Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Departing George Town, Bound For Cuba

Exumas Racing Sloop
After almost a week in George Town Harbor we are ready to move on, with fuel and provisions loaded and our hearts looking forward to the next destination - the south coast of Cuba.

We arrived here in the middle of the George Town Cruising Regatta and learned to live with the constant VHF radio chatter generated by more than 250 cruising sailboats in the one harbor. The harbor could probably cater for many more - it's long, generally shallow and provides great holding and protection for anchored yachts.

The annual regatta here has a little something for everyone, from big boat racing to Bocce tournaments, beach volleyball, poker and even cruiser golf played on the local salt flats.  And yes, the local rum was a major attraction.

The local sailors also get involved, competing in traditional 16 foot sloops that feature heavy sliding boards to carry the windward crew and impossibly large main sails and booms.

To the north of us, the Atlantic Ocean is whipping up a major storm that is expected to send large swells down here later this week, so we're heading south before we're boxed in again. A series of cold fronts moving down off the US coast have complicated the local weather forecasting, and no one is relying on anything more than two or three days out. Subject to weather, we expect to arrive in Santiago De Cuba on Friday morning, March 16, truly ready for the local music, food and yet more rum.

Monday, 12 March 2018

A Soft Shackle Starter

Soft Shackle Main Sheet Block Attachment
Soft shackles can and do replace conventional stainless D shackles in many places aboard sailboats today. We like using them because they can articulate readily, they don't rattle, won't scratch other fittings and don't bleed rust (as all the stainless shackles will do in the long run).

On Crystal Blues we've been using them for some years, originally purchasing shackles made by our friend David at Precision Shipwright Services in Phuket, Thailand.

Eventually I was shamed into learning how to make my own, settling on a process that is clearly described here at L-36.com, a great source of boating and rigging info. We do like the "better" soft shackle described there.

Now I'm a hunter in all the chandleries we visit, looking for short lengths of Dyneema high strength line that I can buy cheap - off cuts, roll ends etc. On occasion I've been given short lengths for free, which are quickly converted into valuable shackles. Most of our shackles are made on passage, whiling away the hours on watch at sea, so it's not an onerous task. The calculator on the L-36 web page will guide you as to the critical dimensions and line lengths required.

Out Latest Production Batch - We've Been Busy

Thursday, 8 March 2018

George Town Arrival

Yesterday afternoon we arrived in George Town, Exuma Islands, after a seven hour passage from Black Point Harbour.  Atlantic ocean storms to the north of us, while delivering snow and heavy weather in the UK and USA, are sending large long period swells down to this part of the world.  Moving on or off the shallow Bahamas banks requires a little care and planning, selecting a reef pass that is preferably wide and deep. The Admiral snapped this swell as we moved through the Conch Cay Cut into Exuma Harbour yesterday.

Wednesday, 7 March 2018

Beautiful Bahamas Cruising

The locals call these Nurse Sharks, but to us they look a little like the Australian Wobbegongs, or maybe Lemon Sharks.... either way, they are an unusual welcoming committee. Coming ashore in the Exumas Islands these guys are a common sight, along with giant rays, turtles and numerous reef fishes. The further south we travel, the more interesting this area becomes...

Warderick Wells Mooring Field

Of course it's also beautiful, when the weather is cooperating. We're still working with weather systems that are occasionally dominated by the lows and cold fronts that come down off the US east coast, but at least the average temperatures are now above 25degC. in the daytime. Warderick Wells, inside the Exumas Land & Sea Park, is a popular cruising hangout, and the walks ashore reveal a distinct (if limited) range of wildlife. Lizards and birds dominate, though if you stay on the beach after dark you'll be sure to see the native rodent, the Bahamian Hutia, once considered extinct but now resurgent in the park.This is the first place we've been where native palms dominate - sure enough, we found the park service had worked very hard to eliminate the invasive Australian Casuarina, or the She Oak as we call it back home in Australia. The locals here really don't like these Aussie invaders.

VonYachtSki Moored At Warderick Wells

Our friends Harry & Liz aboard the Canadian yacht VonYachtSki enjoyed the park with us, and we eventually sailed further south to Staniel Cay in company. Next we're heading for the big smoke - Georgetown on Great Exuma Island. We should be there before the end of the week. For our favourite images of Warderick Wells and the Bahamian wildlife click the link below.

Wednesday, 21 February 2018

The Friday Night Fish Fry, Eleuthera

Admiral Ley Doing The Limbo Rock

Here on peaceful Eleuthera Island the folks come out to play for the Friday Night Fish Fry in Governors Harbor. By 8:00pm there were a couple of hundred people eating, drinking and generally making merry. They close off the street near the beach, and the party builds until its time for the Limbo Dance competition, where tourists and locals (all lubricated with Rum Babas) compete. Admiral Ley volunteered as the official Australian representative, and she'd only had two drinks .....

Hatchet Bay Entrance Cut

Eleuthera is a beautiful and friendly place, the locals exceptionally courteous. Starting at The Glass Window Bridge in the north, we've worked our way southward, staying on the sheltered western shore. At Hatchet Bay we passed through the (very) narrow cut into the man-made harbor, to anchor in the pond there. Next stop was Alabaster Bay, anchoring off the golden beach in 3 meter water that is crystal clear. Here we relaxed for a few days with our friends Bill & Jean on Pelican Express, plus other new friends Harry & Liz on VonYachtSki. 

On a beautiful calm evening we gathered driftwood and a few rocks, then built a cooking fire, proving that Australians just love to play with fire. Beach chairs, beers and our BBQ grill plate completed the preparations, and at sunset the boat crews gathered for an evening grill on the beach.

Needless to say, with the warm weather and sheltered anchorages here we're in no hurry to move on. Our path will eventually take us across to the Exumas Islands and further south, before we make a break for Cuba. The boat is running well and the beer is cold - so right now we're chilling.

Arriving For The Beach BBQ

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Skinny, Deep, Then Skinny Again - Passage To Eleuthera

Rosinante Enjoying The Conditions
Six days ago we worked our way through the skinny water of the southern Abaco Islands in Bahama, heading to sea and southward, destination Eleuthera. While only 50 nautical miles distant, this was an Atlantic Ocean passage and required the right weather window - so we grabbed the first available opportunity and headed out across the bar in the early morning, with a gaggle of yachts all homing on the same destination. After a somewhat tense exit (we crossed the bar at low tide) it was a joy to have several hundred meters of water under the keel.

Pelican Express, A Sundeer 60, Doing What She Does Best

The winds and currents gave us a boisterous crossing, with 18 to 20 knots of wind for most of the day, sloppy seas and plenty of movement on board. A true romp of a sail with the apparent wind exactly on the beam. We were the last to cross the bar at Little Harbor heading out, but our waterline length let us haul in those that crossed ahead of us, and we were second into Eleuthera behind our friends on Pelican Express.

Through the Egg Island cut we marched, anchoring at Meek's Patch near Spanish Wells, in just 3 meters of water again, for a spectacular sunset. That really was a fine Bahamas cruising day.

Monday, 5 February 2018

Low Flying In Skinny Water

Crystal Blues At Tilloo Cay Anchorage - Unusually Deep At 3.5 Meters
Welcome to the beauty of the Bahamas, where we are (finally) enjoying some warm weather and quiet days.  For blue water sailors, relaxing here requires some serious attitude adjustment - everywhere is just so damn shallow!

Skimming across the flats in 3 to 4 meters of water is exciting, feeling just like low flying. However it is stressful to someone who for years has had the shallow depth alarm set at 5 meters - heck the alarm would be sounding continuously here! Many harbors we simply cannot approach, our 2.1 meter depth being way over the available water depth.

At Grand Cay, where we cleared customs and immigration, we eased our way through the entrance channel with 10cm under the keel, to find an anchorage that was just over 3 meters deep. So we often anchor outside the harbors and the dinghy gets a real workout - we traveled 5 miles each way in the dink to visit beautiful Hope Town on Elbow Cay, which is surrounded by 1.0 to 1.5 meter sand banks.

Hope Town Harbor, Elbow Cay, Bahamas

Hope Town Light House

In Hope Town we toured the magnificent lighthouse, the last in the world still operating with an oil burning lamp and a clockwork rotational mechanism. With strong community support it is maintained in working condition, and is open to tourists six days a week.

One great positive - turtles are making a come back here, now protected by government legislation. We see them every day, and two days back saw nine in one small lagoon.

Over the past two weeks we've used the periods of nice weather (very few) to catch up on maintenance - cleaning the hull being the big job. Whilst the images may look sunny, it really isn't warm here in winter, most days between 20 and 25 degrees C. And the sea is cold - wet suits are essential.

Cold fronts regularly move off the US east coast, wind directions clock 360 degrees in as little as 36 hours. Frequent moves are called for to stay sheltered as the winds change direction.

Hope Town was our last "town" visit in the Abaco Islands - tomorrow we're heading south 50 nautical miles to the northern end of Eleuthera Island. A growing group of boats is swinging at anchor here at Lydyard Cay, ready to make the ocean jump to Eleuthera tomorrow.

Hull Cleaning At Tilloo Cay

20 Knots For 20 Hours, With 20 Tons

Crystal Blues displaces just under 20 metric tons, and I always wondered how our new Rocna 33kg anchor behaved - in soft mud I know it buries deep, but in hard sand with grass just how deep does it bury? The shallow waters here in the Bahamas let me see the answer a few days ago - after 20 hours with 20 knots of wind blowing here at Tilloo Cay.

The answer it seems is not very deep, but we've never dragged, even in sustained winds over 30 knots, gusting to 40 knots. The bottom here is really tough, and once you get the point buried it seems to hold well. In this image the load on the flukes is asymmetric, evidence (I think) of the anchor rotating in the sand as the wind veered through 45 degrees, though I'd welcome comments from others on this.

Monday, 29 January 2018

A Garden At Sea Again

So Much Growth, We Brought Out The Big Guns For Harvesting

Admiral Ley has a well trained green thumb. As I described here last year, at every opportunity she grows a range of herbs and salad greens that add flavour and zest to our diet onboard.

A couple of months back she re-started our garden, again using the Greensmart self-watering pot that has been so productive for us. Once again, it's taken off, growing like crazy. We're often able to give away fresh herbs to cruising friends.

Right now she's growing Basil, Cilantro (Corriander), Italian Parsley, mixed Lettuce, Arugula and Rosemary. All this in a tub that measures just 570x400mm.

Friday, 26 January 2018

Great Guana Key, Bahamas

Community Fish Cleaning Action At Great Guana Cay
Sunshine, clear waters, fresh fish, friendly people - it doesn't get much better. Unless of course you also like messing around in boats, in which case all your dreams can come true here at Great Guana Cay in the Bahamas. I guess it must be a little frantic at peak tourist season, but right now its extra laid back and friendly. We arrived here yesterday after a quick 3 hour passage from Green Turtle Cay, and have settled into the anchorage to sit out the front that is expected later today.  We're in 3 meters of water with 27 meters of chain out, so we're not planning on going anywhere soon.

This morning we took the (fast) ferry 16nm to Marsh Harbor, where the Admiral found a hair dresser and we both searched the hardware and marine stores for parts we needed. That search turned up nothing of value, so we headed back to Great Guana in the early afternoon. This afternoon, before the weather deteriorated, we spent a few minutes testing our new aerial camera system, with great results. Click the play button below to view.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

So, Which Ball Valves Are You Using ?

Philmac Ball Valves On Our Seawater Manifold
My story on ball valve replacement at sea (read it here) lead predictably to the question of ball valve construction. Are you a traditional bronze kind of sailor? Or maybe you like stainless steel? Or just maybe you've converted to the newer industrial plastics, made with glass reinforced PVC or Nylon?

On Crystal Blues we love the industrial plastic valves, and have used Philmac ball valves for almost 20 years. These are built for the industrial process and agriculture industries, are tough as nails and (the best part) are cheaper than all those products that have the word marine included in the product description.... still, I understand the Philmac valves are approved for use on commercial vessels in commercial survey in Australia and New Zealand.

Engineered plastic valves are light, strong, do not corrode and won't conduct electricity, all properties that I love. Nowadays there is a new and I believe even higher quality product available - made from glass reinforced PVC. New Zealand company TruDesign make a superb range of tough, precision plastic skin fittings, valves and plumbing components specifically for the marine market. These are sold all over the world, and have certifications from Bureaux Veritas, ABYC, CE and ISO. These are the valves and fittings that will be used on Crystal Blues in the future.

Or Are You Using "Marelon" ?

Glass reinforced plastic valves and fittings are also made using Marelon, principally marketed in the USA by Forespar. Unfortunately these valves have experienced well publicized failures over many years. Marelon is a version of Dupont Zytel, a glass reinforced form of Nylon, a fine structural material, but perhaps not best suited to making marine ball valves, as the base material is weakened by immersion over long periods.  Read The Discussions Here and buyer beware.
TruDesign Diverter Valve

We won't use the Forespar Marelon valves. I should also say that the Forespar Marelon toilet waste diverter valves we purchased never worked properly - the closed outlet always leaked slightly, meaning the holding tank had to be emptied periodically even when not being used.

They were not fit for purpose in my experience. That was an expensive mistake, rectified by refitting with TruDesign diverter valves.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

At Last, Bahamas Sunshine ...

New Plymouth Town, Green Turtle Cay
Crystal Blues finally escaped the freezing conditions and weather bombs of the US East Coast, clearing from Palm Beach and heading east across the Gulf Stream to the shallow banks that make up most of the Bahamas Island group. In 8 hours we were across the stream and moved on to the banks, and 8 hours later we were at Great Sale Cay, anchored in 3 meters of water for a peaceful evening.

The Admiral In The Loyalist Sculpture Garden
We cleared customs and immigration at Grand Cay, and sheltered there for a few days, before heading East and South around the top of the Abacos island chain.

Three days ago we anchored at Green Turtle Cay and settled for a while, enjoying the (finally) calm weather and the friendly village atmosphere in New Plymouth town.

This is a community that dates back to the 1780's, when British loyalists departed the United States after the war of independence and resettled here. The English language is different here, and the folks are proud of their heritage.

The waters are clear, and there is a decent tourism industry based around visiting boats and resorts. The famous Green Turtle Club provides marina, restaurant and bar services, competing with the nearby Bluff House to woo visiting boats and crews.

Perfectly positioned on the sea of Abaco, between the outer reef and Great Abaco Island, this is one of a string of barrier islands that really make you think about staying forever.

Of course this is winter, the low season, and the marinas are generally fairly empty, though there are plenty of cruising boats around, principally from the USA with a few from Canada. Winter weather brings a series of northerly and north easterly blows to this region, each of which seems to last four or five days. This morning, with another 35 knot blow on the way, we departed Green Turtle and moved further south to Great Guana Cay, where we will shelter for the next five days.

Yes, You Can Lock The Dinghy To The Canon On The Public Wharf

Monday, 8 January 2018

Changing A Thru Hull / Ball Valve At Sea

New Valve Going On, No Water Enters the Boat

We've done this a couple of times now, and it's a really simple and fast maintenance job. Finding a dripping leak in a ball valve on the engine sea water inlet, we investigated and found it was seeping through the seal to the handle. It had given us 15 years of service, so I was happy to replace it. We located the spares we carry and selected the right size - 1.25" in this case.

Next we needed a diver, and in chilly St. Augustine that was not going to be the Admiral. No way said she! A call to the local cruiser's net identified a willing local, so we scheduled the job for the next day at slack tide. Note that Crystal Blues has skin fittings (thru hulls) with stand pipes that are threaded, to allow the ball valves to be screwed on and off, without actually effecting the skin fitting.

Diver Ryan arrived right on time, and as he prepared his gear and suited up I started on my own work sequence :

- Close the faulty valve and loosen the hose clamps on the hose connected to it

Trusty Toilet Plunger
- With the hose clamps out of the way the hose tail (hose barb) is unscrewed from the valve. It rotates easily inside the hose, meaning you don't ever have to fight to actually get the hose off the hose tail. This is made easier if you always apply a little silicone sealant to the hose tail during assembly, before sliding the hose over it.

- Once the hose tail is disconnected the action begins - Ryan the diver enters the water with our trusty toilet plunger and holds it over the water entry point. He taps three times on the hull to signal he's ready, and I open the ball valve - voila, just a tiny amount of water enters the boat, before the pressure differential forces the plunger tightly against the hull and seals the entry.

- Unscrew the old ball valve, clean up the threads on the stand pipe, apply new PTFE tape and then screw on the new valve. Close the valve, tap three times on the hull and the diver removes the plunger. Simple!

- Some time later I re-attached the hose tail and re-fastened the hose clamps. Job done.

While many older boats still have skin fittings that incorporate the valve, many newer vessels are built with separate components which allows this process to work just fine. From my perspective, $80 for a diver for 30 minutes is a lot better than $800 for a haul out, just to change a ball valve.

Diver Ryan Was Faster & Cheaper Than A Haul Out

Saturday, 6 January 2018

A New Year Begins, New Destinations Await

You know you're getting older when your favorite local radio station is called The Real Oldies. Whatever happened to K-Rock, Planet Rock, or KIISS and the like?  They all drifted into pop sameness, or repetitive rapping, is what happened..... and I stopped listening.

Here in Florida we had a great Christmas, listening to The Real Oldies on the rental car radio, pulling together the supplies and parts we needed and then celebrating with friends at Hobe Sound, north of Palm Beach.

George & Nancy Marvin, OCC Port Officers for the region, kindly invited us to share Christmas Eve and Christmas Day Luncheon with them - a fine group of cruisers were there, so spirits were high and endless dreams and lies circulated the table.

George & Nancy also kindly acted as a delivery point for our many parcels in the weeks before and after Christmas. Once those goodies were in hand we settled down to a sequence of repairs and service jobs onboard Crystal Blues.

The toughest project was replacing the heater hoses that snake their way through the boat from the engine to the hot water service. The old hose had been installed 12 years ago and was starting to crack - we'd found and repaired two leaks in the past 6 months.

So out it came, which took a day, and then the new silicone rubber hose went in, which took a couple of days - there is about 70 feet of hose in the circuit.  For good measure we flushed and cleaned the cooling circuit in the engine, and replaced the coolant in the system.

Both the Northern Lights genset and the Cummins main engine were due for injector servicing, so we gave both engines a treat and installed new (actually re-built) injectors. Both machines are running silky smooth now, aided by the recent valve lash adjustment - you really can tell the difference.

The Cummins was also rewarded with a new Walker AirSep Filter system, the original item having passed it's use-by date - 12 years was a good run. All in all the boat did real well in the Christmas gift department.

As to those radio stations, we also spent a day installing a new FM radio antenna connection - then scrolled right past the local spanish and rock / pop channels to settle on Legends Radio, a local jazz oriented station. Bliss.

Hopefully we'll be well ahead on the service and maintenance items when we leave here, and can spend time relaxing in the Bahamas soon. The cold weather that is impacting us should pass in a couple of days, and we're hoping for a clear weather window early next week for passage to the Bahamas.

New Walker AirSep Filter System Installed


Friday, 5 January 2018

Freezing In Florida

Welcome to Florida, where it's so cold that it's raining Iguanas - see the story here.

We stopped our voyage south at Palm Beach in central Florida, entering the harbor at Lake Worth inlet and anchoring off the friendly Palm Beach Sailing Club. Over Christmas and New Year the weather was mild, warm and sunny, so we set about completing a series of maintenance and service jobs, preparing for our crossing to the Bahamas. Immediately after New Year the scene changed, with north Florida receiving (almost unheard of) snowfalls and freezing temperatures.

Last night we had a minimum of 3degC. here, and tonight it will be 4degC. Florida temperatures in the winter normally average between 18 and 21 degC. Our friends all the way up the East coast are experiencing sub-zero temperatures and snow falls, while Chesapeake Bay is closed to shipping and harbors are freezing over even in the Carolinas. The weather guru's are calling it a "bomb cyclone", and it appears to be strengthening at it runs north up the coast. In reality we only caught the southern edge of this astounding weather event.

Of course we had just finished packing and stowing all our warm clothing, winter duvets and blankets - who needs those in Florida, right? Right. Yesterday we broke out the winter clothing and bedding again. With luck we'll escape to warmer weather in the Bahamas within a few days.

Jack Bullock Sent This - His Boat In Charleston, South Carolina, Early Today. I Don't Feel So Bad Now ....