We spent a wonderful few days an Chub Cay, which is in the Berry Islands of the Bahamas. Its main claim to fame is as a deep water fishing destination, since the water drops off to over 1,000 feet less than a mile offshore. But for us, it was a beautiful place to spend some time after our passage from Bimini, and before our next passage to Nassau and the metropolis of Atlantis.
For the first 3 nights, we stayed at Chub Cay Marina, which is a beautifully modern marina with floating concrete docks, a restaurant, a small grocery store, and a lady who bakes fresh bread each day. As you can see here, a lot of people who come here are serious
fishermen, complete with large sport fishing boats, mondo tackle, and quite often, a crew to run the boat and help with the fishing.
We don't know that much about fishing, but everyone was willing to teach us, especially our kids. We learned how to use live bait, how to tie knots so that a large fish won't pull the line off the hook, and so on. We also learned how hard the crews work to make their boats clean and pretty after a hard day's fishing. I don't know what they are paid, but they surely earn it.
Sea Spirit, as usual, attracted a fair bit of attention, being pretty much the opposite of these fishing boats. The fishing boats go fast but not far, and bang around a lot when doing so. Sea Spirit goes far but not that fast, and rides very gently through the seas. If any of us swapped, none of us would be happy, since our boat cannot meet their mission, and theirs cannot meet ours. A lot of the folks we met were New Yorkers, down for a weekend of fishing before returning home. A few flew in on private jets, with the rest bouncing over in a few hours from Miami. But for long-term explorer types like us, their boats would not have the autonomy to carry us to far flung places.
After three days in the marina, we decided to learn some more about how best to anchor Sea Spirit. We anchored about three quarters of a mile outside the marina entrance, in about 8 feet of crystal clear water. As is the case with so many trawler-style boats, Sea Spirit sails around quite a bit at anchor. This means that the boat doesn't just sit still with her bow pointing into wind, pulling backwards against the anchor. Instead, she rotates back and forth and pulls a little forward and a little backward on the anchor chain. This is caused by most trawlers (except for aft-pilothouse designs) having more windage in the bow than the stern, but more weight in the stern than the bow. Imagine trying to make a feathered arrow travel tail-first into wind, and you get the idea. The wind tries to make the boat face stern into wind, but the anchor won't allow that to happen, so there's a battle. In a crowded anchorage, this can cause problems, so we wanted to learn how to avoid it.
Over the next three days, we tried various ways of setting up bridles for the anchor, and were ultimately successful in figuring out how to stop the sailing. Still, the solution is not a great one, and we have more experimenting to do on this subject. To stop the sailing, we ran a line from an aft cleat forward to the anchor chain (we have a couple of chain hooks on the boat), then let out about 30 extra feet of anchor chain. This caused the boat to be connected to the anchor via a triangle rather than a single point. This kept the side of the boat to the wind, and we could adjust the boat's angle by letting out more or less anchor chain to move the pivot point fore or aft. While this worked like a charm, it also put a lot more strain on the anchor chain due to the side of the boat having more windage than the front. In the 15 to 20 knot winds that we saw, this was no problem. Everything held fine. But in a real blow, this would be unacceptable, possibly leading to snapped line.
I consulted with a couple of Internet trawler forums on the subject, and found that most people have this exact same issue with their boats at anchor. Some dislike it more than others, but it exists nonetheless. A common suggestion that came forward was to set a small sail up near the stern of the boat, to help the stern stay downwind. Apparently, the sail does not have to be that large in order to solve the problem. We will try this next week once we leave Atlantis.
We had a great time anchored out at Chub Cay. We had bought Hobie Cat two person kayaks before leaving Florida, and got to try them out here among the many small islets that abound. Here you can see one of our two kayaks attached to our dinghy, anchored off the shoreline of one such island.
We bought the Hobie Cat with the Mirage Drive
, which is a set of pedals that work amazingly well to power the kayak forward. Having tried it, I am a complete convert -- it's much faster than paddling, and seems like much less effort too.
We also took our dinghy a mile out into the deep water (over 700 feet here), and tried our hand at trolling for something big! No luck in the first half hour though. Apparently there's more to this than meets the eye. Perhaps patience is called for :)
We also had fun snorkeling around the boat. We discovered a school of about 15 remora fish under the boat, a few of which were attached to the boat, perhaps thinking it was a large whale shark or something similar! Here you can see a short movie of us feeding them off the back of the boat. You can also see how my kids have converted Sea Spirit's live bait well into a hot tub!
Anchoring out is still a learning experience for me. It's difficult for me to absolutely trust that our anchor is holding firm, despite shifts in wind and current. Indeed, on our last night at Chub Cay, the winds and tides both shifted significantly, and our anchor dragged about 2 boat lengths (after having held perfectly for the preceding two nights). This is unsatisfactory, and likely says more about my ongoing anchoring education than it does about the anchor itself. I believe my mistake was in not re-setting the anchor after we found that the boat had been brought right on top of the anchor by the changing currents during the day time, and was actually pulling against the "set" of the anchor. In other words, I had allowed the anchor to be unset by the current in much the same way that one would deliberately unset an anchor when departing -- draw backwards against the set of the anchor. If I had reset the anchor, I bet it would have held. But I didn't, and it didn't. Fortunately, the anchorage we were in was almost deserted, and we were in no danger of being blown aground.
Still, it is unnerving to be up at 3AM wondering how best to reset the anchor without waking the rest of the family! In the end, we decided to simply weigh anchor and start our passage through deep water to Nassau. So, our captain and I did so, and had a wonderful 35 mile passage south eastbound to Nassau Harbor while the family slept. They awoke as we entered the harbor, threaded our way amongst the various cruise ships, and entered the lovely (but somewhat Las Vegas-esque) Atlantis Marina. We did the passage at 9.5 knots on the GPS (a little over 10 through the water), which was a comfortable speed in the 4 foot seas and 18 knot oncoming winds we encountered. Still, the boat was working a little harder than usual, and burned about 10.5 GPH. This is fuel usage consistent with our speed through the water of 10.5 knots, and is about double our usual 9 to 9.5 knot cruising speed fuel usage. Still, I'm still learning about the boat's performance "envelope", and wanted to see just how well it did at the faster speed in moderate seas. The answer: just fine.
The captain and I took turns at watch, and both of us were able to get some sleep on the pilothouse couch while not standing watch. I played with the radar and AIS, and was able to acquire and identify various targets, none of which were a threat to us. We did end up getting chased into harbor by a cruise ship, but never with any conflict. Still, cruise ships travel significantly faster than we do (up to 25 knots), so I monitored the situation carefully.
The next few days we'll be at Atlantis Marina, for a variety of reasons. First, we have visitors coming in a couple of days, and they are flying into and out of Nassau. Second, our captain needed to return briefly to Fort Lauderdale for personal reasons, and also to pick up a few supplies for the boat that we missed before leaving Florida. Flights to Florida from Nassau are plentiful and cheap, and there won't be a better chance to do it than right now. We intend to enjoy all that this resort has to offer, but secretly we are looking forward to getting out again, back into the relatively uninhabited islands of the Bahamas, for some more exploring.
My mental and emotional battle
Sea Spirit is my first yacht, really my first boat of any significant size. Ok, let's be honest, it's my first boat of any size, although I have sailed other people's sailing dinghies, and driven other people's ski boats before. Having spent several years as an owner of motorhomes, and having been a pilot of everything from gliders through business jets and helicoptors, I thought I was well prepared for the systems and navigational requirements of a boat. And indeed, those prior experiences have been greatly helpful. Still, I've had to cope with a variety of "shakedown" issues on Sea Spirit, and at times, the sheer volume of "issues" has seemed overwhelming to me. I have spoken to owners of many other brands of trawlers, including Nordhavns, Selenes, Kadey Krogens, and Grand Banks, and also to owners and captains of go-fast yachts such as Ferretti, Ocean Alexander, Lazzarra, and so on. The answer has come back the same: The experience I'm having is absolutely common amongst new and used yacht buyers. The initial year involves a huge amount of learning about the boat's systems, but also learning about what needs to be improved or fixed. This is the new boat experience, and it appears to be just as true for truly new boats as it is for boats just "new to you". I seem to have compressed this first "shakedown year" into a few months, and I know I have delved pretty darned deeply into every system on the boat. I am absolutely ready for a rest from that, and for the first time since buying Sea Spirit, that actually seems possible!
As I sit here in Atlantis marina, there is now very little that needs to be improved in Sea Spirit. The "honey do" list is actually quite short, but it has been short before. It was short when I first came aboard, because I didn't know any better. But now, I've examined just about all of the boat's systems, and have deliberately exercised each of them throughout its entire operating envelope. I've sat and watched equipment do its job. I've looked at residues, tested the tightness of fittings, flushed everything that could be flushed, ran things at top speed and slow speed, measured temperatures everywhere, and looked behind every access panel and bulkhead. The difference between the short list now and the short list when I first came aboard is that now I know she is in great shape!
But it has absolutely taken its toll on me to get the boat into this shape. I have had the boat as mistress, and am feeling that I've been neglecting my family as a result. At times, this has made for a somewhat emotional Dan, looking at my wife holding the family together while I fix something in the boat for the nth time that day. I'm really hoping that the boat is truly in as good shape as I believe she is, and that the attention she demands from me has already peaked. Sure, there will be moments where she needs attention at awkward times, but I'm really getting the sense that those times will be fewer and further between than they have been. I certainly hope so, because I simply cannot see myself maintaining the last six months' pace of discoveries and improvements for much longer.
About our yachting experiences
With a month of yachting in Sea Spirit now under our belts, I can speak a little about what we've liked and disliked -- about the yachting not about the yacht itself (which we love). Before buying Sea Spirit, we had thought of ourselves as long distance cruisers, taking our boat out over long ocean passages, going where no man had gone before, and so on. But, with a month under our belts, we now feel quite differently. Our best days have been our days at our destinations, whether they be remote anchorages or ports, or "busy" places such as Fort Lauderdale and Atlantis.
The actual passages between these places have been ... I hate to say it ... nuisances. Not so much for me, but certainly for the rest of the family. Sure, the boat has kept us safe and comfortable, but any way you look at it, a 5 or 10 hour passage with the kids in tow is a long time for the kids to stay amused. There had better be a few days of down-time right afterward, or else there could be mutiny! And let's not even talk about a 48 or 96 hour passage. For real sailors, this is likely to be the pinnacle of their traveling experiences. But we are much more destination explorers than we are real sailors. The boat is truly both home and vehicle for us, but it is not the end goal as it is for so many sailors. Yet, without the 48 and 96 hour passages, we can't get the boat to some of the places we really want to go. So, we find ourselves caught between wanting the autonomy of bringing our boat to new destinations, yet not really wanting to put up with the long passages that are required to do so.
Partly, this is to do with the presence of our young children on the boat. Our passages on Sea Spirit may well be mostly smooth sailing, but not smooth enough to let us have the kids wandering all over the boat unsupervised. We keep them in the salon or pilothouse, supervised by either me or my wife. At ages 8 and 10, there's simply too much chance for them to fall down a flight of stairs or grab an item for balance that won't actually hold them. Even for my wife and myself, the passages are somewhat equivalent to a long car journey -- something to be tolerated in order to get to a well loved destination, but not really something to be relished.
One consequence of this is that we have decided to completely change our spring 2011 cruising trip, spending many more days in each destination, and much less of the time making passage. Rather than spending 2 weeks in the Bahamas, we'll be spending at least 6 weeks here, and maybe more. This means we likely won't get through to the Pacific by ourselves this Spring, and will need to make some decisions about where to leave the boat until our next cruising season. You may remember that we live in Honolulu, and we feel a great need to provide a stable social environment for our children, who are involved with scouts and all sorts of other things in Honolulu. So, we're not ready to just "power through" and live aboard for a full year in order to both get to the Pacific and enjoy the journey.
One option for us is to have the boat "delivered" (by a crew) or "shipped" (on a freighter) to our next cruising destination. Another option is to leave the boat in the Caribbean somewhere (or maybe even back to Florida), and then rejoin her there next season.
I'm very interested in how you folks have dealt with all these mental, emotional, and planning issues. We are absolutely happy with our experiences so far (although less initial fixing/improving would have been nice), but we'd like to reach out to you and ask what has worked for you in terms of leaving the boat and or moving her in between cruising seasons.
If this section of the blog sounds tentative and uncertain once again, it's because the correct path forward for us is really not clear yet. We have an embarrassment of choices, and nobody except us can decide what is the best path for our family at this time. When faced with uncertainties like this, our approach is to take things slowly, a day at a time, until more clarity prevails. So, we'll see what the next few weeks bring.
I've reached the point of babbling again, so time to stop and press the "send" button.