Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Following the steps of James Bond; The Thurderball grotto.

The main attraction at Staniel Cay is to dive the Thurderball Cave, which borrows its name from the James Bond movie that was shot there. The site was apparently used for the movie “Splash” as well. Thus, afraid of nothing, your two adventurers put on their masks and fins and followed the steps of agent 007. All right, the cave in questions is about 75ft by 50ft but it was an adventure nevertheless! The site, even if not very big, was quite magical. Populated by hundreds of fishes waiting for a few bread crumbs that the tourists bring them when they come to visit the site, the cave offers an impressive canvas of lights above and below the water from a large hole in the ceiling as well as from the many side openings that let the sunlight in. We went at low tide while the top of the two main accesses where above water. Otherwise, we would have had to dive a few feet to get in the cave and with the very strong current that flows through them; it wouldn’t have been very safe. We are good swimmers but we are far from team Cousteau here! But the show was not only inside the cave. On the walls outside the West entrance we could find a stunning coral bank. We’ve seen many coral banks in the Bahamian waters so far, but the impressive diversity of corals of this one offered a picture of colors and shapes that was worth the visit by itself.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Too much beauty to show it all!

Since our last post we went to Nassau for a couple of days then we sailed South-East along the chain of Islands of the Exumas. Because we are limited in the number of pictures we can show you on this web page I urge you to click on the “Pictures” button at the top of the page and go see the many pictures we took for this post is probably the one I had the most difficulty choosing the pictures to post. Nassau was maybe not as glamorous as we expected but it is still an interesting place to see. Two islands make that city, Providence and Paradise. The first one is shown on this picture and is the city of Nassau as seen while approaching the harbor. Paradise Island is, I believe, a private island owned by the Paradise Hotel and Resort. It is the biggest tourist trap we’ve ever seen so far. They built a little town with stores and restaurants that only another class of the population can afford. As we were hungry, we looked at the prices for the restaurants and unless we were willing to pay $8 USD for a slice of pizza, $20.00 for a cheeseburger or $50.00 USD for a pork chop (with the side vegetables extra at $9.50!), we had to wait until we get to the boat. You bet that we did wait! We went there to see the aquarium but we just looked at the free display they have at the hotel and that was satisfactory enough. For a better sight of fishes we’ll just take our snorkeling gears and go see by ourselves. The city of Nassau itself is a bit ordinary and quite small. People here are not very wealthy and we are still wondering how they can afford the prices for the food as you can easily pay $5 for 2liters of milk. The anchorage in the harbor was quite bumpy so we decided to not stay longer and move further into the Exumas.

Meet Victor, the most known boy in the Bahamas! If you haven’t met Victor yet don’t worry he’s going to come to meet you himself. At 8 years old he goes about in his 6 feet dinghy with a 3Hp motor to meet people on other boats. Very outspoken and mature for his age, he spent the day with us helping Danielle cooking or playing video games on our onboard Playstation 2. Later in the afternoon he was our guide to go see the iguanas that wander on the little islands of Allen’s Cay. However, we found out that Victor didn’t like cold waters. When we jumped in the water to get some conches that lived just under our boat, Danielle screamed when she felt the 76°F water! Well you can imagine that Victor passed this time and decided to wait instead on the boat to catch the conches when I brought them back :-)

The place here, like the rest of the Bahamas, is just plainly beautiful. The sandy bottom makes the crystal clear water flickering in many tints of turquoise and greens. Even doing the laundry is a pleasant task! You can see how much Danielle, helped by Victor, has a hard time hanging the laundry in that scenery, can’t you? Allen’s Cay is one of the rare place in the area you can see wild iguanas as they come to meet you on the beach. Tourists from Nassau come here regularly by tour boats to see them and, we think, to feed them because as soon as you set foot on the small beach you get no less than 15 to 20 iguanas come to see you. Wild animals just don’t do that! One of my favorite activities so far is snorkeling. Danielle likes it too but since the water is “just” 75°F she finds it a bit too cold. I managed to get some pictures and video clips of the underwater wildlife and the many corals growing everywhere. We haven’t posted the videos yet but go see the other pictures. I know I still have to refine my underwater photography skills but this gives you an idea of what it looks like here. We’ve seen all kind of fishes just swimming few feet from us not too worried about our presence. Of course they are the small ones that we cannot fish anyway but the lobsters are a different story. These guys hide very deep in their holes and you have to dive to the bottom and look under the rocks or the coral ledges to see one of their antenna. Then you need to make the kind of contortions you see in the Cirque Du Soleil to manage to get your spear in the hole and try to get to them (we need to say that with the skin that Roger wear to dive, he looks just like a ballerina :-) ). After you win or you lose; for the past two days they are the ones who won!If you follow us regularly, you may find that we are going a bit slow but the fact is that we have to wait for the wind to be in the right direction to keep moving and in the Bahamas you cannot sail at night. The shoals are everywhere and we need to see the bottom during daylight to move about. Therefore we can sail only a few miles per day but so far we are happy with the pace we are moving.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Crossing to the Bahamas, the real life begins!

Welcome to Bahamas. Yeppie!!! Time to change our US courtesy flag for the Bahamas one!

We finally made it to cross the Gulf Stream from Florida to the Bahamas. The crossing went very smooth as the sea was calm and the wind light. It was a 60 nm (112 Km) ride that we had to motor since the wind was too weak and we needed to beat the very strong current of the Gulf Stream. With only the sails, the crossing would have taken so long that we would have probably landed in Bermuda! Look at the color of the water behind Danielle on this picture. The waters in the Gulf Stream are about 2500 feet deep and are this beautiful marine blue. We left at sunrise around 7:00am and arrived in Gun Cay at about 4:00pm. Note that the Bahamas are a large collection of small islands, which they call “cay” and it is pronounced “key”. Only the few large islands bear the name “island” such as Providence Island on which the city of Nassau sits.
After paying the $300.00 US fee for the cruising permit at the Bahamian customs it was time for fishing. We bought a fishing spear in Florida and it was time to use it. Blake from “Slow Mocean” showed me how this work and how to hunt down the fish and lobsters. We went fishing for about 3 hours in the nearby coral reef and we caught two fishes and many lobsters. That evening, seafood was on the menu. After many months of sailing down the East Coast of the USA, repairing the boat, installing new equipments and buying food, charts and spare parts, it was time for us to start to relax. But the break lasted only one day as we needed to resume our traveling toward Nassau the next day.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

On our way for the crossing.

Yesterday we left Miami on our way to a small island called “Pumpkin Key” about 30 miles south. The goal being to get more south than needed to compensate for the Gulf Stream current that will push us north. The watermaker being fixed and producing water so pure that we will likely need some mineral supplements, the boat is now ready for the serious passage to the Bahamas. Well, at least that what we thought. Dark forces, it seems, were at play yesterday to make sure we don’t get to Pumpkin Key and not a minute after we raised the anchor Danielle noticed that the port engine throttle did not respond to the control level. It was running but was not going faster or slower???? I then put my repairmen hat and jumped in the engine room to found out that the control cable for the throttle had just snapped. A control cable for a boat engine is a big cable similar to the one used for the breaks on a bicycle. It is easy to fix, when you have a spare one!!! While I was scratching my head to figure a way to fix this, the dark forces were still at play. Danielle complained that there was a strong gas smell in the cockpit and sure there was one. After investigation, I found out that the gas line of the inflatable dinghy had a 1” crack and was leaking its gas.
The good news is that the Yin and the Yan of the universe created opposite forces to help us fix the issues. For the dinghy gas line we unbelievably happened to have bought a brand new one the day before as a spare! But the control cable was a bit more complicated. We stopped the boat at an anchorage point a few miles down the road and it just happened that “Slow Mocean”, a boat we know with Blake and Sunny on board, was there. Blake went on board to help me out while Danielle contacted Hans, a very good mechanic in Clayton NY. Hans quickly gave me the information we needed on the cable and with Blake’s help Danielle, who had already managed to get online, found a store on the other side of the bay that had it in stock. Blake happened to have a parcel to pick up at the marina one block from the store so he took me there with his boat. We found the problems around 11:00 am and at 5:00pm they were both fixed! After five months of dealing with boat issues we are now getting pretty good at it ;-) Of course, all the stars aligning at the same time helped too!
Since we left one day earlier we are still on schedule for Pumpkin Key and our crossing.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

While we are waiting in Miami

In our last few posts we talked a lot about what we did, mostly on the boat, but not much about what we saw and now that we are in Miami there are a few things worth showing. By the way, we added a few new videos and lots of pictures under our “video” and “picture” buttons at the top of the page. Go have a look.
At our arrival in Miami we were greeted by the skyscrapers of downtown Miami that stand like giants as if they were guarding the long channels leading from the ocean to the city shores. On this picture you can see the south channel that we were forced to take instead of the central channel called “The government cut”. The reason we couldn’t take the Government Cut is not quite clear but if you could see the docks on each side of the channel spreading over 3 to 4 kilometers with all the giant cruise ships docked one after the other this may give you an idea. Our Chocobo may be a decent boat when it comes to sailboats but compared to what floats out there, we look more like a cork with a stick on it!

As we understand it, Miami has three types of public transportation; the regular buses, the metrotrain as you can see on that picture and the metromovers as shown on the next picture. The metrotrain play the role of a subway but seems to be entirely in the air. They don’t have snow to shovel here so it is practical to leave it outside instead of underground. People get in the train with their bicycle, which makes it way more convenient to use public transportation, the same with the bus where the bicycles are attached at the front. Another aspect to notice on this picture is all the tall buildings that cover the city. Almost all buildings in this picture are apartment buildings, not office buildings. Obviously, there are office buildings in downtown but the vast majority is for living. It is actually interesting to notice that Miami doesn’t cover much surface but has all these tall buildings.

This is the third kind of public transportation in Miami; the metromovers. This is a completely automated system of shuttles that continuously travel around two loops in the downtown area. It links the major connection stations to the bus and metrotrains as well as stopping at many stations along the way. The access to the metromovers is entirely free! We don’t see that much often these days. The trick with them is that the two loops they follow have a common section. Therefore, when a shuttle arrives you need to check on the light panel what loops it belongs to. Of course, Danielle and I knew nothing about this and we took the wrong the one. We would have asked people about how this works when we noticed that the shuttle took a definitive wrong turn that was taking us on the other side of the city. But you have to remember that Miami is a Cuban city where the vast majority of the people here are unilingual Spanish. Everybody we saw here who are either bus drivers, construction workers, cashiers, waiters or working at the fast food restaurants are Cubans with some rare exceptions who are black. And they all speak Spanish, including the black peoples. So because we haven’t done our homework yet and didn’t learn the basics in Spanish, we had to figure it by ourselves and managed as usual to get where we wanted.

This picture was taken at one the major metrotrain stations. We have no idea what these chickens are doing there but they really live there as we saw them at this exact location on different days. With the number of homeless people in Miami it is quite a miracle that these juicy chickens survived that long and never finished in the stomach of someone tired of eating the popular soup!

As you probably already noticed by looking at our “Cost” page, one of our favorite activities is to buy boat parts! Here you can see Danielle in front of our favorite store with her new marine dress. J We actually had to buy this 225ft long line after we talked with other peoples about sea anchors and realized that what we had was definitively inadequate. Since we had to go back by metrotrain and bus you can imagine that Danielle didn’t go unnoticed walking everywhere like a wool ball. It was a good thing we didn’t cross any cats!

When we first arrived in Miami we went at anchor next to South Beach (Miami Beach) just south of the Venetian Causeway. However, on our way there at one point the boat almost stopped as if we were hitting the ground even though the depth sounders were both showing a depth of at least 8 feet. We struggled a bit with the engines but managed to get away and continued without completely understanding what we just hit. Once at anchor and the boat secured, we used our “Fish TV”, an underwater camera that we received from Danielle’s dad before our departure, to look at the propellers to see if everything was fine. You can see the video of this in our “Video” page, it is called “Helice enroulee” and is in French but don’t worry don’t need to understand the words to see what’s going on! It turned out that we had this line tangled around our starboard propeller. We have no idea how come the propeller didn’t cease and brake but I guess we got very lucky. The next day, I dove to remove the line as you can see on this picture. What you don’t see though is how cold the water was! When I jumped in the water I first twinkled like a cat when you walk on its tail and then I managed to control my hypothermia and went on with the task I had to do. After the dive I took a cold water shower and actually found it warm!

In our blog we often talk about “mooring balls” that we use to attach the boat but for most people this doesn’t mean anything. This is a picture of the mooring field of Crandon Park Marina where you can clearly see the balls to which the boats are attached. Obviously, the floating balls theselves aren’t holding the boat! They are actually attached with a chain to a very heavy weight of 500 to 800 lbs that is practically impossible to drag with a boat. The point of these balls is that they are way cheaper than a dock and if you ask us they are much more comfortable as the boat is not continuously pushed against the dock but just turns following the wind or the current.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Waiting in Miami.

We are waiting in Miami, FL to get our watermaker fixed and for the proper weather window to cross the Gulf Stream to the Bahamas. We were actually supposed to cross last week and had the perfect window with the wind shifting to south to cross and started our watermaker to make sure it works fine before we leave. Well, like many other things on the boat, the first time we use a piece of equipment; it doesn’t work. Actually it works all fine but the fact that it produces salt water! For a watermaker I guess this is a detail that is worth paying attention to. I looked at it and it became clear that the problem was not a simple one and that we needed to have someone who knows what he’s talking about to come and look at it! We did contact the local Spectra dealer and he’s going to come as soon as he receives the new membrane early next week.

Since we missed our window to cross and have to wait for the next one in a week or two, we took the time to enjoy ourselves here in Miami. So far the weather has been incredibly nice. Sunny and 28°C we have to be very careful with the sun. We went to the crowded beach of Miami Beach and walked in the streets. Miami itself in not a very beautiful city, at least the small part that we saw and I think we saw more homeless people than working ones. As someone we’ve met said; if you have to be homeless, you better be in Miami than somewhere up north! We were receiving mail sent to us at a post office in Miami as General Delivery through Express Post. Well, the only “express” with them is in the name. It was sent as a 3-day delivery and after a week we finally got it. As a matter of fact it was the local office here that had misplaced the letter in their bins and it was just after we came back with the printed copy of the online report saying that they had received it that the lady at the counter took the time to look for the letter! This made us wonder; since the sole purpose of a post office is to handle mail, if they cannot do THAT properly, what can they do?

Miami Beach on the contrary is much nicer and wealthier. Walking on Lincoln Ave we could see more gay men than in the gay village in Montreal, and I am not kidding. You couldn’t look at the street without seeing a men couple or a gay walking by himself. Like anywhere else, we would also see people walking their dogs like this little girl who was holding this big dog that could have dragged her so easily. She was actually taking her job very seriously and it was clear who the boss here was!

We spent some time at anchor in Miami Beach but the spot wasn’t the greatest and with the cold front coming along with some rough winds we decided to go and wait a few mile south at Crandon Park where we took a mooring ball and could replenish our fresh water to wait for the watermaker parts to arrive. The place here is very nice and peaceful and we are located just beside a small island where hundreds of birds nest and do what birds do. It is actually quite interesting to see how the 4 or 5 different species behave to share the same small territory as they seems to fight more with their owns than with the other kind of birds. I think I’ve seen that behavior with another specie already!