TO NASSAU...AND SOME CREW!
POSITION 25:04.48N 0077:18.65W
OFF TO NASSAU…SORT OF.
dreamt I was dead. Although dead, I felt just fine, my body was just the same as ever, I was walking about and could do anything I usually do. I can recall looking down at myself thinking, well it doesn’t feel any different, at least to me. However, I realized no one else could see me (rather like American Werewolf in London).
Later in the dream this changed, and people could now see me, so all a bit confusing. It wasn’t scary being dead at all, to me everything was just normal, I felt normal, it was just how I related to others that had changed. To them, I had ceased to exist.
The difference between being in Florida – just 80 miles east – and little Bimini is quite out of proportion, and I’m not sure I understand why. Maybe it’s a fluke, but the weather here has been perfect for days, and warm too, whereas FL regularly cools right down with passing cold fronts, grey skies and even rain occasionally, god forbid. Bimini is just a wee narrow strip of land with a few , palm trees and lots of ramshackle houses in various states of disrepair, but its not the land that you’ll remember. It’s the water.
The Bahamas are a substantial landmass with most of the surface just submerged in 1- 6 metres in the main. Because of its shallowness, the 2’ tide creates strong currents and nowhere is it more noticeable than sitting on a boat at Brown’s Marina. The poor old fish – of which there are billions – spend their entire lives fighting the current day and night just to stay still, and then someone will try and hook them, for sure. For that’s what Biminians do. Fish.
I’ve tried fishing and I’m rubbish. Still haven’t caught one after 8000 miles. But you don’t need to do that to appreciate the beauty of the Biminis, with the spectacular water clarity with its brilliant azure blue as it surges in and out of the narrow back channel that is the sole artery for Alice Town. Although used mainly as an entry or exit point for boat borne Americans looking for winter sun, to me it is a place to go to for its own sake. But you won’t find a Publix there..
Very quiet in the marina after another noisy night of music just down the island a bit. Captain Eeyore of the long face, next boat, won’t have liked that!. Complete opposite of Captain Berry, next boat down, a bright cheerful guy with a shock of white hair, who likes nothing better than to regale me with his stories. In fact I’ll swear he engineered a meeting on my way to the shower block – better than Indiantown’s – by leaving at precisely the same time. Nice guy.. Just wish I could understand his accent.
Humphrey, the wrinkly old dockmaster, is just as I remember him, a delightful old chap who comes round every day just to say he’s there if I need to tell him anything! He does look remarkably like Nelson Mandela, and speaks in a deep, rumbling monotone that is not unpleasant.
I do like it here. It’s so peaceful, and timeless. Far rather live here than Florida, which seems harsh and remote by comparison. I like the boats coming and going – rather like Bequia in the Grenadines – even at night they’re still busy. Quite big ships manage to get in here, rather surprisingly, as the entrance runs shallow at 2m or less in shifting sand. They must dredge it, judging by the great pile of sand on South Bimini, but not seen them doing it. Here, the boats and the people rule, in Florida it’s money and the car.
Monday, December 15, 2014 BEAUTIFUL DAY, LIGHT WINDS
Up at 0645 and went over to wish Captain Berry and his good lady – who I still hadn’t met – safe passage to Miami as they were about to leave. A beautifully still peaceful dawn, and quite a perfect time, I thought, to be leaving in a boat with no wind to contend with. However, their departure was not to go well.
With a wizened old Biminian employee already on the dockside holding their bow line I was hardly needed, but offered to take the stern line out of courtesy having shaken hands. Knowing the stresses of departure I did him the favour of not distracting with idle chit chat as he took his stern lines in and selected reverse in preparation for a stern first exit from the dock. I thought I would not be needed at this point as he had recovered his lines himself, and my presence was purely as a well-wisher. But as often happens, once the lines were off, his stern began slowly drifting off sideways towards the offside post, at which he quickly threw me back the stern line to hold so he could pull his stern back into line. Or at least that’s what I thought he was doing.
Not so. Pulling hard against me like in a tug-of-war, he brought the stern into contact with the wooden dock I was standing on so effectively that the boat, in reverse, began to pivot around the end of the dock. I thought this a bit excessive – there was plenty of room to go straight out – but you’re the Skipper, Skipper! In this manner his boat swung a full 90 degrees with the bow only just missing the far post as it did so, but with the outgoing tidal current running strongly through the marina ie into the dock – a feature of the Bahamas and one that got me and Pinball in trouble last time I was here – his 36’ boat was now being pushed hard up against the end of the dock by the current, to which his boat was now square on. In a word, he was buggered.
He now tried to free himself using power, but no matter whether in forward or reverse, the current was going to keep him hard up against those dock poles. By now another local employee had arrived on scene, and was adding his own, sensible, shouted instructions to the growing chorus of horror from me and the old man. The trouble was that when selecting forward, or reverse, Berry the Skipper stared resolutely in the hoped for direction of travel, whilst proving completely blind to what was about to happen at the other end of his boat, so eliciting various shouts to ‘ mind your bow!’ or ‘lookout! Watch your dinghy,’ depending on which particular pointless shunt was being attempted, whilst his stern-hoisted dinghy with attached outboard in particular was taking some fair sideswipes. But all to no avail, for no matter what he did with the power, he was going to be hard up against those poles in that current.
The employees here have had a lifetime of experience witnessing the frailties of human judgement in action, either coming into or leaving their docks, mine included. I will forever be remembered for having spectacularly skewered the large fiberglass trash-can at the end of the dock I was entering with my 20kg Rocna battering ram , pushed on relentlessly by the same strong outgoing tide that now threatened Berry’s nicely varnished woodwork. So when the tall gangling employee next to me took charge, it was needed; Captain Berry was not getting this right.
‘Give me the stern line’ shouted the gangly one. Nothing happened. ‘GIVE ME THE STERN LINE!!’
At last some sense. Berry passed his line across and the gangly one took a few wraps on a cleat on the dock and called for reverse. For the first time Berry’s bow began to pivot out from the dock, then when projecting as far as it would go against the current, with much vocal encouragement for ‘POWER!! LOTS OF POWER’, and a couple more glancing blows against my own dock poles on the way out, Captain Berry was away.
When I related the incident to old Humprey when he came round later, he just said ‘Not all boat owners are Captains’.
Monday 15 December 2014 OFF TO NASSAU…SORT OF
Taking a long hard look at the weather courtesy of ‘passageweather.com’ revealed light fluky winds all week, making it difficult to say when would be a good time to go. Nay, impossible. I struggled with this conundrum until arriving at the bleeding obvious. It didn’t matter! Winds would be light, seas flattish so what’s the problem? But first I wanted to walk along the front to Harvey Town, which wasn’t worth the effort but I needed the exercise. On the way met Humphrey the Marina Man and told him I’d be leaving pm.
When ready I wandered down the dock to look for him, and he emerged from the open air bar with the huge telly. I gave him my electricity reading, and he consulted his paperwork, talking about my water bill. ‘ I haven’t used any water Humprey,’ I corrected, ‘this is the electricity bill.’ Then he asked where I came from, and when told, said he’d like a T-shirt ‘just a cheap one’, and some cheap deck shoes when I came back again. It slowly dawned on me that he was drunk as a lord. I told him I’d see what I could do next time.
On my walk I’d called in at the fuel dock just down the way to have a look at it, as I would be to get to Nassau 200nm away. A big red tanker alongside was delivering fuel, and when asked, told me they’d be half an hour. Four hours later….
But it finally moved off out backwards just as preparations for Pinball’s trip completed, said goodbye and told Humphrey I didn’t need help with the lines, thinking he would probably fall in. I guess he’d been drinking my dock fees, as it had all been in cash. Who’s to know!
Fuelled up, left at 1600 high tide with no dramas and motored up the west coast of Bimini to North Rock Light, then turned east for the Mackie Shoal, an area of shifting sand half way across The Great Bahama Bank. Rarely deeper than 6 metres, this flat submerged area is surprisingly consistent in depth on the recommended routes across, reducing occasionally to around 3m. The advantage in going now was the pleasant sea state – it can get very choppy quite quickly - and the opportunity to anchor out overnight as a result, saving a draining all night passage. The disadvantage was that with a light headwind it meant motoring.
All went well, and at 0030 dropped anchor in the middle of nowhere, somewhere near the Mackie Shoal, a good mile south of this much used route and some 40 miles from land! Tales of yachts being run down in the middle of the night by commercial traffic on the route ensured the bright anchor light was on, and AIS transmitter too – so anyone with AIS would know all about me long before getting near. As long as they look at it that is. Pretty weird being at anchor like that though.
Next day - a beaut - after a yawn and a stretch and a look at the wind – NE – it looked like it could be a sailable day and so it proved. Although only 9-11kts all day, Pinball slipped along at around 4 kts, down to 3kts at times, all on autopilot as once again it was a bit fluky for the windvane steering.
Time to try the conch meat I had rashly bought off young Ali – a cousin of Humprey’s. It was disgusting, worse than squid even, chewy as hell. But might make good bait? I ran a trolling line off the back with a nice piece of conch on it, well you can guess the rest. Fish had the bait but not the hook, tried again with the left overs, lost the hook. What is it about me and fishing?
By late pm Pinball was approaching Northwest Channel – a funnel shaped channel leading off The Bahama Bank and back into deep water. I decided to anchor here overnight rather than push on and try further along, in darkness. Once again it would be anchoring with no land in sight and the first attempt did not go well. With strong tidal currents running, the good ole Rocna was just dragging across rock after rock and not finding any holding, so abandoned that position and went off looking in the failing light for a nice sandy bottom. Well, what I found was still rocky but with sand filling in as well, so tried there and, well, I’m still there writing this. It is a bit shallow really, just 2.5m, but the tide’s coming in now and dinner’s on its way. What is strange is that whilst the tide was ebbing, Pinball sat with the anchor chain running off behind. I tried doing a resolution of forces thing in my head but it seized up, and I had to do a reset. So, here I stay, a bit nervous with the current and shallowness and proximity of rocks but should be ok, but not without testing the anchor pretty hard first. I am hoping for a benign night, but if not then I will probably move on.
Wednesday, 17 December 2014 PERFECT WEATHER FOR A CHANGE OF PLAN
The BIG mistake last night was having another go at the chocolate after dozing off after dinner. It must have caffeine in it, for I was still going at 0245. The stupid thing is, I know all this, but couldn’t stop myself. Duh
So waking a bit late at 0830 Ships Time (an hour ahead of local), after a peaceful night with no dragging anchors, it was time to GO. No breakfast, just get the anchor up, head east then turn into wind briefly (there was hardly any) to raise the mainsail, back to east with the Yanmar engine giving 4.5kts at a moderate throttle. It was a spectacularly beautiful day, brilliant blue sky thanks to a big high pressure dominating the whole area, but unlikely to produce much wind – just 6 knots to start with – although this usually increases as the sun heats up the land, and in the case of the Bahamas, the land underwater too.
It was 50nm to Nassau, there to meet up with big brother Stu. I could just make it in a day if I steamed it, but would be arriving at best at dusk, and the anchorages in Nassau Harbour – one of the busiest harbours in the Caribbean – have not a very good reputation thanks to poor holding, strong tidal currents and constant wake from shipping day and night, or so said the guide book. Did I want to be trying to drop my Rocna in the dark in an unfamiliar anchorage – and one that might well not work?
No. I would be sensible for once and just stage up past the Berry Islands, find somewhere to anchor at Bird Cay or Whale Cay and make an early start next day from this new, nearer jump off point. Good thinking Nige. Well done.
Trouble was, I didn’t like the feel of the Berry Islands. Chubb Cay I’d tried to anchor in 2 years ago and didn’t like it, too shallow. The other two Cays are privately owned and..well, I just don’t get a nice warm feeling about them. Then I thought, maybe there’s an anchorage outside Nassau that’s easy to get to So scoured the Pilot Guide - which is really handy if you want the best restaurant or some diamonds - whose main recommendation seemed to be ‘don’t bother’. Nothing. Then found a ‘Ships Anchorage Area’ marked on the chart, perfectly situated a mile or two northeast of the main chaos. Right! Throttle up Captain.
On the way made a new peg for the guitar head, replace the one broken changing the strings, then sang some Beatles songs, long time no do. They still are the greatest, and although I don’t own any Beatles music and never have, I have always loved playing it, especially on the piano. Their songs are just so clever, and right, and brilliant. And prolific. Top of the list – Glass Onion, and Strawberry Fields. But so many others too…like Polythene Pam.
With full sail up, engine providing some thrust too, and the wind as predicted picking up enough to ruffle Pinballs canvas, we were making a good 6 knots for the rest of the day, and duly arrived in failing light having dodged a large merchant ship coming out of The Harbour. With not a minute of light to be wasted, I’m going to brag of a record-breaking mainsail drop having rolled the genoa, both at the last minute, and then a neat tuck in close behind Salt Cay on the depth guage, stop, plonk, anchor’s down. Chill. And what a pleasant and secluded spot it was, in quite deep water - 7metres. Sandy too.
Right. Whats for supper, Chef?
Thursday, December 18, 2014. MINE HOST
An excellent anchorage, really beaut. Until the jetskis arrive that is …
‘Right, where shall we go? Ooh look, there’s a yacht right over there…lets go take a look!’
The only yacht here, aren’t I.
Took off the old patch on the dinghies inflatable floor and put a new one on, to see if that fixes the puncture which I couldn’t identify. This was done on deck, and whilst below waiting for the glue to go off, the rest of the glue was oozing out of the topless tube all over the deck. HAVE A WORD!
Friday, December 19, 2014 NASSAU HARBOUR ARRIVAL
Up dead early at 0620 ST, nearly an hour before dawn, which I photographed. Just as well, as the voltage was way low at 12.1V, so now running the engine. The trouble yesterday was, even though it was a bright sunny day all day, Pinball spent much of it facing the wrong way ie nose to sun, which puts the solar panels in shadow too much. This was due to the tide going in and out. Solar panels lose much of their power if even a relatively small area is in shadow. Could someone please invent one that doesn’t care!
Mid afternoon finally aroused sufficient enthusiasm to leave this perfect spot and take on the chaos of Nassau Harbour, having read the dire warnings of poor holding, strong currents, constant wake and noise day and night. Great. But I need to do a bit of shopping, in particular a set of charts for the Exumas, so I have to go there, and can’t afford the inflated marina prices. $2 per foot per day.
Anyway, called up Nassau Harbour Control on Chan 16, and had to spell Pinball Wizard phonetically for him. Obviously, not The Who fans here.. Then motored in past the four towering cruise liners, under two 60’ bridges, along the ramshackle Potters Cay mini island in the middle – lined with work boats one of which half sunk – past the final bunch of marinas and then turned in to anchor about as far east as you can go before you fall off the edge, just before the Nassau Yacht Club on the South shore. The planned anchorage I had thought might work didn’t look great, with no boats there at all. Usually, there’s a reason for that! Hook went down, not really enough room to give it the usual reverse thrust to dig it in and test it, so its untested. Time will tell. I shall have to get up a couple of times in the night and check it, as there’s more boats downstream of me, including a whacking great catamaran…difficult to miss that one if I drag.
Whilst this was going on, a series of ding dings from my phone, a few texts coming in. Where am I? Ring me. That sort of stuff. Except one was from the Bank ; did I spend £60 with Hungryhouse.com on Monday?
Nope. At sea on Monday. Reply no. This means, of course, that they’re now going to cancel my blinking card aren’t they. (Ed: but they didn’t)
On the brighter side, I have had considerable success with the new Target SSB radio - a Single Sideband High Frequency receiver. So far I have actually managed to listen to a voice weather broadcast, download and print a weatherfax and most successful of all, download a Navtex broadcast, all with my little black box. Its dead simple, just dial up the right frequency at the right time, fiddle around a bit tuning it, plug the output into the mic socket on the computer and the Target software does the rest. Free info! Really do think this is SO clever.
You can get weather through the satphone too but… it’s a quid a minute plus rental. Nice to have yes, but if I can do without it and get the weather on the HF radio, then why not?
Saturday, December 20, 2014 WORKING IT OUT IN NASSAU
Up at first streaks of dawn, some cloud today. But who cares! PINBALL DIDN’T DRAG HIS ANCHOR LAST NIGHT. In fact, it hasn’t budged an inch, nor did it the whole time. I know this because there’s a trip line on the anchor, at the other end a plastic bottle, so I can see exactly where the anchor is, which is just as well as Pinball drifts right over it and sits nose stubbornly facing away, with the chain running down underneath the keel and out the back, all when the tide is going out. I’ve so far failed to figure out the balance of forces for this. The other boats do it as well, luckily.
Today was go ashore day. To do that I’d have to find somewhere to tie up the dinghy – ‘few and far between’ the guide says – but spotted somewhere on an old pic in the guide that looked promising. As it happened, it wasn’t. But I get ahead of myself..
One of my greatest ambitions is to go ashore without having forgotten something. I’m sure it will happen one day, but not today.
Chug off in the dinghy.
Motored along downtide past all the small marinas on the south side until I got to where I had seen in a picture. No good, all changed. So went into a marina for a shortcut back but couldn’t cut through without a haircut, turn back retrace track. Guy on a boat shouts and asks me it I’m looking for the Dinghy Dock, yes, next one in he says. Thanks. Then realise what I’ve forgotten: no security chain and padlocks for the dinghy. This is NOT THE PLACE to go without! Motor all the way back to Pinball against a strong tide. Unlock the lazarette for the second time and recover the chain. Refuel, overfilling as usual. Off again. On the way spot a sign saying ‘Dinghy Dock 24 Hours’, go there, expecting to be pounced on for payment. No one cares. Its next to a petrol station, but no marina office. Set off on the bike. Find the chandlers I’m looking for – been there last year – and get all the things I need, in particular the missing chartbook for the Exumas. All expensive. Lets get these back to the boat – no wait there’s a Starbucks, I could wifi.
Spend a long coffee trying to figure it out; ‘strong signal’ it says, but also ‘looking for network.’ Nothing is happening. Ask the guy opposite if it needs a login and password. ‘No’ he says. ‘Oh hang on. Yes it does’. I ask him what it is. ‘5rdx and login is 1heq’
‘What?!’ Jingle bells is playing loud for the umpteenth time.. I peer at his bit of paper to get it right. Tablet still wont play. I ask the girl at the counter and she wordlessly gives me a slip of paper. A different login! God.. can’t believe they issue each an individual login. An hour later I discover something else - it lasts an hour, and costs $3. Control freaks.
Dinghy back to PW - still in the right place - but the big catamaran I was not that far from yesterday was now much further away, and right on top of the German boat in the anchorage. So his anchor was must be dragging. The weird thing was, there he was fiddling around with his huge outboard and not in the slightest bit concerned that he was 20’ from the next boat, even though we all swing through 180 degrees each tide. By evening, he could probably have jumped across he was that close, but still unperturbed. Uh?
Sunday, 21 December 2014 A VISION OF PARADISE
Sunny and warm, East wind.
Went ashore on the bike to have a look at ‘Paradise Island’, the much vaunted destination for monied tourists.
Renamed Purgatory Island. Gated hotels, guards, passes, watched wherever you go, fought my way through to the other side by cycling where I shouldn’t along ‘Authorised personnel only’. Arrived on Jetski Beach, but turned back by a guard when I tried to walk along the promenade. All belongs to the hotels. Couldn’t wait to get off this Island.
So cycled back out again, walking up across the connecting bridge as the gear cable had finally rusted through and now stuck in top gear, and went back down to the waterfront I went to yesterday, where it was quiet but real.