From Bimini to Chub Cay

Yesterday, Sea Spirit made the 85 nautical mile passage from Bimini to Chub Cay in the Berry islands of the Bahamas. This passage was about double the length of our first passage from Florida to Bimini, and from engine start to engine stop was about 9 1/2 hours.

This crossing was about as text-book as it could be, with mostly one to two foot seas, and a moderate ten to fifteen knot wind. The only exception was that our first half hour had very steep 4 to 6 foot waves as we negotiated the open Atlantic waters west of Bimini. Thank goodness Sea Spirit is so gentle in her movements. We saw another boat really getting tossed around.

One major difference between this crossing and the previous one was that we were almost always in only about ten to fifteen feet of water depth the whole time. Indeed, there were many points where the waters on either side of Sea Spirit became progressively shallower, sometimes to only a foot or so in depth. Fortunately, the "deep" part (ie: the ten to fifteen feet depths that we navigated) extended at least a mile and sometimes much more on either side. Still, it made me nervous to be in such shallow waters. Our training Captain's response: "Welcome to the Bahamas".

I had set up our course using my laptop computer, which is a Macintosh, running the excellent MacENC navigational software. On previous journeys, I had taken each waypoint and loaded it into our Garmin chart plotters by hand, but this seemed like much too manual a way of moving data around for the twenty first century. This time, I exported the data to a GPX file, then loaded it into Garmin's HomePort software. In HomePort, I saved the data to a data card and loaded it into the chart plotters that way. It Worked! All my waypoints, routes, and names came up immediately on all three of our chart plotters, and I didn't have to re-enter anything. For a computer geek like me, this was a win!

I was wondering how the rest of my family might do on a long (all-day) crossing such as this one. My kids, age 10 and 8, were absolute troopers, spending the entire day listening to audio books, reading, watching out the window, eating, and so on. My son made breakfast for us all, which was a nice step up in responsibility for him.

We had only one or two petty squabbles among the siblings, and with so much sitting still, considered ourselves lucky that it was no worse than that. My wife and I and our captain each took the helm at various points, because even though the boat would navigate and make all the turns by itself, there is always the possibility of another boat to hit, or a submerged object. Indeed, driving the boat on this kind of passage is really more about keeping watch and monitoring systems than it is about having one's hands on the controls. We saw perhaps one boat per hour on this journey.

The day's only excitement came when we realized that the Garmin chart plotters showed an unknown wreck that might or might not broach the surface at low tide, within about 250 feet of our course. Our printed charts did not show this wreck, nor did the Navionics charts on MacENC. We never did see the wreck, but made a course adjustment to avoid it by a half mile, just in case. Unfortunately, this took us into fairly shallow water that at low tide would only have put a couple of feet of water beneath our keel. Fortuantely, we were almost at high tide, and so had more like 4 - 5 feet beneath. Still, this is too close for comfort. We slowed right down, navigated ourselves back to our previous line once we had passed the possible wreck, and then carried on at normal speed.

We did our hourly engine room checks, and found no anomalies. I'm sorry if this is a boring entry, but in the best possible sense, the day was really quite boring! And yet pleasant :)

Chub Cay is a fully modern marina with concrete floating docks, a pool, a restaurant and store, and many many many empty slips! I don't think they can be making money at the moment, since the marina is only about 20% full. There's nothing much here at Chub Cay other than the marina, so even though we've booked ourselves in for a few days, the reality is that we'll only spend one or two nights here, then I think we'll head out to enjoy what the Berry Islands have to offer, anchoring out. We have visitors joining us next week in Nassau, and we want to enjoy the peace and quiet before they arrive! Apparently, the fishing here is superb, so number one son will certainly have a good time here!

Maintenance issues

We did have one additional piece of excitement in Bimini. You may remember that we snapped a davit cable back in Florida, and it was replaced with a brand new one before we crossed the Gulf Stream. That new cable is working perfectly now. However, it drew my attention to the 16 big beefy screws that hold the davit to the deck of the boat. They are really more like big thick bolts, but they have a screw head, so I'm calling them screws. Something didn't look quite right about some of them. So, out came my screwdriver, and it turned out that 7 of the 16 screws were loose! When I say loose, I don't mean that they needed to be tightened, I mean they couldn't be tightened! They simply turned and turned in their sockets. This caused me great concern, because I foresaw the possibility of the davit ripping out of the boat when we carried the 1,000 lbs weight of the dinghy over the side. In fairness, it was clear that the davit remained completely solidly connected to the deck, or else the sealant around the davit-to-deck joint would have showed the movement. That sealant was still sealed tight. But, I thought, perhaps the next lift will be the one that rips it out!

It is at this point that one tests the capabilities and intentions of one's boat manufacturer. In this case, I sent off an immediate email to several of the Sea Spirit Yachts folks. Within an hour or two, I had responses indicating the exact construction of the davit's mounting points, and some ideas about how to resolve the loose screw issue, which was not an issue that had cropped up on any sister ship. I was pleased with both the quantity and quality of the responses I received from the company. I also did some further investigating myself. It turns out that there is a huge inch-thick metal plate embedded into the deck to spread the load of the davit, which is screwed to that plate, which was tapped to accept the screws. The entire metal plate acts as a kind of through-bolt backing plate, it seems. Since our deck has a camber to it, the screws at one end of the davit need to be longer than the screws at the other end. In our case, too-short screws had been used in the part of the davit where longer ones were needed. The screws, even though they were 4 1/2 inches long, didn't bite into the metal plate. Our captain walked into Alice Town, and went looking for longer screws. Although she had to rent a bicycle to get to the other end of town (and it later turned out that the person who rented her the bicycle wasn't its owner!), she was able to obtain the screws. Back at the boat, I installed the new screws, which bit down properly into the metal plate. The problem was resolved, and I could rest easy once again that the davit wouldn't rip out.

Virtually everything about Sea Spirit's design and construction has impressed me over the past several months. But I sent instructions to Sea Spirit Yachts telling them to inspect every other hull to ensure that the same problem had not occurred there. Why were screws that were too short used? The answers coming back from the manufacturer were not very compelling. Still, they handled the customer support issue very well, giving me access to the boat's naval architect and engineers, ensuring me that any possible repair would be fully covered by warranty, and offering to send a representative over to the Bahamas right away to supervise. Fortunately, we were able to handle the repair ourselves, but it is good to know that the company stands behind us in case a problem develops that we can't handle. Still, for a while there, I had visions of the deck of the boat needing to be ripped open to replace the plate. I'm very glad that nothing like that was needed.

For clarity, let me say that I have full confidence in the American-made Brower Davit that we have on board. It is elegant in its simplicity, and gets the job done without any fuss. And I continue to have full confidence in Sea Spirit Yachts, who are about do deliver hull #7 in our series, with most of those hulls sold since the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008. There is clearly a demand for these trans-oceanic passage makers, and our experience so far has underscored that we made a good choice when we opted for one of these boats.

Personal issues

Let me end with a little family color. We are an adventurous home-schooling family of four, and have traveled extensively for months at a time by plane, large cruise ship, and motorhome in various countries. Trawler yachting is something very new for us, and it will take us another month or two before we fully understand how this mode of journeying works for our family. For us, Sea Spirit combines a means of getting to unusual and far-off-the-beaten-path locations, while bringing the luxuries and comforts of home with us. The adventure of getting there "under our own steam" is certainly part of the pleasure, and there is a tremendous intellectual satisfaction for me in planning out the passages and executing them. However, it is very fair to say that for us, the fun truly begins once the anchor or dock lines are out, and we can begin exploring ashore, or enjoying the ocean's bounty. This sets us apart from some other trawler people, for whom making the journey itself is the big adventure. For us, the boat is a means of putting ourselves in the path of many interesting places, experiences, and people, and the sailing itself is actually quite a small part of the overall enjoyment. I mention this because our main focus, boat-wise, is on safety and comfort, not so much on the actual act of passage-making from point A to B. Those passages are simply necessary in order to access each successive destination, rather than being goals for us.

There was a time when I thought to myself "I'm going to be one of those people who circumnavigates", but the more I think about it, the more I think I might simply end up as someone who enjoys the boat in a new or favorite cruising ground each season, perhaps having Sea Spirit delivered or shipped to the next season's destination. These thoughts are not yet fully developed, and I'd be interested to hear from you folks as to how this has worked out for you. But for our family, especially with our children, I'm having to re-think the issue of crossing oceans. Even on a 2 or 3 day passage in, let's say 4 to 6 foot seas, I find myself wondering whether the kids would do well for that long.

If these paragraphs sound tentative, it is because I am revealing to you my own personal uncertainties about what I want for myself and my family. The least of all my worries is the boat itself. Sea Spirit is clearly a fine offshore vessel, with the systems, range, and comforts to fully support ocean crossings. Given all the additional work and upgrades that I put into completing her commissioning, she's fully capable of making even the longest crossings. But I'm not so sure how well the family would do in that situation - or even myself. It's not mal de mer that worries me, since we seem to have that all sorted out. it's simply a matter of choosing whether to stay with the boat as it makes the longer crossings, or send the boat with some professionals and meet it at the other end. I'll let you know more as my thoughts on this subject unfold.

That's all for now. We're going to drop the dinghy in the water today and go explore!

--- Dan


Fred K 2/16/2011
Dan, regarding your concerns about long distance cruising, I at one time wanted to take a year off and do the Great Loop with my wife. Before making the final decision, I crewed on a trawler from Columbus, Miss. to Punta Gorda, Florida in 2009. I was a little disappointed by the rivers (not much to see and pretty dirty) and the Gulf of Mexico (way too many crabpots) although I did enjoy the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway. In the end, we decided that we would enjoy shorter cruises in our home waters (Great Lakes) much more. I understand your dilema, cruising is nice but it's a lot of work and there are lots of interesting things to do on land. Here is a link to my blog of that trip if you are interested.
Dan Freedman 2/16/2011
Dave - I could have put a little more detail. One of the screws had "popped up" about 1/4 inch, which led me to try and tighten it. Once I discovered that I couldn't get it to grip, I checked all the others. As for finding the screws in Bimini - I agree! I was stunned that we were able to. They are not quite the same style, and so we'll replace them once we get to somewhere with more selection. But for now, they're all holding!
Dave Cason 2/16/2011
SUBJECT: what are the odds Hi Dan, Wow that’s a hell of a catch – nicely done! So I’m guessing you just get bored and walk around the boat sometimes looking at things? (grin) The davit screws – who in the heck would think of looking at them? I mean the cable snap! So you’re sitting there going “hummm, what do these screws do?” that’s just so funny. Of course when you saw it and it was 7 out of 16 screws – Eeeeeek, I’d be worried too! I’m not even gonna ask you how you found screws on a little island in the middle of nowhere (gotta love google earth) I can see finding them in Nassau but out there. Another one, Well Done! Anyway, worse case just make Jim bring down his tool kit and put him to work, don’t let him fish at all, you can tell him I said that! Cheers’ Dave Cason
Winter 2011: Training from Lauderdale to Georgetown and back!