The Argonaut Feb 19 to March 5, 2014

February 19, 2014 Chubb Cay

Tyler took the overnight watch and I relieved him at 0700. It was a nice clear morning and we were still on the Mackie Bank about 20 miles east of Chubb Cay. We put the fishing lines out as we neared the bank at Fleeming Channel, but apparently no one was in the mood for breakfast as yet although I served up a beautiful cedar plug. About 10:30 we raised Chubb Cay Marina on VHF 68 and made our way into the channel toward the docks. Chubb Cay is a little limestone island that rises about three feet above sea level. The island is beautiful: white limestone beaches, pine trees and palms all around, and fancy homes built by the marina’s developer. The homes are done in a sort of antique American Farm architecture, with brightly painted pastel colors and steel roofs, with Adirondack chairs on the porches. The marina was carved out of solid rock and is beautifully equipped, but financially it doesn’t seem to be doing well despite having some of the highest mooring fees in the hemisphere! I can only imagine what it cost to build!

The marina caters mostly to the sport fishing crowd and there were a number of them in the harbor as we pulled in. These boats are very expensive – certainly millions of dollars – with most of them having several crew members. While at the dock crew members spend their time washing and polishing their boats or stringing fishing lines and preparing the next day’s expedition. The docking fees are extremely high here: $4.35/ft. in season and $2.50/ft. off season plus 40 cents/gal for water and $30 night for electricity. As the high season began 2/17 we should have paid the higher rate, but they let us off “easy”. After checking in with the dock master, Rebecca took our papers to the airstrip to check in with customs and pay the Bahamian $300 cruising fee. Meanwhile Tyler cleaned the salt off ARGO while I de-pickled the water maker and got it up and running. That afternoon we went to the beach for a little while, but the ocean was only 78 degrees, a little cold for Rebecca and Tyler. On the way back to the boat an owner of one of the sport-fish boats stopped Rebecca and asked her to taste his ceviche. What a come on! I was standing right there. Anyway, I commented on the raft of fancy reels and fishing poles bristling off the back of his boat. There must have been $75,000 worth of reels and poles, some electric and some manual, all bright and shinning gold masterpieces of the sport fishing culture. To distract him from focusing on my wife, I asked him what he had to buy is wife in order to invest so much in all this fishing gear. That’s when I heard the biggest whopper of them all: He told us that his wife doesn’t particularly like jewelry, so he buys her a fishing pole for mother’s day, anniversaries and the like! Boy, that’s a fish story if ever I heard one, either that or he has the most understanding and unselfish wife in the world.

After a delicious dinner a la Rebecca, we all fell into bed tired and glad to have started on our voyage. 

February 20, 2014 Across Fleeming Channel and the Exuma Bank

We got underway about 0645 and started for Allens and Leaf Cay. These island are clustered together and form one of the most beautiful places that we have been to in our travels. They are home to two species of Iguana. You can find pictures of these cays on our website (www.tischtravels.com) from our 2013 visit.

First we had to cross Fleeming Channel, which is a notorious piece of water; it is often windblown and rough. Air funnels off the ocean between The Great Abaco and Eleuthera Islands to the north and the New Providence Island to the south. Today we had 30 knots of wind and 4-6ft. box-wave seas until we rounded the western tip of New Providence Island and onto the Great Bahama Bank. The depth of the water changes rapidly from the channel to the bank, going from about 1,000ft. to 20 ft. or less in a very short distance. ARGO bounced around a bit in the deep water taking the waves broadside: just a little taste of what’s to come when we cross the Caribbean Sea in a couple of weeks. We made it to the bank in a couple of hours and then on to Allens and Leaf Cays arriving around 1714; a good run in sunny, warm weather. We anchored in sand in 15 ft. of water and enjoyed a lovely sunset.

February 21, 2014 On to Big Major and Staniel Cay

The next morning we awoke to a clear, sunny day, but it was a little breezy and waves in the anchorage were a little rough, so we decided to pull the anchor and enjoy a 5 hour cruise down the coast to Big Major. This is one of two places that boaters congregate in large numbers to socialize and enjoy a tiny speck of civilization at the “Yacht Club” on Staniel Cay. Last winter we spent about two weeks here. We arrived in the early afternoon and found about 50 yachts at anchor. We put out the tender and cruised around the islands and stopped in at the club for a beverage. On the way back we looked around for people we met last year. Some people come here year-after-year, sort of like RVer’s visiting the same campground. As we tooled around we noticed Exodus, a Fleming 65 with Texans Susan and Arnie on board. We met them last year and spent a fair amount of time in their company. That evening we stopped by for cocktails and watched the sun go down. We asked about a couple that we had met last year and Susan told us that they had to sell their boat because neither of their mothers, both of whom are in their 90’s, had died yet, so they couldn’t afford to keep up the cruising life style. The couple tells everyone this story and refers to themselves as “trust-fund babies”, so we are not really talking out of school. Apparently they tried to sell their boat, had a buyer and needed to take the boat south from its then location to consummate the sale. Unfortunately the boat developed an engine room fire at sea. Having been aboard the boat last year, I am not sure if a fire would not have been a blessing in disguise. But, instead of letting it burn and sink, the fire was extinguished, the boat was saved and ultimately towed to shore. The buyer, of course, lost interest and our friends are now on the hard watching their mothers spend their inheritances.

February 22, 2014 At anchor at Big Major and Staniel Cay

The Bahamas are really beautiful: blue sky, gorgeous aqua blue water, white sand and beautiful palm trees. The air temperature is about 80 degrees and the water is just a few degrees less. I couldn’t wait to go swimming so we headed over to the grotto where the movie Thunder Ball was filmed. You remember the scene that drove every one wild: Sean Connery and a voluptuous young woman diving under the rock and finding themselves all wet in a beautiful, underwater cave. Well, this was the place and it is spectacular. There is a buoy near the entrance so visitors can tie up their dinghies. After jumping in the water you swim in 15 feet of aqua blue water to the edge of a small rocky island, dive under the rocks and swim under them until you find a spot to come up for air. The entrance is a little narrow, but once inside it opens into a domed cave about 500 feet in diameter in the main room, and several hundred feet across in a second adjoining room. The ceiling rises about 30 feet above the water and has several large holes through which the sun shines and lights the grottos interior. There is an underwater cave opening on the other side from which light enters and illuminates the smaller room. The water is 20 or so feet deep in the grotto, so other tourists didn’t stay very long. We had fins and snorkeling equipment, so we stayed perhaps 20 minutes. It was a very unusual and beautiful place. I put some pictures on the website www.tischtravels.com.

That afternoon Tyler and I thought we should clean ARGO’s bottom. She had been sitting in the Saint Lucie River in Stuart, Fl. for several weeks and a grassy algae had taken up residence. Growth of any kind should be removed from a vessels bottom as it will slow the boat as it moves and decrease fuel efficiency. I had never done this sort of work before, usually I hire a diver to clean her, but one of my boating friends does it himself, so I thought I would give it a try. In this case, we just used a wash cloth and wiped the bottom as far down as we could reach, which was very adequate.

February 23, 2014 Underway for Georgetown

The next day we got up early and set out for Georgetown, about 80 miles south of Big Major. It was a beautiful day and we planned to get out the fishing gear and see if we could put some fresh fish in the freezer. But first we had to negotiate Lumber Cay Cut, a narrow passageway through the reef that provides a path to the sea. These cuts can be very tricky as currents and wind can make them dangerous, especially since they are usually not straight passages, but curved around coral heads and rocks. Once out at sea we got out the gear and enjoyed the beautiful day. Tyler took the helm and Rebecca was making breakfast. I sat on the aft deck enjoying the view; the sparse Exumas passing to starboard with the limestone shore line carpeted in green. It was a fantastic morning. I put out one cedar plug, my all-time best fish attractor. On the port side I put out a brightly colored feathered plug that I had to rig since I had never used it before. I sat back and waited. After about 45 minutes I thought I might not have it today, then, as I scanned the waters I saw to starboard a bull Dorado jump out of the water. He was about 300 yards away. As he jumped in the air he displayed a dazzlingly gorgeous neon robin’s egg blue color. I never saw anything like it. I hoped he might be headed for my lure. I waited, then wham! Off he went with my plug in his mouth. He fought for about 15 minutes jumping and tail walking, but unfortunately for him the die was cast; when it was over we had a nice 30 -35 pounder in the bag. Two hours later we caught another Dorado on the same bright lure, this time a 45 pounder. A beautiful fish indeed, and an end to a great fishing day. 

Around 1600 we pulled into Stocking Harbor at Monument Hill across from Georgetown. There were about 250 boats in the harbor, mostly sailboats. Like Big Major, many people camp out here for long periods of time. They even conduct classes on the beach on all sorts of subjects. “Chat and Chill” is located on the beach, which is most iconic tikki bar I have ever seen. As we made our way carefully down the narrow fairway and we saw a familiar boat – Pirate – owned by Jim and Jane, a couple we met during our cruise last winter. Jim hailed us on the VHF radio and invited us to a dinner on their boat that evening. We accepted their invitation and turned ARGO around and dropped anchor next door! We went aboard Pirate around 1800 that evening for a hotdog and chili cookout and musical jam session. Jim had set up a karaoke device next to his Macaw “Mackie”, and two young Canadians with guitars arrived in short order. They had sailed a tiny sailboat from Ontario all the way down here via the Erie Canal and Hudson River on a boat with no generator or ice maker. Despite a rough ride at times, these young men could really sing folk songs. It was a lot of fun. 

February 24, 2014 At Anchor in Georgetown

The next morning was spectacular. Tyler put out our sun shades and washed the salt off ARGO. After completing our chores, we took off in the tender for a tour of the area and to visit some old Nordhavn friends who have a boat similar to ours. We dropped Tyler at Chat & Chill, and headed back to the boat for lunch on the aft deck. It was such a lovely lunch in such a beautiful place that it alone has made all the work of getting the trip planned and ARGO underway worth it.

After lunch we returned to Chat & Chill to collect Tyler and have a swim. We found Tyler at the bar with new fast friends from Atlanta, Lee and Mary Ann. Lee had bought his wife a vacation at Sandals for her birthday, but they were disappointed with the resort and found their way down to Chat & Chill. Lee also found out about Gumby Punches and had been buying them all afternoon for Tyler. Everyone was in a very good mood by the time we arrived, and Lee insisted on buying us more of the same. Anyway it was a lot of fun. 

Later in the evening we visited our Nordhavn friends aboard their yacht. It was great to see them and for us to ask about their experiences both with the boat and their travels. They are planning a summer trip plan to Montreal, Quebec, Greenland and Iceland. Sounded like a great trip to us if not a little chilly!

February 25, 2014 At Anchor in Georgetown

Today is the day that fresh vegetables arrive at the market in Georgetown, so off we went on a shopping day. It is a little town with only 85 inhabitants, although the Great Exuma Island has a population of around 3,000. Among other things, the town has at least three churches, two liquor stores, one grocery, a bunch of souvenir stores, a small hotel named “Peace and Plenty”, and the “Top to Bottom” hardware store, which has a little something for everyone. It’s a fun little spot much appreciated by wayfarers. That evening we hosted our friends to a lovely mahi-mahi dinner on board ARGO.

 February 26 -27 -28, 2014 Underway for Jamaica

The weather has been superb and is forecast to be perfect for the next week or so. The trip south to Port Antonio, Jamaica is about 450 miles. This will take us almost three days. Our route follows the shore of Long Island (south of the Exumas), past Great Inagua Island, around the eastern tip of Cuba and the Windward Passage, then a turn to starboard past Guantanamo Bay to Port Antonia. At the moment we are 27 miles north of Cuba and the ocean is about 10,000 feet deep here. The air is 88 degrees, the water is 83 degrees and lazily rolling under our starboard quarter. There is almost no wind (which is why we have a motor yacht with air conditioning). ARGO has performed beautifully. For the first day we cruised at 1100 RPM and used 4.2 GPH and moved at 7 knots, which is 0 .6 GPM. Now we are going about 8 knots at 6 GPH. We are testing our fuel burn rate at different RPMs so we can better plan our strategy for the Pacific crossing. We use the generator(s) between 10 and 14 hours a day to cook food, charge batteries, make water, and run air conditioning at night. The generator uses about 1 gal an hour. So in round numbers we are using about 160 gals a day. With 3,200 gals of fuel on board, we could do this for 20 days, and with our fuel bladder we can go along for 23 days. It should take about 15 days to cross the 3,000 miles (2,400 gallons estimated usage) from the Galapagos to the Marquesas Islands. It seems to me, and you might agree, that running out of fuel isn’t a good idea, so careful planning is a must!

Around 6 pm on Thursday we reached the Windward Passage, which is the channel between Cuba and Haiti. We passed through it two years ago on Odyssey and it was as gentle as a lamb, just like today. Lucky us! 

In the morning we passed the protection of Massif De La Hotte, the southern peninsula of Haiti and we began to feel on our beam the large swells rolling north from the Caribbean. As the sun rose the sea changed and the wind rotated so that by afternoon they were much smaller and more pleasant. The day was lovely, but as it dragged on we became more anxious to reach Port Antonio. Unfortunately we were in an adverse current all day so our speed was limited to just over seven knots. As the sun set the Blue Mountains of eastern Jamaica appeared as a silhouette high in the clouds and were cast in a rose shade as the sun set. Rebecca made us a wonderful dinner of the Mahi-Mahi we caught at sea the night before.

Coming into a strange harbor requires close attention and vigilance, particularly in a third world country like Jamaica because of unlit boast and potential unmarked obstacles. At night the lights of the city present a background in which small boats, if they have a light, are indistinguishable from the background. Most are too small for the radar to pick up, so care and watchfulness is the order of the day (or night). We looked around for the harbor entrance and we spotted some red and green lights marking the fairway entrance right were the chart illustrated them to be; we checked the code blinking from them and knew we were in the right place. We slowed and proceeded in, then made a turn to starboard and entered the west harbor through a small channel. By this time we were going very slowly as it was quit dark and there were many small boats at anchor. We looked for the marina (named Errol Flynn after its founder), but it didn’t seem to be located as shown on the map. There was a very large four mast sailing schooner tied up at a pier, but in the dark it was hard to tell its orientation. Typical of Jamaica, the night clubs were blasting loud sensual sounds, the party was in full swing, and a sweet fragrance wafted on the breeze. We inched our way toward the schooner, watching the depth and mindful of how to get out if we were in the wrong place. A couple of people on the schooner confirmed this as the marina and we decided to bring ARGO to rest at a portion of the dock in front of the schooner under her protruding foremast. I turned ARGO around and brought her starboard side to the peer as Rebecca and Tyler made sure we had adequate fenders out and that no protrusions from the peer presented a danger. As we approached, fellow sailors scrambled out of their boats to give us a hand with the lines; one fellow was still in his PJ’s!

Within minutes of tying up the Jamaica Marine Police arrived, two very nice officers. They wanted to come onboard immediately, but Rebecca wanted to see their ID’s. The two fumbled around trying to scrounge up their cards, but only one of them could find it. I wasn’t sure if Rebecca was going to relent and let both on board. But after a minute or two discussion, aboard they came—with their shoes on although Tyler wiped the bottoms of them off.

These two filled out a bunch of paperwork and then inspected the vessel from stem to stern. It took about an hour and a half an hour for the whole ordeal. They went through all the drawers and even tossed the dirty laundry. We were then told we had three more inspections to go through: Coast Guard, Immigration, and Health. By this time we were very tired, but not too tired to have a few Dark and Stormy’s.

March 1, 2014 Moored at Port Antonio, Jamaica

7 AM came early. That’s when the Coast Guard came knocking on our stateroom window. They wanted to come aboard right away too. Again, two birds; they wanted to fill out the same paperwork and look at my flares. That was it. About 10 AM the nice lady from the Health Department arrived, she didn’t want to take her shoes off either, but complied with our wishes. She had almost nothing to say, but did fill out a bunch of papers substantially the same as the other officials. At this point we were almost done, but we needed Immigration to come aboard or we couldn’t leave the boat. They finally showed up at 5 PM, and then wanted a $38 extra payment for overtime! 

That evening we had a wonderful time with three other boating couples. Ismael and Olga are from Barcelona: she is a gorgeous young women and Ismael is a thin, middle-aged, athletic man who looks every bit the Castilian – like a figure from a Goya painting, like a portrait of Hernando Cortez. Both are bright, animated and lots of fun! They have lived on a catamaran for at least eight years and have cruised the southern Caribbean extensively around Venezuela, Columbia and Panama.

The second couple was Westa and Ian, she a former teacher in Harlem, he a retire British Army office. Lovely people. They live on a 45 ft. Benetton and spend their winters in these waters.

The third couple was French, JeanMarie and Coco. He is a trauma doctor who treats sailors crossing the Pacific on French tours and also does Grande Prix races like Monaco. Although his wife Coco doesn’t speak English and nor we French, we didn’t learn much except that she gets sea sick as soon as they leave the harbor. She takes a couple of pills and goes to bed – even on long, five day cruises. He stands all the watches and sleeps in ten minute catnaps. Amazing!

March 2, 2014 Jerk at Port Antonio, Jamaica

For the most part, this was a welcomed day of rest. At 1730 we had our little band of friends over for cocktails, and then we all went to a Jamaican Jerk place for dinner. As it was Sunday, nothing conventional was open, so we headed for a beach bar not far from the marina. After a short cab ride we found ourselves in a crazy place: huge speakers blaring awful music at a dB level not tolerated by sane people or adults. Out back was a sort of open shack with chicken wire sides that had a charcoal grill and pork and chicken being roasted. Jerk was developed by the Maroons, a group of runaway slaves and local Indians that centuries ago killed and roasted feral pigs. They marinated the meat with spices found in the Blue Mountains, and cooked the pigs overnight in pits so that their location wouldn’t be detected by the rising smoke from their fires. Jerk meet is very tasty and quit inexpensive. A quarter of a chicken costs about $3, however the cook simply selects some pieces and chops them into finger food sized pieces, bones and all. When eating it in the dark as we did, it is a little difficult to tell what you’re actually eating until it is too late!

March 3, 2014 Blue Mountain tour from Port Antonio, Jamaica

Today we decided to take a tour to the Blue Mountains, about 20 miles away. Our driver, Wayne Murdock, picked us up at the marina on Jamaican time, i.e. 20 minutes late. He is a former Olympian on the Jamaican Bicycle Team who lived in the U.S. for several years, which made for interesting conversation during the drive. The Blue Mountains rise 7,500 feet from the sea on the northeast coast of Jamaica. They are steep, volcanic, and covered in a beautiful, lush rainforest. A very narrow, tortuously winding, two lane road crawls up its slopes. The road was built by slaves in the 1700’s. Terror lurks at every turn as fearless drivers speed around the blind curves blowing their horns to warn oncoming traffic of a possible collision, but doing almost nothing else to prevent one from happening. The Blue Mountains are famous for their wonderful coffee, which may be the best in the world. Our main objective was the Twynman Coffee Farm nestled about 6,500 feet in the clouds. There we met David and Dorothy Twynman, mother and son who have farmed 150 acres on the mountain side for two generations. Twynman coffee is considered the best of the best, and we thought so as well as we sat on their veranda enjoying cookies and freshly brewed coffee and looking out at the verdant valley below. A bit lower on the mountain we stopped at a Rastafarian plantation of about 100 acres. These people espouse a life of harmony with nature and other human beings. As it was explained to us, Rastafarianism isn’t religious per se, rather a philosophy of life centered on the African experience. It is particularly appealing to the decedents of former slaves who do not have direct knowledge of their origins. Of course there are many people who are a couple of standard deviations from the original intent of its founder, former Ethiopian Emperor Hallie Selassie. Ethiopia is viewed by Rastafarians as the place of human origin and of African culture. I don’t think the Emperor was a pot smoker, but many Rastafarians seem to think weed helps them calm down, meditate, and commune with all that is. On the road back to Port Antonio I could have used some weed: the car had no A/C, the window was either up or down, no in-between, and the springs on the car had far outlived their usefulness. Nonetheless, we arrived back at ARGO in one piece and happy for the experience. 

Well that’s it for now. Thanks for looking in on us. We are going to Kingston tomorrow and we are planning to leave here on the weekend for either Panama or Columbia, depending on the weather. I will post some new pictures on the website as soon as possible.

Randy and Rebecca

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