Blog posts

How a 4 Cent O-ring Can Change Your Life

This is the story of a plain ol’ rubbber O-ring, about 2 1/2″ in diameter, that probably cost about 4 cents to make, and how it just changed the lives (at least in the short term) of six people and three boats. If I told you the WHOLE story, it would read like “War and Peace”, so I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest version.

Smartini at Riding Rock Marina, San Salvador. If Au Soleil had been there when I took this picture, they’d be on the dock right behind Smartini.

The story begins in the Riding Rock Marina on the Bahamian island of San Salvador. (It’s called that because Christopher Columbus made first landfall there on his quest to the New World, and he named it.) Fran, May, and I had been in the marina for a few days already, when a big sailcat (a sailing catamaran) named Au Soleil came in for fuel and an overnight stop. They were delivering the boat from major repairs in St. Augustine, FL back to its home in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. After fueling, they tied up behind Smartini and we exchanged names and pleasantries with Ryan and Leslie, and Adam and Emily (who would be running Au Soleil as a charter in the Virgin Islands), and they left the next morning, making a straight shot to St. Thomas with no stops. We didn’t expect to ever see or hear about them again.

We left San Salvador a day or two later, and after three days of travel, we pulled into our new home for the winter, the Turtle Cove Marina on Providenciales (aka Provo), Turks and Caicos.  What boat do you think was there at the dock? No… not the Black Pearl, dummy… it was Au Soleil! A nagging fuel problem with one engine had gotten worse since San Sal, and they decided to pull in to try to resolve it. We made sure the crew knew we had lots of tools if they needed to borrow something, and the next day, Ryan came by with a peanut butter jar and a couple of brass fittings. He was trying to fashion a fuel filter to handle all the insect parts, fiberglass fibers, and other crap that had made it into one of the tanks during all the repair work in St. Augustine. (BTW, this is at least the fourth time we’ve heard of bad things happening at the big boat yard in St. Augustine – if you go there, beware of shoddy work!) He was going to simply run the fuel through the jar, hoping the crud would settle to the bottom and he could easily clean it out there, before it made it to the on-engine fuel filter and clog it up completely.

But no… that wouldn’t do! Within about 30 minutes, I had upgraded him to a bigger peanut butter jar (Peter Pan, of course!) with a hose running into a Racor 500 fuel filter that fit perfectly in the jar, and another hose to get the clean fuel out of the top of the jar. (I can’t believe I didn’t take a picture of it.) MacGuyver would have been so proud! However… the suction from the fuel pump was too great for the screw-on plastic lid, and air was getting sucked into the makeshift filter, ultimately rendering it useless. Enter the 4 cent O-ring, right?!?!

No – that won’t enter the story until much later. Ryan and crew had decided it was time to skedaddle, and wouldn’t let me make a gasket for the Peter Pan filter. Dammit! I have at least four different ways to make gaskets! Gimme another 30 minutes! So close to saving the day. We bade them farewell, and I put my cape back in the closet.

Kirk and Karen, who don’t really factor into this story, but we had fun with them for a few days!

A day or two later, a pretty 40′ Pearson sailboat named Dauntless motored into a slip near Smartini, and we (me and our new friend Kirk) walked over to help with lines. The captain of Dauntless, Robert, looked like he had been through the wringer, to put it mildly, so after he was finished with Customs and Immigration, Fran and I walked him to Sharkbite and got some food and Jack Daniels into him, and started to get his story out of him. It’s a looong story, starting in St. Thomas right after Hurricane Irma, detouring to Texas for about a year to buy and re-fit a boat (Dauntless) to replace the one that sank in St. Thomas during Hurricane Maria, and getting to Provo from Galveston via Key West (fuel problems), Nassau, Georgetown, and then a loooong run of mostly-sick-with-food-poisoning single-handed sailing to Turtle Cove Marina. With a two-day unplanned stop on the little island of Samana to get over the food poisoning. With a transmission, autopilot, and generator that were all in various stages of misbehavior. Yes… the man needed a drink! (But he didn’t have a problem with a 4 cent O-ring – keep your pants on!)

Robert on Dauntless

Over the next several days, we got a lot more of Robert’s story, and were able to help him get all of the things he needed to fix most of his issues, and get provisioned, and pretty much ready to go. We learned, for example, that he was supposed to meet Ryan, Leslie, Adam, and Emily on Au Soleil, here in Turtle Cove, but being sick along the way had delayed him past their departure date.

And we sat with him for about an hour a few days ago, looking at the weather forecast for the next several days, wondering just how the hell he was going to get the rest of the way to St. Thomas, by himself, with not much wind at all forecast for the direction he needed, any time soon. (He has a motor, but maybe not enough fuel capacity to motor all the way.) He had pretty much resigned himself to changing his Captain’s business card from “USVI” to “Provo, TCI”, and was walking to the marina office to tell them, when he noticed a boat that had recently arrived, tied up in the very spot that Au Soleil had vacated just days before. And they were flying a US Virgin Islands flag. And he didn’t know them directly, but they knew (you guessed it!) Ryan, Leslie, Adam, and Emily, and they had many other mutual acquaintances in St. Thomas.

Steve, Caitie, and Kyle on Kailani

They – the new kids on the block – are Steve, Caitie, and Kyle, who are delivering a big Fountaine Pajot sailcat from the big boat show in Annapolis, MD to St. Thomas, where Steve and Caitie will be running it for charters. They had left Marsh Harbour, in the Abacos (northermost group of islands in the Bahamas) several days ago, and were here in Provo to pick up a new raw water pump for one of their engines. Because somewhere along the way from Maryland, they started getting high coolant temps and had pretty much narrowed it down to an issue with the pump, and very prudently decided they better resolve the issue before taking off on a four day journey.

Shortly after their arrival, Steve came down the dock to Smartini and introduced himself, and told us that he heard we could whip up a pretty mean Peter Pan fuel filter – which he had heard from Ryan on Au Soleil, of course, after their safe arrival in St. Thomas. They all know each other from running boats in St. Thomas. Steve invited us to Kailani (their boat) for cocktails around 5:00, and after he twisted both our arms mercilessly for several nanoseconds, we accepted.

On Kailani, we met the rest of Steve’s crew: his girlfriend Caitie, and Kyle, the hired gun brought on for his ace sailoring skills, and to satisfy the insurance company’s requirement for a crew of three for the blue water portion of the trip. And we met another Kyle, and a Blaire and a Mac, the crew of a Falcon 7X jet that’s here in Provo for a few days. They gave Steve a ride somewhere in their rental car after taking pity on him, and he invited them to cocktail hour. Apparently, Steve and Caitie collect friends like Fran and I do!

Over cocktails, Caitie detailed their engine problems to me, and hearing nothing that seemed to be above my pay grade, I offered to come have a look in the morning. They had a $175-an-hour local mechanic lined up for the early afternoon, and I thought I might be able to solve their problem before he got there. They accepted (I think it was the legend of the Peter Pan fuel filter that won them over!), then they all sang “Happy Birthday” to me (it was my 60th birthday), and we said goodnight.

The next morning, Steve came by to see if I had a filter wrench so he could do an oil and filter change on both engines before taking off for St. Thomas. I gave him all three of mine, and grabbed a bunch of other tools I thought I might need, and headed down the dock.

Kailani is a catamaran-style sailboat, with an engine in the back of each hull. Caitie showed me what I needed to know to start troubleshooting, and I said “that looks like a pretty comfortable space to work in”. Wrong. Because everwhere I wanted to put a foot, something was in my way. Eventually, though, I figured out that if I simply laid myself on top of the engine, I could reach just about everything I needed. (When we went to bed that night, Fran asked why I had “RAMNAY” imprinted across my ribcage.)

I had Caitie and Kyle run through a detailed explanation of the symptoms they’d experienced, and the timing of everything, etc. It really didn’t make sense, but after ruling out a clog in the intake line, my next step was to look inside the offending pump. And there… inside the bronze cover of the pump… intended to seal the inside of the pump from the outside of the pump… smeared over with some gasket-making material… was the four cent O-ring, with about an inch of it missing. As long as the pump wasn’t trying to pump too hard, it was sucking only a little air in past the gap in the O-ring. But when they tried to throttle up, and the pump spun faster, it created more and more suction, and eventually, it sucked in enough air through the gap to make the pump lose its prime, and stop pumping water.

Their new pump arrived about that time, and of course it came with a new cover and O-ring, so I put it in place, and everything was fine. But there was nothing wrong with the old pump, other than that 4 cent O-ring. They’ll have it rebuilt in St. Thomas, because one of the inner seals had started to weep a little, but it’ll make a great spare for them.

Dauntless leaving Turtle Cove

That was yesterday morning. Yesterday afternoon, Fran and I stood on the dock and cast off the lines for Kailani and Dauntless, as they set sail together for St. Thomas. The weather forecast was good for them to motor East for the next few days, then sail all the way to St. Thomas. We can’t contact them during their trip, but they can keep in touch with each other, and they have enough fuel to motor almost all the way there if they have to, so we’re not really worried about them.

Kailani departs Turtle Cove

So how did this four cent O-ring change people’s lives? Well, Ryan, Leslie, Emily, and Adam don’t really have anything to do with the O-ring, so I guess it didn’t change their lives at all. I included them in this story mainly to talk about the Peter Pan fuel filter! But Robert now has a good chance of making it to St. Thomas alive, because Kailani needed to come into Provo because of the O-ring. I’m sure Steve, Caitie, and Kyle will be great friends with Robert once they all make it to St. Thomas – or they’ll never speak to each other again. You never know how those long road trips turn out. Steve’s psyche is forever scarred by the lecture I gave him about never leaving the dock without running through a detailed checklist.

And Fran, May, and me? When we arrived here in Provo 11 days ago, we really had no idea where we would go next. Down to the Domican Republic, and Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands, and keep going south? Or back through a little of the Bahamas, then to Cuba, and Mexico, and down to Central America? May had been pushing for Cuba, but based on all of the people we’ve met since San Salvador who live and work on St. Thomas, and the things they told us about the place in the time we spent with them due to the failure of a 4 cent O-ring – we’ve decided! St. Thomas, here we come! (In April or May – we still have to thoroughly explore Turks and Caicos.)

Disassemble Raymarine e7D Chart Plotter / MFD

Another of my boring “How To” posts, this one detailing the disassembly of a Raymarine e7D MFD.

WARNING: this isn’t the normal “cool places we’ve been and people we’ve met” post. It’s one of my boring, how-to posts. Its intended audience isn’t the typical Smartini.Life reader, but rather, any boater who needs some help with her or his Raymarine e7D. If you don’t own one, you really don’t need to read this post. (But if you’re just dying to know, the e7D is our map – like Google Maps, and can also display the radar, the sonar, trip data, our backup camera, our FLIR infrared night vision camera, and any combination of two of those things. That’s why it’s called an MFD – Multi-Function Display.)

We have four e7D’s on Smartini – two at the lower helm station, two at the upper. We bought them because, at the time, they were phasing them out and we could get them for a LOT less money than the newer, bigger replacement model. We don’t love them, but we don’t hate them, either. We always use a tablet with Navionics software and charts for route planning, and as a backup. They work. Well… three of them do. The night before we were to depart Florida for the Bahamas and beyond – literally hours before! – the screen on one of them started showing only varying shades of green and white. Fortunately, it was the one at the lower helm station (we almost never run the boat from there), and the one that was not designated as the “system master”. So no great loss.

Several weeks ago, we noticed that the big knob that’s used primarily for zooming in and out on the chart started behaving erratically. It wouldn’t zoom smoothly, and sometimes while zooming in, it would suddenly zoom out several levels. And when we turned the knob, it felt “sticky”.

I searched online and found other people reporting the same problem, but the solution was always “send it in to Raymarine for service”. But we’re in Turks and Caicos, so getting a unit to and from them would be a real hassle. And the units are all out of warranty. And the cost to repair one would likely be way more than I would want to pay – especially when considering shipping. So I says to myself – “Self, there’s no harm in taking the one with the bad screen apart, and seeing if you can get all the way to the knob. If you can, then take its knob and put it into the one with the bad knob.”

Two hours later, the job was done! (One of those rare boat repairs that actually goes exactly like you hope it will.) Below are the steps to disassemble the unit all the way to the point that the only thing left is the screen in the frame. (I didn’t see any point in taking that apart, as I didn’t have a spare screen to put in anyway.)

Tools you will need: thin bladed flat screwdriver, regular and small Phillips screwdriver, 3/32 (and maybe 2.5mm) hex head wrench.

Gently! You’ll notice I use that word a lot in the instructions. I mean it – some of these parts are rather delicate, and if you break one, you’re probably screwed. So take it easy, Hercules!

1. Remove plastic trim bezel by gently prying it up with a very thin-bladed flat screwdriver.

2. Remove 4 screws in the corners that mount it to the panel. Pull the unit from the panel and disconnect the cables from the backside, and place it face down on a towel or other soft, cushioned surface.

3. Gently lift off the whole button / knob cover piece. You should be able to do this with only your fingertips.

 

 

 

 

4. Gently remove the thin gasket that goes all around the unit where it mates to the panel. That exposes 14 small Phillips head screws.

5. Remove the 14 screws.

 

 

6. Using your thumbnail or a small screwdriver, gently pry up the four screw covers (one at each corner).

 

 

7. With an Allen wrench, remove the four screws that you just uncovered. They are TIGHT – be sure to use the correct size wrench. I was able to remove all but one with a 3/32”, but for one, I had to use a 2.5mm. Just be very careful to not strip the head. A plastic bushing will come out with each screw – don’t lose those! They are what align the two halves perfectly when you reassemble them, so that the many-pin electronics connector lines up.

8. Use a thin flat screwdriver to separate the two halves of the unit, starting at the corner. Work your way around until the halves are separated, then gently pull them apart. They connect to each other through a many-pin connector that will automatically properly align and reconnect when you put the two halves back together later.

 

Separated into two halves

 

 

 

 

 

 

9. Disconnect the little gray wifi antenna wire connector and all the other connectors around the unit. There are four ribbon cable connectors that are held in place by a thin black latch: lift the latch, and the ribbon cable will slide right out. (See the next three pictures.)

 

 

One type of connector

 

 

 

 

 

The other kind

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ribbon cable will slide out easily when the connector tab is lifted

 

 

 

 

 

 

Main circuit board

10. Remove the four Phillips head screws that hold the main circuit board in place.

11. Lift up the circuit board that those four screws held in place. It will be a little sticky, because of a pad of pink insulation between it and the heat sink that it’s screwed to.

 

 

 

 

Heat sink with insulator pad

12. Remove the four Phillips head screws (two flat head, two rounded head) in the heat sink, and lift off the heat sink. On my two units,the flat head screws were quite tight, so make sure to use the correct size screwdriver for a good fit, and – you guessed it – be gentle, but firm.

 

 

 

 

13. Remove the nine tiny screws that hold the button / knob circuit board in place. Don’t lose the white silicone spacer – it’s not fastened on – and don’t forget to put it back in place before reassembly.

14. Gently lift up the circuit board, separating it from the silicone gasket.

Inside the external knob, which is now visible, you may see what I saw – that the white plastic part that should turn when the knob turns is broken.  I’ve emailed Raymarine to see if I can buy just that part, but I just know they’re going to say no. (UPDATE: I contacted them, and they said “yes”! I ordered part number R70227, which is just the knob assembly. It was $54 – but if another one breaks, I’ll be ready for it!)

At this point, the only thing remaining to remove would be the screen from the front half of the case, and I didn’t see any reason to do that, at least not in my situation. Even if I were replacing the screen, I think I’d replace the screen and front half as an assembly, rather than try to remove the screen. (It seems to be in there pretty securely, and I couldn’t see any way to remove it.)

Reassembly is the simple reverse of the above disassembly steps. The only two slightly tricky parts I encountered where when reinstalling the thin gray antenna wire (it snaps straight down onto the connector), and the button / knob cover on the front (insert the left side as fully as you can first, then snap the right side into place).

I hope this was helpful to you. If you’d like to see my other How To posts, they’re all in the Maintenance category.

We’re in Turks and Caicos!

Just a short post to let y’all know, our address has changed from “The Bahamas” to “Turks and Caicos”. We arrived at the Turtle Cove Marina on Monday afternoon. It was a 382 nm run from Nassau to here:
– 15 hours to Cat Island
– 8 hours to Sal Salvador
– 6 nights on San Salvador, with a little scuba diving and island exploration (met some GREAT people from Michigan Adventure Diving in Milan, MI on a dive trip – Thanks, Ty, and Kadee, and Betsy, and Suzette, and Steve,  and Elaine, and Tom, for welcoming us into your group!)
– 11 hours to Semana
– 11 hours to Mayaguana
– 7 hours to Provo

The last 20 minutes were the most interesting. Provo is protected on its north side by a lot of coral reef, and there’s only one safe route through it. It’s twisty and windy, and at one point, only 30 feet wide (Smartini is 16 feet wide). So the marina sent out a guide boat for us to follow in. Thankfully, we had high tide and no wind, so it was easy, but still a little nerve wracking.

Yesterday (the day after we arrived on really nice seas), the wind kicked up, and the dive boat that shares our marina went out, and came right back in – too rough! Hats off to the Smartini Trip Planning Department for picking a near-perfect three day window for the journey here!

Banana bread Fran made on the trip from Semana to Mayaguana, with bananas from Peter, the marina manager in Nassau who we became friends with
Our last sunrise in the Bahamas – maybe forever? No telling when we might return.
This little bird joined us about 20 miles from Provo, and flitted around the boat for most of the rest of the trip. At one point, it landed not a foot from Fran.
Fran decided to toss out all the plants in the Tower Garden before entering a new country to avoid any potential hassles. This is her final poblano pepper harvest – 163 of them!

Long Island, Conception, Cat Island and Eleuthera

In the middle of June, we had a two week stretch between guests to get from George Town on Great Exuma to Governor’s Harbour on Eleuthera. The weather was mostly favorable for travel, so we were able to spend all the time we wanted at each of those places. This post tells just a little bit about those two weeks, with a whole lotta pictures at the end of it.

Looking over Calabash Bay, Long Island

The North end of Long Island is about 53 nm from George Town, and that was our first stop. We had heard that Calabash Bay is very nice, with one of the most beautiful beaches in all of the Bahamas. We made it there easily in one day, and found (surprise!) a beautiful bay and beach, and a nice calm anchorage. Long Island is long (duh!) – about 80 miles – so one of the days we rented a car and drove about 2/3 of the way down it to Clarence Town. There, there are two churches that were designed and built by a man called Father Jerome – one church is Catholic, the other Protestant (Church of England). He was an interesting guy, but I won’t spend much Smartini Life time on him – if you’re interested, his real name was John Hawes. Near the end of his life, he built “The Hermitage” on Cat Island, of which there are a lot of pictures in the photo gallery at the end of this post.

We visited world famous Dean’s Blue Hole, a 600-foot deep blue hole (and underwater sink hole) where the annual freediving championships are held. We snorkeled around the edge of it, but neither of us could bring ourselves to swim out over the middle of it. (What? We’re going to suddenly plummet to the bottom just because it’s deep? I didn’t say it made sense.)

We found the house of one of our long-time clients from when we had jobs, Dr. Larry Levin. He flies to Long Island from his home in Rhode Island in his Socata Trinidad (single engine airplane) about once a month to run the only dental clinic on the island. Unfortunately, we keep missing him – he zigs when we zag – and this time was no different.

Salvaged wood table on porch of tiny house owned by nameless couple on Long Island

We met a couple from North Carolina on the beach one day, and they told us they have a house overlooking the ocean, and that we should stop by for coffee the next day, before we took off on our rental car exploration of the island. So we did. What a cool place they’ve built! It’s tiny, it’s high on the rocky shore of the East side of the island, it has no electricity nor running water, near-constant sea breeze, and an incredible view! They have scrounged the beach for years and build stuff with their found treasures – furniture, decorations, etc. They fly down in their Mooney (single engine airplane) pretty regularly and just relax, and enjoy their little paradise. And we can’t for the life of us remember their names. But that’s the way it’s been on this trip more often than not – we meet people, spend a little time with them, usually learn some really interesting stuff about them, and then we never see them again.

Approaching Conception Island, the prettiest beach we’ve seen in the Bahamas

Next stop was the tiny island of Conception, about 20 nm NE of Long Island. It’s a national park, with no one and nothing on it, and it has the most beautiful bay and beach of any we’ve seen in the Bahamas. When we arrived, there wasn’t another soul to be seen – and in June in the Bahamas, that’s saying something. We spent only a day or so there, did a little snorkeling, saw the biggest Nassau Grouper ever (I swear he was the size of a suitcase!), walked on both sides of the island, and then when another boat showed up, it was time to move on.

The Hermitage, from below

The southern tip of Cat Island is only about 30 miles from Conception, but where we were headed, it was a total of about 45, which we did on another beautiful day for being on the ocean. Our first stop on Cat was New Bight, a tiny settlement on the West side of the island. (All of our time on Long, Cat, Conception, and Eleuthera was on the West side – the East side is often too rough for us to travel there, and almost all of the settlements are on the West sides.) We simply had to stop at New Bight, so that we could climb Mount Alvernia – the highest point in the Bahamas! For one thing, we needed some exercise, so a little mountain climbing seemed like a good idea. But the real attraction of Mount Alvernia is The Hermitage – a tiny compound built by the aforementioned Father Jerome to spend the waning years of his life. It has everything one needs to live and worship – a chapel, a place to cook, and sleep, and shower, and everything else – all built for one, single person. He also built a monument of sorts on the steep, rocky path up to it – all of the “Stations of the Cross” are represented along the way. I can imagine for someone who is Catholic, especially a devout Catholic, that it would be a moving experience to hike it. There’s a picture of each one of the surviving stations in the gallery at the end of this post, along with many other pictures of The Hermitage. By the way, our mountain climbing wasn’t as strenuous as most – it turns out that the highest point in all of the Bahamas is only 206 feet above sea level!

We rented a car on Cat, too, and drove around much of the island. One of our stops was the Bat Cave (see pictures). Since all of the Bahamas is made of limestone, there are lots of caves, sink holes, and other natural formations that happen when limestone erodes. This particular cave is right on the side of the road, so we just had to go in. Takes all of three minutes to see it all, but if you go all the way to the back, there are bats! Interestingly, this was our second cave with bats in the Bahamas, the first being on Cave Cay.

Fun Fact: Cat Island is the only place in the Bahamas to ever have a railroad. In the 1800’s, when there was significant agriculture on Cat, the railroad was used to transport produce to a port for loading on ships to Europe and the US. There’s almost none of it left now – we didn’t find any of it. Just another tidbit in the long, strange history of these islands.

After a couple nights anchored at New Bight, we moved a few hours north to Bennett’s Harbour. We found some nice reefs to snorkel, harvested a few of their groupers, spent a night or two, but apparently, didn’t take many pictures. No big deal – it was just another beautiful bay, with beautiful water, overlooking a beautiful beach. Nuthin’ special.

Tidal creek on Cat – a real turtle refuge!

Just south of Bennett’s Harbour, a little north of Alligator Point, we took Killer about a mile and a half up into a big tidal creek. It was beautiful up in there, but the main attraction is turtles – juveniles who aren’t yet big enough to be out in the ocean full time. We saw a lot on the way in, so on the way out, we counted them – nineteen! Plus two or three sharks, and a big stingray or two.

Why can’t it be like this all the time?

The day we left Bennett’s Harbour was maybe the flattest, calmest, smoothest, pick-your-favorite-adjective-for-good-boating-est day we’ve yet experienced. The picture of Killer in our wake, with every wave distinct and undisturbed to the horizon, says it all. A rare day indeed.

Our last stop before Governor’s Harbour on Eleuthera was to be Tarpum Bay, but it was farther than we wanted to go in one day, so we made a quick overnight stop at Little San Salvador, a tiny island with a big bay, all of it owned by one of the cruise ship lines. Fortunately, we got there after the ship had left, and we left before the next one arrived, so we had it pretty much to ourselves for the few waking hours we were there. Unfortunately, while maneuvering to anchor, Captain Fran heard an unfamiliar noise and put it in neutral, but not before Killer’s tow line had gotten wrapped around the prop. Ugh! Several breath-hold dives later, the prop was clear, the tow line was only about 10 feet shorter, and we had learned a very valuable lesson – tie Killer CLOSE to Smartini before doing any maneuvering.

Michael, of Bahamas Plastic Movement

Tarpum Bay, on Eleuthere,  is home to the Bahamas Plastic Movement, whose mission it is to reduce the amount of plastic waste that ends up in the environment. Their major achievement so far is helping to get plastic bags banned in the Bahamas (to take effect in 2020). Fran learned of them through a Pike High School student named Molly Denning. (Pike is where my daughter Maddie went, along with all of her friends, and the kids of many of our friends in Indy.) Molly did an internship with BPM during college. Molly is friends with the BenHameda family, who are dear friends of ours. The connection was made, and Fran started communicating with Kristal Ambrose, the founder of the organization. Kristal was to be off island, doing an internship of her own in the Netherlands, while we were there, so she arranged for Michael, a local teacher who is deeply involved in BPM, to meet us. He was a fantastic host, giving us a tour of their part of Eleuthera, telling us about all the cool things BPM is doing, and showing us one of the most impressive trees we’ve ever seen! (And spiders – see pictures.)

After a night or two at Tarpum Bay, this chapter of our story came to a close as we headed for Governor’s Harbour to await the arrival of our next guests, Ingrid, Penelope, and Porter (Fran’s sister, niece, and nephew). I’ll write that Visit Report next!

It was a wonderful two weeks, the first long stretch that we’d been able to do what we thought we’d be doing most of the time – leisurely cruising from island to island, exploring each one as much or little as we like, and then moving on. Don’t get me wrong – we love having guests, and getting to share some of our adventures with them – but “Fran and Brian” time is special, and this little adventure was definitely special.

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Visit Report: Paul and Denise

Faithful readers of Smartini Life know that the crew of Smartini went to Italy for three weeks in May/June. What they probably don’t know is that two wonderful people stayed onboard Smartini for that time, and more important, took care of May the Cat. They are Paul and Denise Magnus. We met them almost two years ago when we took Smartini to a marina in Titusville to have some work finished. They lived on their boat, Orion, in that marina, and we became friends. Sadly, Orion was destroyed by Hurricane Irma in that same marina, but thankfully, Paul and Denise were not onboard.

When we were making plans for Italy, we knew it would mean leaving Smartini and May somewhere, in someone’s hands. We posted on one of the online boating groups that we were looking for a cat sitter and a boat sitter. Denise saw the post and almost immediately volunteered her and Paul – wow! They would fly all the way to George Town in the Exumas and live on Smartini, and take care of May, and Fran’s new Tower Garden – and asked nothing in return.

They arrived a few days before our departure to Italy, in early May. Over the next few days, we showed them everything we could about Smartini, and then they shuttled us to the airport, and we were off. We don’t have a lot of details about the three weeks we were gone, but we know it rained a lot, and the wind blew a lot, and they didn’t get to really enjoy living on a boat in the Bahamas very much. (They told us that one day, they barely opened up the boat because it rained so much – they just sat inside and watched movies all day. Not the kind of days we would have hoped for them, to be sure!)

When we got back to George Town, we finally got to spend some time with them, and even had one really beautiful day. We left the anchorage and went “outside” (the ocean side of the island) and fished for an hour or so, then snorkeled a bit. It was Paul’s birthday! We went to one of the restaurants that cater to cruisers and played trivia. We did get to experience one of their rainy days with them, and watched a water spout, from formation to dissipation, just a few miles away – that was exciting! (See pictures.)

And then, just like that, they were gone! Back to Minnesota, where they’re from, to resume work on a house they had bought shortly before coming to George Town.

Below are some pictures from the few days we got to spend with them. Thanks, Paul and Denise! We can’t tell you how much we appreciate what you did for us!

Back in the Saddle Again

Faithful Readers: forgive me, for I have sinned. It’s been four months since my last submission. Four months!!! What kind of a blogger am I?!?! Busy? Well, yes… but not so busy that I couldn’t squeeze in a little writing from time to time. Let’s go with “unmotivated”, and leave it at that.

Captain Fran taking us out of Nassau Harbour on the first leg to Turks and Caicos.

First, let me bring you up to speed on our current situation. We left our Bahamian home-away-from-home, Nassau Harbour Club Marina, Saturday morning at 6:20 and motored 15 hours to the southwest tip of Cat Island. We anchored and slept for a bit, then left at 6:40 yesterday morning and motored 8 hours to our current temporary home, the island of San Salvador. We’re on our way to Providenciales, Turks and Caicos, where we plan to be from mid-November until at least some time in January, maybe longer. The trip was uneventful with the notable of exception of having the drive shaft of our main hydraulic pump break about 11 hours into the trip. Not a catastrophe – we can run all the hydraulics from either or both of the main engine or the generator. The two issues are that we can’t use the stabilizers when we’re running unless we run the generator (which we don’t normally do), and we can’t get full hydraulic power for the bow and stern thrusters, which comes in handy when docking if there’s much wind and/or current. I’ll be looking for a replacement part, and a hydraulic service company in Turks and Caicos, but for now, we’re still almost fully functional.

San Salvador is in the Bahamas, although the name sure doesn’t sound like it. (Of course, neither do a couple of the other islands in this part of the Bahamas: Mayaguana and Inaugua.) It’s supposedly the island where Christoper Columbus’ expedition first landed after they left Spain, and he named it. It’s a decent sized island – 6 miles across and 12 miles long. Much bigger than almost every island we’ve visited in the Exumas and the Berrys, but much smaller than Andros, Eleuthera, Cat Island, and Long Island. It’s quite remote, but has a Club Med, another small resort, and a dive resort that’s been here since the 1960’s. And it has something we haven’t seen yet in all of the Bahamas: great scuba diving on the west side of the island – the side that’s protected from the typical E – SE tradewinds. That means we can anchor very near a dive site, and can dive even when the wind is blowing pretty hard, because the island protects us from the wind. As a matter of fact, we’re anchored about 500 feet off the western shore of the island, and this morning, we took Killer on a 55 second ride to the closest dive site. Yes – less than a minute, and we were just puttering. And there are at least a half dozen more within a mile, because there is a legitimate wall only a few hundred feet west of where we’re anchored that runs all up and down the west side of the island. And when I say a wall, I mean a wall! The drop-off starts at 20 feet. Just 100 feet west of that, it’s 230 feet deep. In another 200 feet, it’s almost 600 feet deep. And just 1/4 mile west of the drop-off, it’s almost 1,500 feet deep! There are places where it’s even steeper than that – but that’s OK – we probably won’t be going below 60 – 70 feet anyway.

Picture from the bow of Smartini, down into 10′ of gin-clear water.

Oh – and the water here is the clearest of anywhere we’ve yet seen in the Bahamas. This picture is of the water we’re currently anchored in – it really does look like we’re in a swimming pool!

It’s cloudy this afternoon, so we’re going to wait until tomorrow to dive again. We might have to take Killer for a couple of minutes to get to our next dive site choice. Fran’s taking a lot of underwater pictures, so I’ll post some later. In the meantime, I’m going to try to catch up on some of the six Visit Reports I owe you.

 

By the way, May the Cat is now a fully documented Boat Kitty, able to legally enter Turks and Caicos. As you can tell from the picture, she’s SO excited!

One last thing: if you’d like to see where we’ve been, and where we are, you can do so from here: https://share.garmin.com/FollowSmartini. Click the little “+” by Fran’s name on the left side to see our track. If you click on one of the little circles on the track, you can see details about that point, and you can even send us a message from there, via our InReach satellite tracker/communicator.

Northern Exumas

I originally wrote this post on April 28, and then promptly forgot about it, and never posted it – oops! It’s about our first foray into the Exumas, the chain of islands that’s kind of in the middle of the Bahamas. It runs about 100 miles north to south, and is no more than 1/2 mile wide for much of that. It consists of over 365 mostly-small islands (“cays” – pronounced “keys”, not “cays”), with lots of cuts between them that connect the “big water” (the Exuma Sound) on the east side to the shallow bank on the west side. In the middle is Staniel Cay, near the famous Bahamas Swimming Pigs. Great Exuma is the southernmost island, and that’s where George Town and Elizabeth Harbour are. Literally hundreds of cruisers spend their winters there.

What follows is from our first visit to any of the Exumas – the northern part, most easily reached from Nassau. If you want only the pictures, scroll to the end.

Click here to see the path we’ve taken so far. Click the “+” next to Fran’s name.

Typical Exumas beach

Norman’s Cay
We anchored just off a beautiful beach, put Killer (our dinghy) in the water, and explored around the island. This would become almost a ritual as we moved from cay to cay. Norman’s was the home of some serious drug smuggling in the late 70’s and early 80’s, run by a guy named Carlos Lehder. Drugs came and went by plane and boat. There’s a rusted out hulk of an airplane in the harbour, and some bullet holes in a few of the buildings from those days. Now, Norman’s is home to a small restaurant and bar, a few rental bungalos, and one of the best hamburgers I’ve ever had, anywhere. (For $25, it better be!) They don’t make this claim, but if they did say it was the inspiration for “Cheeseburger in Paradise”, it would not be hard to believe.

Highborne Cay
We didn’t find any great snorkeling around Norman’s, so the next day, we moved north a few miles to Highborne Cay. Highborne is home to a fancy-schmancy resort, a very nice, but very small, well sheltered marina, and a restaurant. We took Killer into the marina to fill his gas tanks, and had some lunch at the restaurant. While we were there, a barge was bringing in a massive amount of stuff for some rich dude’s birthday party. Apparently he had rented out the whole island for a week, and it was going to be a real blow out! We were not invited – can you imagine? We did find a few small places to snorkel, but still, nothing we would go out of our way for. Unfortunately, this has been our experience so far in the Exumas – most places, as beautiful as they are above water, don’t have much to look at under the water. We’ve found exceptions, and we certainly haven’t stopped searching yet – but it’s not like there are beautiful coral reefs off the shore of every cay. We’ve really had to search.

There’s supposed to be great fishing for mahi mahi on the outside of Highborne, and the seas weren’t too bad, so out we went. (“outside” refers to the east side of the islands – the ocean side – and the west side is the “inside”, where it’s shallow and protected from the ocean waves and swell, for the most part.) We took Killer. A little small for ocean fishing, but we weren’t going to be more than about a half-mile offshore, so it was OK. We trolled up and down the drop-off in about 100 feet of water for 45 minutes or so, and then decided that we really should have either a bigger boat, or calmer seas, for trolling in the ocean.

Iguana Grande

Allan’s Cay
There are native iguanas on a small number of cays in the Exumas, but Allan’s is probably the most famous one, because when you beach your dinghy, the iguanas come to greet you. Well, not really – they come expecting you to feed them, which most people do, so they keep coming. Within minutes of us arriving, we could see 15 of these prehistoric-looking lizards on the beach, most of them within throwing distance (the distance we could throw the lettuce, not the iguanas). But apparently they’re accustomed to grapes, and we had none, so most of them turned their nose up and showed us their tail as they retreated to the shade of the scrub.

That coral is 20 feet down!

And then we found beautiful coral reef! We were buzzing along the inside  in Killer, in search of coral heads as always, and Fran noticed a white float ahead of us. We pulled up to it and realized it was a mooring ball, and under it was coral reef – lots and lots of coral reef! At least an acre of it. There were actually three mooring balls on it, and the next day, at slack tide, we came back with our scuba gear. It wasn’t very deep (28′ if you laid on the bottom in the deepest spots), but we had a wonderul hour and twenty minute dive. It was exactly what we’d been looking for – and parts of it were shallow enough to snorkel. If we’re in the northern Exumas again, you can bet we’ll be back to this spot! (We learned later the reef is called “Lobster No Lobster” – and no, we didn’t see any. If you go there, the current is totally slack for over an hour, starting about 30 minutes after low or high tide at Nassau. At mid-tide, the current is ripping so fast you don’t even want to attempt it.)

On Ship Channel Cay

Ship Channel Cay
This is the farthest north cay in the Exumas. North of it, the chain becomes just rocks sticking out of the water, too small to be called cays. (There’s supposed to be some nice coral reef up there, but it’s a long dinghy ride to reach it.) We anchored near the remains of an old house that had been made from limestone blocks, cut from the island. (Interesting tidbit – the only native rock or stone in the Bahamas is limestone. No granite, marble, slate – nothing but limestone. It’s what all the islands are made of, and why it’s so difficult to do any serious farming.) The house seems like it was built at least 50 years ago, maybe 100. Long since abandoned, it looked to still be structurally sound. There are so many abandoned homes throughout the Bahamas – one day, we’ll do a picture gallery of them.

A very long, wet tour all around the island in Killer revealed nothing at all that we wanted to snorkel on.

At this point, we needed to get back to Nassau. The repair parts for our watermaker were due to arrive, and we needed to have them installed before continuing. (That didn’t actually happen at that time, but that’s another story!)

Summary: We’ve heard many people say the Exumas are their favorite part of the Bahamas. At this point, we’ve explored only the northernmost 10 – 15% of them, but if the rest are as beautiful as this part, it’s easy to see why people feel that way. The beaches are absolutely beautiful, as is the water in front of them. Our only disappointment was the lack of excellent diving and snorkeling. There’s probably a lot of that on the outside – we know of at least four live-aboard dive boats that come to this area from Nassau over and over – but with the wind blowing like it was, we didn’t get a chance to see for ourselves.

Here a bunch of other pictures  that go along with this post:
https://photos.app.goo.gl/QZ7Uiopo3m3VAbMX9

Crew of Smartini Goes to Italy!

In case you’ve been wondering what the crew of Smartini (Fran and me, but not May the Cat) has been up to lately – we went to Italy! For two weeks with Bennett (my son, Fran’s step-son), and Bennett’s mom, Terri Henderson (yes, that’s my ex-wife – we get along great these days), then just Fran and me for another week.

I’d love to give you all the details, but in the immortal words of Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride, “No, it’s too much – lemme sum up.” We left the USA on May 12 (Terri and Bennett from NYC, Fran and me from Miami) and flew to Rome. A few days there, then a few days in Venice, then a few days in Florence, then some more days in the countryside of Tuscany, a few miles from Siena. Terri and Bennet had to go home at that point, but Fran and I stayed for almost another week, driving a few days to Rome, and then flying to the island of Sicily for four days.

It was a great trip. Bennett is in art school, and Terri was a fine arts / art history graduate from Indiana University, so the art we saw in person, that they had been seeing only in books for years, was enough to make the trip a success for them. (Fran and I really enjoyed that part, too – except maybe for all the pushing and shoving in the Vatican Museum and Sistine Chapel – that was a bit much!) The four days hanging out at the old (OLD! Everything is old there! Like, hundreds, even thousands, of years old!) house in Tuscany was relaxing, and beautiful, and fun as we explored nearby Siena, and the countryside.

We really loved every place we went: Rome, Pompeii / Amalfi Coast, Venice, Florence, Tuscany / Siena, and Sicily. The people were, almost without exception, welcoming and wonderful, in spite of our many, many utterances of “Mi dispiaci – non parlo Italiano.” (I’m sorry, I don’t speak Italian.)

It’s too much to write about, and even if I did, you’d still need to go yourself to really understand what it’s all about. If you’ve ever fantasized about going – do it! I can’t imagine you won’t love it!

Here is a small selection of the hundreds of pictures we took, with comments describing a lot of them. (You have to click on the little “thought bubble” icon to read the comments – sorry!)  https://photos.app.goo.gl/UDgWLtQxscsiyGwL9

No description of this trip would be complete without sending a huge “Thank you!” to Paul and Denise Magnus, who flew all the way from Minnesota to George Town, in the Bahamas, to spend almost a month onboard Smartini, to take care of May the Cat. We met Paul and Denise while we were in the marina in Titusville, FL for a few weeks back in 2016. They lived on their boat for a very long time, but sadly, lost it to Hurricane Irma. When Denise found out we were looking for a cat-sitter for three weeks, she immediately volunteered. Thanks so much, Paul and Denise!

Visit Report: The Aussie Invasion!

Anthony, Claire and Zoe

Lots of years ago (late 1990’s), I was traveling to Australia annually to help support the dealer of our dental practice management software there. He had a trainer – Claire – who was awesome, and at some point that neither of us can recall, we became fast friends. Since I stopped going over for business, she’s been to visit me (us) in Florida twice, and in 2016, Fran, Maddie, Bennett, and I visited her and her family in Australia. This year, it was their turn to cross the pond, and on May 28, Claire, her partner Anthony, and their adorable 5 year old Zoe came aboard Smartini as part of Anthony’s month-long 50th Birthday Celebration. Today, we sadly told them “bye!” This is the report of their visit. (Picture gallery at the very end.)

First mahi mahi on Smartini

They flew into George Town, Exumas, and took a cab to us at the Emerald Bay Marina, a few miles north of the airport. The following day was going to be the only nice weather day for awhile, so we scooted up the Exuma Sound (the “big water” on the east side of the Exumas) 44 nautical miles, all the way to Big Majors Spot, home of the famous Bahamas Swimming Pigs. (Everyone thinks it’s Staniel Cay, but that’s the next island over, the one with the marina and the people.) Just before we made our turn into the cut, we hooked up two mahi mahi, which provided us with what would be the first of several fresh fish dinners of the week.

Swimming Pigs of the Bahamas

After the fish were landed, we motored into the cut and anchored just off Pig Beach, and of course, had to take Killer over to see them RIGHT NOW. After waiting her entire life for this moment, Zoe wasn’t going to wait one more minute!. Her squeals of delight (and a little fear) were louder than the squeals of the pigs for our veggies. One of the bigger ones wasn’t happy with the way Anthony was handing out the veggies, and he got chased and bit for his slowness! No good deed goes unpunished, even with pigs.

Nice sharkey sharkey

On Monday, we went into Staniel Cay to look for Bahamian bread and to see the nurse sharks in the marina. We were not disappointed on either count. We were going to snorkel the famous Thunderball Grotto, but low tide was rather late in the afternoon, and by then, we had already each had a couple of Kaliks at the Staniel Cay Yacht Club, so we missed that particular attraction. We did not, however, miss the shiver of sharks that gather in the marina whenever someone is cleaning fish there. I counted over 20 nurse sharks milling around the ankles of our Australian guests, patiently waiting for the next bit of fish skin, fin, tail, or head that would come flying from the cleaning table.

Staniel was the first chance we had to introduce the Aussie’s to conch salad. Kenson makes it on the beach there, between the Yacht Club and the grocery stores, so although it was at full tourist price ($15 for a single conch’s worth – ouch!), we ordered it up. He squeezes some orange juice into his, along with the normal lemon juice, which is a nice touch. Anthony absolutely loved it, but being allergic to some seafood (mostly crustaceans), he had to be careful. A few cautious bites… no tingling of the tongue and lips… and he was all in!

Iguana Grande!

The forecast for the rest of their time with us was for high winds, mostly from the East, so our plan was to pick our way down the islands on the inside. If you’re familiar with the Exumas, you know that means a stop at Black Point for fresh bread! (After a quick stop at Bitter Guana Cay to feed the native iguanas, of course. They’re mostly gray, with pinkish edges, and they look like small dinosaurs – quite different from the green South Florida variety.)

Black Point is a small, mostly non-touristy settlement with a couple restaurants, a bar or two, and a bakery. Actually, the bakery is just the kitchen of the mother of Lorraine, who owns one of the restaurants (cleverly named “Lorraine’s). We took Killer into the dock and walked to the bakery. Inside, we found Lorraine’s mom standing on a stool in the kitchen, kneading a giant pan of bread dough with all of her strength and weight (the latter of which there is not much – she’s a tiny woman!). We bought a loaf each of cinammon raisin and coconut bread, and when we walked back to the road, ran into four other cruisers who said “You guys going to happy hour at Scorpio’s?”

On the dock at Lorraines, Black Point

We had not done our homework, or we would have known that Club Scorpio is a “must do” stop for cruisers in the area of Black Point. Three nights a week, happy hour means two-for-one of Scorpio’s infamous rum punch. Once we found this out, we, of course, joined the parade to Scorpio’s! The rum punch, being made mostly with cheap, sweet, fruit flavored Ricardo rum, wasn’t all that potent (despite the numerous warnings we received to not have more than two each!) – but the experience was well worth it. Just the sight of the one cruiser practically sprinting inside when it was announced that fresh popcorn had been made was worth the price of admission! (Some cruisers we have met are doing it as economically as possible, so free popcorn and two-for-one drinks were just too tempting to resist.)

Already being ashore, and having no dinner plans on Smartini, we decided to have dinner at Lorraine’s. Cracked conch, grilled grouper, peas and rice – all quite tasty, and at prices far more reasonable than most tourist-focused restaurants we had visited previously.

Will the wind ever stop blowing?

With no change in the forecast (wind gusting to 30 knots), we continued south on the inside the next morning, setting our sights on Little Farmer’s Cay and the Farmer’s Cay Yacht Club. Fran and I had decided that we’d get a mooring ball in the harbour where Great Guana Cay, Little Farmers Cay, and Big Farmers Cay all come together, because the west side of these islands is pretty shallow, and we’d had an uncomfortable rolly night there a few weeks ago. But with the high winds that were forecast (gusts over 30 mph), we decided to tie up at the dock instead. Probably not our best nautical decision making to date, as the wind (from the East) and the waves coming through the cut (from the East) battered Smartini the entire time we were there. If not for our awesome inflatable (and somewhat oversized) fenders, we wouldn’t have gotten any sleep at all that night. The west side, although probably rolly, wouldn’t have induced the kind of excitement we experienced in the harbour. Lesson learned – I hope.

We wanted to go to Little Harbour on Little Farmer’s, to experience the turtle feeding there, but it was just too rough. So we opted for Kaliks, Mr. Nixon’s rum punch, and dominoes inside the yacht club. It’s a yacht club in name only – probably the most egregious stretching of that term we’ve encountered yet! But Mr. Nixon, who built the club from nothing over the past 29 years, is an excellent host, and we decided to stay for dinner – cracked conch, fried whole snapper, and the ever-present peas and rice.

Claire and Anthony were quite keen to get a conch horn to take home to Australia, so the following morning we walked over to the settlement on Little Harbour and found JR. JR is the local wood carver who also knows how to craft an excellent conch horn. But he didn’t have the raw material – the conch itself. So he walked us all down to the harbour to see if any of the conch men there had what they call a “perfect” – a pretty conch shell that didn’t have a hole knocked in it. (The easiest way to remove a conch from its shell, to harvest the meat, is to knock a hole in the shell and then stick a knife into the hole to sever the muscle that the conch uses to hold itself in the shell. Consequently, most of the conch shells you find have a big hole in them, which makes them less than ideal for a conch horn.) Sure enough, one of the men had three beauties from which to choose. Zoe picked her favorite, Anthony ponied up the cash, and then we gave the shell to JR to make into a horn, while we walked around the harbour a bit, looking for the turtles that are almost always there.

JR is an interesting character. An enviable character, I suppose. He lives on a beautiful little island in the Bahamas, completely off the land. He’s planted fruit trees on his property, and a garden. He fishes and conchs, and carves pretty things to sell to the tourists from native tamarind wood, and seems to be completely content. And with just a bench grinder, a hammer, and an old screwdriver, he converted that “perfect” into the most easily blown conch horn I’ve ever picked up. And he charged only $8 to do it. He told me he’d been wood carving for 56 years, and that, when he was young, he was quite popular with the girls because he always had cash in his pocket from selling his carvings.

A safe harbour from the wind, and a lot more – Cave Cay Marina

Conch horn in hand, it was back to Smartini for what was to be the final cruise of their visit. We were tired of getting beat up by the wind and waves, and just a few miles south of Little Farmers lies Cave Cay, and the Cave Cay Marina therein. We decided to take refuge there, and I think it was one of the best choices we’ve made in our two months in the Bahamas so far.

First of all, it’s as protected as it can be, from all four sides. There’s only one narrow entry into the manmade harbour inside the island, and it’s only about two boat-widths wide, so the waves can’t get in. The terrain rises up to at least 50 – 60′ high most of the way around, so the howling wind outside is tamed considerably. When I say it’s protected – well, I wouldn’t mind riding out a hurricane here! The marina is all floating docks – every boater’s favorite kind. The water is clear, and you see several turtles each day cruising around. There’s a beautiful white sand beach inside the harbour, and a pretty little lagoon with its own beach just a few minute’s walk away. There’s an airstrip. A shower house with hot (HOT!) showers. And everywhere, there are signs of a failed (or, at best, not fully realized) dream of creating a boater’s paradise in the Bahamas. The big, beautiful building overlooking the harbour that was supposed to be a bar and restaurant, but that has never served a single drink nor meal. The three villas that were supposed to be rentals, that sit empty except for the staff. The hangars by the airstrip that now house only rusting hulks of heavy equipment. The vehicles, trailers, boats, outboard motors, freezers, air conditioners, building material, etc., etc., etc. that are wasting away all over the island that hint at the potential of this place, which will, sadly, probably remain only potential forever. Millions of dollars have been pumped into this place that, as of now, at least, is just a nice little marina that almost no one uses.

Anthony with a mutton snapper and a cubera snapper

But for our purposes – which were to get out of the weather, and show our guests a good time in the Bahamas – it’s been pretty wonderful! Our first afternoon here, we walked over to the lagoon to hang out on the beach and snorkel a bit. Just across from the beach, on the rocky point, we found a nice little patch of coral that was loaded with fish! Somehow, I’d not gotten the memo that one of Anthony’s biggest hopes for this trip was to do some fish spearing, but once we found this little bit of coral, the message was loud and clear! After Zoe’s first-ever snorkel (she’s only five), we walked back to Smartini and got the steel – a pole spear for Anthony, and my new Hawaiian sling for me. In fairly short order, we had three gray snappers, a schoolmaster, and a queen trigger, for our second fresh fish dinner. We also picked up a good sized conch, which would become conch salad.

The weather continued to be both windy and occasionally rainy, so we alternated between relaxing on Smartini, jumping off the dock in the marina (Anthony and Zoe – over, and over, and over, and over), and exploring the island. And spear fishing. Always spear fishing. Anthony is as consumed by it as any fishing or hunting friend I’ve ever had – I think he would have been happy to snorkel around that little bit of reef several hours every day! And he’s productive – on our second day, he bagged a nice (4 lb.) mutton snapper and two more gray snapper, while I managed to get a head shot on a small cubera snapper with the Hawaiian sling. (Boy, do I still need a lot of practice with that thing!)

Zoe and her new best friend, Shark

No description of Cave Cay would be complete without mentioning Shark. Shark is the Bahamian who has been working at the marina for about 10 years, and who is, without question, the happiest human being I’ve met in a very long time. He is the smiling face and voice of Cave Cay. His attitude is positive about everything, all the time. If you need help with anything, he’s happy to give it. (He gave me a conch cleaning lesson and expected nothing in return.) And from the first time she met him when we arrived in the marina, he was Zoe’s new best friend. (Supplanting Fran, who had been her new best friend up to that moment.) When he took us to see the cave, she held his hand on the walk there and back, and asked him a hundred questions while we were in the cave. Another boater told us that Shark really likes fish, so we gave him three of the ones we got on our second day – you would have thought we bought him a new house, he was so grateful! I think I’d stop in Cave Cay Marina for a night or two just to spend a few minutes with Shark – no kidding.

The termite nest on a tree in the cave entrance makes it look like a giant spider is guarding it

Speaking of the cave – wow! I would have never thought of visting a cave in the Bahamas, and yet, on Cave Cay, there’s a cave that surprised all of us. Stalagmites – stalactites – bats – cave geckos – evidence of long-ago culture. It was so unexpected, and so cool. If you ever find yourself at Cave Cay, you really need to get Shark to take you to the cave!

About to witness her first sunset over the water, Claire celebrates with a pthttttttt on the conch horn

Yesterday afternoon, we walked over to the lagoon again, this time to see if Claire might be able to see her first-ever sunset over the water. That’s right, folks – she lives within a few miles of the coast of Australia, but had never seen the sun set over the water! (To be fair – they’re on the East Coast – so lots of sunrises, but no sunsets.) We took our beverages and conch horns to that side of the island, and although it wasn’t the most spectacular sunset on record, it was good enough for Claire to put another check on her To Do List. And we had a chorus of conch horns! (To be fair, the locals might substitute “cacophony” for “chorus” in that sentence.) Zoe is the best conch horn blower in her family by a wide margin. She can’t wait to take it to Show and Tell back home!

Showing Mom and Dad how to do it

Today was their last onboard. Anthony got up with the sun, walked over to the lagoon, and returned a few hours later with four more snappers. (Guess what we had for their last lunch with us?) We walked over to the aptly named Rough Beach on the ocean side and found some beautiful shells. We met Steve (the man who has owned the island for the last 20 years), swam a little more in the marina, and finally, about 4:00, put our Aussie friends on a fast boat to Great Exuma Island, where they’ll spend tonight and get on a plane for Florida in the morning. Captain Hiram’s (for Anthony’s 50th birthday!), Disney World, and Cocoa Beach are in their immediate future, followed by 10 days on the Baja Peninsula in Mexico, before finally heading back to New South Wales, Australia. (These people know how to go on vacation!)

Eight days went by in a blur, and in spite of the less-than-perfect weather, I think they had a decent time. I know we did!

Anthony and a jet lagged Zoe

Killer

“Killer” is the name of our dinghy – the little boat we carry around with us on Smartini that we use for all local excursions after we arrive in an anchorage. He figures so prominently in our adventures that I decided to give him his own post.

Typical inflatable dinghy. This is what came with Smartini.

Smartini came with a dinghy – a 10′ long RIB (rigid inflatable boat – a little boat with a fiberglass bottom, and big inflatable tubes forming the sides). At least 9 out of 10 dinghies are RIBs, and if all you’re using one for is going between your big boat and shore, I guess they’re OK. But we didn’t like the one we had, so we sold it to a friend, and bought… another RIB. Doh!!!! <Smack forehead with palm of hand>

This is what we thought we were getting.

This one was a little bigger (11′), had a bigger motor (25 horsepower instead of 10 on the first one), and had seats and a console with a steering wheel. (The first one had what’s called “tiller steering” – you steer by holding onto the tiller of the outboard motor with your left hand, which also operates the twist-grip throttle.) And the first time we had four people in it, we realized we had screwed up. There was no room in it, and it wouldn’t get up on plane (run up on top of the water, rather than ploughing through it). And it had the most significant disadvantate of an inflatable – eventually, they become a DEFLATABLE. The seams start leaking, or you poke a hole in one of the tubes, or general entropy takes over, and they lose air, so you’re constantly having to pump them up again.

But this is what it felt like with four people in it.

After a few months of not liking that dinghy, we decided no more RIBs for us – we were going to get a real boat as our dinghy. (A real little boat, to be sure, but a real boat.) I started researching them, and came across someone’s explanation of their dinghy strategy: “we go long distances slowly in our trawler to get to beautiful places – and when we get there, we want to be able to get around those places quickly.” It made perfect sense to Fran and me, so we started looking for little boats that would get four people and some stuff to places quickly. It didn’t take long for us to decide on a 13′ Boston Whaler.

All we knew about Boston Whalers was that they’re incredibly popular with native Bahamians – we’d seen them in heavy use everywhere we’ve been in the Bahamas. We also knew that one would fit in the available space with almost a whole inch to spare! What we didn’t know is that they have an almost cult-like following. The first Whaler was a 1958 model (same as me!), and it was the 13′ – same as ours. We ended up buying one from a nice guy named Drew, after finding it on Craig’s List. (Interesting tidbit – Drew was a Goodyear blimp pilot for the last many years of his working life!)

Drew had a good friend who bought the boat new in 1979. He used it extensivly in the Chesapeake Bay area, and then he passed away about four years ago. His widow felt like he would want Drew to have it, so she gave it to him. He used it for a few years, then it sat in his garage for a few years, so he decided to sell it. Drew’s nickname for his friend was “Killer”, so he put the name “Killer” on the transom of the boat. We liked the story, and liked the name, so we kept it!

Chillin on the beach

Killer just barely fits in the dinghy space on Smartini’s upper deck. He’s hard to get off the boat with the crane, and even harder to get on. I’m not at all happy with the cradle we had made for him to sit in when he’s on the upper deck. If there’s even a 6″ chop, there’s a good chance you’re going to get a little wet at speed. But we LOVE him! He is exactly what we wanted in a dinghy. Four people, up on plane. With just the two of us, he cruises at 16 knots at 3500 rpm – just loafing. Fran and me and full scuba gear, no problem. We can snorkel, scuba, and fish from him. He’s fun to drive. What more could we ask for in a dinghy? He even has a cool, retro-looking 35 HP outboard motor! Yes, Killer will be a major player in the Adventures of Smartini!

1999 Johnson 35 HP 2-stroke outboard, with a cool retro look
Waiting for us to finish feeding the iguanas on Allan’s Cay

Fran’s Salty Tower Garden

This page is dedicated to documenting the process of beginning, and hopefully maintaing an Aeroponic Tower Garden on the upper deck of MV Smartini. I am certain there will be setbacks, but hope, with a little patience and creativity, we can get some food growing onboard. (Arugula for Sondra being the most important!). The initial planting was done on April Fools Day. Blessing? Curse? We will soon see! To read from the begining, CLICK HERE and read entries from the bottom up. Return to this page anytime to read updates. Dated entries will be organized most recent at the top, and I will add photos along the way. Wish me luck!

4/21/2018 – The Tower comes alive!!
The process of finally cleaning the Tower, getting it fully plumbed, and electricity to it, ended up taking a few days due to a few minor set backs. Cleaning out the Tower was a snap, so was installing the pump, and seeing that – YES – the DC pump we purchased to replace the AC one works great! The timer we purchased however, did not, as mentioned in the previous entry. Butch came to the rescue, and built an Arduino to act as the timer and the on/ off for the pump. After a few days of fiddling with the programming to get it just right, it now works like a charm too! Anyone who is actually reading this, is likely curious to see how the Tower goes together, and how it works, so I created a little gallery to show the whole process, enjoy!

The reservoir cover, and the first ring of the Tower with the construction rods.
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Seedlings, day 14. One lost, and replanted. 5 not yet sprouted.

4/16/2018 – 2 weeks complete.
Two weeks have passed since I started my little seedlings, and 22 out of 28 have sprouted, and seem quite happy. I lost one that I thought would do really well, the snap peas. It was one of the early ones to sprout, and had a really strong stem, but the leaves never opened, and it finally turned to mush. I decided to replant that slot with a second cucumber plant, apparently that gives a better chance I will have both male and female flowers for fertilization. Of the other 5 not sprouted, one is cilantro which should sprout in a week, two are strawberries I should see in 2 weeks, and the other two I fear may not germinate. They are spinach and chard. If I don’t see them in the next 7 days, I will replant with 2 other greens.

I have been doing some more reading on the Tower Garden forums, and the general consensus is to transplant the seedlings into the Tower when you start seeing roots extend out of the growing cubes. We have LOTS of roots! So, Butch and I began getting the Tower ready yesterday morning. I disassembled the entire Tower, and cleaned every nook and crannie. It is unbelievable how dirty that thing got! When we first bought the tower, we decided we needed to change it from using AC power to DC power. That would allow it to consume a lot less energy by not needing to go through our inverter. Butch had already run the DC wiring to the flybridge where the Tower will live. All he needs to do is hook up the pump that sits in the Tower reservoir, and the timer we bought to cycle the water on and off. Simple right? Welllll, the timer I bought doesn’t allow for simple on/ off cycles. It is like the old hose timers that you can set times of day, and only allows for 16 settings. Since we need to start with 15 minutes on/ 15 minutes off, it was too many cycles for that timer to do. Crap.

It turns out, I had no reason to fret. Butch’s most recent obsession… I mean, hobby, is playing with tiny microcontrollers (Arduinos) to automate or monitor random tasks around the boat. It turns out, creating a relay to turn my pump on and off is a fairly simple task for these little goodies. Butch has spent this morning, researching how to make it work, and will build it later today. With any luck, we will have the Tower up and running by tomorrow!! The next entry will be a bunch of photos of how the Tower goes together, and what it looks like with all the little plantings!
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4/9/2018 – Week 1 complete!
We are now 8 days into this grand veggie experiment, and I have 19 of the 28 seedlings spouting, and I am SO proud! I have already begun calling them “the babies”.

In case you are curious as to what exactly I am attempting to grow, here is the list of the 19 that have already sprouted in the Tower (these will be planted from the bottom up):
– Two types of tomatoes
– Small pickling cucumbers
– Small cannonball watermelons (I know, I know, I’m definitely dreaming!)
– Green beans
– Broccoli
– Mint
– Dill
– Snap peas
– Basil
– Two types of arugula
– Three types of leaf lettuce
– Red and green cabages
– Kale
– Bok choy

Here is the list of 9 little guys who haven’t sprouted yet. Never fear, I looked each one up, and we haven’t reached the normal time-frame for germination of each of these, so there is still plenty of hope they will arise!
– Three types of hot peppers. I expect to see these in the next 5-6 days.
– Swiss chard – same story, another 7 days or so.
– Celery – no sprouts expected for another 2 weeks!
– Spinach – these should come in the next 2-3 days, I hope.
– Cilantro – ditto, 2-3 days.
– Two slots for strawberries – these little guys could take as long as 30 days to germinate! I hope it works, I don’t have anymore seeds left for those little beauties.

Stay tuned, I will try to post updates about once per week!

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Plantings 5 days in, more than half have sprouted!

4/6/2018 – Sprouts!!
Holy cow… there are sprouts!! The first three (both arugulas and the kale) were spotted on the 4th, just 3 days after starting them. Today, just 5 days in, I have sprouts for 15 of the 28 plantings. I have the seedling tray in a very sunny warm place inside. I need to keep a close eye on the sprouts to make sure they don’t dislike so much sun. If I see any wilting, I will add a shade net over the top. This will reduce the strength of the sun by about 30%.

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4/1/2018 – Seed Selection
The Tower Garden, with the extension kit, gives me 28 places to grow individual plants. The tower can grow just about anything that is not a root vegetable. Because it is a vertical tower, you need to place smaller things at the top, and the larger bushy items at the bottom. The goal is to allow all plants to get even sunlight, and even watering. The good thing is, you can move them around as they grow to make it all work. I purchased most of my seeds from Johnny’s Seeds, and tried to find all heat-tolerant varieties, since we will have almost constant summer conditions. Since I truly have no idea how this will all work out, my first attempt at plantings is a bit of a “Hail Mary” – a mix of greens (2 kinds of arugula, Sondra!), hot peppers, herbs, tomatoes, cucumbers, and what the hell… even baby watermelons! This is a soil-less system, so the plantings are made in “rock wool” that holds onto moisure and gives your little seedlings something to start roots into. I made a spreadsheet to keep track of what is what, and to help me know when to replant seedlings if we have success. Time will tell!

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How it all began…
I have a curious habit when it comes to new “things” to try. I generally get super excited about said “thing”, study up and research the best equipment and methods, buy it all in anticipation of starting, then get freaked out that I will fail. The “thing” then sits, collecting dust while I worry daily about starting.

The best example of this was as soon as I was done with dental hygiene school. Suddenly, I had a real income, and no homework or studying to do. What on earth was I going to do with all this new free time? Well, I was going to learn how to play the bass, and be in a rock band, of course! So, I headed to the music store, bought a base and an amp, and then… it sat in a corner of my house untouched for the next 6 months. In this case, my opportunity to finally start, despite my 6 months of worry, came when my then-husband’s bass player moved on, and “Average Joe” was suddenly bass-less. He made me pick up the dusty thing, and with my sweaty hands, he taught me all of the songs for Average Joe, and in about a month, I was onstage rocking out! I had a ball doing this for the next 5 years.

There are numerous examples of this, but the most recent is my Tower Garden. While planning our big island adventure, we realized one of the things that is so hard to get in the more remote islands, is fresh greens and other veggies. Since a big part of our goal is to be as self-sufficient as we can, having an onboard garden makes perfect sense, even if it may be a tad crazy. Commence the research! I found a million websites dedicated to hydroponics, aquaponics and aeroponics. Build-your-own contraptions, use fish for nutrients, yadda yadda yadda, it was weeks of diving head-first into interweb rabbit holes. Finally, due to space limitations, and our need to keep things as simple as possible, I decided on the aeroponic Tower Garden. It makes the nutrient part of the puzzle a total no-brainer, and easy to carry on-board,  which is what we need. Once I bought it all, I quickly put it together, and on the upper deck, it has stood, collecting more dust than I thought possible, as a great conversation starter, totally void of any plants for a year and a half.

In my defense, there are a million reasons why it has stood unused, all the same reasons that it took us so long to get the adventure started. But, along with all of those totally valid set-backs, I have also worried almost daily about starting it. What will I plant? What if it doesn’t work? What if they grow, then I kill them all? Am I dreaming?

Anyone who knows me, understands that as soon as there is a naysayer about a goal of mine, then I want to set forth, and succeed even more. Enter the Tower Garden “Guru” on the help forum. He has declared that it will not work on a boat. Period. And, he gave a list of reasons why he believes that. HA! “Watch me!” is what I have been defiantly yelling in my head for the past year, as I found ways to address his problem list. Of course, this adds to my worry of starting. What if he is right? Screw that – let the plantings begin!

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Work, Work, Work…

Faithful readers will know that Smartini recently completed yet another longer-than-anticipated haul out (when the boat is out of the water for various repairs, which either can’t, or can’t easily, be done while IN the water). “Why does it always take you guys so long?”, you might ask. “Shut the hell up!!”, I might reply. But no, that would be rude. So lemme ‘splain. No, there is too much – lemme sum up.

This post is a list of pretty much everything we and three vendors did to Smartini from December 4 to February 22. I didn’t try to make it funny, and it’s long, so unless you’re really interested in what it’s like to own and maintain a boat like Smartini, it probably won’t be all that thrilling.

I should point out that a lot of these things didn’t NEED to be done. In fact, all of the  biggest projects were discretionary, and so were a lot of the small ones. We just like to torture ourselves. If you’ve ever done a home remodel project that started with new faucet handles and ended up costing $30,000 for a whole new kitchen, you’ll understand a lot of the psychology that was involved.

Where all the hydraulic magic happens

1. Replace all the hydraulic hoses with new ones. We could have waited until a hose burst, but since that would disable every hydraulic item on the boat (anchor windlass, bow thruster, stern thruster, dinghy crane, and stabilizers), and would have made a helluva mess, and would likely have been difficult to have repaired wherever we happened to be when it burst – we decided to do this maintenance item preventively.  Almost everything in these two pictures was replaced, relocated, or is brand new. Plus at least 300 feet of hydraulic hoses that run between these points, and from them to all over the boat.

Genset hydraulic PTO
New hydraulic motor for stern thruster. It’s about the size of a pack of hotdog buns, and replaces an electric motor that weighed about 70 lbs, and was powered by two 8D batteries weighing 160 lbs. each. Hydraulics are pretty cool!

2. Switch the stern thruster from an electric motor to hydraulic power. We could have left it electric forever, although we would have had to change out the two giant batteries that power it – they were rapidly dying. But the hydraulic motor is stronger, and it can be run non-stop for as long as you need it. An electric motor will overheat if run too long, and we didn’t ever want to really need that thruster, and have it overheat and shut down just when we needed it most. Besides – with those two giant batteries gone, we have a LOT more storage space back there – and I’ve used every bit of it. (See item 17).

One section of Irma damage to the caprail
New rubrail, and new handrail mounting, now that the wood is gone

3. Remove the mahogany caprail from all the way around the boat, and then add a stainless steel rubrail to replace the one that was on the mahogany. Hurricane Irma knocked two sections of the caprail loose, and we could have repaired them. However, we knew that there was some rust forming on the metal lip that the caprail is fastened to, and as long-time readers will remember, Rust Never Sleeps on a steel boat. If we didn’t get rid of the wood eventually, we’d have a lot of rust to deal with one day, and we hate rust! So we decided to bite the bullet and get rid of the wood now, rather than some day later. Fortunately for us, the painters volunteered to remove the caprail, thinking it would be a trivial project. Two men, two days, two big hammers and chisels, and one Sawz-All later, they had it off. After they got it off, and primed and painted it, Fran, Kelly*, and I had to remount the stainless steel handrail, which involved drilling 117 holes, and tapping about 20 of them. (*Kelly is the nephew of Romeo, the man who owns the painting company we used. His help with this project was invaluable – thanks, Kelly!!!)

Separately, another vendor fabricated and installed 3/8″ stainless steel flat stock around almost the entire boat (not the transom – we can’t run into anything back there because of the swim platform), and then reattached the heavy stainless rubrail, which had been attached to the wooden caprail, to this new flat stock. It took two men the better part of two weeks to do this, with all the trial fitting, drilling, and tapping, but they did a great job, as you can tell from the picture.

Custom trim piece on top of tackle center.

Finally, the wood caprail made up the top edge of the dive equipment storage bench and tackle center that Pratt Plastics custom made for us in 2016. Without the wood, there was a nice, big gap for water to get inside, which would eventually have caused rust. Besides, it was kinda ugly. With Richard Pratt’s help on a Saturday, we now have trim pieces to cover those gaps, and they look like they were made that way from the start. Thanks, Richard!

This was a huge project, considering all the aspects of it, but it was something we knew we’d eventually have to do, and now it’s done. We’re very pleased with the result, and as a bonus, we’ll never have to clean and seal the wood again!

Killer – it came with that name, and we like it!

4. We didn’t have to get a different dinghy, but we really didn’t like the last one we had, and visitors DeDeAnn, Heather, and Katie will probably cheer this decision the next time they’re onboard. Of course, a new dinghy meant a new way to store it on the upper deck, so a ridiculously expensive stainless steel cradle was made – which I’m still not happy with (more on that later). But we sure are happy with Killer, our new-to-us 1979 13′ Boston Whaler Sport! (It came with that name, which came with a good story, so we’re going to keep it.)

5. Replace stabilizer fin shaft seals and bearings. Smartini has two big fins that move back and forth under the water to reduce the amount of rolling (side to side movement) we experience, adding greatly to the comfort of a long trip in not-so-calm seas. These fins are hydraulically activated, and I had dealt with the hydraulic actuators last summer when one of them started leaking. But since their shafts go through the hull, there are seals to keep the water out, and bearings to make them move smoothly. We could have waited until we started to see some leakage, but at that point, it would have required a haul out. Doing it now means we don’t have to do it again for at least three, probably four years.

Looking aft along the port bulwarks

6. We could have limited the painting to only those areas that were scratched during Irma, but we had a bunch of little scratches and rust spots developing all around the bulwarks*, so we decided to have all of that fixed and painted, all the way around the boat. (*Bulwarks are the part of the hull that extends upwards above the deck; the part that keeps you from falling overboard as you walk around on the main deck.)

The above items took 95% of the time of all the work done, and maybe even a higher percentage of the cost of all the work done. But as you can see, every one of them either made Smartini better in some way, or addressed a potential problem before it could become a problem. We kept telling ourselves “When we leave the yard this time, we don’t want there to be a single major project that we know needs to be done. We want to go enjoy Smartini for a long time before we have to do a major haul out again.” I sincerely hope we’ve accomplished that!

The list below is in the order that things were completed, simply because that’s how we were using our To Do List – when something was done, we moved it to the bottom of the “DONE” list. (If it were in order of Frustration Level, or Cost, or Value of End Result, it would be sorted very differently.) Here goes!

7. Replace the transducer. This is the device that sends and receives sonar signals from the boat to the bottom and calculates the depth, so you can see it on your various displays. Since Smartini is made of steel, we can’t use the kind that can transmit and receive through the hull, so ours actually pokes through a hole in the hull. That’s why we HAD to haul out – almost everything else COULD have been done in the water, but many of those things would have been much, much more difficult. The transducer we had to replace was new in December 2016 – and they’re supposed to last forever! Why did this one fail after less than a year? No idea.

Air conditioner circuit board. We let all the blue smoke out, so it had to be replaced.

8. Replace the circuit board in the Master Stateroom air conditioning unit. We had the board in the Salon (aka “living room”) unit replaced last summer when it blew. Not long after, the Master unit stopped working, and I suspected its board. I bought a new one (plus a spare – we still have one more unit that hasn’t failed!), and decided to tackle the replacement myself. I wasn’t sure I’d know how to recognize a bad board – but look at the picture!

Too bad our first attempt at a splice didn’t come out this nice

9. Remove the anchor chain, take it to a chain and rope store, and have them add 100 feet of rope. Doesn’t seem like a big deal, but we currently have 175 feet of ⅜” stainless steel chain, all of which had to be lowered to the ground (into the trunk of the car), and then hoisted back up onto the boat after the additional rope had been added – about 20 feet off the ground. It was a workout! And then, because the loop that the rope store had spliced into the bitter end of the rope (that’s the end that fastens to the boat, down inside the chain locker) wouldn’t fit through the hole into the chain locker, we had to cut off his very nice splice, and watch about a dozen YouTube videos to find one that showed us how to do it ourselves. This picture is of the SECOND one we did (just for practice). The FIRST one (on the anchor rope) wasn’t nearly as pretty! Guess we should have done the practice one first.

Whatever you do, do NOT push the red button!

10. Install a “Total fuel used” reset button on our fuel flow meter. For some reason, such a button had never been installed, so if you wanted to reset the total (like when you fill the fuel tanks), you had to actually cut off the main batteries to the whole boat for a few seconds. I installed this little red button that lets us reset it to zero whenever we want.

New hull zinc

11. Whenever you have different metals in an electrolyte (salt water is an electrolyte), you create a battery of sorts. So a steel hull, a bronze propeller, a stainless steel propeller shaft, bronze through-hull fittings – all of these things are part of Smartini’s submerged parts, and collectively, they create a very large (although very low voltage) battery. Over time, as electrons flow through the electrolyte from one metal to another, they corrode the “least noble” (think “softest”) metal. You don’t want any of the parts of the boat to corrode, so you add one more part to the mix – some zinc. Zinc is less noble (softer) than all the other parts of the boat, so the zinc is the metal that corrodes. Every so often, you replace the hunks of zinc, so the new ones will corrode, rather than any other part of the boat. Smartini has eight such zincs on her hull, each one weighing about five pounds when new. I removed all of them, cleaned the stainless steel studs that they attach to, and reattached them with new washers and nuts. (They don’t work unless the attach points are clean.) Except one, which was pretty corroded – I replaced that one with a new one.

12. Drill out the mounting tabs for all the new hull zincs we bought. They come with no holes, because every boat’s mounting studs are a different distance apart. Now we have a full set of zincs, drilled and ready to mount, for when the existing ones corrode too much. We can easily do this in the water with scuba gear and a single wrench, whenever needed.

Cabinet doors modified to allow tool drawers to open, while still protecting the eight batteries below

13. Smartini has two three-drawer tool chests mounted under the workbench in the engine room, which is awesome. Under them are the eight “house” batteries (the batteries that run all the lights, the refrigerator/freezers, the pumps, and most of the rest of the electric things on the boat). To keep tools from falling onto the batteries (resulting in a massive shower of sparks and probably a ruined tool, maybe a ruined battery, maybe even an explosion!), the tool chests and batteries are behind some cabinet doors. Which means that every time I needed to get into one of the tool chests, I had to open two cabinet doors, which then kept me from moving fore and aft in the engine room. Doesn’t seem like a big problem, but I tell you, I was constantly cussing this design. Not anymore! I removed the doors, took them to a cabinet shop and had them cut them down to my specs, and then I reinstalled them. I had to relocate the latches, too. But it was sure worth it! Now I can get into my tool chests without opening a cabinet, and my batteries are still protected. The drawers lock in the closed position when underway.

14. We have a really bright handheld spotlight that’s very nice as a backup to our permanently mounted spotlight. (Which I had to repair when we were in Key West.) On our oh-so-bumpy voyage from Key West at the end of November, the handheld light fell from its perch at the flybridge helm station onto the floor with a great THUD, and stopped working. Fortunately, it was only the lightbulb, which is a common automotive halogen headlight bulb. Unfortunately, you have to completely disassemble the whole spotlight to replace the bulb. Which I did.

15. Update the firmware on all of our electronics.

16. Update the charts on our electronic chartplotters. In this case, we actually switched from one provider (C-MAP) to another (Navionics), so Fran had some fun with that! (Not.)

Lots of organized storage, in place of two 8D batteries and a simple shelf.

17. Remove two giant batteries and all the wiring and other wiring and other gizmos for the now-removed electric stern thruster motor from the lazarette, then create a storage area for spares. (You can’t believe how many spare parts we have onboard – and they all have to go somewhere!)

Pretty new hoses everywhere!

18. Replace all main engine coolant hoses. Smartini’s engine, an 838 cubic inch Izuzu Industrial diesel, has fouteen hoses for keeping things cool. Half of them move anti-freeze throughout the engine and between the engine and the keel cooler (our “radiator”, which is on the outside of hull), and the other half move seawater through various heat exchangers (to cool the transmission fluid and the hydraulic fluid), then inject it into the engine’s exhaust, to cool the exhaust and to get rid of the seawater. All in all, it’s about thirty-five feet of hose, involving almost thirty hose clamps, and lots of “chafe guard” to keep holes from getting rubbed into the hoses. It hadn’t been done since the boat was built, so it was way past time. And yes, I did this one all by my lonesome.

New intake selector valve and plumbing, and relocated seawater strainer
Pump relay bypass switch – my first time working with 220V. Hope I did it right.

19. Modify the air conditioners’ seawater cooling system to allow it to be flushed periodically, to clean it out. This was a lot trickier than I thought it was going to be, mainly because I had very little room to add the 2-way selector valve I needed. (See picture.) Also, I had to add a manual switch to engage the seawater pump, so that I can do the flushing without having to fire up one of the air conditioners. (The pump comes on when any one of the A/C units comes on, but there wasn’t a way to run only the pump, for my flushing circuit.) Now, I can run a mild muriatic acid solution through our air conditioners’ cooling lines to get rid of the crud that inevitably builds up inside of them, and don’t have to run the A/C units to do it. I’m actually pretty pleased with myself on this project!

Relocated watermaker sea strainer. The hole you are looking through used to be a wall!

20. Replace all the low pressure hoses that supply water to the watermaker. This also involved relocating the sea strainer (a filter that keeps out big stuff – there’s one in every seawater intake: main engine, generator, air conditioners, water maker), and that was the challenge. It had originally been mounted in a very weird spot that was practically impossible to get to for inspection and cleaning. I cut out a big section of wood to make an opening into a hard-to-reach spot, and remounted the strainer where I can now easily inspect and clean it.

New cradle for new dinghy

21. Create a cradle for our new dinghy, Killer. This was, I believe, the most annoying thing done during the haul out, because the vendor took it upon himself to modify the design from what we had originally agreed on. When I first saw it, still in “rough” condition, I should have yelled “Stop! That’s not what you were supposed to make!” – but I didn’t. I let myself be talked into this new design – and each subsequent modification that was necessary because of the deficiencies of the new design. Well, it’s not what I wanted, but it sure was expensive! However, it works, and that’s what matters, I guess. It just won’t ever be what it was supposed to be. Grrrr….

Four new tie-downs for the dinghy. In boat lingo, they are called “pad eyes”.

22. Add four new tie-downs to the upper deck to make sure we never again have a loose dinghy while underway. Each one involved drilling and tapping three holes in the deck.

23. Remove the hatch lid from the aft deck to the upper deck, take it to have the Plexiglass replaced, and remount it.

It faces the other way now!

24. Remove the hatch on the foredeck that opens into the VIP Cabin and flip it 180 degrees. Because for some strange reason, it was mounted backwards when the boat was built. In other words, when you opened it, the opening faced aft – so almost no air came in through it when at anchor. Future guests – you’re welcome!

L to R: fuel polishing filter, main engine fuel filter, generator fuel filter

25. Replace all three main engine fuel filters, and both generator fuel filters. Add a vacuum gauge to each of the primary filter housings to indicate when it’s time to change the filter cartridge.

26. Paint the bottom of the new dinghy with two coats of primer and one coat of bottom paint.

27. Speaking of bottom paint: apply two more coats of bottom paint to Smartini. Yes, after applying five coats of primer and three coats of bottom paint at the last haul out, we had to put more bottom paint on this time! It turns out that the bottom paint we chose, once it goes in the water, can’t be OUT of the water for more than 72 hours before it needs to be scuffed and re-coated. We were obviously out a lot longer than 72 hours, so we paid our painters to scuff the entire hull, then Fran and I put the bottom paint on. And since we tend to overdo things, we did two coats.

Slide-out trash can in galley

28. Install a pull-out trash can in the galley. Seems like a small thing, but it’s so much nicer than having to drag the trash can out of the cupboard and stuff it back in every time.

29. Disassemble, service, and reassemble the crane that lifts the dinghy on and off the upper deck. This was not a job for amateurs – we farmed it out. And after watching them do it, I’m sure glad we did! Definitely above my pay grade.

Removable section replacing fixed section

30. There’s a stainless steel safety rail running all around the back half of the upper deck. Some of it is fixed, but the aft-most portions are removable so that the dinghy can go on and off. For some reason, they made the section where the crane goes when hoisting or lowering the dinghy a fixed section. Sure enough, the very first time we put the dinghy in the water after we bought Smartini, we lowered the boom of the crane too low, and bent that section of the railing. So we had that section converted from fixed to removable. (That involved cutting and welding stainless, so we didn’t do that job.) Now we can lower the boom as low as it goes and not hurt anything.

New upper deck downspout – one on each side

31. Another bit of Irma damage was to one of our downspouts that drains water from the upper deck. (We added these at the last haul out.) It rubbed (and rubbed, and rubbed, and rubbed!) against the dock piling in Key West, and while it mostly chewed up the piling, it also got pretty bent out of shape in the process. So we had it cut out, and a new one welded in. And because we weren’t thrilled with the ones that were put in originally (not long enough, not enough downward slope), we had the other side done, too.

New boarding gate hinges

32. One of our three side boarding gates banged against a piling during Irma, and bent the heck out of the hinges. So we bought some new, heavier duty hinges, had them drilled to match the old ones (the new ones came with no holes), and re-hung the gate. If you look closely at the picture, you’ll see that we couldn’t get all of the bolts started in the bottom hinge – a project for another day.

33. Another of our boarding gates has always rubbed the deck in one bottom corner, and it takes the paint off, then it rusts. We couldn’t mount the gate any higher, so we decided to have ¾” cut off the bottom. We removed the gate, had someone cut the bottom off and weld a new bottom on, then the painters faired and painted, and we re-installed.

Wow! I’m exhausted just writing about all of that work! Vendors did a lot of it, but still – whew! However, this wasn’t all we had to accomplish during our almost-three months in the yard. In addition, we also had to:

Get the car to the body shop to fix the scratch that they didn’t fix the first time.
Sell the old dinghy.
Register the new dinghy.
Get rid of the trailer that came with the new dinghy.
Buy about 100 things that we’d need for spares, or for future projects, or whatever. Maybe it was 200 things.
Provision for the Bahamas. Fran spent about two days on this alone.
Investigate, choose, then switch us to a service that can handle all of our physical mail, no matter where we are in the world. It’s called St. Brendan’s Isle – a weird name for a very cool service!
Investigate, choose, purchase and set up a satellite phone. Then deal with the police report, and buy another one, when that one was stolen from our galley!
Sell our old underwater camera setup.
Investigate, choose, and purchase a new underwater camera setup.

Side trip to Brooklyn, to deliver Bennett to Pratt

Somewhere in the middle, we flew to Indianapolis, then drove to Brooklyn, NY to deliver Bennett to Pratt Institute, his new venue of higher education.

Can we please, pretty please, pretty please with sugar on top, not have to haul Smartini out of the water for at least two years? Please??????

Visit Report – Robin and Cathy, March 2018

Robin and Cathy on the deck at Sandy Toes (Rose Island)

Fran and I have known Robin since 2009 or 2010. Like most of our Florida friends, we met her through Crossfit. She’s been a dear friend almost since the beginning. She’s been to Indianapolis for Winterfest, so she’s met a bunch of our Indy friends, too. She met Cathy a year ago (they celebrated that anniversary while onboard, in fact), and Fran and I have been able to spend some time with Cathy during that time, so we figured she would probably make a good guest.

All of us with Mario at Happy Hour Crossfit

They arrived early on Friday the 23rd for a four night stay. We spent the first night in Nassau Harbour Club (our new marina-of-choice in Nassau), because Robin needed to get to a local Crossfit gym to complete the last of the five Open workouts, which had been announced just the night before. (Thrusters! Robin’s favorite!) We found Happy Hour Crossfit (is that a great name, or what?) and its most gracious owner, Mario Jordan, less than a mile from the marina. He met us there 30 minutes before his first afternoon class, so he could devote his total attention to judging Robin. What a great guy, and a great gym! Not huge, but bigger than I expected, and well equipped. (The gym, not Mario. Well, Mario, too, I guess!) A perfect place for Robin to complete her last Open workout, as it was less than a three minute walk to the Green Parrot Bar, where we had some appropriate post-workout beverages (Tito’s Recovery Drink for Robin), and some quite tasty dinner.

Heading out to Rose Island

The next morning (after much sleeping in by the guests), we headed out to Rose Island, where we had spent a couple nights with Bennett, to spend the next two days and nights. There’s really nothing to do there other than relax and snorkel, so that’s what we did. Cathy had never snorkeled before and was a bit anxious about it, but within five minutes of getting in the water, she was as comfortable as she could be. We were on a shallow, healthy reef, so there was plenty to see, and after another five minutes, she was hooked! We stayed in the water until all four of us were starting to shiver, and when we got out, she couldn’t stop talking about how cool it was. Yep – hooked for sure!

The water in our anchorage

Over the next 48 hours we were in a rythm: sleep late, leisurely breakfast with Bloody Marys, snorkel until we got cold, cocktails, lobster for dinner, more cocktails, and sleep. Wash, rinse, repeat. We snorkeled on the north and south sides of Rose Island, and both were equally nice. It’s surprising how healthy the reefs are in this area, since they’re visited by literally hundreds of tourists from Nassau every day. Fran and I were able to demonstrate some of our hunting skills, getting a lobster or two on each dive, and I shot a snapper with my new Hawaiian sling (I need a LOT of practice!) Robin and Cathy think Fran is some kind of lobster ninja, after watching her sprint to the bottom and skewer a big bug that I had chased out of its hole. Ask one of them to tell you the story – it gets better every time!

Sea hare (just like the three or four we saw)

Our last snorkel before heading back into the marina yesterday afternoon was one for the books. Fran, Robin, and Cathy practically ran into a loggerhead turtle who couldn’t have cared less about them being there, and saw two other smaller turtles. I surprised Robin and Cathy with a nurse shark that I poked out from under a ledge. Fran found some giant sea hares, and we learned that they squirt purple ink if they feel threatened (i.e., if you poke them with a spear tip). The women found a total of five lobsters (I have apparently lost my ability to find them, as I saw only the ones they found), but we caught only two – another nice spiny, and yet another big slipper. One was too small, and we simply couldn’t get the other two. There was a big Atlantic stingray. And of course, countless little tropicals that cover the spectrum of colors, shapes, and sizes.

From the last snorkel of the visit

One afternoon, we had cocktail hour with our new Canadian friends on Dances with Dolphins, Janice and Wes, along with Wes’s sister Karen and her girlfriend Karen. We spent a good bit of time each day on the flybridge, enjoying the nearly perfect weather, and being entertained by Cathy’s non-stop exclamations of how beautiful the water was, or how delicious the lobster was, or how fantastically she slept every night, or how much she LOVED snorkeling. (Robin, you were a wonderful guest, too, but I keep mentioning Cathy because she never stopped acting like a kid on Christmas morning!)

Aquarium at Atlantis

Our last evening, back in the marina, we took a cab across the bridge to Paradise Island and Atlantis, just to see it. If you like Las Vegas and Disney, you’d probably like Atlantis – it feels like a marriage of those two. Pirate Republic Brewing (the only craft brewery in the Bahamas) has a tasting room there, and we enjoyed their IPA and stout. (Nothing to write home about, but for beer lovers like Fran and me, it was heads and shoulders above all other Bahamian beer.) We really enjoyed the huge aquarium in Atlantis – the manta rays, spotted eagle rays, Atlantic stingrays, and literally thousands of fish, were quite impressive, and the tank itself is ginourmous. But Fran noted that anyone coming to the Bahamas and experiencing only Atlantis is, sadly, totally missing what the Bahamas are really like.

Traveler’s Tip: In Nassau, if you take a cab, be prepared to feel like you’re getting screwed almost every time. Some of them have meters, but we never saw one turned on. One driver said they use them for the locals, but they have “fixed prices” for tourists. Translation: they make up the price every time you get in the cab, probably based on everything they can ascertain about you during the ride. When Bennett arrived, we took a cab to the airport to get him, and then brought him back to the marina in the same cab. The fare was NINETY DOLLARS!!!! (It was maybe 20 minutes each way.) The last evening Bennett was here, we took a cab back from a restaurant one night. (We walked there, but didn’t walk home because the street was very busy, with no sidewalk and no lighting, and after dinner it was very dark out.) The fare was TWELVE DOLLARS for THREE MINUTES! Just last night, we paid $20 for the maybe six minute ride to Atlantis, but when we came home – a shorter trip, because it had all the one way streets in the right direction – it was $23. The driver took a full ten seconds to come up with that amount when I asked her what it was going to be, and then defended it like a mother defends her offspring when I told her we paid only $20 to get there. If there’s a way to make it seem like less of a rip-off, I haven’t figured it out yet.

OK, enough bellyaching!

At 7:00 this morning, they hopped into a cab for the airport. We crammed a lot of fun into four days and nights with Robin and Cathy, and they’re already scheming to get back onboard. They’re certainly welcome any time!

Visit Report: Bennett’s Spring Break

Visit report and photo gallery from Bennett’s 5 day visit

I always wait way too long to get Visit Reports out, so I’m going to make this one short and sweet, and TIMELY! We sent Bennett back to NY yesterday afternoon. All the pictures from his visit are in a gallery at the end of this short post.

He arrived on Saturday the 10th, flying into Nassau. Fran and I pulled into the Nassau Yacht Haven (one of the many marinas in the eastern end of Nassau Harbour) Saturday afternoon and were hoping to leave for the Berry Islands on Sunday, but weather dictated otherwise. We ended up staying in the marina Sunday and Monday nights, before finally getting out to Rose Island, a few miles East of Nassau, on Tuesday. We anchored there for two nights, and FINALLY had the kind of days we’ve been hoping for – light winds and mostly sunny, and it even warmed up to the high 70’s.

Our first day in Nassau, we took a taxi from the marina to “Fish Fry” – a small area west of the cruise ship shopping area that has about a dozen (maybe 20?) little restaurants and food and drink shacks / stands. Bennett had his first Sky Juice (gin, coconut water with the pulp, and sweetened condensed milk – a Nassau favorite!), and his first crack conch. And he saw enough cruise shippers / spring breakers to realize how lucky he was to be seeing Nassau the Smartini way.

Then we walked all the way back to the marina, stopping at the National Museum of the Bahamas along the way to see some of the most important art of this island nation.

We went on a one-tank scuba dive with Bahama Divers on Monday (Bennett hadn’t been underwater since we went to Australia in 2016). An OK dive, because it was mostly overcast, and the water was only about 72 degrees. But it was good to see that he was able to jump right back into it with no issues whatsoever, and we did see lots of pretty fish, a small spotted eel, and a stingray or two. And the coral was in great shape, which makes Fran and me very happy.

Anchored at Rose Island, we did some snorkeling the first afternoon, up near the island, and although the coral was pretty, we didn’t see much life – certainly nothing dinner-worthy. Also, it was still overcast most of the time. But the next day, we took Killer (our Boston Whaler Sport dinghy) out to the other side of a small unnamed island just south of Rose and found a really big patch of coral that was in gorgeous shape, and about 10 – 12 feet deep. The sun was out, so it seemed a little warmer in the water. And we caught dinner! A big lobster (7 1/2 lbs – the only one we saw), and a big lionfish (also the only one we saw). The meat from just the legs and antenna was almost enough to fill us up, and there was more than enough for lobster scrambled eggs the next morning.

The rest of the time at Rose Island, we just hung out and enjoyed the beautiful water and sunshine, while getting caught up on Bennett’s new life as an art student at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. In short – it seems to agree with him!

Click on an image to open a slideshow of all images.

Ch-ch-ch-changes (with Apologies to David Bowie)

Most significant changes in life happen over time. As we grow up, we get bigger, smarter, more knowledgeable, more emotionally mature (with the obvious exception of Donald Trump), but those changes happen over our lifetimes. If we start doing Crossfit, we get stronger, leaner, and our endurance increases, but that doesn’t happen overnight. Our most special relationships with people – dear friends and life partners – typically grow over time, and sometimes, sadly, they decline, but also, it usually happens over time.

But some of the biggest changes in our lives happen in a single day, sometimes even a single moment. The day you become a parent for the first time, or even the day you find out you’re going to – those are life changing days. Some geographic moves, especially if they involve long distances and job changes, have the potential to bring on monumental change in the span of time it takes the moving van to get your stuff from your old home to your new one. In an instant, the sudden loss of a loved one changes your life forever. Often, you’ll realize these changes when they happen, but sometimes, it’s only later that you can look back on them and realize what a huge impact they had.

I’ve had several life changing moments and days in my 59 years. I’m going to bore you with some of them now, in fact!

The day we moved from Indianapolis (where I lived from age 7 to 17) to Mt. Carmel, IL, my life changed forever, and I knew it when it happened. A junior in high school, everything that mattered in my life changed as we drove that U-Haul truck over the Wabash River bridge and up Walnut Street. I was no longer around any of my friends, of course my school changed (at 17, those two things are pretty much your WHOLE life), and I would never again feel like I was from the same place as the rest of my family (all of whom stayed in Mt. Carmel until they died, or they’re still there).

The day I left Mt. Carmel for Indiana University was one, but I was so excited about it, I’m sure it didn’t hit me at the time. It was the first time I had ever lived away from home, and had almost total control over what I did and when I did it. It also put me back with some very good friends, which was especially important to me at that time. And it introduced me to the wonderful world of Accounting, as that was to be my major, and would become a driving force in my life. (Ha! Just kidding about that one!)

The day Maddie was born was one, especially since Terri and I had decided early on not to have kids. When we changed our minds, and Maddie popped into our lives, we were in our mid-thirties, so that was a huge life change. Suddenly there was a tiny, noisy, sometimes cute, sometimes stinky human living with us, who didn’t sleep more than a few hours at a time, and who seemed to need something from one of us almost constantly! (No offense, Bennett, but the second child, while special in its own way, is never as big a change as the first one. Been there, done that, got the puke stains on the tie to prove it.) Of course, twenty two years later, when I learned that she had died, it was the single most significant change of my life, and it happened in literally a few seconds, hearing a few words over the phone.

Me, Joel, and Allen (L to R), from an early photo shoot.

The day I met Joel Kozikowski was one of those days, but there’s no way I could have anticipated the enormity of it when we met. Joel and I would end up being business partners for about 20 years (Allen Jorgensen joined us about 8 years into that), and it was by far the most significant business relationship of my life. It has also been, and remains, one of the most rewarding friendships of my life. He paved the way for me to get scuba certified and become a pilot, and we’ve shared the big boat dream ever since we started making some money together.

A day or two after we met

Spending time with Fran, one on one, for the first time, ended up being four of the most important hours of my life, but I’m sure I didn’t know it at the time. I was too busy being amazed at how much I liked her, and how much we had in common, and how much I wanted to see her again the next day.

I’m pretty sure I had a life changing day on Thursday, a mere two days ago. (Fran, too, but she can write her own story.) Lemme tell you about it.

Unless you met me very recently, you know that Fran and I have been dreaming and scheming about living on a boat in the Caribbean for at least the past five years. And you know that, although we moved onto the boat well over a year ago, the “in the Caribbean” part of the dream has been elusive, to say the least. A two-week haul out for a bottom job last January turned into five of the worst months of my life (seriously). Then, just as we felt like we were about ready to go, Hurricane Irma (you remember Irma – big woman with a nasty disposition and a penchant for chewing up boats?) came to visit us in Key West. Nothing really bad happened to Smartini, but it was enough that we needed to haul out again for repairs, and yet another short term haul out (planned for about four weeks) went awry, and stretched to almost three months. But then (was that angels singing I heard in the background?), suddenly, on Tuesday, the last job being done by the last vendor* was finished! All we needed to do was a little shakedown cruise to try out all the systems, then get the boat ready for an early morning departure.

(* Vendor: from the Latin scumbaggus, meaning lying, thieving snake who never, ever, EVER gets anything done on time, or within budget, and whose primary talent appears to be making excuses.)

The shakedown cruise went well. We motored about 3 miles north up the ICW to a familiar anchorage where we could operate the anchor windlass (the only hydraulic component we couldn’t fully exercise dockside), and on the way, test out everything else that had been modified or hadn’t been used since we motored up from Key West at the end of November. Everything worked great, but while we were sitting there at anchor, we got an alarm: “Rudder indicator lost”. Hmmm…. never seen that before. Maybe just an anomaly. Let’s hope so, because without rudder position, the autopilot wouldn’t be able to steer the boat. And trust me, you don’t really want to manually steer a boat for 78 nautical miles (unless your name is Steve Powers – and mine is not). Sure enough, when we started back to the dock, I engaged the autopilot, and there was the rudder indicator, right where it should be on the display. Whew!

We got back to the marina, but rather than go back into the slip we had occupied for the last 5 nights, we tied up at the fuel dock, on the outside of the marina. For one thing, we had told them we were leaving that day, and they had another boat coming into that slip in the afternoon. For another, if we positioned at the fuel dock, it would be easy to leave – we wouldn’t have to do any tricky maneuvering out of the slip with currents and wind and such. (If this were a movie, there would be some element of foreshadowing right here – maybe a slow fade to the giant ripples going under the fuel dock as the incoming tide smashes against it.)

While we were prepping the boat, I noticed that one of the two MFD’s (multi-function displays) at the lower helm was looking weird. It was displaying all the right words and images, but it was all white on green, like a failed attempt at coming up with the easiest-to-read computer screen way back in the monochrome monitor days, before most of you were born. The MFD’s display our charts, radar, night vision camera, sonar, etc., etc., depending on what you select. We have four of them – two at the upper helm, from where we operate the boat 99% of the time, and two at the lower helm, which is used only in the nastiest weather. Since this was at the lower helm, and we weren’t expecting any bad weather at all, we decided to ignore it, and try to find a replacement on ebay later. (No foreshadowing needed here, folks – while this was annoying at the time – almost unbelievable, actually, as we were within hours of departure – it didn’t end up causing us any trouble at all.)

We planned to leave at about 2:00 a.m. because of weather. It’s about 78 nautical miles (90 “normal” miles for the landlubbers among you), and at our speed (about 7 knots, or 7 nautical miles per hour), that’s about 11 hours. We don’t want to make that trip if the weather, and more important the sea conditions caused by the weather, aren’t favorable. After a pretty rough several days, the wind was forecast to shift around from the north to the south, and to calm significantly, resulting in a nice smooth ride across the Gulfstream. But the change was going to happen overnight, and last only into the next afternoon. We didn’t want to miss that window, so we got the boat all prepped and ready to go, went to the West Palm Brewery for one last good beer and some of their excellent pizza, then went back to the boat and to bed, with the alarm set for 1:30.

We both slept surprisingly well, given how excited we were. But we were both also pretty exhausted, both physically and emotionally, from the previous few weeks of trying to get vendors to live up to their promises. At any rate, we conked out, slept hard, and got up at 1:30. Made some coffee, re-ran every checklist, added one more tie-down to the dinghy (didn’t want a repeat of our last overnight adventure!), and at 2:37 a.m., I fired up the big Isuzu diesel and engaged the bow and stern thrusters to push us off the dock. And nothing happened.

That’s not true – I wrote it that way to make it more dramatic than it really was. But it SEEMED like nothing happened. What actually happened was that both thrusters engaged just like they’re supposed to, and they moved us about eight inches away from the dock. Not even close to enough to be able to pull the fenders out from between us and the dock. It was as if we still had a line cleated to the dock. The tide had started to come in, and the current pushing onto the dock was too strong for the thrusters to overcome. “Inconceivable!” I thought, in my best Wallace Shawn-as-Vizini accent. Our thrusters are BAD ASS! One of the modifications that had been made at this haul out – in fact, the one that had dragged out for well over a month longer than it should have taken – was to modify the hydraulic system to convert the stern thruster from electric to hydraulic, and to make the hydraulic system use all of the hydraulic power generated by both the main engine and the generator, for whatever hydraulic component you used. Our earlier dockside tests showed that both thrusters were now more powerful than before, even with both of them operating at the same time. And yet, after a solid 15 or 20 seconds of pushing that joystick to the left, we never got away from the dock.

OK, forget “walking” the boat away from the dock with both thrusters at once. We’ll just put all of the power into the bow thruster, and get the bow away from the dock, enough to then drive the boat forward. Nope – even with all that hydraulic power, the bow didn’t move more than a foot or so. But wait! The stern thruster is stronger than the bow, as it has two propellers as opposed to just one. Let’s see what that does! Not much, actually – maybe a foot and a half off the dock, but no more.

How had this happened? When we left the boat for dinner, it was about 7:30 p.m., and I noticed that there was almost no current pushing the boat either towards or away from the dock. “That’s good”, I thought, knowing that six hours later, we should have the same situation, since tides change about every six hours. Well, 2:37 was more like SEVEN hours later, and by then, the incoming tide was strong enough to push us against the dock, and to hold us there like a redneck holds onto his AR-15.

In retrospect, it’s not surprising that even a small amount of current could hold us against the dock and overpower the thrusters. The boat weighs between 85,000 and 90,000 pounds, depending on fuel load, water load, etc. We were fully loaded, so around 90,000 pounds. In order to float, a boat has to displace its weight in water. At 8.556 pounds per gallon of saltwater, Smartini displaces a little over 10,500 gallons. 10,500 gallons of water moving at only 1.2 feet per second generates around 4.65 hydro-juells of power every second, which is equivalent to the driving force of the front lines of the Indianapolis Colts, the Miami Dolphins, the New England Patriots, and several other crappy NFL teams combined. (OK, I made almost all of that up, but the lesson we learned is that our thrusters are not going to overcome a full broadside tidal current, and we need to plan accordingly in the future. This is a rarity – to learn a very valuable boating lesson first hand, without having to write a check for several thousand dollars to have something repaired or replaced.)

There was no point in continuing to try the thrusters at this point, so we shut down the engine and generator and started looking at tide and current info. It seems that we truly had missed our opportunity by about an hour – ugh! But tides and currents are tricky – tide tables are for a very specific location, and often, not very far away, the currents are quite different from the tides, due to the shape of the land that the water is moving around, including the depth of the bottom. So we decided to wait 30 minutes and see if it was any better. It wasn’t. So we tried again 45 minutes later, and 45 minutes after that, and so on, until about 5:30 when we said “Fuck it! Let’s make breakfast and wait for high tide”. (Which was going to be about 7:00.) So we had breakfast (fried Spam on English muffins, a Smartini favorite), watched the current, and when it finally seemed like it was down to almost nothing, we gave it a try. Yay! We could move the boat off the dock! It was finally time to go!

Except, it wasn’t. Because as I walked onto the flybridge to leave, we hear this on the VHF radio: “Securite, securite, securite. Cruise ship Grand Celebration is entering the Port of Palm Beach. No outgoing traffic for the next 15 minutes.” WHAT?!!?!?!? SERIOUSLY!?!?!?!?!??! Is there some force in the Universe that’s telling us not to go on this adventure? Screw that – neither of us believes in that crap – we’re going! What’s another 15 f***ing minutes, anyway?

(15 minutes later, during which we’re both thinking how nice it would have been to have slept until 5:30): Fran says “It’s been 15 minutes, let’s go.” So we did. And at 7:07 a.m. on Thursday, March 1, 2018, our lives changed, as we left a dock in the United States, bound for the Bahamas and beyond over the next several years.

Follow the blue line from the marina (upper left) to the inlet. Unbelievable!

Almost. Because that damned cruise ship hadn’t decided not to come into port, they just did it 15 minutes after they said they were going to. So as we rounded the end of Peanut Island, we could see the Grand Celebration finally coming in the inlet, and every other boat was getting out of the way. There was nowhere for us to go, so we TURNED AROUND, and went back into the port to get out of its way. !@#$%^&*()+#$&$%^&&^%%$ (big breath in) #$%&^%##%$^&*%$!!!!! (See the picture of our track, lest you think I’m making this shit up.)

But finally – FINALLY – the ship passed us, and we pointed for the open ocean. And I’m exceedingly pleased to report that, after 10 ½ uneventful hours of cruising across very comfortable seas, we pulled into Bell Channel (which is, coincidentally, right at Smith Point) on the south side of Grand Bahama Island, and a few minutes later, docked at the Grand Bahama Yacht Club.

And an hour or so afterwards, when the fenders were down and the lines were secure, and we had beers in hand, it occurred to us that, yes, now, for sure, it had happened. The Big Adventure had truly begun, and our lives were going to be very different from this day forward, for the foreseeable future.

I promise to write about it. I hope you’ll enjoy reading about it, and some of you will become part of it!

May seems to like the Bahamas.

P.S. In case you’re wondering, May the Cat did fine on this trip. She holed up in the VIP cabin for the entire voyage, but was out walking around within minutes after arriving at the dock, none the worse for wear. Just don’t tell anyone she’s here – we didn’t want to go through the hassle of legally clearing her into the Bahamas, so we didn’t tell them we had a cat onboard. But hey – they didn’t ask!