Winning the mental battles
You may recall that in my last couple of entries, I've opened up my heart a little and spoke about some mental battles I was having with regard to boating. I'm happy to report that the last 12 days or so has been so wonderful that I'm feeling considerably more positive. Both my wife and I (and our kids) have had a chance to enjoy Sea Spirit and our surroundings, with friends aboard for a few days, and have "decompressed" ourselves significantly. I have my own theories as to why the first few weeks were so stressful to me, but I am extremely pleased to report that all that stress seems to have melted away completely now. I feel like I'm very much ahead of Sea Spirit and her systems, and the "honey do" list is now quite short.Atlantis and Paradise Island
After we arrived at Atlantis on Paradise Island, just North of Nassau in the Bahamas, there was a changing of the guard aboard Sea Spirit. Our captain went home for a few days to tend to a broken tooth, and Jim, Caroline, Zoo, and David --- four very close family and friends --- arrived from Canada. This meant that there were 8 aboard the boat, which, even on a 63 foot boat, is a lot. And when our captain returned after a few days, the 8 became 9! Still, we are all such close friends that it "just worked". Even our captain was amazed that we didn't psychologically or physically trip over each other with that many living aboard, although we did trip over all our snorkeling gear!
For the first couple of days, we stayed at the Atlantis Marina, which is attached to the Atlantis Resort
. Atlantis is a surreal, a kind of Las Vegas in the ocean, with a huge water park, a casino, and enough restaurants to cope with the large hordes of people who must descend on this place during holiday season. While this may not sound like an ideal place to relax, it was good for our family. We got the kids onto the water slides for a couple of days, we dinghied around across Nassau Harbor and explored the environs, and we enjoyed our visitors. By the way, if you are under any pretensions that your boat is too big, Atlantis Marina will disabuse you of this notion.
Jim is an accomplished inshore fisherman and hunter, and was looking forward to trying his hand out on the open ocean. We sent him and our 10 year old son, Jasper, out in the dinghy, and wouldn't you know it, they came back with grouper for dinner! It didn't hurt that Caroline's family runs a hotel in Cypress Hills, Canada
, and she was an expert at preparing and cooking the day's catch.
Anchoring in West Bay, close to Lyford Cay
Still, we didn't take the Sea Spirit route just to be at a resort marina. After a couple of relaxing days, we decided to take Sea Spirit to the west end of New Providence Island (the island with Nassau on it), and anchor out. Jim and Jasper were anxious to troll behind the boat, so we exited Nassau's harbor and followed a westbound path around New Providence along the 100 to 200 feet contour. While we didn't catch anything for the record books, my son did set a personal record with a barracuda large enough for him to be proud of. This barracuda got released, because we have been warned about ciguatera, a fish-borne toxin carried by these and certain other fish. We made the run at 8 knots for trolling purposes, and thoroughly enjoyed the very smooth seas. I was surprised how difficult it is to follow a depth contour - even one as broad as 100 to 200 feet. Apparently the slopes around New Providence are very steep, since I found myself quickly out in 500 feet of water, and then having to turn the boat without snagging the various fishing lines in order to get back. The depth would still be over 200 feet when in sight of breakers and sand bars along the shoreline, so I had to watch the depth finder a lot, and turn out again when the depth fell below 100 feet. While the charts were useful, they simply did not have the detail needed to rely on them. The match between what the depth sounder said and what the charts said was only sometimes a good one. Still, we had fun with this short run.
Eventually, we pulled into West Bay, which is on the extreme westernmost tip of New Providence, close to the high-rent district of Lyford Cay with its multi-million dollar houses. One of those houses is called Nygard Cay, and looks more like a Zulu-inspired hotel than a home. At any rate, to get into West Bay one has to negotiate some pretty shallow water, which was a first for me in Sea Spirit. Under the guidance of our captain, I negotiated the shallows and the coral heads very slowly, taking care to remember the difference between the reading on the depth sounder and the available depth under other parts of the boat. On either side there were breaking waves a few hundred feet away, once again not always quite where predicted by the charts. It was a little nerve wracking, but I felt very much in control of the operation, and always had an exit in mind. I had deliberately timed our entry to be during - but not at the end of - a rising tide, so that any incidental grounding could perhaps be forgiven by rising water. Still, while very conscious of the thin water, the path I chose avoided any chance of grounding.
Conservatism caused me to decide to set anchor in about 12 feet of water, which would become 8 feet at low tide. This put us in a slightly less protected spot, but given the prevailing winds, we did not expect to need much protection. We set anchor, and spent most of the rest of the afternoon exploring the bay on our two kayaks and dinghy. The fishermen brought back another grouper, but not one they caught! They caught another barracuda, and exchanged it with some Bahamians for a grouper. Apparently the Bahamians eat barracuda as long as it is young enough. We're told that we can eat them too as long as they are less than about 2 feet or perhaps 2 1/2 feet long, because that means they are young enough to not have much toxin in them. Still, we haven't yet tried it.The quest for a good night's sleep at anchor
For a while now, my goal has been to get a good night's sleep while at anchor. In past attempts, I haven't managed it. Back in Florida, there were various issues. One night we were in a noisy anchorage with party-goers. Another night we had winds over 30 knots, and I had not yet built up the trust in my anchor and anchoring to sleep through it. On yet other nights we have sailed at anchor quite a lot, making me wonder about dislodging the anchor. Still, if we are to enjoy anchoring out, I must figure out how to trust the setup enough to sleep! Sure, there may be a couple of ups and downs on the first night, but if I'm up and down like a yo yo every night, I will become useless to the family, and miserable. So, a good night's sleep is the goal.
You may recall that we have a single main anchor that is a "pool" style (basically the most modern of the Navy stockless anchors), and that weighs a hefty 132 pounds. This is connected to about 400 feet of high test (grade T43) 3/8 inch chain. We have other anchors aboard, but this is our primary one. The anchor comes out of a side pocket in Sea Spirit's bow. We have become adept at attaching a long nylon snubber to the chain using a chain hook, which adds some shock absorption to the ground tackle, and also has the added benefit of keeping the chain off of the bulbous bow as the boat sails around at anchor. We set very quickly, and ultimately had a wonderful evening in and around the boat.Sailing at anchor
But I wanted to try to reduce our sailing at anchor. Like most trawlers, Sea Spirit wanders around quite a bit while at anchor. This happens because the windage of most trawlers is greater at the bow than the stern (raised pilothouse, high forward freeboard, flybridge, and so on), while the weight is near the back (engines, generators, fuel tanks). Thus, a trawler at anchor is akin to an arrow pointing tail first into wind, where the tail of the arrow represents the wind-catching front half of the trawler, and the weighty tip represents the heavy back half of the trawler. Naturally, the wind tries to blow the wind-catching front half of the boat downwind, but cannot because of the anchor. Still, it pushes the bow off a little, which then causes the boat to "sail" upwind. Thus, the boat inscribes a sort of curved figure 8 around the downwind end of a circle centered on the anchor, with heading changes of as much as 180 degrees. While it is great to enjoy the views as the boat swings, it is disconcerting. Worse, if the boat carves a large enough figure of eight, it can end up putting a significant side load on the anchor, dislodging it. It is this that I was hoping to avoid.
One suggestion made to me was to put up a stay sail at the rear of the boat. Not being a sailing boat, I didn't have a stay sail handy, nor a means of attaching one. But I improvised, rigging a tarpaulin over top of the raised dinghy davit. It helped significantly, but not completely. Our sailing around was reduced by about 25 percent -- not nearly enough, and not as much as I had hoped for. I believe the problem was that the tarp just wasn't big enough, but it clearly helped, validating the theoretical conclusions we had come to about why this happens. However, with all that swinging around and an increasing wind overnight, I continued to worry about breaking loose, and didn't sleep well at all. While I consider the experiment a success, there is further work to do before this method can give me a good night's sleep.
Another suggestion given to me was to anchor stern-first, using a stern anchor. I believe this would be 100% effective, and it has some advantages, such as causing more wind to enter the salon. Still, I haven't tried it yet, and would only do so in a mild wind.
We had previously tried a "sideways bridle" approach, using a snubber line attached to the stern at one end and to the anchor chain at the other end, to create a triangular attachment of anchor to boat. This allowed us to keep the side of the boat into wind, and to adjust the angle so that we were only slightly so, not broadside on. This worked perfectly at keeping us from sailing, but was awkward to set up. Perhaps we'll get better at it, time will tell.Trying a stern anchor
The next night, once again with moderate (10 - 15 knot) winds, we tried using two anchors, one from the bow and one from the stern. Our second anchor is a Fortress FX-85. This weighs 47 lbs, but is huge. The 10 feet or so of chain attached to it (as per the manufacturer's recommendations) more than doubles its weight, and the 250 feet of nylon rode attached to it make it cumbersome to manhandle, but we did so. Into the dinghy it went, and out about 80 feet. We deliberately set this anchor so that it was not straight in line with the main bow anchor, allowing moderate wind direction changes to vary the boat's orientation without putting too much strain on anything. Of course, a complete wind reversal would have required us to weigh this stern anchor, but we weren't expecting that.
We used Sea Spirit's aft powered capstan to maneuver Sea Spirit slightly off downwind by pulling in some nylon rode. This created a slight pressure against one side of Sea Spirit, holding it in a constant position. I present for your comparison a two shots of our GPS. The first shows how we didn't move at all over the whole night, while double-anchored. The second shows about an hour of sailing around once we weighed (lifted) the stern anchor the next day. In both shots, the green shows our sailing performance before we put out the second anchor. I changed the trace to red as soon as we put the second anchor out. As you can see, the difference is stark and obvious. Best of all, I got a great night's sleep!
A few people I've mentioned this to have expressed concern about the notion of using a stern anchor, saying it is inappropriate for high wind conditions. Frankly, I agree. Anyone who deploys a stern anchor needs to be ready to let it go in a hurry if the wind changes direction, and this is not easy to do without losing the anchor, in a high wind. But in low to moderate wind conditions, it is a great tool. The anchorage was not crowded, but we saw several other boats using the same approach, and it worked just as well for them as it did for us. To me, it seems to be a question of matching the right tools and techniques to the conditions and circumstances at hand. If that is done with care, then this can be a great technique for staying still.Back to Nassau
We had a great time in West Bay, but after a few days at anchor, it was time to get our visitors back to Nassau for their departure. We back-tracked along the 100 - 200 foot contour, with more fishing going on, but had no luck this time around. We pulled in to Nassau Harbor, but instead of heading for Atlantis, we went straight for the much more folksy Nassau Harbor Club Marina. This is a very friendly marina which I would highly recommend. In addition to being well maintained and staffed, it is right opposite a shopping center with a huge supermarket, a radio shack, a Starbucks (with wifi), a pharmacy, Dominos Pizza, Dairy Queen, and so on. It is also very close to several marine supply stores. The marina also has a well maintained pool. In other words, this was a very "easy" place to rest and relax while planning the next segment of our trip. There are an eclectic bunch of Canadians, Americans, and Germans staying here, and we and our kids have made new friends. The crew of "At Last", one of the larger yachts that stays here year round, made a fine barbecue for the whole marina last night, and a good time was had by all.
We were also impressed when we checked in to Nassau Harbor Club Marina. Not only is "Peter" an amazing dockhand and dockmaster, but he knows his weather too. We said "we're staying until Friday" when we checked in. "Mmm," he said. "We'll pencil you in until the following Monday." Lo and behold, when we checked the weather forecast, it became clear that Monday was the day to leave, not the Friday we had initially chosen. Nassau Harbor Club Marina -- highly recommended.
We sent our visitors on their way, and the boat became quiet. Still, we have enjoyed the week immensely, and are still enjoying it while spending a few days at Nassau Harbor Club. We went downtown searching for the charm of Nassau, but didn't really find it. However, there are gems to be found. We lunched at the excellent "Poop Deck" restaurant, dined at the excellent "Montague" restaurant, and today are going down to the Potter's Cay market. There's also a very fine food deli with a great pastry section (see picture) called Balduccino
around the corner from Brown's Boat Basin, an easy walk from the Harbor Club.
Basically, we're relaxing and decompressing, catching up on our home-schooling (which we let go while the visitors were here), re-provisioning, and planning out our next few weeks. As you know, we are now spending significantly more time in the Bahamas than previously intended, mostly because we have found that we have really enjoyed Bimini, the Berry Islands, and New Providence. The Exumas are next for us, and we have heard that there is much to enjoy there. If you have any tips, please let us know!How about the boat?
After the initial excitement of various needy systems in Florida and Bimini, it is fair to say that Sea Spirit is now in great shape! She has behaved herself pretty much flawlessly since we arrived on New Providence. Whereas previously my mental state had deteriorated to the point where every new thing that shouted "fix me" was grating on my nerves, those things have simply stopped occurring. Of course, things on a boat will need attention, either in the form of scheduled maintenance or in the form of unscheduled problems. But I am really hoping that I'm finally "ahead" of the boat, having worked extremely hard to anticipate and prevent (through preventative maintenance) as many problems as possible. We'll see what our Exumas trip holds in the way of maintenance surprises. Still, both my wife and myself are feeling that we have finally found the joy of cruising, after a mentally rocky first month out. Looking back on it, that first month just brought forward all the maintenance items I'd missed before starting out (despite major efforts on my part to cover everything). It seems that it has settled down now, and we can concentrate much more on boating, and hopefully not nearly as much on maintenance. If the last 2 weeks are anything to judge by, we're in for a good time!
As always, your comments and insights are not only welcomed, but very much appreciated. Next week we intend to depart for the Exumas.