Cruising the Bahamas on my J/34c- Part II
By Pam and Glenn Cooper
Continued Part Two:
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.
Our 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.