Sunday, March 26, 2017

The Winds of Change

We are waiting out a minor blow anchored on the west side of Great Harbor Cay. As I type, the cold front is just overhead, big fat drops of rain are bouncing off the deck, and the wind is moaning through the rigging with gusts estimated in the 25 to 30 knot range. Since the bulk of Great Harbor Cay lies between us and the wind, it is a pretty stable ride. It is what we expected, though this whole weather set-up is a little odd. This cold front is the leading edge of a high pressure area passing to the north, so all of the associated winds have been from the north and east.

This would be an ugly place to be if the incoming weather was the more common, cold front related to a low pressure area moving in from the west. If that were the case, one would expect significant west winds and the chance of even higher gusts in possible thunderstorms and down bursts. If there was any real possibility of sustained west winds over the next few days Kintala would be sitting at a dock at Great Harbor Marina, in spite of the $2 / foot / night fee.

Instead, we are tucked up close to a windward shore so it should be comfortable enough. The Mantus anchor is sunk deep into the bottom, only its hoop showing, with 80+ feet of chain laid down. (I love being in clear water. There is a certain amount of comfort to be found when one can look at the anchor and see how well it is set.)

There are at least eight other boats anchored around us. The assumption is that they have made the same assumptions about the weather that we have. It is always reassuring when a bunch of boats anchor up around you when weather is inbound. It isn't a matter of having any control over what the weather is doing, only an indication that one has chosen wisely in response to the motions of sky and ocean.

That is close to the bottom line of what it means to be a cruiser. The only thing we really control is how we respond to completely indifferent winds and seas. There is no malevolence involved. There is no benevolence involved. This bit of ocean and island were here millions of years before the first human sailboat dropped a hook nearby to hide from an east wind. They will likely be around millions of years after the constituent molecules of the last human sailboat (or the last human for that matter) have dissolved back into the water, air, and earth.

After this weather passes, Kintala will be headed west once again, sailing into the waters of the US within just a couple of weeks. By that time I suspect I will have started checking the news again, at least once in a while. I don't expect there to be anything new since the last time I looked. Word of anything major, say the current POTUS acting like a rational, adult human being, would have certainly trickled down to us somehow.

The feeling among all of the people we have chatted with in the Islands, and most of the cruisers we have run across (including one from the great dysfunctional state of Texas) is that the current administration is a kind of monstrous anomaly. “How could this have happened?” being a common refrain. It is not a view I happen to share.

The current administration may be a particularly crass and clownish expression of American politics, but it is still consistent with much of American mythology and ideology. Both political parties see consumerism as a valid economic policy. Both see crony capitalism, deeply influenced by corruption and influence peddling, as a perfectly acceptable means of managing a nation. The Republican partly and the controlling wing of the Democratic party both act as if running a nation as a business is the only proper approach to government.

With that idea, our government works based on the view that most Americans (and virtually every other human being on the planet) are nothing more than a resource to be ruthlessly exploited for the benefit of the few. Benefits like healthcare, education, clean water, and retirement income, are exclusively for those who rule, rewards for clutching the levers of corporate or political power. The current administration is particularly adept at highlighting this belief, making even the deranged kings and sociopathic potentates of by-gone ages look like humble and caring public servants.
The crony capitalism of America doesn't work anymore. Corruption is rapidly undermining any legitimacy government claims for itself. Even “normal” capitalism doesn't work when most of a nation's labor is automated. Put millions of truck drivers out of a job, have the vast majority of their wages concentrated in the hands of the individual who invented the auto-truck, and repeat for clerks, accountants, doctors, factory workers, technical advisers...incomes once distributed over millions upon millions of households now concentrated in the hands of a few. Capitalism is being twisted into outright oppression before our very eyes, and many of us are victims. But such a corrupted capitalism serves the purposes of an insular and fossilized government/corporate elite quite well. They could choose a different path, but it would mean surrendering power and treasure. Neither of which they will be inclined to do, at least, not of their own volition.

War does not work as war once did. Nearly every war since WWII has been an open-ended conflict, resolving nothing, settling nothing, defeating no one, just sort of petering out leaving open wounds that soon fester into some new war. Yet war is now American government's single most defining characteristic. In America, spending on human issues is curtailed in order to fund the war machine. Threatening war is the only diplomatic policy, engaging in war the last throw of the dice to keep a faltering economic system barely functioning.

In spite of decades of continuous failures both parties continue to subscribe to the politics of capitalism, imperialism, authoritarianism, and militarism. Everyone in government insists that what is good for them is good for the rest of the world, that what is good for (some) Americans is good for all of humanity.

Those illusions, those policies, are at the root of American's fading from the leading edge of history, its loss of place in the family of nations. But anyone who dares suggest such a thing, particularly on a national stage, is instantly and relentlessly attacked by the most efficient and effective propaganda machine the world has ever seen. Anyone who refuses to toe the line of “American Exceptionalism” finds it nearly impossible to get elected to the office of Dog Catcher of Podunksville, Boondocks; let alone any national office. There are a very, very few exceptions. Party wonks and corporate media ensure that they are feeble voices echoing in mostly empty rooms.

Only a radical change of world view, a near complete rejection of the politics that have ruled America for the past half century or more, will mark any chance of the US once again being on the leading edge of progress toward a future that holds some promise. An American government that sees itself as one part of a complex web of human interaction, that values wisdom and understanding, and knows that compromise and capitulation are not the same thing, could help fulfill such promise. It would also be the only approach that would help the nation safely navigate the changes of a radically evolving, global human society. For, whatever is around the corner, none of the economic, political, or militaristic forms of the past will suffice.

That radical evolution, much like the movement of the sky and the sea, is beyond the influence of any single nation, and certainly any individual. In a way it, also, is neither malevolent nor benevolent. It is simply the way things are unfolding in this tiny corner of the universe, like a incoming cold front or a building high pressure area. Navigating safely through takes accepting that such an evolution is inevitable, and making wise choices in response. This is not to say that governments, including that of the US at the moment, can't be malevolent. Only that the overall evolution of human kind is ongoing with no particular guidance other than what we provide for ourselves.

Completely fading from the picture, as a nation, is also an option - just like any individual sailor could chose to anchor on the other side of the cay, close to a lee shore, and risk loosing everything should the anchor slip in the dark hours of the night. The earth, like the rest of the cosmos, is utterly indifferent to the existence of the entire human family, let alone any single group living inside a set of contrived and temporary boarders, walls notwithstanding. Should we make the unfortunate choices that land us on the rocks, the rest of the cosmos will not even shrug.

Clearly American government isn't up to the challenge of making wise choices at the moment. Maybe it never will be again. Maybe, after years of self-indulgent hubris, arrogance, and self-imposed ignorance, America's political machine is too badly broken to be repaired. That is also just a part of the unfolding world that is beyond the influence of any individual. Something each of us needs to take into account as we make our own, personal, choices.

 The cut into the Great Harbour Cay Marina

 Very cool retro loaner bikes from the marina

Love this Tings Necessary sign

 The calm before the storm

 The Beach Club restaurant on one of the prettiest beaches in GHC

 The view from the Beach Club Restaurant table

The channel into GHC Marina is in the background

 Top of the cliff at the caves

Not a very good picture, but this is the first hamburger bean I've ever found after looking for 4 years

Tuesday, March 21, 2017


We're in a marina for a night and they actually have fast enough wifi to upload some videos, so enjoy!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Lonely Places

“What the hell am I doing?”

I don't have that thought often, never had it back when I made a living in the sky. Even if I had back then, no Pilot in Command has ever expressed such a feeling out loud while performing the duties of his or her trade. But, half way between the west cost of Abaco Island and Great Harbor Cay, at 2300 on a pitch black night, and out on the bow of a sailboat pitching and rolling in five foot hissing seas, there is no one around to hear such an admission of doubt.

What I was doing was trying to get the jib on deck without dropping a sheet off the heaving boat to get tangled in the prop. That would have been a sure way to make a bad night even worse. There was a better than even chance that the entire sail was about to end up in the water to get tangled in the prop. That would have been an even surer way to make a bad night worse. The surest way to make the night the worst one possible would have been to end up tangled in the sail and join it the water myself which, at the moment of the expletive quoted above was uttered, seemed the most likely outcome. For, at that moment, the boat had rolled hard to starboard, I was sliding off the Ding toward the water, jib halyard trying its best to break my left wrist while I tried to gather in the falling sail with my right arm. Compared to me at that moment, a one legged man in an ass kicking contest would be a potent and capable adversary.

Sunrise leaving Lynard Cay

I have been in a lot of lonely places - a late night solo motorcycle run along the south rim of the Grand Canyon on Route 40 in Arizona, sitting in the single seat of a show plane over a desolate part of Canada while thunderstorms pushed me toward the tops of the pine trees, trying to nurse a King Air back to a cloud-shrouded runway with one engine running and the other locked up with a prop that wouldn't feather - places where there was no one around to help and no opinion but my own that mattered. I can now add the foredeck of Kintala headed to the Berry Islands to that list. (It is, by the way, a very long list. I am sometimes amazed I lived long enough to try this cruising thing.)

We were not supposed to be there. The plan had been to leave Lynyard Cay for a long day sail to the southwest side of Abaco Island. There we would anchor up for the night, making Great Harbor the next day. The first part worked out okay. We left Lynyard at dawn and motored through the cut out into the open Atlantic amid a small group of other, like-minded sailors. Winds were out of the NE with waves of four feet on a five second period. Ugly for anyone headed upwind but not bad for anyone headed the other way. With two reefs in the main and the jib flying, Kintala often showed better than 6 knots for much of the day.

With daylight to spare, we swung around the south point of Abaco island and closed on the anchorage. There was a disagreement between the Navionics and Garmin charts as to there being enough water for our 5 foot draft. The water itself didn't look promising and Deb just wouldn't go in there as an experiment. I halfheartedly disagreed. A pilot who refuses to trust published charts is useless and, likely, soon to be departing this earthly realm. (Much, it is assumed, to the disappointment of his passengers.) But the fact was the water really did look shallow, and I wasn't interested in risking everything I own in this world on Navionics' insistence that the water was deep enough being correct while Garmin told a different story. And before anyone lauds the fact that Garmin is better in the Bahamas since it is base on the Explorer charts, our experience has shown that, in fact, Navionics is actually the more accurate one. The fact that I can't trust published charts is a part of the marine world that just drives me bonkers. I would make a bet that the US military knows the depth of the water world wide to within a few inches but, somehow, that information is too sensitive to share. Which also drives me bonkers.

With no other good option showing itself on the charts, and several hours of daylight left with which to make some hay, we decided to keep going toward Great Harbor. It was an impromptu “all night sail” decision, some of which have worked out okay for us...and some of which have decidedly not. The worst sail we have had since leaving on Kintala occurred in this same area our first year out. But out of options is out of options. Onward.

At first all was well. Sailing far off the wind on just the jib, Kintala was hauling the mail. There were times when the boat speed nearly touched 9 knots, though the GPS showed a more reasonable 7+. Which is still hauling the mail on a night run with the waves hissing by and the boat rolling 50 degrees or so. Deb had the wind vane working and was keeping the watch. I was on the cockpit floor trying to stay warm and hoping to get a little sleep before taking over.

Cruise ship traffic complicated navigation a bit. As far off the wind as we were sailing, and the speed at which we were going, narrowed the compass headings we could safely hold. Several of the light-flooded behemoths (I think there were seven in total) passed less than 1.5 miles away. A couple wouldn't answer our radio calls to ensure that they knew we were nearby. As the night wore on, the winds, already higher than forecast, picked up up even more, stoking the waves as well. From my vantage point from the floor of the cockpit, the white caps on the waves were just about even with Deb's shoulders as she sat braced in at the helm. I was almost glad the moon wasn't up yet so I couldn't really see what we were sailing in.

The heaving, rolling, Nantucket sleigh ride we were on started messing with the jib, which began to slat and bang at times, shock loading the rig and sending shivers through the boat (and crew), all while crashing through the water at hull speed. With a cruise ship too near to windward to be comfortable, and fearing an accidental jibe if we fell off any further, we decided to wake the Beast, roll in the jib, and get off this ride.

For the second time since we left the dock on this trip, the furling line back lashed and jammed.
And so I found myself in one of the loneliest places in the world, where there is no one else in the universe and time flows at its own rate. I was up there for hours, though only a few minutes passed for the rest of the world before I flopped back into the cockpit with the task complete and Kintala back under some semblance of control. All I could think to say to Deb was, “Hi Honey, I'm home.”
A massive Adrenalin hit will do strange things to your sense of humor.

With the deck completely fouled, we were counting on the Beast to behave and carry us through the rest of the night, which it did without complaint. At 0230 in the morning we had turned the corner around Great Harbor, finally putting a chunk of land between us and the wind and waves. Deb tip-toed Kintala in among the anchored boats while I pawed through the disaster on deck to toss the hook. I was cold, wet, and exhausted, and extremely happy to be tossing the hook at 0230 in Great Harbor.

The next morning we woke moving slow, both of us sore from the adventures of the night before. Still, before the day was done the deck was straightened up, with all sails serviceable once again, lines run and stowed, and the Ding in the water. We even managed a short run into town for some provisions, and discovered the little market sold ice cream. We enjoyed a dish full each, celebrating a safe return from one of the lonely places.

The anchorage at Great Harbour Cay

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

A little bit of ugly

Kintala departed Marsh Harbor five days ago, in the afternoon after the unexpected rain and wind. It had calmed down considerably so I didn't need my grown up sailor pants. The short day meant we spent the night off of Tiloo Cay. The next day we made it to Lynyard Cay to stage for the trip to the Berry Islands. When the weather forecast went sour we put the Berry Islands off for a couple of days and backtracked a couple of miles to a place called Pelican Point. It looked like an okay place to sit, waiting for the next weather window. I got out my grown up sailor pants again, figuring we could handle a little weather anchored up in a pretty place.

Underway from Tilloo to Lynard cay

After two nights and one long day of an ugly swell, constant rolling, and winds gusting in the high 20s (again), I put my grown up sailor pants back in the bin and we got out of there. Just getting the hook back on board was a challenge. Deb constantly fought the winds to drive us up over the rode. Right after I got the snubber unhooked and stowed, the wind pushed us off to the side enough that I called for idle to get lined up again. Pushed back by the wind Kintala hit the end of her chain so hard that the clutch on the windlass couldn't hold, stripping chain out of the locker at a scary pace. That fire drill was quelled by prodding the Beast, the chain went slack, the bow dipped and swung in the swell, and the chain jumped the roller. Cue fire drill number two.

Sunrise this morning at Pelican Point

Anchor safely on board with all toes and fingers accounted for, we motored south out of Pelican Bay looking for refuge. Little Harbor Bay was even worse than Pelican Point, with a huge swell running through the cut. Little Harbor itself looked very crowded. We are unsure of the entrance and, truth to tell, I'm getting tired of paying someone $20-30 / day for the privilege of walking across their parking lot after I drop my anchor on the bottom of the ocean. (I don't need their parking lot, can't use their parking lot and, in fact, wish their parking lot was a stand of palm trees instead.) Sometimes the charge is for a mooring ball. I don't really need their mooring ball either and, in most places, would trust my ground tackle more than whatever it is they tossed into the water a couple of years ago and haven't looked at since. (I know, I know, mooring balls are supposed to mean you can pack more boats in there. Something I might believe if I had never been to Back Creek.)

Heading back north Lynyard Cay looked ugly and bumpy, in addition to being a lee shore. Tiloo was also a lee shore, looked crowded, and is exposed to west winds. We could see waves breaking on the rocks from two miles out.

Sunset last night at Pelican Point

Five hours after leaving Pelican bay we anchored less than a mile from where we were five days ago in Marsh Harbor, though we are on the other side of the Island. It was a bit of a long and unexpected day, but we are glad to be settled in protected from the winds (still blowing) and swell. (There is no cut immediately to the east of us.) The only poor decision that we made was staying in Pelican Bay as long as we did. My hope was that the wind switch to the west and north west would dampen out the swell, but it didn't work out that way. We thought we could stick it out, no matter how bad, until tomorrow. But 24 hours of motion sickness will be among the longest 24 hours in memory.

There were a lot of boats on the move in the southern Abaco Sea today. Several looked to be doing the exact same thing we were, northbound and looking for a place to be. A couple were headed south; it would be interesting to know where they end up tonight.

Tonight Kintala will be sitting pretty, with her crew well fed and catching up on some much needed sleep. If the weather turns better as forecast, we will head back to Lynyard Cay in the morning, gliding along on a modest north wind rather than motor-bashing into it. Friday – Saturday will be the run to Great Harbor in the Berry Islands. From there we will start the official trek back toward the States, next season's job, and time with friends and family.

But there is no telling how long it will take to get there; with or without my grown up sailor pants.

 The shore from the anchorage at Lynard Cay

 The anchorage at Lynard Cay - a good place to learn about shallow water having different color

 The Atlantic side of Lynard Cay. This little opening was funneling all sorts of trash onto the beach.

 Kintala is out there in the middle of the anchorage

 I never tire of staring at this water. All water should look like this. It looks like melted glass.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Big Sailor pants...

So we checked the weather yesterday and, with the exception of a few rain showers, it looked good for leaving in the morning. This morning we checked the weather again - same forecast. The sky, however, suggested that maybe someone didn't have the weather picture completely in focus. The big puffies building to our north and east sure looked to me like something that might ride along the edge of an incoming cold front. But I have been feeling like a real weather weenie lately, hiding while part timers are out galloping around. There were big patches of blue sky and, well, there was the forecast. Time to put my grown up sailor pants on and go sailing.

Red in the morning...

We did need fuel and water. The fuel dock opens at 0900. We got there around 0830 to start filling up the water tanks while waiting on the fuel guy. Crew from a charter company had one of their boats on the dock as well, getting it tanked up for the next customer. They caught our lines and we stood around talking for a few minutes. As usual they made fun of the madman in the White House, subtly suggesting that America looks a bit like the largest collection of fools in the civilized world. And, as usual, we really did try to explain that the man isn't all that popular, that most of us didn't vote for him, that we were all hoping he wouldn't be as bad as we feared, and we are pretty disappointed (though some of us not very surprised) that he is even worse. But, what are you going to do?  (Well, you could get on a boat and go visit some place that hasn't lost its collective mind yet. Something the dock guys all agreed sounded like a pretty good idea.)

They went to start pumping fuel into their big cat while we started filling the water tanks. I kept looking at the sky, something I had been doing since we had pulled up the anchor. The blue patches of sky were filling in rapidly, and the big puffies were crowding together pushing a clear wall of lower clouds out ahead of them. Rain shafts fell in the not-too-distant distance.

The wind, which had been calm and made for an easy docking, picked up and pushed Kintala hard against the pilings. Then she healed over as the wind gust hit and the temperature dropped about 10 degrees in half as many minutes. Every monohull in the harbor slewed through 100+ degrees of heading, then leaned back hard against their rodes. The cats all sailed about a bit, apparently confused as to just which way the wind was blowing, but eventually figured it out, got twisted bows into the wind, and leaned back hard against their rodes.

If it looks like a cold front...

With the first gusts fading we muscled our way off the dock. Deb headed us out into the harbor. I took off my grown up sailor pants and put on my foulies. The anchor went overboard and pretty much landed in the same hole it left when we pulled it up this morning. Sixty feet of chain went out as well, none of it piling up as the wind blew us backward. I locked the gypsy, Kintala leaned back and set her own hook without any help from the Beast. I played out a few more feet of chain and set the snubber, which  stretched out all of its own and then sprung us back in a little. Welcome to auto-anchoring.

As I type this, the visibility is a mile or so in rain and the wind is moaning through the rigging.
We will check the weather again tomorrow.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Following crazy

It has been a bit interesting in these parts. The wind, as a friend of ours put it, “has been blowing the oysters off the rocks”... for the last four days. This is the third bout of this kind of wind we have had since getting to the islands. We sat out such a blow in West End, bailed out of Fox Town and rode the wind to Manjack Cay, bailed out of Manjack to hide in Green Turtle, and have now been holed up in Treasure Cay for the better part of a week. With a deadline to be back in the States for visits and work, we are starting to plot the routes to get us there in the brief weather windows it appears Mother Earth is going to offer this year. We are “holed up” in some of the prettiest places around so the weather is just something to plan around.

And to be fair, I should note that it would be entirely possible to move on if we wished. Today, while every single cruiser boat in the mooring field stayed put, three different charter cats motored in from the rumpled up waters of the Abaco sea. Admittedly they were big cats, two of them measuring 52 feet, the other just slightly shorter. A check of company's web sight showed a price tag of about $15,000 / week per boat; so I completely understand their crew's desire to make the most of their time here in the Islands. I will also state, in defense of us weenie cruiser types, that we are headed the other way, and that the cats sailed off the wind and on a following sea to get from their charter base to here. (I will not understand if they head out to take on the Whale in the morning. Even in a 50 foot cat that would be an ugly ride. But who knows? If they do go they will get an “adventure story” to take home when vacation is over.)

In any case, even though we need to get where we need to be, we will simply have to make plans based on the beating we are willing to take in accordance with what the wind and the weather are actually doing; in other words, accept the world for what it is, not insist that it is what we want it to be. Which, if the stories I hear about land dwellers are true, may be a dying skill. More and more people are insisting that the world is what they claim, even if there is considerable evidence to the contrary.

People who do that are, to me, at least a tiny bit insane. I'm not sure how they get that way. It isn't like one can stand out in 30 knot winds, boat bouncing around, hair (if one has some – which I don't) flying about, sheets flapping, waves streaked with white, and say, “I don't believe the wind is blowing, it is a nice, calm day.” Well, I guess one could, but any thinking person standing next to them would likely mumble something neutral while offering a “What is wrong with you?” look.
And if the crazy one decides that such a nice day is a good day for rolling out all of the sails for some reason, everyone in the anchorage (especially those down wind) are going to know there is a lunatic among them. Heads would shake, perhaps some comments would get traded on the VHF, and surely someone would post a picture of the madness on Facebook or make a comment on Twitter. (That is how Twitter works, right?)

Should that one then decide to go some place, manage to get out of the bay in one piece, and heads off into the elephants dancing on the horizon, no one in the anchorage is going to say to themselves, “Hey the wind really isn't blowing, I think I'll follow along.” After all, the ocean is a bit Darwinian in that way. The crazy, and those who follow the crazy, usually end up sharing the same, sad, fate.

In my experience the cruising tribe isn't big on crazy. Different? Sure. We live a different kind of life than most. Odd? Perhaps. But what counts for “normal”, long work weeks to earn enough money to finance stuff not really needed and not often used, doesn't seem to strike most of the tribe as attractive. Wanderers? Maybe. But the earth is a tiny speck of dust in a massive cosmos. In reality none of us ever gets too far away from “home.” Seeing some of what there is to see, learning something about ourselves, and getting to know others who share this little speck floating in the void, seems like a pretty fair deal. We also get a chance to experience a bit of that massive cosmos, feel a brush of the magic, and learn what the word “awe”really means. No cruiser I have ever known or heard about thinks that the time they spent on the water made them less of a person, diminished them in some way, or shrunk the size of their heart or spirit.

But ignoring what the world is really doing, pretending it is something it isn't? No, not our thing. We are also not big on following. Almost by definition a cruiser is someone who has gone off on their own way.

And following crazy? That is definitely not our thing.