One year ago I was at home in Washington DC writing about our failed Labor Day weekend sailing trip, in the Chesapeake Bay; Antare’s engine would not start. This year I am again writing from home. We didn’t go sailing either but for a different, this time good, reason. Antares is not around; she is waiting in a boatyard in George Town – Exumas, on the hard, a bit apprehensive about the weather that the last two months of the hurracain season could bring.
The journey from Spanish Wells to George Town over the summer was probably one of the best sailing vacations I’ve had. The girls and I left Washington DC on July 21st bound to Nassau, and came back on August 15; twenty five days, most of them beautiful, on the boat. Natalia joined for a few of those somewhere in the middle. This is, of course, nothing for those who are out there cruising full time with their families. But for me who is trying to manage work here in DC, family life and long-distance cruising, it was an important step. The first time the girls spent these many days in the boat often sailing just with me.
One of my concerns while planning for this vacation was making sure that Sofia and Marina would be reasonably comfortable. That meant no mosquitos, or worse sandflies, inside the boat (or at least not too many); a reasonable temperature during the hot and sometimes humid summer days; and plenty of power to run the frig long enough to have ice and cold drinks at all times and charge phones and gadgets. Thus, we were bringing with us — in two boxes that we checked-in — high quality/super fine mosquito nets; an “energy smart” AC ventilator; a 400 watts inverter to be able to generate AC current; a USB splitter adaptor to charge phones, iPods, iPads and Kindles at the same time; an Honda 2000i generator; and a 30amp adaptor. Indispensable items; we would not have been able to manage without them. The other concern was potential boredom while in a passage or during rainy days. For that we had an old iPad with family movies (not the same iPad I use for navigation), and plenty of books in an Kindle (in Antares we also have board games, and lots of paper and color pens).
Going through customs in Nassau with all this gear was surprisingly easy. I hired a young man to help me retrieve and carry the boxes. A friendly officer in customs opened them up, checked the items and asked for my receipts. I showed him the purchase orders from Amazon in my iPad, and filled a form. After computing the taxes I owed with a hand calculator, he sent me to a counter nearby to make the payment. None of the items were subject to import duties so I only paid VAT. In less than 15 minutes we were on our way to the domestic terminal to catch our flight to Northern Eleuthera; a very short flight in a very small plane.
The same guy who had taken Natalia and I to the airport from Spanish wells in May was waiting for us when we landed in Northern Eleuthera. It was 4pm. After retrieving and loading the boxes we drove to the docks and boarded the motor boat that would take us to Spanish Wells. By then it had started to rain, on and off, a warm and soft rain, but the girls didn’t mind. They were quite excited about been so close to our final destination. The trip from the docks in Northern Eleuthera to the docks in Spanish Wells takes only 5 minutes. There I had reserved a golf cart and it was waiting for us. We paid the water-land-taxi, loaded the little cart with our backpacks and boxes, filled the paper work, and drove along the river to the marina.
And there she was, our beautiful Antares, patiently waiting for us, alone, in her slip. The moment we were going to board it started to rain, this time with more intensity. It was low tide and getting to the boat was a bit challenging, particularly for Sofia the youngest one. But the dock-master and an aid came to give us a hand. We soon had all our gear in the cabin — except for the generator — and the girls started to undress and put on their swimming suits to hit the swimming pool. I usually ask them to unpack and help me put order in the boat before they go, but they had been patient all day and I decided to let them do what they wanted while I installed the screens and the ventilator.
The two mosquito screens I got are awesome. One covers the entire companion way and the other goes on top of the forward hatch. I was worried that the one in the companion way would make it difficult getting in and out of the main cabin, but we soon found the right technique. Both screens have led weighs around the edges and these help them fall “into place” after you push them to get in or out. For the hatch over the main cabin, which is often covered by the dinghy, I used the old, square, screens that came with Antares, both of them. They are less effective in stoping small insects but they are ok when installed together, one on top of the other. Unless sailing, we always had the screens on. We probably had only a couple of windless nights when nats came to life and, without the screens, could have become a major annoyance. But even during nats-free days you have the rogue mosquitos or other flying insects that make it into the cabin and wait patiently until the night falls and all lights are off. Then they launch their attack, flying close to your ears and landing discretly, and indiscriminately, in any exposed part of your body (many parts during hots nights) where they insert their proboscis. With the screens on, we minimized this problem. Thus, we all had an incentive to monitor that the screens closed properly after somebody entered or exited the main cabin — or passed a glass of water or a cold beer.
As for the ventilator, it has enough power to freshen, significantly, the main cabin where the girls sleep. It consumes as many amps as a laptop; in fact, it comes with the same type of adaptor: 120 to 12V. We had it on most of the time during the day when inside the cabin, and often the entire night. There were only two rules: 1) never leave the ventilator on when you leave the boat (my rule); and 2) never turn on the ventilator when cutting onions (the girls’ rule).
We spent five days in Spanish Wells preparing the boat, buying provisions and waiting for the weather. I can say now that I know the town quite well ! We arrived on Thursday afternoon and the original plan was to depart on Monday to be able to make it to Governors Harbor by Wednesday to pick up Natalia. But the forecast for Monday and Tuesday wasn’t good. Those first few days in Spanish Wells were, in fact, quite stormy specially at night. So we decided to wait for Natalia in Spanish Wells.
Having the golf cart was of great help given all the errands that we had to run. Beyond provisioning, finding boat parts; buying diesel, gasoline (for the generator), and propane; and transporting Antare’s outboard to the boat yard. I have to say that Spanish Wells is not the best place in the Bahamas to provision. There is a medium-size store, baldly lighten, where you can find, more or less, any item. But the quality and freshness of the meat and vegetables was lacking. Finding people to work on the boat was also not easy. There is no electrician in town. A guy from the US is flown-in when there is a need for a major work. By coincidence he had been spending vacations in the Island with his family and I was able to hire him to help me fix my by-polar mast light (it goes off, with no warning, and then comes back on gain in a chaotic cycle). But after a few, very expensive, hours that included a trip up the must, we gave up. Everything seemed to be in order and I might never know what the problem is. The depth sounder also stopped working and there was nothing I could do.
I was also able to hire “The General” to help me clean Antare’s bottom though. Everybody knows him. He seems to make a living as a diver or, at least, used to. In his early 40s, blond with long hair, and a face of sharp contours, he must have been a handsome man in his youth. But time, the sun, and an excessive consumption of nicotine and alcohol have marked him. He also had a serious motorcycle accident a few years back and the bones in his hands never recovered their original shape. Every time I saw him, including the two times he came to work on the boat, he was under the influence. He didn’t bring any special clothing, or equipment, except brushes and a diving mask. He would undress keeping only his trousers, dive-in, work for 15 minutes or so under the boat, and then come out to get a fix. We would talk about American politics before he dived back in. When he was done for the day he would just put back his clothes over his wet body and leave. One afternoon I met him again at a bar and he offered me a drink. He told me he wanted me to know that he did a really good job with the boat. As you can see from the picture above, he did.
Of course, we also had a lot of time to relax and plan for the trip. Most of the errands we run in the morning after breakfast. The rest of the day we enjoyed the pool and the beach, we played games, ate, read and the girls watched movies at night. We went out for dinner a couple of times but otherwise we cooked and ate in the boat. Although, as I wrote, food selection was limited, we managed to find cheese, grapes, avocados, salsas, and chips for the mandatory captain hour during sunset. The girls played music and often danced. Usually by 9:30 we were in bed. Often, I went first.
I confess that from time to time I became worried about the departure and sailing through Current Cut, the shortest route to cruise the west coast of Eleuthera. The stories I had read made it sound as a complicated affair because of the combination of current, wind, and the reefs surrounding the channel. But as I will write next, my worries were not justified.