Friday, May 11, 2012

The Sea Stooges Don't Give Up Easily

May 4 – 10, 2012

I have good news and bad news to report, but you should have expected as such judging from the title of this blog.  I don't want to be a complainer, but then I don't think the wanna-be cruisers out there should be led astray thinking that we travel in tropical bliss all the time.

The good news was that we did leave the Sunset Bay Marina at Stuart as planned on Friday, May 4.  We intended to rendezvous in the Lake Worth anchorage with two other boats:  ANDANTE and FREELANCE.  Then, all three of us would make the crossing together on Saturday.  When we were underway for about an hour, ANDANTE called to say that when they woke up their inverter was smoking, so they had to have that checked out and may not make it to Lake Worth in time for the Saturday crossing.  FREELANCE called when we were almost to Lake Worth to say that their heat exchanger was leaking salt water into the engine coolant and decided that they would have a new one overnighted, but that meant they couldn't make the crossing on Saturday.  So, at that point it looked like we would be by ourselves, like most of the time anyway.  Remember how I told you that trying to make cruising plans was like writing your name in the sand on a rising tide?!!

The gorilla on our back
The gorilla on our back

I saw these beasts next to the pool of one of the homes that we passed going to Lake Worth.  I thought they were rather unusual to have as yard “art”, unless the owner was a zookeeper at one time.  As it turned out, I think that gorilla must have hexed us for making fun of him as we went by.

We had an uneventful trip down to Lake Worth and anchored south of Peanut Island by 2:00 p.m.  Since it was so early we had the rest of the afternoon to get some more chores done, eat and get to sleep early so we could get up at 5:15 a.m. to start the crossing.  I decided to put new line on both of the trolling fishing reels, and Wayne agreed to help hold the line while I strung it on.  It was a relief to get that job done because the guys had been complaining for 2 years that the line needed to be changed whenever we lost a fish, or so they thought.  It didn't matter that the fish were lost because of getting hung up on the transom, Eddie letting them slip off the swim platform, fish biting through the leader, lure breaking, fish swimming under the prop and breaking the line, and probably a few other things I've not listed.  The point I'm trying to make is that the our lost fish weren't due to the line being old and breaking, but that's what they chose to focus on and harp relentlessly about because they could blame that on me.  Don't let anyone ever tell you that only women are whining harpers, because I have documented proof in my journal that men are just as bad.  Gosh, I feel better already!

Maybe we should have taken the cruise ship
Maybe we should have taken the cruise ship

I took this photo on Saturday well after sunrise; I told you earlier that we had planned to leave before the sun rose, so you should guess we had another problem.

We all got up as scheduled, and went through our normal starting procedures until I got to the step of turning the key to the engine.  NOTHING happened!!  I mean absolutely nothing, as though I didn't even turn the key.  At first I thought I hadn't turned on the ignition breaker, but when I looked below on the panel, the breaker was on.  Eddie was standing up on the moonlit bow waiting to haul up the anchor, giving me that “what are YOU waiting for NOW” look, Wayne popped his head inside to ask me why I was taking so long.  When I told him I had turned the key and nothing happened, he had to jump inside and try it for himself, only to get the exact same results.  At that point, we weren't going anywhere.  It sure seemed that maybe King Neptune was trying to tell us the sea and moon weren't aligned properly for us to leave yet, but I blamed it on that ugly gorilla's hex and hoped we could beat that.  If we could solve the problem on Saturday we could go ahead and leave on Sunday since the weather was still going to be good enough to cross then too.

Room for one only
Room for one only

It was obvious we had another electrical problem, somehow associated with the starting system.  So, we began with what we hoped would be the easiest, a bad wire in the key switch.  No such luck.  Wayne metered all the electrical connections, and one thing that was happening was that there seemed to be intermittent discontinuity which made tracing the problem even more complicated.  You can see from the photo that the work space is limited, especially for a big person like Wayne.  We had to visualize all the ways the electricity would travel to make the engine be able to start and be able to isolate the different legs to figure out where the voltage was dropping.  After 6 hours of searching Wayne and Eddie finally traced it to the battery isolation switch.  It is really only used to isolate the starter battery if you need to turn off the power to the battery to work on something else and want to make sure no power will go your way unintentionally.  We think that we could have made the  trip without the switch at all, but since we could locate one shore side, we decided to replace it. 

Going to pick up the new switch meant that Eddie and I would have to take the dinghy and try to find a place to go ashore.  Since it was Saturday, the harbor area was so busy, and we had a dinghy ride to hell because of the wind, all the boat wakes, and low tide.  Sometimes I think I should wear one of those mouth pieces that football players wear to keep my teeth from being jarred to pieces in the bouncy water.

We decided to head to the Riviera Beach City marina since it is a public facility and would most likely allow transient boaters.  They have a tiny dinghy dock, probably because they charge $10 to land the dinghy and no one wants to pay that.  There was no way I was going to pay that either since I just had to walk less than 2 miles to get the part and told Eddie to drop me off or wait until someone came to try to collect and then leave.  When I was getting ready to leave the dinghy dock another cruiser was unloading a fuel can and propane tank from his dinghy, and I started talking to him to ask where the people in charge were located since it wasn't obvious.  He told me he had a rental car and was going to check in and then he would give me a ride to the parts store.  So, I said goodbye to Eddie and went off with this guy (another Ed!, from Seattle) I had never  seen before in my life, with no cell phone, nor weapons, just positive cruiser intuition. 

Kind Ed dropped me off at the store, but when I saw the part, it wasn't exactly like the one which I was replacing (I had taken the broken switch with me).  The clerk said it would work, but to make sure I had him call Wayne.  Wayne thought it would be OK and told me to get mounting screws since the mounting holes were different.  I told the clerk to put the 4 screws in the switch package.

I walked all the way back to the dinghy, thankful it was still daylight because the neighborhood wasn't the greatest.  I showed Eddie the part and realized the @!*% clerk hadn't put the screws in the package! I called the store and told him I was coming back for the screws.  Fortunately I had seen a public boat ramp that was less than half the distance to the store, so Eddie and I piled back into our dinghy and went to that boat ramp.  Despite being extremely busy with day boaters loading their boats back on their trailers, we found room in a spacious side alcove with nice floating docks.  Eddie could even wait in the shade while I walked back to the store for the screws.

When we got back to FLUKE, Wayne had put everything back together from the morning's trouble shooting process.  The guys didn't have any difficulty putting in the new switch.  When the ignition key was turned, the big CAT started like she was born to run, and we “knew” we were ready to make the crossing on Sunday.

I think that ugly gorilla must have gotten scared away during the fabulous Super moon rise on Saturday night, because when we went through our regular anchor up and get under way drill on Sunday morning everything went smoothly.  We had an easy exit in the dark out of the Lake Worth inlet and were met with favorable seas.  FREELANCE had managed to get his heat exchanger repaired and followed us a couple of miles behind.  Unfortunately he was having trouble with his stabilizers overheating, but it wasn't a bad enough problem to necessitate having to turn around and go back.  Having things break down is just another part of cruising, so you have to make up your mind how you want to approach dealing with those issues and can't let them eat you up.  Keep the gorilla in the closet.

Sunset at Mangrove Cay
Sunset at Mangrove Cay

Anchor up to anchor down took 12 hours, and we were treated to a beautiful sunset at isolated Mangrove Cay, with 5 other boats also using the spacious area for the night.  I had hoped to cook fish for our first dinner in the Bahamas, but all I managed to catch were 4 barracuda.  The guys always complain when I troll on the Banks and just catch those toothy  shiners which are a real pain to get off the hook, but if I don't have the line in the water I won't have a chance to catch anything else either.  To assuage their negative feelings about my fishing habits, I made taco salad, one of the FLUKESTERS favorites.  We celebrated our successful arrival with that yummy feast and a few cold beers.  One happy crew.

Fish mud
Fish mud

We had a peaceful night at anchor and were well-rested to travel another 9 hours the following day across the shallow Little Bahama Bank.  The sparkling blue water stretches as far as you can see, but periodically will be broken by fish muds.  These appear as distinct white, cloudy streaks in the water, kind of looking like a highway through the sea.  At first you think you are going to run aground on a shallow sand bore, but the charts indicate the water depth is fine.  It is said that certain schools of fish swim in the straight line, churning up the sandy bottom.  Because of how the wind and current may be in the area, the sand stays suspended for a long time after the fish have moved on.  The color contrast is striking and easily catches your eye.

On Monday night we anchored off the small settlement of Coopers Town, located on Great Abaco, a.k.a. the mainland by the Bahamian out islanders.  There was a lot of noise going on from the shore and people were dressed in red shirts and had flags flying from their cars.  We heard on the VHF that it was their election day, and it was a fierce battle between the blue shirt party (currently in power) and the red shirt party.  Around 10 p.m., the noise escalated with horns blaring and people shouting; the red shirt party had ousted out the current party in power and the out islanders were happy. 

The next morning (Tuesday) we traveled another hour southward towards the settlement of New Plymouth located on Green Turtle Cay where we hoped to clear customs.  With westerly winds, we had to still had to anchor off the shore of Great Abaco and take the dinghy 3 miles across the Sea of Abaco to reach the public dock.  We wanted to get in early before the wind kicked up even more and made the ride across the open water rougher.

The rules state that the captain is the only one permitted to go ashore until the boat has cleared customs.  I decided to go with Wayne and tend the dinghy while he cleared customs.  After the normal amount of time, Wayne showed up to tell me that they had changed the procedure.   Now, they want all the crew members to sign their own immigration cards (instead of the captain, who presents everyone's passport, signing for everyone like in the past), which meant that Eddie, who was still on FLUKE 3 miles back at the anchorage, wasn't easily accessed to sign his own card himself.  That would mean having to take the dinghy back to FLUKE, get Eddie to sign and then take the card back to the immigration office and go back to FLUKE again.  Let's say for now, I will have to finish the rest of this part of the story when we are back in Florida.

When we got back to FLUKE Eddie hoisted the Bahamian courtesy flag, and we ate lunch.  After Eddie took a nap, he and I decided to go snorkel at a  rocky area about a mile away; it had been two long years since we had visited our beloved undersea world.

The minute we dove into the clear water it was like we had never been away.  I thought I could swim all the way to the other side of the Sea of Abaco.  We lost ourselves in exploring under ledges and behind rocks, always finding new creatures around the next corner.  We stayed in the water 3 hours, getting good exercise and shriveled up.  Only the waning sunlight made us think about swimming back to the dinghy, a good distance away.  In fact, a sailboat anchored near FLUKE called Wayne on the VHF to ask him if he wanted them to go look for us since we had been gone for so long and had been out of their sight.  They wondered if something had happened to both of us, so Wayne told them that that was “normal” behavior for us.  Jacqueline (as in Cousteau) and Lloyd (as in Bridges) were contentedly back in their element!

Well, you can see we never gave up and finally made it.  I wish I could say it looks like smooth cruising ahead, but we are in for a spate of bad weather, and we need to find some protection.

Thanks to all of you who have posted comments.  It is comforting to know that we have you aboard, even in thoughts only.  Feel free to offer suggestions for improvement or added interest.

Tune in again to find out where we went and how we managed to post this blog.  I'll include more photos next time!


  1. Anonymous2:00 PM


    I needed a Fluke 'fix' - loved the pics.

    Thanks for letting us sail along!


  2. Anonymous11:20 AM

    Awesome sunset. Glad to hear you're (finally) there!


  3. Anonymous5:39 PM

    Thanks for your posts...we love sharing your adventures!

    Bob and Dorinda

  4. Sounds like a full week w/o Fluke issues. Hope that's a good omen. Are you sure that sunset isn't Photo Shopped? :-) Gorgeous!!