The relaxation spectrum

Well.....it was Valentine’s Day.

Sailing can reward both end of the relaxation spectrum and the change from one polar to the other can be swift. This morning we are at the smiley end.

Anchored off a quiet sandy Eleuthera beach, we are the only boat in the anchorage. There’s zero wind so little point in moving as we’d be motoring. The sun beats, we had a morning ‘naughty but nice’ skinny dip, not done that for a while but it felt good. Dinner cooks in the pressure cooker for this evening, the fridge raw water intake strainer has been cleaned, l have a new book on the go and the larger part of day lies ahead. More swimming, perhaps a snorkel around the rocks, some paddle boarding, a bit of work and all of a sudden it will be 6pm. The second coat of paint required on the boat ceiling will be ignored till a later day. Forget any ‘top up’ varnishing.

It’s not always this seemingly idyllic painted picture, the other end of the spectrum can arrive swiftly. We were anchored in Governors Harbour, a place where the holding has a reputation for being poor, meaning anchors don’t set too well. It took us a couple of attempts to get ours to behave. We have an anchoring routine. Dull but methodical! It can take some time rather just lobbing the anchor out and retiring for tea and medals. Dave did a quick snorkel to check it had dug in okay and wasn’t just teasing us. As this can happen. To any boaters.

Later the same evening, we went across to another boat for chats and beverages. Beverages is a word I have picked up through spending time in the States and Canada. It’s not in my usual speech quiver but I quite like it. Beverages.

The sun had long gone, the wind picked up and a squall came through. Their boat was no longer in the same place, it was drifting rapidly downwind towards the shore, thankfully dancing smoothly around the bow of another boat. It was close(ish). In what seemed like the time it takes a for the british parliament to reject a Theresa May Brexit proposal, the boat was hard aground. No amount of engine power was shifting that baby. The best anchor of all, the hull, was stopping that boat going anywhere. And inevitably the tide was on its way down.

Soaked to the skin by now and quite cold, Dave and I hopped in our dinghy and went back to Grace, changed and gathered some resources……kedge anchor, 100m of line, large knife, head torches, the BIG torch, VHF radio, think that’s the complete list.

Over the next two hours, we play a few rounds of the anchoring winching game. The boat wasn’t shifting much but when the game ended, two anchors were laid out in deeper water. It was then a case of letting the moon and earth do their thing and wait for the tide to rise. We went to bed about midnight and grounded crew were able to winch in a bit on each anchor line until around 2.30am the boat broke free and was able to do what boats do best, float.

We were happy to help. That relaxation spectrum can change quickly. So stay away from too many beverages.

….and an unrelated picture. Well it was Valentine’s Day. 😀

Eleuthera

One of our clients in the UK is Skanska. They know a thing or two about civil engineering, tunnels, buildings and bridges being part of their portfolio. They cropped up in our conversation as walked to a bridge in northern Eleuthera. The road bridge sits on a particularly narrow piece of land, the wild indigo Atlantic on one side, the protected translucent sea of Eleuthera on the other, the sea flowing under the bridge from blue to green. It’s a remarkable place. Said bridge connects the north of the island to the south along the regally named Queen’s Highway. And to be strictly accurate it also connects the south to the north for you pedants out there.

The reason we went to look at the bridge is a little while ago, a rogue wave hit it and the construction shunted in a south westerly direction around seven feet. The bridge now appears to be in a constant state of repair but it is in use, single file only. In an age where you don’t get much for nothing, its a road that comes with free jeopardy. Serves you right if you’re driving along looking aimlessly at your phone wondering if anyone has sent you a photo or message or a cute photo of a dancing polar bear in spotty dotty pink lycra and then oops, there’s no bridge, or road, only gravity.

I imagined the conversation between the civil engineer who did the sums based on the potential forces involved and his or her line manager. “Well the computer modelling said this. We didn’t account for a massive storm up near Hatteras sending pounding waves south or the explosion of internet polar bear photos.”

We’ve had some great sailing of late, mostly short distances and even our brief forays to windward have been enjoyable. The bays have almost exclusively delivered deep grabby sand and the anchor comes up pleasingly clean. It’s a small thing but it makes for a good start to the day when moving from one place to the next. No anchor cleaning.

Yesterday we went and found a cave near Hatchet Bay. Dave was able to return to his previous student life and scuttle off along side passages and down rickety ladders to a lower watery level. The cave was more substantial than we had expected, with what once would have been an impressive array of stalactites and stalagmites, sadly some now vandalised. It turned into a through trip. The exit was 15 or 20 feet up an old rope ships ladder. It was actually fine but climbing up it, I had no idea how substantial or immovable the rocks or trees or rope that provided the belay were going to be until I got to the top.

Still here so that was all okay.

Double F’s

There are two things on my mind. One lovely and to be cherished, the second incredibly irritating.
1. Friends
2. Flies

Once again, paths have crossed, friendships have grown, good times have been had then it’s time to say goodbye. This phenomenon appears to be one of the inevitable downsides of being sailing transients. Boating lives run parallel for a while then plans no longer align and divergence is inevitable.

It’s happened to us on several occasions in our two and a half years afloat. Paul, Barbara and Julian, Brian and Steph, Phil and Linda, Hugh and Miranda, Danny and Emily and more recently Ali, Karl and the boys.

We first met Betty Ann and Rob in Halifax, Nova Scotia back in July. Grace and Beyond, their boat, departed south on the same day in October and we’ve hopscotched our way to the Bahamas. This week we’ve headed south to Eleuthera, a cracking sail, while they will stay in the Abacos, awaiting visits from family and friends.

In 6 months, they have become good friends and they come with a bundle of fine positive qualities. Rob and Dave both have a penchant for real ale and so that relationship was established in no time!
There will hopefully be other ‘fresh friend collisions’ and new beginnings as we move on but there’s always a bit of sadness as a particular friendship chapter comes to an end.

So that’s the friends bit, now onto number two, flies.

I don’t believe we have any rotting carcasses on board. So where do the blighters come from? We’re anchored maybe 150m from the beach. There’s 20 knots of wind so it’s reasonably breezy. There are no slaughter houses, butchers shops, municipal tips or piles of unpleasantness within site. Or any buildings or people for that matter. We’re anchored off the west of Little Egg Island. All alone.

Yet for the last 30 minutes I’ve been on fly killing patrol in the cabin with a rolled up newspaper and a spirit of vengefulness. Dave says what we need is a good hard frost to kill them off. Not too sure about that one as I am currently enjoying sun and warmth. Although I do like a hearty walk on a cold frosty day in the UK.

I have dispatched close to 30. I know, that’s hideous. It’s good training to keep your reactions swift. That’s me trying to see a positive in the situation. But I’d rather be chilling out post lunch, reading my book travelling down the Volga river in Russia. Before a trip ashore for a walk and explore.

I still have no answer as to where these flies come from and why they are here. We will sail round to Spanish Wells tomorrow and hopefully any remaining irritants will self-destruct before then.

As a quick footnote. The Bahamas are lovely. Much much nicer than the Caribbean. IMHO.

Take a bow, sir.

Poor Dave. He was casually pulling away from a group of about 16 dinghies, most carrying two people when he unexpectedly  became “the turn”.

It was early evening. The group were participating in what is known in boating circles as a dinghy drift. It wasn’t really my scene. A staged get together, albeit in dinghies tied together, mostly with people you don’t know. I’ve done years of chatting to random people at dinner as part of work so I’m a bit more selective these days. Or maybe the word is anti-social!

The group had drifted by us as we mooring up and several people tried hard to cajole us to get in our dinghy and join them. We politely declined to be part of the main event but about 15 minutes later hopped on our paddle boards to cruise by so as not to be wholly antisocial but to do it on our terms. We could easily escape and I wouldn’t feel hemmed in. Helen doesn’t like being hemmed!

We’d had a belter of a day prior to the dinghy thing. Dave landed us our first two lobsters. We’d caught up with our friends Thomas and Gabrielle who we originally met in the boatyard in North Carolina a year previous. We shared dinner and stories aboard their boat then the following morning, Thomas pointed out a good area to snorkel. So wetsuits on and armed with our spear off we set. 30 minutes later we had two of these bizarre fine tasting creatures. Thomas got a brace too so happy crews all round as we upped anchors after lunch and sailed our seperate ways .

In fact we’ve had a lovely few days. Some great short sails, travelling in company with our Halifax friends Rob and Betty Ann, a blue hole, lots of turtles, spotted rays, a great beach bar and several different anchorages. The paddle boards make for great journeying and as you’re high up looking down into the water,  it’s easy to spot creatures in the water. We can get to places too shallow even for the dinghy and outboard so they are proving their worth.

The paddleboards were the cause of Dave being “the turn”. Or he may argue it was me but he’s not writing this. In departing the dinghies, I’d set off and was rounding the group and to contour round the circle made a bit of turn to the right. Dave chose that moment to put a few powerful strokes in behind me and oops, collision, splash. Well actually SPLASH. In front of everyone. There was no hiding. Other than when he was under the water.

He hauled himself up, delivered a theatrical bow to the audience and we paddled off. 25m apart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

You remind me of…..

My belief is it happens to us all. You meet someone or see someone and think, “oh that person reminds me of……” It could be someone nominally famous or maybe just someone who has come into your orbit before.

Although I’ve never actually had anyone say to me, you remind me of…… Well it happened a couple of days ago. We were gently sailing around the Sea of Abaco on our way to anchor off Tiloo Cay. About a mile and half offshore, a bloke is standing in the deck of his sail boat waving his arms at us. The boat appears to be anchored so it’s not in any danger.

He seems pretty stressed. We cruise by. “My engines overheating and I can’t start it.’ Dave, coolness personified says, “well, not sure I’ll be able to help but I can take a look if you like after we’ve anchored up.”

Dave became the marine equivalent of bicycle repair man over the next 36 hours, spending several hours in an engine bay. He managed to get the engine running but the overheating issue will require further investigation. Not enough water was getting through the cooling system. He also helped retrieve a dropped lost anchor. The bitter end is called the bitter end for a reason and tying it off is a top tip.

As recompense, the seemingly mismatched and kind couple fed us dinner and we came away with a selection of dock lines in much better condition than ours and a fishing spear. Thank you.

We did find time for a bush whacking walk on Tiloo Cay. The atlantic side was being battered by waves and as it’s all spiky volcanic rock, few people will ever choose to walk there. Sadly it’s aspect to the ocean means is collects plastic and the scene was littered with coloured unwanted offerings. Sobering. We did find a brand new round fender which became booty and now has a home on the boat.

The inland side by comparison was flat calm, the water wholeheartedly transparent and sparkling. We were able to create a circular walk though the overgrown interior with only a few scratches and scramblings.

So have you worked it out yet? Who do I remind you of? I’ll give you a clue. Icelandic singer. It’s oh so quiet. Perhaps you have to be of a certain age to get this one.

BJORK! Yes I know. It seems far fetched to me to me too. BJORK. Words that initially came to me were…mad crazy eclectic bizarre. I politely queried this comparison and the answer was ‘Like Bjork, there’s something about you’. Let’s just leave it at that. 😀

Water

When we kept Grace in Goole, then Hull, in the UK, the water was always brown. Seeing your own feet in a few inches of water was impossible. Although thinking about it, I don’t actually remember getting that close to the water. For very good reasons.

Swirling chocolate coloured currents harried up and down the Humber river, changing direction twice a day. Solid mud banks form and morph with the river action so the water upstream of Hull is constantly being surveyed. The channels marks are moved after each survey to show the recommended route for river traffic, including big commercial barges which still ply their trade up to Goole, 40 miles inland from the open sea.

I remember one summer not long after we bought Grace coming back up the river. It was always a somewhat fraught passage as the river runs fast and you don’t want to screw up. I was looking through the binoculars to spy the upcoming channel marks, which would indicate our safe passage. The starboard channel mark seemed to be moving. What the blinking heck is going on here? Or some similar words I exclaimed. We chased the tug moving the mark hoping our route would take us over deep water. All was well and I don’t miss the Goole run. At all.

The Bahamas is not like Goole. The water is crystal clear. Here it’s possible to drop your anchor and see the sand eat it up as the chain straightens out and the anchor holds the boat. A tightly nestled anchor means a happy Dave. Well our home is hanging off the end of a lump of metal and a few links of chain so if this combined pair is immovable, that’s positive.

Life revolves around the water here so we’ve been embracing that way of life. The paddle boards have carried us on excursions around bays and the mangroves. We’ve sailed super short passages , maybe 5 or 6 miles from one anchorage to another to reposition ourselves from the winds as they rotate their direction.

We had a great day with our friends on Muktuk when we took their boat plus a couple of dinghies out to the reef off the north coast of the Abacos and snorkelled for a couple of hours. They caught two lobsters and a couple of parrot fish. We saw all kinds of colourful reef fish 🐠, some large, some small. Not sure of any names but the iridescent blue ones were my favourites. Karl was apparently stalked by a couple of barracuda, although I didn’t see them. A little bit of underwater excitement.

Small village madness came to New Plymouth on Green Turtle Cay on New Years Day. Junkanoo is a annual procession round the streets. I suppose it’s similar to carnival in Brazil or Notting Hill, just much much smaller. This year’s theme was hurricanes. It’s loud, slow, colourful, well attended and involves street food and beer. We ate conch salad and partook of a couple of beers. And bumbled around bumping into people we know, mostly boating folk but a few locals too.

It proved a fine way to spend a few hours on New Year’s Day. We had after all had a late one the night before. Think we made it to 9.30pm. Late for us!

I tried again with piccies but green turtle cay WiFi seems to be on a go slow. Ah well…..

Persistence

Persistence can pay dividends. About a year later than planned, we are in the Bahamas. (Please forgive me for a small exclamation here….yaa! That’s for you Richie and Jayne).

After what has, at times, felt like a tortuous battle to get south from Canada, we finally dropped the hook at lunchtime on Christmas Eve.  A night crossing of the Gulf Stream under a bright and full moon delivered us here.  So bright that when we reached the shallow Bahamas Bank we could see the bottom. This was a slightly disconcerting experience when you still have about 50 miles to the anchorage, sailing in such shallow water.
Dave always said we’d get to the Bahamas for Christmas….can’t honestly say I believed him as we battled 45 knot gusts across the bow one day. And this was on the protected Intra Coastal Waterway, not even out at sea. That would have been particularly unpleasant with bold capitals. However, that ‘all be history’ now. The double duvet is packed away. The kerosene stove is redundant. Hats and gloves are firmly back in their drawer. Shorts and T-shirt’s have an airing again. White flesh is on show. The brits are in town.
Christmas Day, passed at a relaxed gentle loping speed. 33rpm. Ignore 45 or 78. We’d chosen a secluded protected anchorage tucked up off the mangroves on an uninhabited cay with a sandy beach a short walk away. Dave bought me something sparkly. An unexpected lovely surprise. We had no comms so were not able to let anyone know where we were. We’d have loved to chat to family but my inability to read instructions meant our Bahamas SIM card wasn’t activated. Doh!
On reflection, now it’s over, we did have some positive memorable experiences coming south. We caught our first tuna. It was feisty. We probably didn’t bleed it for quite long enough but it was a fine way to end the day. We had our second curry since leaving the UK in July 2016, in a place called a Palm Coast. Dave provided the sweaty entertainment while tackling his jalfrezi. Definitely out of hot spicy food practice there. And we saw a rocket launch as we sailed past Cape Canaveral, a space x rocket carrying a GPS satellite up into orbit. We weren’t actually that close, 45 miles away but clearly saw the burn as this thing hurtled skyward.
I messaged my brother. His response, “an Easyjet flight to Belfast came right over our house earlier.” No bragging needed big sister!
Finally…..uploading any pictures was taking forever so revel in the written word and look forward to piccies at a later date. 🙂

 

My Laura Kuenssberg Impression

 

Windswept beachIn writing a blog, I feel I want to share ‘something of myself’ otherwise what I write has no individual character. I do however operate a sensitivity filter which is set to monitor how much I reveal about what we do, what I think and who we meet. Otherwise I could easily dig some humongous big holes for us!

Generally if something makes me laugh, it ought to be shared. That’s a rule. Why deprive others of a smile. Just because something is a little embarrassing is not a reason to keep quiet about it. Like the time I came out of the shower in my altogether one morning several years ago, opened the bedroom curtains and the window cleaner was plumb outside the window, up the ladder. I’m not sure who was more shocked. I shared that story when I got to work as it felt right for everyone for enjoy the humour of my discomfort.

I write this as a precursor to sharing how we went out to dinner recently with an enthusiastic and spirited republican. In my world of free speech and democracy, everyone is rightly allowed an opinion. However, listening to someone with such diverse views to mine was uncomfortable. I’ve thought about this this quite a lot, and my underlying number one value is integrity. It shapes and colours who I am and what I do. If I say I’m going to do something for someone, then that’s what I strive to do. If I don’t deliver, I’m embarrassed. Saying x then doing y destroys trust and respect in the big bumper book of how Helen sees the world.

So back to the republican story. It was really the first time I’m heard a true republican first hand, talk in my presence about why they love and respect Trump. (We’ve chosen previously to stay away from politics on our trip). His whole misogynistic history and blatant lying episodes were deemed irrelevant. He was described to me as a brilliant negotiator who will definitely win another term in office. When I heard this I could feel my world shrinking a little bit and become a shade more inward looking.

I’m not an American so I don’t truly understand the call to ‘make America great again’. I do know I want to live in a world that is outward looking. It was dinner. We were out having a good time. America is an amazingly diverse country and I’ve enjoyed being here. We’ve been welcomed by so many people.

So what’s my point here. I’m not a political animal. Politics is pretty weak in my DNA. I believe difference is to be appreciated. However when your fundamental values are jarred, discomfort is inevitable. What’s my point…..my point is Trump is an ass and the sooner he and his ego disappear from front line politics, the better. So my foray into political comment ends here. Probably best.

Back in boat-world, we have a new stainless steel arch at the back of the boat which supports two new solar panels. And a second battery charger too. The weather is not cooperating with a weather window to the Bahamas so we’ll likely continue down the US coast towards Georgia / Florida at the start of next week.

Heading south to the beep of the alarm

 

The past few days have had a similar shaped format. Alarm, 6.03am. I have this strange habit, (according to Dave), of never setting the alarm with a 5 or a 0 at the end. There maybe some bizarre and batty psychological reasoning behind this. But I have thought it through and this is my bamboozling logic.

If you always set the alarm with a 5 or a 0 at the end, you are cheating yourself out of a few extra delicious minutes in bed. Alarm goes off at 6.03. That means there’s two full minutes till 5 past or seven full minutes till 10 past. I actually get out of bed when the clock has a 5 or 0 at the end. By having another number, I can squeeze an extra modicum of time in bed before starting the day. 

I know, I know. It may seem like cranky thinking with Swiss cheese sized holes in its logic but it works for me and for an easy life, Dave seems to trundle along with it too.

In brief précis, the alarm clock got us from just north of New York to Beaufort, North Carolina. In that time we’ve had our first and hopefully last snow storm of the year, a transit through New York for the second time, a day in Norfolk where we had a look round a retired warship and a pre opening show round of the annual toy train extravaganza in Belhaven. 

We also helped out and towed a couple of stranded boats (not at the same time you understand) on the Intra coastal waterway, one which had run aground and another with transmission problems. The ‘pay it forward’ phenomenon I really like as a concept and I’d never heard of it expressed in such a way until, spending time in the states. Help someone out, could be a random stranger, and as ‘payment’, ask them to do the same for someone else in the future. So a ripple of kindness spreads out and a more caring society is created. 

Sounds good to me. 

We are back at Bock Marine, not to re enact the massive boat works we completed last winter. But to call in and see some friends, reprovision up, tick off a few small running repairs and improvements, and wait for a window to head to the Bahamas. Only a year late…..if we get there!