Skipper Steve is not a happy skipper. The weather forecast promised north west winds of ten to fifteen knots. Instead we are slogging into headwinds spawned out of somewhere near Hades, which appears to be south east of us – the direction that we are trying to go.
And to make things just that little bit spicier, the autohelm unit on the boat is intermittently shutting off. The autohelm is a small computer unit that automatically steers the boat on a compass course preset by the user. Without it, the helmsperson has to steer the boat themselves – a rather draining job, considering we are moving 24 hours a day.
By 11pm, Steve has had enough, and steers us across Turks Passage to the banks just south of Grand Turks Island. Ellie navigates us across the shallow banks to a small uninhabitated island called Cotton Cay. The island is low lying, so gives only minimal shelter from the wind, but there is no swell here. We drop anchor and head down for some sleep. It will be an early start tomorrow.
We have found the root cause of all our grief over the last 48 hours – a very clogged diesel intake pipe. Again most of the day was taken up with recovering from the sleepless two days of sailing from Emerald Bay Marina in The Exumas to Turks and Caicos, and cleaning up the mess caused by our bodge jobs on the diesel tank. We hope that now that the primary filter on the end of the diesel pipe is clean, that we will have no more troubles.
Once we were finally finished sorting out the mess, we went to a nearby restaurant for dinner. It turned out to be a most…um…educational experience.
The restaurant is called Shark Bite. Larger than life shark-shaped decals and inflatable toys adorn the walls inside. I feel almost nervous as I step on an unavoidably large, open shark mouth painted with bright white teeth and gaudy pink gums on the varnished wooden floor of the bar area closest to the front entrance.
To our right as we enter the bar area is a dark corner with a door hiding in the shadows. Purple, green, and red neon light seeps out, reflecting in long shards across the shiny bar floor. A skinny man with dark skin and scraggy dredlocks scurries out, momentarily cutting off the neon reflection. He throws a sideways glance towards the bar as he brushes past us out of the main entrance. Must be the room for the slot machines.
We head straight on past the bar and the inflatable sharks to the wooden deck area out back. The deck is supported by wooden pylons out into the marina. Kids are leaning over the railing throwing fries to the small fish below, the fish sloshing about the surface to compete for the free feed. A skinny pale-skinned redhead boy chucks a handful of salad over. He wipes under his nose with a greasy finger and pulls at his loose shorts absently as he watches the fishs’ disinterest in the salad with intrigue. No doubt making note that fish do indeed prefer fries to salad.
We take our seats at a table next to the railing, far enough from the kids as to not be accidentally covered with flying fish-food.
We are greeted heartily by a middle-aged guy with a chest the size of a whiskey barrel. It appears that he must have drunk half a barrel of the said whiskey. His companions, a vivacious woman equally top heavy, and a balding man with a number one crew cut and large eyes and large gut, echo the greeting. It appears that they must have polished off the other half of the said whiskey. They are British. Steve and Ellie are British. The trio are from east London. Steve and Ellie are from east London. I deduce that this is going to get very loud, very quickly.
Wiskey Barrel tells stories of his various run ins with the law in England, and how he is now glad to be living in Switzerland – the only land that is truely free. As the night wears on it becomes clear that this is not your average family on a holiday. Welcome to the world of the ultra-rich.
Whiskey Barrel mentions in passing his buying a resort in the Bahamas for US$1.5 million, and selling it soon after for US$11 million. His wife, the top heavy blonde sex goddess (“Never get on a boat alone with this woman for three weeks. I did and was reduced to a ragged dog” he spouts) was owner of a prominent UK business. She expounds the merits of botox, willingly giving away the secrets of her 30 year-old-looking 50 year old body. All the while Whiskey Barrel’s hands and eyes devour her at any opportune moment – of which there are seemingly all too many. “See that?” he asks me, pointing at the clear definition of her hamstring muscles at the outside of her upper thigh. “Perfect!” He exudes, eyes rivited on her leg.
“Um. Yeah. Nice.” I stutter. I can’t say that I have been that particular about the outside of a woman’s upper thigh before.
Crew Cut is Wiskey Barrel’s brother. He is employed by Whiskey Barrel. In a moment of opportunity while his brother is at the loo, Crew Cut admits that his brother is out of his league. But he is enjoying the lifestyle along side his brother, beaming with pride as he mentions his 19 year old girlfriend (he looks at least 40).
I sit mostly mute for the four hours spent at the restaurant. Much of the conversation is about the state of England ( !@#$% ‘in health and safety, !@#$% coppers, !@#$% government). The language used is colourful, certain colours being used rather repeitivley and with very generous, loud brush strokes.
The other guests on the deck eat quickly and leave after sensing that their unapproving looks will not deter the Brits from their heated dialogues.
Most of our drinks have been shouted by the trio, and the final bill for them is at least four times what we paid for our meal. Steve and Ellie enjoyed the evening, reveling in like-minded east Londoners. I finished the night a little overwhelmed. Educated, you might say, on the drinking and social ways of the east Londoner.
The night of Day 432:
Waves of nausea attack me as I struggle to keep grip on the handle of diesel-soaked screwdriver handle. I curse myself for absently wiping the back of my hand under my nose to wipe away the sweat that is flowing in droplets down my face. Now every breath reeks even more of diesel.
I have been stuck down in the bowels of this yacht for an hour now, wrestling with a fuel blockage that has been causing hell for us. It is 2am in the morning. We re being hit by squall line after squall line. Winds of up to 40 knots. Short frequency 2m swell. In these conditions, you want to have an engine that works.
Steve has diagnosed the problem as a blocked fuel filter caused by dirty diesel. The problem is that we have replaced both the primary filter and the secondary filter, and the engine is still giving us grief. The only way out now is to re-route the fuel line for the generator to the main engine. This fuel line draws from about 5cm from the bottom of the fuel tank, meaning that it won’t pick up any gunk that might block the fuel filters.
The result of this re-route is that the engine is now running smoother. We should be able to make it to Turks and Caicos under power.
The engine is running smoothly still, and we are heading for Turtle Cove marina in the Turks and Caicos Islands. We caught a barracouda today, but threw it back. Apparently they don’t make for good eating.
Distance sailed today:297 NM
Total distance sailed: 297 NM
Midnight GPS position: N 23.20 W074.33
Wind: SE Wind Force 2-3
Sea state: Calm to slight
…self assured and adventurous. Hmmmm. Yes. That’s what I’m looking for in a woman…
…marine eingineer? Perhaps in that line of work I could go and work and live in the Middle East for bit. That’d be interesting…
…perhaps I should fly to Barbados. Get my visa and fly to the US. So much faffing about with this ‘no flying’ caper…
…definitely has to be a New Zealand girl. Mind you, I’ve met a few along the way so far who in the right circumstances…
…must find out more about that community development course in Canada…
…hmmmm…once that pension rebate comes through from Japan, I should be just about right to make it back to New Zealand…
…”Rest doesn’t neccessarily mean sleep, Rob. Just laying there is rest”…wise man, that Joe…
My bow cabin is no place to be at night when the bow is slamming into the swell, sending my innards into states of weightlessness at irregular, totally random intervals. Sleep would not come to me. No matter how much I tried to focus on a tree or a rock or a tomato or a…a anything that would stop my racing thoughts and get me to sleep.
I study my worn wrist watch in the half light of the full moon’s rays that are invading my dark cabin. The logos in which I once placed some kind of security and confidence in are gone. Worn away by constant exposure to the sun and shirt sleves and wind. I find a new pride in the worn-ness of the watch.
Pulling myself back to the reason why I bothered looking at the worn watch, I notice it is only 2030 hours. The watch is set at 24 hour time. A habit I never bothered getting out of once I left Japan. The dim green glow of the backlight shows the seconds indicator making its dutiful progress around the perimeter of the watch face.
Two and a half hours until my night watch begins.
…my name is Rob. I am a middle child…
…should it be a novel or non-fiction…
I try to will myself to sleep. It doesn’t work. My mind flashes back and forth between still to be fulfilled future possibilities. This is it, I tell myself. This is it. Sleep. My mind comes closer to the present and plays out in full colour the dialogue that I will have with Steve when I emerge from the below decks to relieve him of his watch. “You sleep well?” he will ask.
“Now Steve, you are making an assumption. You are assuming I slept at all.” That is how I will answer. I will tell him that I did not sleep at all. How he reacts to that is not part of my mind’s pre-enactment of the dialogue. My mind is happy just to play over and over and over the first bit of dialogue. And then eventually back to the never ending rotation of seemingly random thoughts…
…when will I see my family again? It has been over two years. Will I stay or will I yearn to be back out there…
…primary school teacher, yes, that could be doable…
…how about hotel management…work on a cruise ship…good money working at sea…
…I love land too much though…
…speaking of love…
Some good news, and some bad news this morning. The good news is that it looks as thought the tropical storm that is forming in the Atlantic is heading directly north, so will probably miss us. The bad news is that despite a good solid day of fault finding, we have not been able to work out the problem with our Raymarine SR100 Sirius Satellite Weather Forecasting system on the boat.
At the beginning of the trip, we noticed that one of the buttons on the Raymarine E120 Display on the boat was not working, so we did a factory reset on the unit to see if that helped. It didn’t, and in the process it seems to have caused the unit to stop showing us the weather updates. We have called Raymarine and Sirius, but nothing that has been suggested is helping. Looks as though we will have to just make do with the satellite radio instead.
In the afternoon Ellie and I went for a wander on the beach behind the marina.
Calm and shallow:
Deep and rough:
I was on full alert last night on my night watch. This boat has a draft of 2.1m. Most of my watch, we were sailing through 3m of water. That means that the very bottom of the boat was clearing the bottom by only 90cm.
“See that pink line?” Steve asked while pointing at the small GPS monitor as I came onto my watch. “Don’t stray from it.”
We were navigating through a shallow channel between rocks and sand bars. At times I could see the white sandy bottom of the sea from the light shining from the stern light.
My night watch finished at 4am, and I was glad to hand things over to First Mate Ellie. By morning we were still navigating through the shallows of the Exuma Islands. The shallow water aside however, the surrounding water was like liquid emerald jems.
This soon changed however once we were on the Atlantic side of the Exuma chain of islands. We were back into 2,000m plus depth of water, the wind on our nose and the short frequency waves pounding the boat. Steve decided to put us into port for the night in order to check weather forecasts. We endured the tough seas until we could fetch Emerald Bay Marina. For US$2.25 per foot of boat length a night, we enjoyed the facilities of this brand new marina. The weather forecasts were not good – possible cyclones, disorganised thunder storms, and worse, a named tropical storm heading our way across the Atlantic.
Distance sailed today:17 NM
Total distance sailed: 17 NM
Midnight GPS position: N 24.59 W077.10
Wind: E Wind Force 2
Sea state: Calm
The marina at Marsh Harbour consists of lots of poles sticking up out of the water. If you want to moor up, you go along side the poles and tie up. The only problem is that once tied up, it is rather difficult to get the ropes off the high poles. We had our fair share of manouvering and re-manouvering to get out of the marina, however the boat’s bow thruster helped to no end. One push of a button and the bow of the boat would come swinging around in the direction that Steve wanted it. A great piece of engineering.
In fact, the whole boat is a marvel of engineering. Technology engineering that is. The main computer display near the helm of the boat shows all sorts of handy goodies. Radar, charts including GPS waypoints and recommended routes, live satelite weather maps, bow video feed…everything you could want. A great navigational aid.
Coming away from Marsh Harbour and Abacos Island, we were in very shallow water. With only 1.5 metres of water below the keel of the boat, it was a bit too exciting. Once clear of the islands however, the depth quickly dropped to over 3,000 metres.
My first impressions of being on the Jeanneau 42DS mono hull sailboat are that it is fast, wobbly, and very luxurious. The beds are super comfy, and you need them to be so; a mono hull rocks back and forth much more than the catamaran. I doubt I will be able to cook anything as fancy as the cooking I did on the catamaran.
When I awoke, the small prop plane was nose-diving at an angle so steep that the steward was half hauling himself up the aisle in a rush to get back to his seat. Before the flight on the tarmac at Miami International Airport he was jovial. “Welcome aboard,” he said into his mouth piece. “Today’s flight will take, ahhh, slightly shorter than the time it took you to check in.”
Now, he was giving the passengers a half smile, trying to put them at ease. It wasn’t working on me. I was 70% certain that something had gone terribly wrong. The descent angle was very steep. My heart was in my mouth as I saw the tops of the spindly trees come closer.
At the last moment the airplane pulled up and the back wheels thumped into the rough packed gravel runway. Looking back, a dark storm could was approaching fast from the direction that we had just come from. The pilot had outrun it, and skilfully put us down on the ground in front of it.
I stepped out of the plane into an atmosphere of ease and carefree. The airport was a fenceless dirt runway. A lone cream coloured building waited in the sun for the passengers, shaded by a brown tiled roof with large overhanging eaves. This was my introduction to the islands of the Bahamas.
We are currently enjoying a few days here in the Marsh Harbour Marina getting the boat ready to head out towards Tortola. The boat is very well equipped with very good inbuilt navigation equipment, air conditioning, flat scree TV, DVD player…rather nice indeed.
So now we are provisioned up, and planning to leave tomorrow. I am excited and eager to see how it is to sail a mono hull sailboat.
I find myself once again thrown into a mad rush of dizzying proportions. I am now in the USA. In Miami. But tomorrow I won’t be. I will be in the Bahamas on Abacos Island. Confused yet? So am I.
Basically, Reliance Yacht Management (www.reliance-yachts.com) have been really great and have paid all my flights and a night at a hotel here in Miami, as part of my travel expenses to get to Abacos Island in the Bahamas to help out as crew on another yacht delivery, this time from the Bahamas back to the British Virgin Islands (BVIs). That’s right, I just came from the BVIs today.
But hey, I will get to see some great islands along the way, spend some more time with Steve and Ellie – the greatest delivery team in the world – and get some more sailing experience. This time on a mono hull.
I leave you with evidence of my protest at overpriced airport food at the US Virgin Islands airport; I forgot about the overpriced burgers and other food, and just got a big pot of mashed potato. This is smothered in free ketchup and sweet pickles. Not too bad at US$3.50.
Well, we are all done. The boat has been inspected by the Catamaran Company (www.catamarans.com), the company to whom we were delivering, and we given a glowing report for the clean state of the boat.
The rest of today was spent lounging on the beach. Just what I needed to get my body clock back into sync after the rather sporadic sleep patterns that come with sailing.