Thursday, May 23, 2013

Flexible Cruising Plans Are The Key To Success

  I barely got any sleep Monday night as all I could think about was how I was going to successfully add hydraulic fluid to our steering mechanism without the proper equipment. The more I thought about finding what I needed in Rock Sound, the more pessimistic I became.
  At about 2 A.M., I went online and found out as much as I could about the job I needed to do, even watching a video on how to do it, and I went back to bed, feeling a little more confident on being able to fix our steering.
  On Tuesday morning I was up at daybreak sorting through my collection of hoses and fittings, seeing what I had that might serve my purpose. I did have an ample amount of hydraulic fluid that met the specifications of Sea Star, the manufacturer of the steering system on our Sea Ray, so it appeared that a trip into town wouldn't be necessary.
  When I tried to add fluid on the previous day I was using a funnel, a bad idea. When air would burp from the hoses, hydraulic fluid would erupt out the top of the funnel, covering me and the dashboard with steering fluid. The instructions in my Sea Star manual call for hooking the bottle of fluid to the vent hole at the helm using a hose, and then poking a hole in the bottom of the bottle (which would now be the top if the bottle is held upside down) to keep everything enclosed while turning the wheel alternately in opposite directions to allow trapped air to vent from the system.
  I was able to jerry rig a bottle and hose to add the fluid to our steering system, although it looked more like something rigged up to provide an I.V. drip in a third world combat zone. I wish I would have taken a picture of it, but I was busy.
  Instructions also include bleeding the hoses at the steering cylinder at the rudders, but I pondered that aspect of the instructions and deemed it unnecessary in our case because from the bilge to the helm, it's all uphill on our boat, and air bubbles travel upward. The biggest reason to avoid bleeding the steering cylinder was because the only one of us that could reasonably reach the area in our boat where the cylinder is located is Holly, and I haven't gotten around to teach her the way around a 5/8" wrench yet.
  With my bottle and hoses hooked up, and by continuously turning the wheel one way and then the other, I eventually was able to get a lock to lock turning count of about six turns. That means three complete turns of the wheel from hard port to hard starboard from dead center. 
  Then I left the wheel centered while I had breakfast, as little bitty bubbles kept rising up through the hose. It's a long way from the stern to the helm, and my patience was rewarded. When I came back an hour later, the hose was solid steering fluid with no bubbles. Additional turns of the wheel revealed no more bubbles. I packed everything up and considered the job a success, at least until we could do a sea trial.
  By mid-morning, Rosie and I decided to take the dinghy in and see what was what in Rock Sound. We left Holly to guard the boat because our last stop was going to be the local grocery store.
  We tied the dinghy up at a small dock provided by the Four Points restaurant. They have a sign there inviting travelers to tie up, and also where to place any trash that they may bring along with them, which we did. Two bags full.
  We walked south to the heart of the small settlement along the main road. No sidewalks are along the Queens Highway, so our path took us through rocks and grass when the occasional car would speed towards us. I was impressed with how many of the folks would wave as they passed. I did wish one of them would have stopped to ask us if we needed a ride, but no one did.
  We saw a sign advertising "Sammy's Place", which we knew was a local restaurant, so we followed the signs further into the heart of town and eventually came to a small establishment that not only had a bar/restaurant, but a small hotel as well.
   It was 11:30 when we walked in. A few patrons were seated at the small bar, and a few more where in the dining section. Most people in the Bahamas will greet anyone entering any place of business with a "good morning" or a "good afternoon" and we received the same treatment as everyone else, and we also returned the greetings.
  It was a bit early for lunch, but we were told that if we could wait five minutes or so, the cook would clean up the breakfast supplies in the kitchen before making us whatever we wanted off the menu for lunch. Jen, our waitress, was very nice and welcomed us to their town and to Sammy's. She could not have been more pleasant, and soon enough she arrived with a tall conch burger for Rosie and a taller bacon cheeseburger for me. And at reasonable prices, I may add.
  We finished up lunch and promised to return for breakfast the next morning if the weather co-operated, and Jan said she would look for us. With a tip, our lunch amounted to $25, the lowest priced meal we'd had in the Bahamas yet.
  It was a hot walk to the market, and we took a short cut to avoid some of the busy Queen's Highway. I saw a local walking our way as we walked along a quiet residential street, quiet meaning the only living thing we saw were dogs and chickens running loose in the yards. The guy walking towards us was carrying a big machete, something that always makes me nervous. When I get nervous, I begin to look around for any possible weapons, just in case, and the only item I saw that could do any harm to anyone was a tangled up garden hose laying next to one of the shacks along our way. By this time, our machete carrying fellow traveler was alongside us and we both offered a "good afternoon" to each other. As we passed, I turned around to look, and found him doing the same. I suspect he was checking us out for a different reason than I was checking him out for, but he kept walking and so did we.
  Some may call my behavior paranoia, but I call it prudence. We always say "better safe than sorry", and we actually practice it.
  About a mile north of town is a strip mall that houses an automotive store, a hardware store, a bank, and a grocery store. We entered the NAPA store looking for a bolt I could use as an impeller puller the next time I did that job, and was sent to the hardware store. A fella at the hardware store in turn directed us back to the NAPA store. I may add that in both stores, my request for a 3/4" number 16 bolt was met with quizzical stares. I didn't bring one of my spare impellers with me as a method of demonstrating exactly what I needed, but to be fair, my experience at Home Depot, or Lowe's is usually the same. Typically, any requests need to be kept simple, like asking for "paint" or  "a hammer". OK, asking for "a hammer" may be stretching it at Home Depot.
  The grocery was the best stocked we have visited with the exception of Maxwell's in Marsh Harbour. All the meat was frozen rock solid, and appears to be sent from somewhere other than the U.S. Rosie asked how I knew this fact and I noted the absence of anything resembling a U.S.D.A stamp. But we bought a big package of pork chops, at least it's what the label said. The bread selection was slim as the supply boat hadn't been in yet. It was due in that afternoon. We added a lone loaf of rye bread to our cart after checking it for freshness. Bread is easy to find in the Bahamas, so we didn't sweat at not finding exactly what we wanted. We filled our cart about a quarter of the way up and only spent $125.
  We popped into a large liquor store on the way back to the dinghy and picked up two cases of Bud Light for the lightening low sum of $97. The rationing plan for this beverage of choice has not been working out too well.
  As we got back to the dinghy, the doors to Pasqual's, the restaurant at Four Points, were open but no cars were around. As Rosie loaded our purchases into the dinghy, I went inside to find out when they were open.
  I saw two little kids at a small bar. Hardly any lights were on, and I wondered if there were any adults around. I heard a voice say "Hello", but still didn't see anyone until a young woman rousted herself from the confines of the deep couch she was resting in.
  In a sleepy voice she informed me that they were in fact open for business from noon until 6 P.M. It was currently around 1 P.M. I would have expected more to be going on than a nap at that hour, but I don't own the place. I found out later that they do a bang up business when the cruise ships come in. I hope so.

  I've been watching the weather waiting for a window for us to travel to Little San Salvador, a small private island to our east, but rain and wind are hampering our attempts to leave Rock Sound Harbour. 
  Our plans to have breakfast at Sammy's Place yesterday were abandoned because all morning the sky looked like it does in the picture above. The next break appeared to be on Thursday, so we hunkered down and read our books. Swing Set got a free boat wash.
  By late afternoon the sun came out, but the winds were still howling. We left Holly and took the dinghy into the town dock anyway, not wanting to be cooped up all day.
  Dingle's Hardware was on our way to Sammy's, so we stopped in to see if they had the bolt I was looking for. I was specific in the size bolt that I needed, but when the young man behind the counter pulled out a 1/2" carriage bolt about 8" long, I knew I'd be getting the bolt I need somewhere else. We thanked him for his effort and continued on our way to Sammy's.
  Along a side street I saw a man sitting in a chair along the narrow road and he appeared to be fast asleep. His arms were at his sides and his head hung down with his chin resting on his chest. As we got nearer, he looked to be around ninety years old. Gin bottles, lots of gin bottles, were littered around his chair.
  We didn't expect him to stir, but as we nearly got past him, he woke up and asked us to come over to him and we did. "Snake Man", or "The Traveler", as he introduced himself, was ecstatic to see us, and began to reveal to us that when he was younger, he traveled "all tru the United States", working as a laborer on movie sets, and occasionally even getting in some of the movies as an extra. He asked where we were from and when he was told that we were from Missouri, he got even more excited and said that he had been there too. "All tru the United States, but came home to the Bahamas after all dat."
  "Snake Man" shook our hands at least twice, before we made our escape, but we should have stayed longer to talk to him. I'm sure we were the highlight of his day, but it was hot and I heard cold Kalik's calling all the way from Sammy's Place.
  We walked in Sammy's and our waitress from the day before, Jen, was tending bar and no one was in there but her and the cook. She was genuinely glad to see us and served us up two cold Kalik beers when we asked for them.
  We spent the next two hours talking to Jen and whoever else came in. Sammy's Place does more carry out than anything, and it being dinner time, they were doing a brisk business of selling sandwiches to go after wrapping them in small paper bags. Some folks came in with cash in hand, and others appeared to have some credit line going, as no money changed hands as they went away with dinner.
  Jen has worked in Nassau, and we got caught up with what has been going on there on Paradise Island. We found out that some places we had been to thirty years ago were still there doing business and holding out from selling to the Atlantis outfit. We were glad to hear it.
  Jen also was telling us about the current problem of Chinese and Jamaican immigrants coming into the Bahamas and adding to a growing crime problem in some areas. Nassau has made some inroads into the crime issue there, but the smaller settlements are having a harder time of controlling crime because they have smaller police departments if they have any at all. She also explained the need in the Bahamas for a national health care system so everyone could be treated at the hospitals, regardless of their wealth, or lack of.
  We didn't want to walk back too late to the dinghy, so we ordered a couple of orders of chicken wings to go and said our goodbyes and left a nice tip for Jen the bartender. 
  We were happy to see the dinghy still tied up where we had left it. There were several locals fishing off the small dock where we had the dinghy tied up. They were having some good luck catching snapper with little else than some "slop", or leftover conch parts, and just fishing line, no poles. I'm wondering where on the boat I can keep some "slop".
  Back aboard the boat we feasted on chicken wings and red beans and rice. I stowed the dinghy on the davits because we planned on heading out in the morning. It was early to bed with our books, but the wind was still howling and it was a rolly night.
  During breakfast I checked Windfinder again. The wind from the east was due to subside during the day, but only through tomorrow. It appeared from the forecast that we could be stuck in Little San Salvador for a week or more if we went there.
  Little San Salvador sits alone several miles from its neighbor to the east, Cat Island. It's basically a private island for cruise ships to visit and there is no services, nor BTC tower. I didn't like the prospect of sitting in Half Moon Bay for over a week, so I checked our charts and decided to travel southwest to the Exumas Islands instead. We'd have the wind and waves to our backs mostly, and if the winds kept up for a week or more, we'd have protection from the islands as we'd be on the lee side of them and could still bounce our way southeast as we saw fit. Rosie liked the idea, so we pulled up anchor and began to head out.
  The wind was still whipping us on our bow as we made our way south in Rock Sound Harbour and I began to second guess my decision to leave today. The wind is really supposed to subside by tomorrow, so we decided to take an anchorage on the southern end of Rock Sound in a calm spot where we could wait to head out tomorrow instead. Highbourne Cay is only 27 miles away from southern Eleuthera once we get around Powell Point as we leave Cape Eleuthera, so we should have no problem getting over to the Exumas if we leave early tomorrow.
  Additionally, thunderstorms are still predicted for today, and traveling on the open ocean during a thunderstorm is not something we would choose to do if we had a choice, and we do. Our current situation is exactly why we won't make any plans to meet anyone anywhere, as traveling to meet a schedule is foolhardy, dangerous, and unnecessary.
  The good news is that our steering is working just fine. We were able to give it a good tryout on our way to our new spot on the hook. The water is nicer here, being away from Rock Sound, and the town dump is also on the lee side of us, so the air smells better.
  If our plans change again, I'll let our friends know who we have listed as SPOT contacts. We'll be issuing "We're OK" reports as we cross open ocean on our way to the northern tip of the Exumas. We don't want to keep anyone up nights.

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