Saturday, March 28, 2015

The Comer Channel and the Moon

White Pepper transited the Comer Channel today. The Comer Channel is the deep water passage from the Exumas (via Long Island) to the Ragged Island Chain. The Raggeds are also known as the Jumentoes. Shallow draft boats (read here small and medium sized catamarans) can take a short cut through the Hog Cay Cut. Hog Cay Cut has a controlling depth of 3 feet at low water. White Pepper with 5 feet, 4 inches of draft (maybe more) does not want the hassle; hence the Comer Channel.

We left Thompson's Bay/Salt Pond on Long Island at 8 am. We were are the eastern entrance to the Comer Channel at 10 am and had no difficulty in passing through. White Pepper was at the western entrance of the Comer Channel by noon never having seen a reading under 8.7 feet. We followed the Explorer Chart's way point explicitly and never even saw a coral head.

But what about the Moon? You said you were going to write about the Moon!”

The reason White Pepper had such an easy passage was that it was timed to start when the tide was half way high and rising and finish near high tide. How do you do that and have the sun over your shoulder to give visual clues? One way is to time the trip to coincide with the new moon or full moon. Actually, two or three days after the new moon or full moon is probably better.

On the day of the full or new moon, the tide at Nassau is high at 8 am as it is in many open ocean locations. Two days later the tide is high around 10:30 am. The tide at the Comer Channel is about 2 hours after Nassau, and all of the bank sides of Great Exuma and Long Island are about 2 and ½ hours behind Nassau. Doing the math two days after the new or full moon the tide is half full and rising in the Comer Channel about 10 am and full about 1pm. It takes roughly an hour and half to two hours to get from Thompson's Bay to the Comer East way point. So a civilized departure time of 8 am is perfect. This event occurs 24 or 25 times a year. Water Cay, the first stop in the Jumentoes is easily reached by 3:30 or 4 pm.

News from Long Island

White Pepper motored straight into the wind the 30+ miles to Thompson's Bay, Long Island. The wind was light from the SE and not expected to change for a week. However, after being pinned down for three weeks with 20+ knot winds at George Town just moving felt good.

This was White Pepper's third visit to Thompson's Bay/Salt Pond in 7 years ,and the changes were palpable.

The iconic “Long Island Breeze” resort known far and wide to Bahamas cruisers has closed. Across the Queen's Highway Harding's Store closed January 1, 2015. The wide spread rumor is that too much credit was extended. Finally, Tryphema Knowles' Club “Thompson's Bay “ has closed. We wrote glowingly of Tryphema and her place in previous posts, but worried about her age and health. Tryphema was literally born on the shore of Thompson's Bay, and it won't seem the same without her.

View from top floor of the regatta park building at Salt Pond, Long Island

Mr. Chester Fox allows open access to his wi-fi if you sit on the top floor of the regatta park building. The gas station known as Long Island Petroleum provides fuel. Hillside Grocery has taken up the slack for Harding's. Propane and laundry can be arranged. Fox auto rental is still in business. A farmer's market is held every Saturday morning and is quite well done. There is a one room office for the Tourist Bureau that has some air conditioning and a small book exchange. A tiki bar named Sou' Side has opened. Restaurant would be too grand of a word to describe the place. Locals say it is good, but it too was closed the day (Sat) that Jan and I visited. All in all, things are pretty quite around Salt Pond.

Friday was a good day. The Long Island Agricultural Exposition which is held irregularly was held this year at the Clarence Town Community Center. The above mentioned Tourist Bureau arranged for a free bus from Salt Pond to Clarence Town. The exposition was a great success with displays of local agriculture and husbandry, a lecture about micro gardening that I found very interesting, and the usual festival food and drink.

 Father Jerome's Catholic Church circa 1946

Father Jerome's Anglican Church circa 1904

Jan and I walked from the Community Center into Clarence Town. There we investigated the two famous Father Jerome churches which will be the subject of a future post. Father Jerome is far too complicated of a subject to toss off in one paragraph. After the churches we walked to the Flying Fish Marina on the hunch that an old friend, Dennis, might be there. Sure enough Dennis was there as the captain of a 50 foot sport fishing boat named Marlin. It was great to catch up on old times with Dennis and reminisce about our adventures in Port Lucaya last year. We took a couple of great pictures of sharks feeding on the scrapes of fish from the sport fishermen's catch.

Finally to top off a great day we stopped at Dean's Blue Hole. This is the 626 foot deep blue hole made famous on the Discovery Channel by the exploits of the free divers. It is said to be the deepest blue hole in the world.

Dean's Blue Hole at Sunset.  Note the memorial to three women who died in a drowning accident.

By the time we had returned to the White Pepper at dusk, we had had one wonderful day all free and provided by the Ministry of Tourism for the Bahamas.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

What's Different about George Town in 2015

White Pepper at Sunset in Monument Anchorage, Elizabeth Harbor, George Town.

2015 is White Pepper's fourth visit to George Town, Bahamas since 2007. White Pepper has written extensively about George Town and Elizabeth Harbor in 2008, 2011, and 2014. Rather than repeat the obvious, a more interesting question is what has changed?

The short answer is “not very much.” There seem to be subtle differences, however. There appears to be a bit more prosperity about. White Pepper was startled to realize that the door to the liquor store is no longer locked. Previously one had to be buzzed inside. All white people got a buzz, presumably black people got a second look. Now everyone comes and goes without scrutiny. The reason for this change is not clear to me.

There are more buildings and more construction. However, in the very typical Bahamian manner there are just as many abandoned projects. This is such a mystery to Americans. The Bahamas are littered with unfinished marinas, homes, housing projects and resorts. The most egregious example is the local hospital. It is gorgeous and completely new, but lies unused because of lack of equipment and staff. Poor planning and a change of government are a few of the excuses I have heard. By the way the the unofficial name of the hospital is “Stairways to Heaven” because of a its lovely stairway entrance and a local rock formation of the same name. What a great name for a hospital!

The market is much improved. Fresh fruits and vegetables are usually available unlike previous year when they were only available on the day after the mail boat arrived. Many more mail boats or supply boats arrive daily except Sunday.
Beer remains prohibitively expensive at $50+/case. Wine is ridiculously overpriced although one Chilean brand, Lazo, is now available for under $10. Rum remains quite cheap.

Wi-fi and internet are more available for a price. Phone service is better and much cheaper.

There still is no movie theater or pizzeria. I think that a KFC or Pizza Hut would do very well in George Town.

The fish are largely gone. The conch are dying out which is a shame. “Cranked conch” which is deep fat fried conch when prepared by a Bahamian is one of the world delicacies.

There is a movement in Exuma to resurrect farming. More farm products are available on the street and in the market. For some reason home made bread has vanished from the George Town street. It does remain available in smaller communities.

The weather remains beautiful. The people are so friendly and courteous it is hard to believe. Marijuana seems to be a bit more in evidence recently, esp. at night. Beer is routinely consumed in public and at all hours, but no one every seems drunk or disorderly. Crime is almost non existent on Great Exuma. I would feel quite as ease walking about at mid night.

One new phrase that White Pepper hears is people referring to Great Exuma as the “main land;” presumably in distinction to the smaller rural islands of the Exuma chain. Great Exuma and George Town are no longer so rural.

Jan reports that she does not care about what has changed. She says we come here for what is beautiful and enduring. I would agree.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Karl Resuscitates the Yamaha after a Drowning Accident

Last year's cruise was dominated by problems with the Yanmar motor which powers the White Pepper. This year the main problem has been with the Yamaha 8 HP which powers the dingy Habanero. There is no comparison, of course, but today's event were memorable.

We had the Yamaha serviced at Vero Marine Center and had a rusted throttle cable replaced with considerable expense and delay over Christmas at Vero Beach, FL. That is were the problems started. Performance was great the day after service. However, problems developed soon afterward. By the time White Pepper had arrived at Great Harbour Cay, the motor would barely start and would run only at full throttle. It seemed as if the idle jets were clogged in the carburetor. Some improvement was made by adjusting the idle screw. At this point I had decided to buy a new motor in George Town, Bahamas as the cost of service was exceeding the value of the motor. Also we were limited to motoring no further than we could row back to the boat which is no fun when cruising.

I guess that the Yamaha knew that the end was near and decided to commit suicide. On a very windy and bumpy night the Yamaha jumped off the stern of the dingy into 20 feet of water while at anchor off Lee Stocking Island.

The next morning after discovering the accident a friend took me into George Town were I ordered a replaced motor-- an Enduro Yamaha 8 HP. In the meantime I had to get the motor off the bottom if for no other reason than to prevent fouling someone's anchor.

Conventional wisdom is to take the spark plugs out, turn the motor upside down, hose it down with fresh water, drain the carburetor, replace the spark plugs, and start it right away.

I chose a different path. I partially disassembled the motor, washing and cleaning the parts. The carburetor was exhaustively cleaned. There was considerable debris inside which was probably old “varnished” gasoline. The high speed jet was clean, the low speed jet less clean, and idle jets were clogged. The idle jets are not really jets on the Yamaha—rather they are just holes and tunnels near the choke valve. Steve from Red Boat was very helpful pointing out these fine details that never show up in manuals or You-tube videos. It took all of one afternoon to disassemble the motor and all of the next morning to reassemble it. Finally, I was ready to try to start it. I would love to tell the reader that it started on the first pull, but that didn't happen. I had dedicated myself to 100 pulls on the the starting rope. However, I could not get that far. My sense was that there was still water in the cylinders. I removed the spark plugs and began to pull on the starting rope. A foam of water and WD-40 sputtered out of the holes. Eventually only gasoline seemed to be coming out of the spark plug holes. I replace the plugs with new ones. Here at this point I would again love to tell the reader that the motor started—it didn't. I returned to the 100 pulls. Finally, on the very last pull the Yamaha truly miraculously sputtered to life and ran.

Because I had meticulously cleaned the carburetor the motor actually runs better than before the dunking. I can now idle it down to almost nothing. There are still problems with the motor. Some folks say the 2 stroke engines can last forever. I do not believe them. Things wear out, although I could have taken better care of this particular motor. I do plan to use the new engine. I think, however, that I will keep the old one as a souvenir.

(As an aside, 2 stroke Yamaha motors are reasonably priced in the Bahamas when nothing else is. Yamaha is the only brand available, and they are ubiquitous. I have been told that the price did go up when 2 stroke engines were banned in the US.)