Wednesday, January 30, 2013

2013/01/30 Crossing / Nassau

Log of the Salty Turtle: Lake Maul to Nassau January 14 – January 29, 2013

1/14/2013 Maul Lake to Key Biscayne, FL 17nm
1/16/2013 Key Biscayne to Between Palm and Hibiscus Island, Miami 14nm
1/20/2013 Hibiscus Island (Miami) to Nassau, Bahamas 166nm
1/26/2013 Nassau Harbor Club to Nassau Harbor Club (aborted crossing) 7nm
Miami by Night

“I no longer had the sensation of traveling but a feeling of living an isolated life on an island 44 feet long.”

Ray Kauffman
Miami Beach Sunrise
Maul Lake to Miami Beach (Between Palm and Hibiscus Islands):

The ICW between Ft. Lauderdale and Biscayne Bay is not my favorite but it is better than the stretch between Lake Worth an Lauderdale (thank god) – less bridges, more open water, and fewer assholes. We worked our way across the busy Port of Miami and under the Rickenbacker Causeway Bridge into Biscayne Bay.

When you pass under Rickenbacker you enter a different world – the world of Biscayne Bay and the Florida Keys. To me, Biscayne Bay is meant for sailing small boats. The Bay is open, shallow, and protected. As we passed under the bridge the Turtle was greeted by a fleet of 49ers (18' boats with winged trampolines for hiking and long bowsprit for flying asymmetrical spinnakers). They barely seemed to touch the water, man they smoke or at least we thought they did until two days later when we found out what “fast” really was.
We were sitting on the stern of Salty Turtle enjoying our afternoon sundowners when out on the horizon an appropriation appeared – two specks moving at the speed of light. They were “Moth” class sailboats. These boats are about 16' in length, with a deck of only about 2' in beam and trampolines for hiking out, but what makes these boat unique is they are hydrofoils with foils on keel and rudder. The whole boat weighs in at around 80 pounds including sails. In 10 knots of wind the skipper will ride about 2' above the water and reach speeds approaching 18 knots. Moths are real cruiser entertainment.

Our window to cross evaporated and we decided to move over to Miami Beach between Palm and Hibiscus Islands to hide from a blow and wait for the next window.

Hibiscus and Palm Islands:

Hibiscus and Palm islands are two of many spoil island situated between Miami and Miami Beach. Anchoring between them gave great protection from all directions but did have one, small disadvantage. We were now the turning mark for the tourist boats out of Miami. On the other hand, we learned a lot about the homes on the islands free of charge.
Bacardi Home
The homes on the Palm and Hibiscus are not your normal gaudy, 20,000 square feet, expensive, boorish, houses one comes to expect in South Florida. Each home is an architectural masterpiece. Each as different from the other as the taste of the individuals that built them. They are not huge monuments to money (but obviously are about money, individuality, and taste). Take a look at the photo of the one of the homes we were anchored near. We didn't know it until the tourist boats started circling us but it is one of many that belongs to the Bacardi family (we had anchored off a rum “Meca” and didn't even know it) – it is for rent, by-the-way, for a mere $30,000 a day.
Observation: A smile or salute of simple recognition gives pleasure to both the giver and receiver.

In the tradition of sailors, every afternoon Gigi and I would adjourn to the stern of the Turtle, enjoy sundowners, and await the close of the day and the sparkle of lights as they twinkled on around us – quite a pleasant tradition I might add. It became a habit to salute the tourist boats as they passed with raised glass and a smile. We noticed on every boat people would return our gesture of friendship with a smile of their own. The simple acknowledgement of a fellow human being can give great joy and it cost nothing.

The Crossing:
On the morning of the 20th we got our chance – a mild 2 day weather window to cross to Nassau. By 9:00 AM we had dodged a couple of ships (Gigi don't like big ships) and cleared the inlet. We were at sea and on our way. The Gulf Stream greeted us with 4 to 6' swells spaced about 10 seconds apart (like riding an elevator with its gentle rise and fall). I don't really understand why but the Gulf Stream gave us a little push all day and we were on the Bahama Banks near North Rock, just N. of Bimini, by 3:00 PM. We crossed the banks under a crystal clear sky filled with stars counting red starfish in 20' of water. By 8:30 the next day were tied up at Nassau Harbor Club and greeted with big Bahamian hugs from our friends Peter, Dudley and Clark. We were back in our Bahamas and home.

Customs and Immigration, as usual, threw us a curve. Customs gave us a years cruising permit. Immigration gave us just what we wanted for a change, 180 days before we have to search for somewhere to renew, but... only gave us 60 days on our fishing permit so we will still have to be in Nassau or Georgetown in 60 days to get a renewal – the Bahamian government “givith and takith” away. 'Dis da Bahamas Mon. What you get is what they give.

Gigi and I decided since the Bahamian Telephone Company (BTCO for short) had gone “4G” we would get a broadband card and a data plan ($30/month unlimited data). Sounds simple doesn't it. Nothing but nothing that has anything to do with BTCO is ever simple.

Tues: We met Clay, an almost Bahamian Texas friend that was to be our guide, at TPA(his marina) and walked the 5 blocks to the BTCO office on Shirley St. There we got a sims card for Gigi's old Bahamian phone and asked if they had any broadband cards. “No mon”, was the answer (technically they were right, the importance of this will come later). But we had an “ace” we had Clay and he had heard that a computer store at the corner of Meridian and Royal Streets had a “Zoom” broadband card. Simple we catch the No.1 bus to Royal and see if we get lucky.

It was the consensus of the group that we grab a good breakfast at the little place around the corner from BTCO before we make the trek. While at breakfast we remembered that we needed “minutes” for the phone or it would not work. Back to BTCO. They sold us “minutes.” Why they didn't ask us while we were there the first time if we needed “minutes” (it was obvious we did). The “why” will remain a Bahamian mystery in marketing.

We took the No. 1 bus to Meridian and Royal, but... for some unknown reason the bus driver decides to take a short cut and by pass Meridian and Royal. Luckily Clay caught it and got the driver to put us out only a short block or 2 from the computer store – in the Bahamas all things seem to be the same but never quite are. We were in luck, the computer store had a Zoom and sold us one, but they do not sell sims cards or data plans. Back to BTCO. This time the down town store since all buses go down town.
We caught the No. 19 bus. Then walked the 6 blocks to the BTCO office where we bought a sims card and data plan (we are getting smarter we bought both this time) and thanks to Clay got them to activate the sims card by putting it in our phone and doing some magic. We walked the 8 blocks to catch the No. 19 bus back to Clay's Marina and Harbor Club. Clay asked if I needed help installing the Zoom. “Na” I said confidently. I didn't think I did since the nice lady at BTCO had given me explicit instructions and I had written them down. It seemed pretty straight forward. Two hours later I was back at Clays boat begging help. Two hours later we were both throughly beaten. I was beginning to believe it was a sims card or a BTCO issue.

Wed: Next day I took the No.19 bus to BTCO and found the nice lady that had helped us the day before. She took the sims card out of the Zoom and tested it in a phone. It worked. She tried to install the Zoom on a PC she had in house and it would not work. Finally, she said I needed to take it back to the computer store she thought it was bad or we were missing something. As a parting shot she said, “If they will take it back I have an Android phone for $100 that will act as a G3 hotspot and you would have your broadband and phone in one.” Why the folk at the Shirley St. BTCO didn't tell us this I'll never know – again Bahamian marketing at it's best.

Grabbed the No.1 Bus to the Computer Store but this time it does not take a short cut and lets us off at the store (our luck is changing). I explain the problem to clerk. She looked at my install information on my computer and she said, “Why you put the phone number there?” I said, “Well, it ask for the phone number.” “No mon, you put *9***99*#. You not follow the instruction?” I said, “What instructions other than the ones in the package with the Zoom?” Too which she produced a sheet of typed paper from behind the counter with instructions and said, “Dis instructions.” “Sorry Mon,” she say as she hand me da sheet. They wouldn't take the Zoom back...of course.

We took the No.19 bus back to Harbor Club. It took 2 minutes to install the Zoom and have it up and running on both Gigi's and my computers. The moral to the story: “Tings' usually work in the Bahamas but ya gotta' pay your dues first.”

Short BTCO Story: This one Clay shared with me and it was too good not to share with you. A miserly friend of his needed to make a short call to the States. He checked his minutes as he always did before the call, made his less than 1 minute call, and again checked his minutes. The phone said he had used 5 minutes when the call had been less than 1. He was pissed and immediately called BTCO and as calmly as a pissed off man can explained that the phone had ate 5 of his minutes on a less than 1 minute call. The operator with out a blink indignantly explained, “Our minutes different dan your minutes,” and hung up. Score one for BTC. If you lose your sense of humor here you will be one frustrated cruiser.

To end my BTCO rant on an “political” note... Two year ago British Wireless bought 51% of BTCO and started to make positive changes in the system. This year a different political party took over control of the Government and are trying to take back control and put BTCO back in Bahamian hands. The international banking community has warned them that if they break their contract with British Wireless their lending status will go down the toilet. No one know what the out come will be, but...the Bahamians do have a habit of blowing large holes in their feet.

All For One Regatta:
Chris Parker, the weather guru, said the winds were supposed to go 5 – 10 NE with 1 to 2 foot seas on Saturday but pump back up on Sunday. We had our window to cross the Yellow Banks – narrow, but a window. Saturday at 9:00 we left Harbor Club and headed out. It was anything but light. We had 15 to 20 on the nose with 2 to 4' seas. It was an abort and by 10:30 were back tied up at Harbor Club with no window in site.
The window was closed but the first ever “All For One Regatta” was being held off Montague Park complete with A, B and C Class Sloop racing and, again, first ever E Class sculling races. It turned out to be 2 days of some of the best racing I've seen in the Bahamas, great Jerk BBQ, and more beer and booze than even I can drink. We sat with fellow cruisers, made new Bahamian friends, and had a ball. There is nothing like Bahamian Sloop racing any where – good food, ladies dressed to the 9s, Bahamians explaining the finer points to their children (and anyone who will listen), and line a up of line “Sunday Morning Skippers” critiquing the tactics at the top of their lungs. It is a true Bahamian experience and both G and I love their regattas and their people. 

It looks like we will finally get out of here on Thursday. Our plan (written in Jello) is to cross the Yellow Banks on Thursday and go all the way to Big Major Spot near Staniel Cay. Our window slams shut early Friday and we need to be hold up somewhere by then and Big Majors is a good spot.

Fairwinds and Rum Drinks,


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