Low tide on the Atlantic, near Hopetown, Abaco, The BahamasFriday, November 27. Day after Thanksgiving. The holiday itself passed without fanfare, but the chicken I seasoned with Brady Turner’s smoked chipotle powder blew our mouths apart. Grilled onions and sweet peppers cooled them down a tad, but Ryan had to wipe the seasoning off his meat so that he could eat it without tears. Not my best meal, although I imagine Brady would have liked it. The restaurants around here sponsored Thanksgiving dinners, complete with football raging on television, the main reason we stayed away. Also, we have loads of food on board. We keep getting to know people who dump their food on us before leaving for the States. This is a good gig, especially since food is so expensive here. Thanks, Mary Fowler and Karen McCarty! We now have enough hummus to feed an entire football team.
What’s on my mind here on this day after Thanksgiving? hypocrisy. The hypocrisy of the Americans who refuse to admit the thousands of suffering Syrians at this time of year when we celebrate ourselves as a nation of immigrants, and give thanks for the succor that the Natives, who, by the way, did not shut us out because we didn’t share their religious beliefs, and who sustained our mythical, starving forbears with food and friendship. On hypocrisy, America as the mythical mother of exiles and denier of safe haven, see this essay.
Beach at low tide at Hopetown, November 26, 2015Let’s see, the winds continue to blow us like a kite around the mooring field, as they have done for the past week and a half. Man of War crossing remains uncrossable, a dangerous, boiling sea. Small craft advisory still an “understatement” for boats going to or from Florida. The same goes for passages south, so we’ll continue to cool our heels here.
Sunset at Hopetown, November 26, 2015We’re also sticking around just in case we can figure out what’s blowing up our SSB radio. We’re pretty sure it’s something in the boat, the way it has been wired, or what the Radio is connected to, or a gremlin tin whisker that deviously burns paths across our circuit boards. (You see that? The things you learn when you spend six months living aboard a yacht! English lit professor/psychotherapist learns marine electronics. Well, not exactly, but I can spin the lingo, at least, and that’s something.)Folks here have been extremely helpful, especially Will and Muffin, who also do all kinds of other extremely nice things for the local community here, like volunteer their time to keep the rest of us informed about the weather and goings-on about town, and collecting garbage from the yachts and taking it to shore on trash pick-up days.Hopetown is very seductive, indeed. Not only because the town is narrow lanes winding through lime and lavender and apricot and pineapple painted cottages, tropical, flowering vines and coconut trees and white sand like velvet, or places called “Wine Down Sip Sip” or (my personal favorite) “Water’s Edge” or “On Da Beach,” where the food is fresh, delicious and the atmosphere relaxing, relaxing, relaxing. No, Hopetown seduces with its people, the local islanders, who, Black and White, speak a lilting, singing dialect, and the regular Cruisers, who have been coming here every year for decades and yet welcome newcomers with friendly grace and enthusiasm.
How do you sail a five-day passage 300 miles off the coast in the Atlantic ocean? It’s not for the faint of heart. Here’s how the instrument panel recorded our journey:
It really wasn’t that bad. We had good weather, and Sophia sails herself, practically, she is so well-balanced. When going to windward, even in 25 knot winds, you can simply set the wheel where you want it, and it will not move. The boat rounds up miraculously and keeps herself on course. Naturally, the winds clock around and you have to be vigilant. And going downwind, it’s best to put the boat on autopilot, which steers much more efficiently than a human.
That lovely friend failed after two days at sea, along with all of our other electronics, including the VHF and SSB radios. For a few agonizing hours, we couldn’t hail our beautiful buddy boat, Seahorse (A Bruce Roberts 43) , or anyone else for that matter.We were sailing in the Sargasso Sea, and Seahorse had galloped about five miles ahead during the second night. Larger and heavier than Sophia, she easily made 9 knots, while we had to reef in our sails and keep to a safer, slower speed, about 6, under those conditions.
Seahorse sailing off into the sunset the night we lost powerAfter our friends lost sight of our mast light, they took down some sails and waited for us, but we didn’t know it, since all of our communications systems were down. I was on watch while Ryan dozed below, and waves kept breaking across the bow. It was exhilarating, yes. There is something incredibly awe-inspiring about being the only person awake on a vessel so far out to sea, where you are not just under, but quite obviously within, the bright tapestry of the Milky Way above, and there is no way to discern the line where the stars begin at the edge of the sea. I basked in the hugeness and beauty of the universe, and felt intensely alive. But I have to admit that I also registered a steady and palpable current of sheer terror. That night when the radios failed and the sea roared up and over the dodger and poured straight down into the galley, I decided it was time to wake Ryan. “I think we might need to reef some sails,” I said. “And you might want to put your foul weather gear on, since it’s pretty wet out here.” Not exactly to my relief, he agreed immediately that it was time to reef, and helped me to do it. In my sleep-deprived frenzy I steered up straight into irons, and we ended up having to tack out of it and sail in the opposite direction until we got going fast enough to tack back on course. We lost about an hour, I guess. Ryan stayed up with me until we both settled down and Sophia regained a safe speed on autopilot. Then he returned to bed.
Did I mention we rigged up a lee-cloth on the starboard settee for sleeping while passaging? It got quite stuffy down there after four days at sea, but it was still incredibly comfortable to be in it. The boat rocks back and forth like a cradle, and you feel wonderfully warm and secure and happy, even if the winds are screaming above. That is where Ryan went.
I hunkered down again under the dodger (so named because you crouch there, dodging waves? I wondered) and attempted to quiet my mind by reading. I set a timer on my watch to alert me at 13 minute intervals, when I got up, stretched, checked the instrument panels, peered out into the night in all four directions, and curled up again. We still hadn’t made contact with Seahorse, and there was nothing to do but sail on. The instruments were still working, and we had an Automatic Identification System that also functioned, and an operating bilge pump. It had failed, frighteningly, along with the manual backup, earlier in the journey, but Ryan fixed it. I watched the dawn unfold across the sea and sky, and welcomed the sun. When Ryan awoke again we made coffee and soon spotted Seahorse, a tiny stick against the horizon. We motor-sailed until we caught up to them, and then put our heads together about the problem, which turned out to be electric.
We had run our batteries down too far, and they were not charging, even with the motor on. The Honda 2000 came to our rescue. Ryan hauled it up to the foredeck, plugged it in, and slowly but surely the house batteries began to fill up again. After they got high enough to hold a charge, the VHF and SSB radio came back on again. Of course the latter blew up again, after we made land, but that’s another story, and not as interesting.
Faithful Seahorse stayed closer to us for the rest of the journey.
One of the many good things about cruising is the opportunity to meet and make new friends. As our readers know already, we made the passage to the Abacos with Seahorse, a 43-foot Bruce Roberts. The boat is beautiful, like its people. Mary and Travis brought their good friend, Donny, who also happens to be the broker who helped them find and buy their vessel. Seahorse’s layout is complete different from ours, much more spacious but also more compartmentalized. Sophia was built for occasional short journeys, weekend cruises, while Seahorse was designed as a liveaboard cruiser, sturdy enough to travel anywhere on the planet.
Seahorse in the Gulf Stream
Travis and Mary
Seahorse at Sunset in the Sargasso Sea
I’m not complaining about our boat, not at all. Sophia is just the right size, and the absolute perfect craft for our needs. She reminds me of the Erikson 39 I grew up on in Santa Barbara. We’re very happy.
But we’re especially pleased to have made these new friends, who are so knowledgeable about all manner of things, and friendly and good-natured. All three of them are outdoorsy people (as you might expect among those who are up for a 500 mile journey on the Atlantic Ocean, 250 or more miles out to sea), and quite athletic.
Today Ryan and I even got up on the Lyra, an arial hoop that hangs from the spinnaker pole. You get up into it and do acrobatic things, and you feel like you’re ten years old again, playing on the monkey bars. And if you fall, no problem! You drop into the water!!!On the first day out, Scatch got very excited because she met some dolphins. She counted about fifteen and could hardly believe that they wanted to frolic alongside the boat for two whole hours. They seemed to be just as interested in Sophia as in Seahorse, and zoomed back and forth from one boat to the other, easily matching or exceeding the sailboats’ speed. Two big brown and grey dolphins seemed particularly curious, as they swam the longest and frequently turned on their sides to make eye contact! Scratch lay down on her belly at the bow, and this is what she saw:
Scratch has a question for her favorite people in the world, Austin and Olivia Zazarra: What should she name her new dolphin friends? Please respond with a text to Aunt Ava so she can tell Scratch.
Scratch is very pleased to have arrived in the Bahamas. There was a lot of work to do. Scratch helped to wash clothes in the five gallon bucket:
Scratch also made sure that the plants we brought along survived the journey. Here she smells the parsley and says it smells good.