeed Duet? Ron replied in the affirmative and was informed he was wanted on the VHF radio. Nancy immediately figured that the boat had dragged up on the beach or Maggie had fallen overboard, but it turned out that a young lady had cut herself rather severely on some coral down at Compass. Staniel Cay has a resident nurse but she was in Nassau for the day, so a general call had gone out on the radio. Linda had answered for Ron and they had tracked him down in the bar.
So we wolfed down our burgers, drained our beers, leapt in the dingy (Nancy felt we should have a flashing light) and roared back to Duet. The patient, meanwhile, was being brought to the anchorage via high speed boat from Compass. Ron quickly reviewed the treatment of "dirty" wounds (coral makes a nasty mess and has bacteria in it) in his medical texts (which travel everywhere with us) and we awaited the ambulance's arrival.
Soon enough, a 28 foot Grady White pulled up off our stern and Dr. Ron got to work. The patient was a very nice young lady from Boston, visiting her aunt and uncle on a large sailboat anchored near Compass. She was very brave (much braver than Nancy would have been for sure) and sat patiently while Ron anesthetized her wound, cleaned it and sewed it up. Fortunately, a competent nurse had been on the scene of the initial injury and had done a super job of getting the wound cleaned out initially, so all went well. Ron then prescribed various antibiotics, several days supply of which we were able to provide from our boat stores, and the patient was ferried back to her mother ship. All of these activities provided great entertainment to the anchorage, as this event occurred around sundowner time for most boats near us.
The next day, the patient, accompanied by her family, pulled into the Staniel anchorage and settled several boats away, for the remainder of the week. This allowed Ron to make boat calls daily to make sure the wound was healing well, and also to prescribe various antibiotics which the Staniel nurse could provide. The young lady flew home about a week later, saw her own doctor at the Mass General (which, funnily enough is Ron's alma mater) and was pronounced cured. We got all the details on this from her aunt and uncle. Before she left, she very kindly gave Ron a gift certificate to the Staniel Yacht Club, which he promptly traded in for a stunning green polo shirt with the yacht club logo. Nancy, although she hadn't done much, also got a nice top. All in all, a very pleasant way to practice medicine.
This incident was to be the first of several this winter. In the end, Ron became somewhat of a celebrity, as one of his patients was treated via the VHF. In that particular case, the patient, a 12 year old boy with an ear infection, was beyond the range of our radio, so the Exuma Park (which has a very tall VHF antenna) relayed the discussion and diagnosis, listened to, presumably, by everyone within radio range. That particular patient, also came to visit Dr. Ron's floating Big Major's anchorage clinic, and gifted us with a beautiful pen and ink drawing of Staniel's racing boat, the Tida Wave.
We were fortunate enough to also be sharing the anchorage with a retired emergency room nurse, Judy, on the Tayana 48 Songlines. Actually it was Randy the single hander who was the fortunate one, as she was nearby when he ripped off the end of his finger in his windlass while anchoring. Dr. Ron was, naturally, in the yacht club bar and had to be fetched, while Judy got to Randy, stanched the bleeding and sorted thing out. By the time Ron arrived he could get a good look at the wound, decided not to stitch it (there was nothing left to stitch, which is a detail Nancy could have lived without) and get some prescriptions written to prevent infection. By this time our antibiotic supply was running low, so Randy needed to make a trip to the nurse, who was on island at the time.
Judy, who is well known on Staniel, leveraged her contacts to get Randy a ride to town (which is about 3 miles from the anchorage) in the Sampson Cay Defender 28, which is a custom high speed inflatable, complete with a hard top, seats, etc. We never cease to be surprised at how well and easily folks, both islanders and cruisers, pull together to help one another. It is one of the great things about traveling in these small islands. Anyway, the Defender ran Randy into town, waited while he got his prescriptions filled, and brought him back. As Nancy said later, if this had happened to him in the states, he would have had to wait hours in an emergency room and then take the bus home!
Randy, Duet and Songlines all stayed in Staniel for the next two weeks, with Judy and or Ron visiting Randy every day to clean the wound, check for infection and make sure all was well. This treatment paid off, the wound healed cleanly and Randy is back out there with his windlass, cruising. We ran into him about a month later in the Abacos and the finger looked great.
All this local medicine has reenergized Ron, and he is getting back up to speed in Internal Medicine (he did training in Internal Medicine before Anesthesia) and, once we get settled again, he will be volunteering his time at a clinic for those unable to access the regular health care system. Yet another interesting side benefit of cruising.
Soon enough spring was approaching and we started thinking about returning home. We had planned a trip to the Abacos on the way, as they'd gotten pretty short shrift on our last journey, but we were galvanized into action earlier than expected with the news that Nancy and Fred were bringing Diligence across from Tampa. So we set out north, dodged a few storms and arrived at Marsh Harbor about a week after Diligence. Everyone else arrived there too, Nanna Maria, Randy the single hander, the parents of the girl with the cut leg, two boats we'd seen on the ICW and, believe it or not several other boats from Herrington Harbor South. We even took a picture of 6 boat crews getting together at Herrington Harbor Very South. We also made lots of new friends, including Bob and Melonie from Istaboa, parents of Sadie (a beautiful 12 year old yellow lab) and Radar (an energetic young Lasa Apso). Bob took a truly fine photo of Maggie guarding Duet. Istaboa maintains a great blog and we gather has now returned to her home berth in Pickwick Tennessee. We were very sorry to hear that Sadie has now gone to join Tristan in the great Labrador home in the sky, she was a wonderful dog and we know she had a fantastic life with a loving family. One of the most difficult things about having animals is they live such short lives, but we believe it is worth the inevitable grief to have them share our days.
Finally, in the school of "its a small world" The Good Life showed up! Our regular readers will remember that we first met Shirley and Harry at Herrington Harbor South in Maryland in 2001, just before we set out on our great adventures. Since then, we have met them in Vero Beach, Florida, the Exumas and now the Abacos. We had a great dinner on Duet and introduced Shirley and Harry to Nancy and Fred, a meeting which seemed to be much enjoyed by all. For us one of the great pleasures of the cruising life is meeting old friends unexpectedly, and Shirley and Harry hold the record on unexpected meetings!
We spent a pleasant month or so in the Abacos, partially in Marsh Harbor (at the great Harbour View marina, locally owned by Troy) and partially in Hopetown on a mooring, We'd not been to Hopetown in years and found it quite built up but fortunately it still had that special small island charm. We even had high speed wifi on the hook, so we were able to keep up with world events. We caught up with Istaboa and her friendly crew for dinner at the Abaco Inn, during which their dinghy was "borrowed". Later that night it was recovered by BASRA (the Bahamian search and rescue authority). We never got the final story on that little incident but apparently the "borrower" was American, inebriated and bled all over their tender, so it must have been a more interesting night for him than for us. We must warn readers who wish to follow in our footsteps that the Hopetown harbor is the tightest we've ever been in. Fortunately, we didn't know this before we entered or we'd never have gone in! It is accessed by a very narrow shallow channel, which is crowded but since Duet was the largest thing coming or going, everyone stayed out of our way. Once we got in, however, it was a different story. The moorings are so close that dinghys must be pulled up to the stern to prevent them from hitting the boat behind and the largest boat on a mooring was about 50 feet long. There were no fairways, per se, just little areas between boats to turn around. Once we had identified our mooring (at the front of the pack where the big boats go) on the other side of the harbor, Nancy, always helpful, asked her Captain "so where are you going to turn?" The answer, delivered calmly in those doctor tones, was "I have absolutely no idea". We did, however, manage to come about and grab the mooring on the first try. Once we were settled we very much enjoyed our stay and would definitely do it again. The key is to enter on high tide and definitely not on a weekend!
During this time we did get out into deep water to "test" the paravanes. They worked perfectly, holding Duet to a slow easy roll, even while sitting still. Deploying them is getting easier, Ron has now got the hang of dumping them in and bringing them out without too much swinging around. We did also rig the sea anchor, but unfortunately there was so much current that we didn't actually put it in the water for fear we would get it wrapped around a stabilizer or the keel and be unable to retrieve it.
However, soon enough it came time to depart. Our immigration visa was running out and we were anxious to get Duet up to Maryland for her summer on the hard so we could head out to Lake Tahoe and get reacquainted with land life. Ron started tracking weather windows and we made the usual ocean going preparations. This time we decided to make a really long jump, at least for us, straight to Beaufort, NC, if the weather permitted. Nanna Maria left about 5 days previous to us, and while we would have enjoyed the company we decided against that window as large N/NE seas were predicted. Nanna Maria has a waterline of 59 feet, so she doesn't pitch as much as we do in big head seas, but she did report a rather rough first 48 hours. Also, during that window, the winds were expected to be in the 20-25 knot range, from the stern, which is perfect for a big heavy sailing vessel like Nanna Maria but we don't need wind to proceed, so we decided to let things settle down a bit.
Finally the day came, and we dropped our Hopetown mooring at the crack of dawn, picked our way out the channel and exited the Man of War Channel into the Atlantic. We arrived in Charleston, SC approximately 72 hours later, having journeyed some 500 miles, our longest voyage to date. We were about 200 miles from the nearest land, which was also a first for us. This voyage was completely uneventful, flat calm most of the way in fact, which is a tribute to Captain Ron's weather forecasting skills. We did retreat from the idea of Beaufort NC, because the weather was worsening. It wouldn't have been untenable by any means, but we would have arrived in Beaufort around 3AM (not a big deal in and of itself as we know the inlet well and the radar can light it up like daylight) but the wind would have been strongly out of the SE. Beaufort inlet is not jettied and has no shelter from the SE, so conditions would have been unpleasant. We have a rule about trying to avoid unpleasant and besides, we'll take any excuse to go to Charleston.
Our Charleston arrival was uneventful. We came in around 10PM, with Mr. Furuno lighting the way. The automatic target tracking functionality on the new radar is a standout; we can now tell who is moving, where they are moving and when we need to make a course change to avoid them. This makes night work much much less stressful. It also calmed the Charleston Pilot down, he sounded a little worried when he first hailed us outside the channel. Once we were able to assure him we knew that the ship near us was anchored and that we saw the ships exiting and entering the harbor he welcomed us and added us to his traffic pattern. This was quite useful as he was able to tell us who was coming and going and when, so we could easily slip into the channel without concern that we would be over run by a larger faster freighter. Charleston had a terrible incident some years ago (a small sailboat hit the jetty in the dark during bad weather, all aboard were killed, including two small children) and we can sympathize with the pilot's concerns about our course and level of knowledge.
Our docking at Charleston City was, as usual, an event all were happy to survive. We had a well deserved beer and went to sleep. The next morning we called US Customs, who came immediately. This was our first experience with Customs actually coming to the boat. Our two officers were polite, professional and both dog lovers, so the visit went well. We were, however, sternly warned about calling immediately upon arrival, regardless of the time. Apparently the phone is manned 24/7 and it is up to the officer on duty, not us, to decide whether they want to send someone out to us that night or the next day. The service is cracking down on offenders and the fine is a non negotiable $5,000 so this is a warning we will not soon forget!
Once we were settled in Charleston, and had spent several days catching up on our dining out, we started thinking about moving north. Unfortunately, Tropical Storm Andrea was also moving north, so we stayed put for almost two weeks waiting for her to make up her mind which way she was going. Eventually she passed within 200 miles of Charleston, to the SE, and produced some rather unsettling wave effects in the marina.
For those who've not stayed at Charleston City, the docks are right on the Ashley River, which is open to Charleston Harbor. We always stay on the outside of the Mega Dock, which has no shelter from the river. This time, we were even the last boat on the dock, closest to the Harbor. The theory behind our location was, first it was easy to hit that area in the dark when we arrived, and second, we were leaving in a few days so why move? Of course, once 3-4 foot swells started up the river, moving was no longer an option, so we banged up and down for about 18 hours in the worst conditions we've ever seen at dock. We chaffed right through a 3/4 braided dockline, fortunately we'd doubled all our lines so we didn't set off down the river, but it was a long 18 hours just the same. We weren't the only ones getting banged about, a Krogen 42 on the inside of the dock tore off her boarding ladder and punched a hole in her side, fortunately above the waterline. The whole floating dock arrangement was undulating up and down in a rather disconcerting fashion during the worst of it, which produced some amusing views of folks trying to walk back and forth from their boats without falling down. We also had 3 small cruise ships tie up for 4 days, we knew the worst was over when they resumed their journeys.
Eventually Andrea petered out and we started north again. During the time we were waiting, Paydirt had made her way up from Florida, via the ICW, taking the same time to journey from Florida to Charleston that we did, except they moved every day and we had moved for 72 hours straight and then been tied up for 2 weeks. This illustrates the differences in folks' cruising styles; we hate the ICW daily journey and would rather just grit our teeth and get there, while Mark and Karen on Paydirt enjoy the process and the towns along the way. Different strokes for different folks, we all get there in the end.
Paydirt was going to join us on our offshore run to Beaufort NC from Charleston but then decided that the weather around Cape Fear was a little rough, so they went inside. We, depending on scopolamine and Naiads, chugged on out the channel, pounded around the Cape overnight and pulled into Beaufort the next day, none the worse for wear. Our worst conditions were 4-6 ft waves, forward of the beam and with a short period while passing around the cape. Duet excels in those kind of conditions, due to her mass and gentle hull motion, so we didn't have a difficult journey. We have found, over time and sea miles, that we grow more accustomed to rougher conditions. Our friend Scott on Egret, now cruising the Chilean canals after rounding Cape Horn, often says that you should push the edge of your personal envelope and you will find that it expands each time. He's quite right, our personal boating envelope is definitely a lot bigger than when we started this trip 6 years ago!
The rest of our journey up the ICW from Beaufort was uneventful. We remembered why we don't like the ICW, endless traffic, boaters without the slightest understanding of the Rules of Road, shallow water, etc. but we made Norfolk without difficulty and Herrington Harbor South some days after that. Janel of Nanna Maria was waiting to catch our lines and we were home again!