Cruising the Bahamas on my J/34c- Part II

Four parts-
Part I- Preparation
Part II- First Month
Part III- Cruising Bahamas
Part IV- Bahamas Redux

By Pam and Glenn Cooper

Continued Part Two:

j34ccoopersMaking room: Let's talk about our boat. It is the center of our lives. At first we wondered if we could "exist" on a 34' boat. Of course a bigger boat would be more comfortable, but we believe we have enough room. One reason is the open central area we have, typical of a J-Boat layout. It imparts a real feeling of spaciousness. Our forepeak sleeping area is also well sized. We have been on several boats 2-6 feet longer than '"Colette" but the feeling is often more cramped. Friends with larger sloops have often commented that "Colette" is more spacious then theirs.

Our quarter berth is now our garage! Guests sleep on the settees, while all sorts of "stuff" in various containers live to the rear. Under all this are the spares and tool lockers. However, every time we service the engine all this stuff needs to get shifted. Now here's our big "space" complaint: we wish we had more drawer space so things could be more easily accessed. We have room to carry what we need but getting at it is a pain. As you may remember from our first article one of our first boat "modifications" was to add shelves and drawers wherever possible.

We are contemplating leaving the quarterberth cushion in the storage locker this summer and loading up the quarterberth with more stackable storage containers. Also, the cover over the central quarterberth compartment is going to get modified so only a part of it needs to be lifted to access the "stuff" inside. Now when we lift it we have to use one arm to keep it from banging down on our heads while the other arm - and hand - goes sifting through things. The alternative is removing the lid to another place on the boat while we rummage through the locker. Of course we realize our "Colette" wasn't designed for this kind of liveaboard cruising. But these are thoughts for the future.

Adding a wind generator: We underestimated our electrical usage. As we moved south and the weather moderated our 12 volt refrigeration was cycling on more and more. It was gobbling up our amps. Finally we decided to "make" electricity by installing a wind generator. At the same time we had our compressor installation modified and a fan with ducting was installed to direct cool air, from the shaded interior of the boat, onto the compressor.

The wind generator does a good job. Of course the winds "blow" here in the winter so in the summer months when winds lighten, and the temperature goes up, the wind generator will have to be augmented by more diesel time or, perhaps, a solar panel. All this in 34 feet of boat!

One thing that concerned us was water capacity. The Bahamas are famous for their lack of water, which is why virtually all commercial farming here has been a bust. There are a handful of places to get water free, and not many more to buy water. The available water is usually reverse osmosis water. The few cays we have visited that have wells had no water in them. Buying water means hauling it in jerry jugs, typically. That's no fun but it's a good substitute for weight lifting. We have given some thought to a water-maker but think that's added cost and complexity beyond the value it provides. From talks we have with other cruisers and listening in to SSB and VHF conversations they seem to be high maintenance items.

Unless you plan to shower only in fresh water and want to do boat wash-downs regularly, we believe that it is something we can do without. We carry about 55 gallons of water and it lasts us three weeks, easy. A key is washing ourselves in salt water followed by a fresh water sunshower rinse-off. We typically do this late in the afternoon just before cocktail-hour ... it's fun, and very refreshing. Also, we rinse and wash our dishes in salt water then do a final rinse in fresh water.

Somehow "Colette" seems to shrug off all the added weight when it's "sailing" time. On our way down the Exumas we were "trying" to travel with friends in a C&C Landfall 39. No way they could keep up, even with a bigger headsail. On the way north from George Town at an anchorage near Staniel Cay we were visited by a guy who started the conversation by saying, " ... I just wanted to tell you I wasn't anchored when you past me twice the other day." The fellow went on to say, " ... I know you're on a J-34c because when I was in the boat business I ordered one for a client, and fell in love with the boat." Nice to hear.

Now, why did we pass him twice? Well, after passing him once we had to throttle back (roll up the jib and luff the main to slow down from 7 to 2 kts) so we could get a mahi mahi (dorado, dolphin fish) on deck that we picked up on the trolling rod! Once the fish was onboard, filleted, and everything cleaned up and put away, we got the jib up, powered up the main, and quickly passed him again.

Your dinghy: When you are down here you depend on two boats. There's your "main" boat and then there's your dinghy. We have a terrific main boat but our dinghy is woefully lacking. Puny. We have a small soft bottomed Zodiac with a 3 hp engine. To operate safely here you need power and speed. The currents rip all through the Bahamas; distances you want to travel in a dinghy can sometimes be miles, and if you want to stay dry you have to be able to plane and ... oh yes, learn to operate your dinghy while standing. You read correctly: standing!

In George Town harbor, for instance, it's not unusual to see 4 people standing in a dinghy while banging into choppy water. When we fist saw people doing this our jaws dropped! Now, in mild conditions, we stand while underway in our dink and steer by shifting our weight. Two old fools with wide brimmed hats standing up in an 8' dinghy ... and writing about boating safety. Do you need a better definition of hypocrite?

For a couple in Bahama waters we think a hard-bottomed inflatable with 9.9 - 15 hp is de rigeur. This assures planing capability for two adults and gear. Next year we'll upgrade our dink for sure. We give up a light weight dink that's easy to manhandle but we get it all back in stability, speed and, ultimately, safety. Our task will be to find a way to manage the larger, heavier craft on "Colette's" decks and cabin. If you like to troll and spear fish a lot of it will be in the "cuts" that run between islands. While you try to do it during slack water you inevitably spend some time out there when the water is "running". A dinghy rig the size of ours barely can make headway in these conditions.

Something else, "real" safety out here requires you to have a hand-held VHF and serious ground tackle on your dinghy anytime you are traveling distances or exposing yourself to high current areas. We cannot stress enough how important it is to have a powerful tender that is well equipped for what it will have to do in the Bahamas. Cruising in the Bahamas means being on your own. Once off the beaten path here there are few boats and no rescue services to immediately access. Be prepared at all times!

Oil burning diesel: We like our Volvo diesel. We also think J-Boats made a wise move in changing to Yanmars. Volvos are rugged pure diesels, but dealing with Volvo, or their current surrogates, for an owner, is like starting each day with a root canal. No thanks. Ours was burning oil when we left last October. By chance we met a mechanic in Beaufort, N.C. who gave us the straight "skinny" on Volvos burning oil. He said at each oil change only use single viscosity oils and "always" put in one bottle of STP. It works. After 2 oil changes under the new regime no more buring oil. Also the oil pressure runs at about 5-10% higher level. Knock on fiberglass, our diesel really hums nicely.



Electrical corrosion: A bigger problem - a year long brain teaser for us - has been electrical corrosion. In Stuart we were determined to solve "what was causing it". The symptoms, we thought, were clear: zincs corroding in 1-2 months and paint not staying on the keel. In Stuart we had a complete continuity check done of the bonding system and found out the toe-rails and lifelines were not bonded ... or were no longer bonded. Moreover we discovered a wire bonding many elements from the stern of "Colette" to the keel was impossible to follow. This wire terminated into the keel but was "potted" in epoxy, was rusty, and may or may not have corroded through beyond our ability to see. In otherwords it was possible, if not probable, that nothing in the stern was grounded onto the keel? We'd never know.

Immediately we completed the bonding then simply cut the "mystery" wire. In its place we ran a new wire from the bonded elements aft onto a keel bolt where it would always be visible. This keel bolt had a smaller bolt tapped into it last summer for the beefed up ground wire from the mast.

In late January, while in Nassau, we noticed our stern light wasn't working. The culprit was a corroded positive lead. And, would you believe it, the corroded part of the wire was resting on a bolt (off the stern pulpit) that was part of the bonding system. Now we felt for sure we' d gotten to the bottom of the corrosion enigma. As things now stand, all zincs (two on the shaft, one on the Max Prop and one low on the keel) continue serving us well, and remember these were put on just before Christmas.

Food: One big argument you used to hear for having a deep keel water waddler for cruising is you can carry enough stores to be self-sufficient. Maybe that was important some time ago but it's no longer valid. No doubt, any boat we have in the future will have a freezer, but cruising these waters is not overly disrupted by making provisioning stops. Even with our current set-up we feel we can extensively cruise in places like the San Blas and Cuba with our storage capacity.

We have a pressure cooker. It saves energy and permits us to cook some "strange" looking cuts of meat. Meat? Most settlements (communities of 35-100 people) in the Bahamas have places where you can buy fresh produce, although the selections are limited. Fresh produce in the Bahamas is reasonably priced, grown without chemicals, and delicious. We love the pink grapefruits, tomatoes, peppers, bananas and onions we get here. Have you ever tried a sappodilla? Fresh meat is another story: it pays to be a good hunter.

Grocery stores here, except for the largest "cities" (Nassau, Marsh Harbor, Spanish Wells, George Town) have nothing like the food variety we are used to. You want to have anything special you better bring it with you. Also, anything that is imported will cost twice as much as it costs in Florida. The Bahamians are wonderfully kind hosts and they really like having you visit their settlements. We always make it a point of buying something when we go into stores in these small communities.

Cosmetic condition of "Colette": The boat looks good. The "New Glass" co-polymer we put on continues to have some shine (I don't know if it beads water), the Cetol is like new except where we're stepping all over it on the swim ladder treads, and the ACP-50 bottom paint is holding up except for some slime areas. All too often we hear conversations between boaters about external maintenance. The biggest complaint is stainless ... stainless? ... and external teak. We like the J-Boats/TPI approach: use highest quality materials and keep teak where it belongs ... below. No question, however, this area is more corrosive then what we've been used to, and it's compounded by the lack of opportunities to wash-down.

We have had less then 1/2 " of rain since we crossed the Gulf Stream. We only had a chance to wash our boat twice since mid-January, and then only in cursory fashion, with brackish water! I don't even know if I can find our hose. If you cruise here you want a good quality boat that minimizes external maintenance. It's money in the bank.

Keel depth: We have heard lots about keel depth for the Bahamas and also for the ICW. My own opinion is "no more then 6' ... Pam may argue, "less." Once on the ICW we kept seeing 1' to 1/2' under or keel. Certain muscles getting tight!! When will we ease onto deeper water? Suddenly, from behind comes this much bigger boat and he's trucking. He goes by and we immediately fall in line. It is a J-130! He draws over 7'. What kind of engines does J-Boats put into those things? The guy at the helm was grinning and we were bowing in joy and respect as we tried to keep up.

j34ctropicOur furthest point South: The Tropic of Cancer.

Here in the Bahamas there are lots of shoal water but unlike New England you can see the bottom and the water color reveals the actual depth (takes practice, though). There are few places that require less then 6' to get into ... at high tide. High tide is the catch. With a 5 to 6 foot keel you have to be very vigilant about tides.

Over a week ago we were traveling up Exuma Sound with plans to enter the Banks through Little Farmers Cut (Central Exumas) at about low slack water. Then our plan was to take the shallow route north which would save us about 2 nm. We grounded out! As it was dead low tide, noontime, and we were standing on firm sand we decided to drop the anchor and have lunch. An hour later we were able to move. We draw about 5' or a little more. We could have taken the longer route with no delay ... but in any case our depth, or a 6' depth, would not have kept us out of Little Farmers Cut. It's much the same all over here.

It is now April 8th and we are back at Highborne Cay where we started our Exuma part of the cruise. We plan to leave here later in the day to an anchorage in the lee of Ship Channel Cay (only a 3-4 mile motor from here) where we'll leave for Royal Island. The harbor at Royal will place us half way from where we are and the southern Abacos. From where we are the Abacos are 100 miles directly north. It's time to shut the computer down and prepare the boat for "sea duty".

We plan on sending another article to the J-Boats web site soon after we reach American waters once again. At that time we'll talk about cruising in the Abacos and returning to the States, what has worked and what has not worked on the boat, and what additional modifications we plan on making to "Colette" prior to leaving again in early September.

Many thanks to all of you who correspond with us. Your comments and thoughts are deeply appreciated, and hearing from you has added to our wonderful adventure. Since most of the correspondence has come from people who are contemplating having a J-Boat as their next boat, I'm sure "J" and TPI have much to be pleased about as well. Dreams do come true.