Preparing for Live-Aboard Cruising on my J/34
By Glenn Cooper
In early spring 1997 we bought J-34c hull #30, renamed her Colette (the name of my daughter) and sailed her from Maine to her new home north of Boston. In 1996 I decided I wanted to try "the cruising life", including passagemaking. During the summer of 1996 I started looking at cruisers that would be seaworthy and comfortable for a couple. All the boats I had in mind were of the "hefty" offshore variety. Boats like Cape Dorys, Pacific Seacrafts, and Island Packetts were catching my eyes. In fact, by early fall, I had visited a Cape Dory "36" that started tugging at my heart.
In November I took a course on blue water sailing that included participating in a delivery of a 40'er from one of the above manufacturers. We planned on a 6-7 day cruise across the Gulf Stream direct from Norfolk to Marsh Harbor in the Abacos. While at the Norfolk marina, prior to leaving, both another crew and me had to make trips up the mast. It took two of us on a winch to get someone up the "stick" even though both of us going up weighed no more then 170 lbs. We also did plenty of climbing to help the guys doing the cranking. Because the sails were all so small the winches, sized, accordingly, made getting to the masthead very difficult for two people to accomplish.
On the voyage south, after a bouncing few days following the passage of a deep cold front, we met 10-15 knot winds that kept us close-hauled. It was rare that we weren't motor sailing. The Master of the boat, a very well known cruiser and ocean racer (he writes for several of the main sailing magazines and gives seminars) chatted with me about my ideas of having a sturdy and comfortable cruiser, and my preference for sailing over motoring.
He (for obvious reasons it would be unfair to use his name) told me about a recent Bermuda trip he took on a medium sized J-Boat (a "105" or a "35", I recall), " ... it was mainly heavy weather sailing the whole way and I couldn't imagine any boat providing a faster, safer and drier ride. It was a ball ... nothing like what we're experiencing now." At one point I asked, " ... knowing my "dreams" what kind of boat would you steer me to?" The answer: a medium sized "J" cruiser. A week after returning from the Abacos I started doing some research and contacted Rich Hill who represents J-Boats, in Marblehead, to ask him to find J-34c's to look at.
Pam Rickard and I have lived in the same apartment complex for several years. In the spring of 1997 she left for England to help prepare a 53' sloop for a double-handed cruise across the Bay of Biscay to gunkhole the coasts of Spain, Portugal and on to Gibralter. Pam is an experienced cruiser and has participated in blue-water deliveries. She owned a Freedom "32" which was lovingly kept in the Newport, R.I. area as well as larger boats.
Going across the Bay of Biscay Pam and her partner hit a series of gales, the first of which ended the life of the windvane. Steering for 90% of the passage was by tiller. Imagine tiller steering a 53' boat that suffers from too much weather helm! Two hours on and two hours off. Clearly Pam was either headed for the cruising life, or the World Wrestling Federation!
This past December Pam and I started talking about living our cruising dreams together. As Pam had owned a TPI built boat she at least knew mine was a well-constructed yacht, but sailing on it was months off. And of course there was the issue of space. Pam, like myself, gets a wider grin when the engine is silent and the prop is feathered. We've been out for several mini cruises this spring in all sorts of weather. Pam now thinks she's suspended on the sea surface by eagle's wings.
When we really thought about it "Colette" was constructed for offshore and coastal life but the onboard gear really limited us to being out for only days at a time. Could we make Colette comfortable and self-reliant for two-week visits to secluded destinations on the Bahama bank? What did we need to do to provide for our safety?
The J-34c has shallow bilge's and "cramming" all we needed onboard would certainly be a challenge. Between reading other cruisers' narratives, kicking ideas around between ourselves and consulting our Yard (Crockers in Manchester-By-The-Sea) we have decided on the following bits of gear and modifications. At this point 95% of the changes have been made. So far no regrets but the acid test really lies ahead!
We'd like to share what we've done and welcome any thoughts and suggestions you may have. We'll be at the "J" cruising rendezvous later in August and look forward to having you "kick" Colette's tires and checking out all the "goodies" we have aboard.
We did two things: First we invested in much heavier ground tackle in the form of a 35' CQR and a large Fortress stowed in a bag which will be the primary storm anchor in sand. The CQR is backed up with 30' of 3/8th inch chain and connected to a heavy nylon rode with a large swivel (if we had the displacement we'd prefer an all chain rode). The swivel keeps chain kinks to a minimum and makes it easier to get the gear past the roller furler drum and into the chain/rode locker. We don't have a windlass.
Then, to complete the anchoring system, our yard built up the boat's stemhead. To begin with we felt the anchor roller set-up undersized for the stresses (especially with the bigger anchor) we can expect to face when anchoring in a blow. Moreover a CQR is always more manageable if it can be secured on the bow roller with a husky clevis pin passing through the anchor and the roller assembly.
The second part of getting heavier ground tackle in place required cutting the original anchor roller protrusion off and replacing it with the bigger one maximized for our new CQR. We were concerned about damage to the fore deck with all the heavier gear rubbing on the non-skid surface. To protect it we've had a stainless plate laid down to protect wherever chain or anchor parts are apt to scrape. To cover all the area adequately the bow pulpit was partially lifted so the plate could be slipped under. We think the arrangement is pretty neat.
Our boat has a starboard anchor locker on deck. This is now the home of our small Fortress. With Colette's moderate wind profile we look forward to getting lots of use from our "lunch hook". Manually getting a 35' CQR on and off with 30' of chain ain't nothing like playing with a yo-yo!
The electrical system
You can't imagine how confused we got before deciding on our present system. We investigated typical marine flooded batteries, golf cart systems, gel cells and absorbed glass-mats. On top of this was a system to keep the charge of, and whether we should have a separate starter battery? We have, and still do, chat about solar panels and wind generators. At one point we were close to checking into the availability of a 2000 mile shore power cord!
The first key decision concerned which battery technology to choose? Our choice has been to go with sealed absorbed glass mat batteries. We saw a Federal Express study on the Internet which tested these against gell cells and traditional flooded batteries. Fed-Ex was having a problem keeping charge in batteries on planes that were taking off and landing often, on short hops. They, following extensive testing, went with the "AGM's". The far lower internal resistance of AGM technology permits them to recharge far faster then even gel cells. Fed-Ex also concluded AGM's discharge far slower when at rest.
Here's what we finally did about our electrical system and why. After reading this some of you might conclude we should have followed up on the 2000 mile power cord! We relegated the original 55 amp alternator to the spares bin and replaced it with a 100 amp unit. That gave us a shorter charge cycle, meaning less engine time. Step two was scrapping the batteries that we inherited and in their place creating one bank of 315 amps. and another of 105 amps. The larger one is used by us for everything including starting. The second is a back-up, saved for starting the engine, should their be a problem with the larger bank.
The key is to carefully monitor the state of charge in the two banks, and to keep it simple. Here's the controversial part: since we expect to be using the engine fairly often, more so then most yachts use their motors, we stayed away from a "smart" three-stage regulating system. Instead we have a simple two-stage system like is typical with commercial vessels.
We came to this conclusion after consultation with our yard. They support the local fishing fleet as well as many of the Manchester-Marblehead-Salem yachting community. They told us how many more electrical problems the yachties with their computerized "smart" systems were experiencing compared to the fishermen. Since we have such a high priority on dependability - aside from a hefty dose of bafflement for anything having to do with electrical systems - we went "simple". Who knows, maybe we'll catch more fish!
Since we had to expand our electrical panel to accommodate additions under consideration we took the opportunity to install an accurate digital voltmeter. This is how we watch the two banks. Just to make sure we were getting all the juice possible around the system and to solve a small problem of voltage drop we also put in a new battery switch and heavier gauge wiring between the alternator, the switch and the batteries.
By the way our yard had to build us a platform to accept the new batteries. They did it close to the original battery location out of marine plywood and covered the box in epoxy. Perforated to permit as much air circulation as possible the box is a neat looking work of engineering and woodworking.
No matter how we cut it there were going to be some things we would have to do without. However, not being minimalists and wanting our pleasures along - we were determined to make more space. Here's where Pam's engineering background really shined. My contribution was to promise not to throw my clothes all over the cockpit sole.
The first step and easiest fix was to add shelves wherever we had lockers that could not be filled up to the brim. A perfect example is a space under the sink. By adding a shelf we more then doubled the area. We looked all over and did the same with the space under the nav table and -still to be done - the space under the cockpit seats aft of the quarterberth. Another "touch" has been to rig mini hammocks fore and aft where they don't interfere with traffic. Along with creating extra space a key is to make things more accessible. By putting fresh fruit, snacks and everyday use stuff in the hammocks this "getting-to-things-pain in-the-butt" is reduced.
Maybe the biggest "space" frustration on a boat is the icebox, especially if they are top loading. Ours had a sliding fiddled shelf with some flat space between it and the hull side. Here's where Frank Lloyd Pam really shined. She re-designed the whole box. The sliding shelf was retired and the flat space on the outboard side was made into two zones using Plexiglas that's 3" high. Nothing tumbles around no matter the point of sail and the small jarred things put there are highly visible through the plexiglas.
We didn't modify the main cavernous portion instead we nosed around kitchen shops until we found two sizes of stackable plastic boxes. Using about six of these gives us a very well organized icebox. Instead of pulling things out one at a time we just lift the various boxes. The process is quick which saves "cold", and none of the food rests on each other. It's neat!
We didn't have refrigeration. We do now. Adding this capability has been another no brainer, except we did bounce around between engine driven versus DC powered. On a new boat we'd probably get the engine driven system but for our needs we took the DC route. The draw is about 4 amps per hour on the average and the costs of unit and installation are far less then an engine driven model.
Our compressor is installed on a shelf in the huge port cockpit locker up against the galley bulkhead. It is enclosed in a finished plywood box that is perforated for ventilation with fiddles on top. One more place to stow small things. As the finish on the refrigeration box matches the quality of the new battery platform entering our cockpit locker now is like visiting a subterranean Chippendale factory.
On other J-34c's I'll bet the cockpit locker is the most underutilized area, and the most difficult storage space to get to the bottom of. We've turned ours into a walk-in closest. Once again I.M. Pei Pam gets most of the credit. The main tools of organization are threefold: with washers and nuts we used the bolts joining the deck to the hull to rig sturdy plastic loop hangers which lock; just below the shelf where the refrigeration unit sits we've screwed on a row of stainless hangers (kind of like coat hangers); and lastly on the top inside of the cockpit lockers two locking plastic clamps are mounted on shims to hold the emergency tiller.
As a result we hang all docking lines, fenders, anything damp, etc. in the locker as well as most heavy duty cleaning stuff, and other sailing things we want handy such as preventers, spare anchor rodes, extra life vests, etc. At the bottom is the storm anchor in a bag (Fortresses can be disassembled). Everything stays clean and well organized now, and getting stuff out doesn't require a gymnast's handstand!
We also store a liferaft and deflated Zodiac in the locker and still there's room to crawl around get at the engine, batteries, instrument pods and steering mechanisms once a few of the larger items are lifted into the cockpit. The cockpit locker space on a J-34c is huge, and getting it organized sure lessens the storage issues elsewhere in the boat.
Here's something else we've discovered to "create" more room: minimize the amount of cotton and wool garments on board. Wherever practicable we use soft polyester (like the stuff called "Cool-Max") and polar fleece garments. They are lightweight, they dry quickly, don't retain dampness like cotton and wool, and pack very tightly.
Style is a bit lacking, I'll admit. Colors and patterns are limited and the shapes of some of the garments sure aren't meant to make you look like someone in the Bolshoi. In fact, when I put on fleece pants, Pam claims I look like one of those Chinese dogs with all the rolls of skin. Come to think of it most of my clothes look that way.
Pam has a more sensitive nose then me. Maybe because it's longer? To start making the area livable we got the head re-built and started using the chemicals that cause "nice" smelling little critters to populate the system, even when mixed with sea water. This chemical, called "K.O.", is flushed from the bowl into the holding tank after each time the tank is emptied. It's important not to use any chemicals to clean the bowl that might neutralize the "good-guys".
To also eliminate odors and to prepare for life where pump-out facilities don't exist we had our yard install a manual pump that allows us to pump the tank directly overboard. While we should have done it when the pump was installed we're also planning to pull out all the old sanitary hose and replace them with "fresh" ones. Can't hurt. By the way I understand the first "rule" of cruising is always get someone else to work on the head whenever possible ... I always try and obey the rules.
The pump is mounted on a bulkhead right under the forward sleeping area. It's bullet proof: stick the handle in and pump away. They're no valves of any kind to manipulate.
The Main Sleeping Area
The polyester comforter (warm when wet and dries fast) and matching form fitting backrest pillows are very colorful; lots of birds of paradise and bright flowers. Actually the backrest pillows are also great for use in the main salon when stretching out and reading, or listening to the stereo, on the settees. They make lazy time and rainy days a lot more tolerable.
We feel a key is utilizing materials that are comfortable yet relatively easy to keep dry.
The Propane Locker
If any of you have added to your boat's weight we suggest you check to see that the propane locker vent is still in safe territory.
This arrangement is sometimes more confusing to other boaters in inland situations or when maneuvering so we plan to keep our deck level lights and keep them separated on the electrical panel. We also found a neat light in a catalog that has a photoelectric cell and draws only about .3 amps. We plan to use it as a low anchor light (sometimes safer in the Bahamas where small fishing boats don't see the raised ones), and to luminate the cockpit for nighttime eating and lounging. It plugs into one of the cigarette lighter type outlets.
Our next boat (a J-42 or 44!!!) will definitely have two small DC water-makers. We've talked to several experienced cruisers and this appears to be the best solution. "Branch" water for the bourbon, fresh water showers every day ... ahhh! Unfortunately the cruising "kitty" and the available space just ain't there.
We plan to lash a six-ten gallon container in the cockpit locker, several tall containers of about four gallons each bungied under the dining table, a six gallon Sunshower lashed down on deck, and a water catchment system built into our cockpit awning. There'll be plenty of seawater baths in Joy, some foul odors following the crew around, and constant searches for marinas with showers.
Rule number two of cruising: "any time you can shower ashore, do it."
Canvas and sails
We have decided what we want and have talked to two local canvas lofts and a few catalog companies. We're astounded: for equal items the pricing has varied from less then $700 for all of the above to almost $3000! The big item is the awning.
We want a unit that will cover the entire cockpit and dodger. That keeps us covered and cools a big portion of the main cabin (especially the galley). Other features we need are flaps side and aft to shed rain and low angled sun rays, a water collection capability, and an awning sturdy enough to stand up to 20 knots or so of wind, that way we don't have to take it down every time we go ashore.
One of the lofts came up with an idea for providing storage we never thought of. The cockpit weather cloths can be built double layered so they form pockets. The tops can be sealed with, for example, velcro. Once again, better use of the limited space we have. What a great place to keep snorkeling gear, sun block, books, etc. handy.
In 1996 our boat had a new genoa and main added. The original 130% jib was cut to 110% and the new headsail was enlarged to 150%. The main was built with a far larger roach then the main that came from Shore Sails. The previous owner did most of his sailing in the middle of the day in Maine in a area notorious for very light summer air. In light air these mylar miracles transform Colette into the stealth ghost boat. Other sailors can't believe were not under power.
In the Bahamas last winter 25 knots of true wind would be called a light breeze. Anticipating strong prevailing breezes down south this winter our 110% jib seems fine as an all-purpose jib. At the moment we think we may leave the 150% headsail in the storage locker and find a used, heavy weight 100% or 110% furling jib we can have cut into a 90-100% "yankee". Also being discussed is the necessity for more of a storm sail, perhaps something that can be affixed around an already furled jib and hoisted via the spinnaker halyard.
Actually, we may even leave the new, larger, main behind and re-commission the original one. Why depreciate the new stuff if - to be honest about it - we're lolling about on the hook most of the time, and "ghosting" in light airs (for our boat 2-5 knots), is rarely an issue? We also have a five year old asymmetrical efficient from 75 to about 130 degrees of apparent wind which we'll probably hold in reserve for days when there's nary a ripple in sight.
A key of course is never falling overboard. We keep our jacklines always rigged and recently we invested in automatic inflating harness-safety vest combos (not Coast Guard approved). We think they're safer then what the Coast Guard currently does approve of.
Underway the helmsperson can operate like a true single-hander (we don't have a wind vane but do have a wheel pilot). This is a huge safety factor to us, especially the great control we have over the mainsail. I'm amazed how many "just-for" cruising boats don't allow the helmsperson to easily luff and trim the main during hard puffs. Pam or I can catch up on rest while the other manages all cockpit chores during moderate conditions. Not being fatigued is another huge safety margin factor.
The previous owners had a rope to wire halyard to hoist the mainsail. We've replaced it with a low stretch spectra one. Our reason had to do with safety when going aloft. With the rope to wire arrangement you simply clipped on to the bosun's chair with the shackle used for connecting to the main. With the all rope halyard we can tie on with a bosun's knot and then double up by attaching the shackle. It's a lot safer in our eyes.
Cruising the Bahamas on my J/34c
By Pam and Glenn CooperPart One:
April 6, 1999: Late yesterday, before the sun started to set, the wind started fading then quietly evaporated. We noticed alongside our hull, at our anchorage in Shroud Cay, the Central Exumas, a large barracuda.Barracuda visit at Shroud Cay.... Without a ripple on the invisible water, it was impossible not to believe the fish was simply being levitated above the bottom, which lay ten feet below us! There have been nights when we've watched the ocean bottom solely by moonlight. The clarity, the colors and the inhabitants of these Bahama waters are beyond the imagination of those who have come for the first time. It's not just us New Englanders who say this but many other cruisers who have left wakes in the Caribbean and the Pacific. The Bahamas are very special.
Can you believe it, we have started the long trip back to the Boston area. About two weeks ago we left George Town to turn north and visit cays in the Exumas we passed by on the way south, then to the Abacos via north Eleuthera. Our plans are to leave the Abacos for the States in early May and try to do as much of the trip to New England offshore. We are not equipped to handle real heavy weather on the open ocean (no drogue or sea anchor gear, and neither a storm trysail nor storm jib) so we'll aim for places where we can run from weather if we have 24-48 hours warning (100 miles from shore).
Before we share what we've learned during our trip, some of our experiences, and the performance of our J-34c, quickly here is where we've voyaged since Christmas. Pam and I spent about a month and a half in Florida during which we made changes on "Colette" in Stuart (three weeks at Stuart Yacht) and later in Fort Lauderdale and Hollywood. We'd like to have seen the sights in Miami for a few days but a weather window to cross the Gulf Stream opened for us. We tucked into a Miami anchorage late on January 14th and then headed to Miami's Government Cut the next morning. We cleared the cut at 8:30AM and headed to Bimini. The rumb line was 97 magnetic but after doing a calculation for the speed and direction of the "Stream" we aimed our nose at 121 degrees M. And on the nose it was. About six and a half hours later, far faster then average, and after having to put one precautionary reef in the main, we first saw the fabled colors of inshore Bahamas waters.
Suddenly there was a mini Chinese fire drill aboard as we had to pick up a small range and read water colors to run a zigzag course and miss a rocky shoal, all part of getting into Bimini. Made it! Once through customs I decided the time had come to dive under the boat and see if our zincs were eroding too fast (a reoccurring problem we now think is licked ... but more on this later). Poised on the swim ladder with snorkle and mask on my forehead I decided, what the heck, I can do it later. Yes, I am a procrastinator, but this time the deciding factor were the two six foot bull sharks that passed by my feet! As I have come to learn, if you don't want to see sharks when you dive in Bahama waters, keep your eyes closed!
We made it to the Bahamas but not the way we originally envisioned. Our initial plan was to go with a first landfall at West End on the road to the Abacos. After talking with other cruisers we decided that since we were well into the southern winter the idea was to make as much southing as possible. The main weather impediment are cold fronts that work their way down from the Florida Straits with winds that clock from the typical east/northeast to south then west and northwest before returning to the east/northeast. The further south you go, the milder are the passing fronts. The Abacos would see a lot more strong frontal activity than the southern Exumas.
Here's the "hitch" regarding finding a protected anchorage: the prevailing winds are northeast to southeast, but a "busting" winter front often starts with a southwest component that can be windy and squally quickly followed by strong northwest winds and eventually strong winds that clock to the northeast and stay there for as much as 4-6 days. The problem is there are few anchorages that will protect you from a clocking cold front (called a "frontal passage" here). There are winter seasons in the Bahamas that can be nasty. Last year's El Nino year was a classic "nasty". Winter cruising safely here means you are never more the 24-36 hours from a fully protected anchorage.
As we now know and appreciate there are two skills you have to quickly learn to cruise the Bahamas comfortably and safely. The first is to anticipate when a front will approach, along with it's wind directions and velocities (there are plenty of VHF and SSB weather resources here to use). The second is only move in shallow water when the sun is high in the sky, hopefully above or behind you to make it possible to determine water depth by color (reading the waters). In shallow Bahamian waters there is virtually no place to be underway after dark. Because certain Bahamian deep water routes have so much commercial traffic on them - often without illumination and radar - extra caution is needed offshore as well.
Briefly, here is where we've been since leaving Bimini. After spending a day there and knowing the winds on the Great Bahama Bank would be benign, we slipped away midday the next day. During the new moon we anchored twice on the Banks. It was thrilling for us. The nearest land was about 50-60 miles away and we're swimming and anchoring in 10-12 feet of water. The stars were brighter then we've ever seen them. Of course if the weather had kicked up we'd have another story to tell.
Conching in the Exumas, Pam goes Bahamian!Next we entered the southern Berry Islands at Chubb Cay. It just happens to be on the path to Nassau and the Exumas so it's a popular stopover for snowbird sailors; it was for us. Here we were introduced to the fine art of catching, cleaning, and cooking conch ... our new staple source of protein. Conch is a wonderful diet food: no matter how much you eat you cannot possibly replace the calories expended catching and preparing it. How did Popeye get those forearms? Pounding conch,for sure!
After 3 lazy days hiking through mangroves and diving on nearby reefs at Chubb we headed toward Nassau close-hauled in 15-20 kts of true wind. Realizing we couldn't fetch Nassau without tacking we eased to the West side of New Providence Island and anchored that night in West Bay. In a sense it was the model for entering most anchorages here. You use GPS to get yourself "positioned", but then read the water colors to determine depth, and the location of hazards. The hazards are typically patch reefs or larger ones and, of course, shallow water. Charts are important but eyes are better. Remember there are strong currents here not to mention what agitates the bottom during hurricane season. The next day was a miserable motor against steep seas as we dodged a rocky shore to enter Nassau harbor.
We enjoyed Nassau in spite of all the negatives we've heard. The people were very nice. In fact, one day while I was lugging a large 2 X 6 a couple stopped their car and said "... that's too heavy to carry. Hop in and we'll take you where you want to go"! Not likely to happen in Boston.
In Nassau we were introduced to several aspects of cruising that you have to get used to here. One is there are virtually no marinas with floating docks. Here you tie-up to "barbed" pilings, and in the case of Nassau ,when the tide ran out, you had to call upon rock climbing skills to make it up to the dock. If there is one advantage to the cruising "slugs" with 10' freeboard it's the relative ease of getting up onto Bahama docks. The J-34c's sleek design had us shinnying up the pilings 5 feet to the dock and then repelling back down again. For us Nassau will be partially remembered as "splinter city". Something else one has to come to terms with here is water pressure. Ain't none! There are plenty of coin-operated laundromats. Bring lots of magazines ... the washers take about two hours to fill. True in Nassau and in George Town - great way to meet the female side of the sailing crowd down here (why is that???).
While in Nassau we visited BASRA. This is the only organization in the Bahamas that provides - in a limited way - the kinds of services, especially search and rescue, of our own Coast Guard. BASRA depends heavily on private financial support and private SAR, search and rescue, support to carry out its activities, such as air search since BASRA has no planes of its own. Happily, BASRA also has a close working relationship with the U.S.C.G..
BASRA should be every cruisers first stop in Nassau. They have the only public dinghy dock in the city. At BASRA we spent time with Chris Lloyd: coordinator with USCG and great resource of info.Chris Lloyd, the director, and picked his brains for about an hour asking all sorts of questions about weather resources, anchorages, and fishing. He loves to have visitors stop by and also is busy promoting yacht racing in the Nassau area. Because of its closeness to Florida, Chris expects the Nassau area to one day rival Antigua Race Week. If you are cruising the Bahamas and someone has to reach you their first call should be to BASRA.
It blew for days at about 25 kts through Nassau and from a direction (southeast) to really roil the banks (meant 4-5' steep seas on the nose while we had to dodge coral heads). We were itchy to get to the northern Exumas so when the wind velocity eased off a bit we sailed and motored to our first destination in the Exumas.
It was exciting. Our first stop in the Exumas was Highborne Cay. In the weeks ahead we sat out a few "fronts", got faster at cleaning conch, and slowly made our way, via Allens Cay, Hawksbill, Warderick Wells, Staniel, Blackpoint, Little Farmers and Darby cays to that mecca of the southbound sailor, George Town, on Great Exuma Island. When we arrived there were almost 400 sailboats at anchor, some on the same bit of watery turf since November! Pam was concerned it would be too crowded to find a spot to anchor but as soon as we saw the place we knew 300 more would have no problem finding space to launch the hook!
In late February we hosted Glenn's sister Jane and Pam's sister Susie. For both visits we never left George Town, and we never had the mainsail cover off. Sailors? We all had a ball.
Between the two "sister" visits we did a mini cruise "off the beaten path" out to the outlying Atlantic islands (25 to 40 nm) from George Town. The islands we visited were Long Island, Conception Island, and Rum Cay. It was at Conception that we had our one "hoary" anchorage adventure. After two nice days in the lee of northeast winds our anchorage was heaven. "Herb", the Atlantic weather guru on SSB (we try to listen to him every day), assured us that while a front was approaching there would be no noticeable winds from the southwest, northwest or north. Herb's calming report was light to variable until it clocked into the northeast, after which it would pick up to 20-25 kts for two days. No worries, mon. The anchorage would continue being a watery Garden of Eden.
When we hit the sack winds were starting to pick up from the southwest, hmmmm, at about 10 kts. Waves were starting to work their way around the finger of land south of us into the anchorage. By 3-4 AM the winds had clocked to the northwest and were now above 15 kts and steep 3-4 seas were changing our comfort level by the minute. Conditions were building and there we were on a lee shore only about 200 yards off our stern. At about 4:30 we started the diesel and commenced an anchor watch. We knew we had to find shelter but without good light there was no safe way to pass through the ringing reefs.
Allen's Cay -N. Exumas: land on the beach and iguanas run out to greet you! There were about six other boats caught in the same predicament. Two had accidents while trying to leave around 3AM. The worst was a lost dingy and outboard when a plunging stern punctured the dinghy's hull (the culprit was a self steering vane). A New Zealand couple in an Island Packet bent the beejezus out of their bowroller as they tried to bring their chain rode on deck. We ran into them several days later and they chirped they didn't have to replace any stemhead gear as they got it bent back into shape at a marina. Rugged stuff??
No one was hurt on any of the boats, and in about 2 hours all the boats were back in a lee, on the other side of the island. Our boat handles easier then most - under sail or power - so after Pam did her Arnold Schwartzenegger act getting the anchor up, we rounded up under the southern end of the island under sail and tucked into the lee on the east side into much easier conditions. A day later we sailed to Rum Cay. Rum Cay, along with George Town, is a popular stopover for Caribbean voyagers going north or south.
Later on we heard lots of boats got "caught" by the "incorrect" weather report. Friends of ours in Eleuthera got smacked by 40 kts plus and at Royal Island just northwest from Eleuthera, 70 kts gusts were reported. Plenty of worries, mon.
Actually the Conception Island experience taught us a few valuable lessons, all confirmed by chats with other cruisers: first during the period of winter fronts one should assume the worst no matter the weather advise and head for anchorages protected on all sides. As far as winter weather fronts are concerned native Bahamian fishermen take a simpler approach. Not having SSB's and other sources of weather information they simply head for cover when the wind goes south. In retrospect this is wise advice. Preceding every frontal passage we experienced, weak ones or blustery ones, the wind always went south about 24 hours before the fronts appeared. And second, though the "outer" Bahamas have their beauty, they lack all weather anchorages; they are best visited during the spring and early summer months when fronts are no longer a threat. Already we are talking about returning to the Long Island, Conception and Jumentos areas, and others, next April - July.
We simply do not have the skill with words to describe the beauty of the Bahamas and the gentle ways of Bahamians. This place is a paradise. It has changed little, except for a few places like Nassau, Marsh Harbor and a few distant resort destinations, in the past five centuries. In almost all of these islands, when you step away from your boat, what you see and experience is a mirror image of what the earliest inhabitants saw and did. We love it.
But before I paint too rosey a picture don't get the idea it's all fun and games. After all back in "civilization" if you want a nice seafood dinner all you have to do is go to the restaurant or the store, and it's there for the asking ... er, paying. Our life is hard. To get the same we have to expose ourselves to the harmful rays of the sun, sometimes for hours, with only a bathing suit for protection. And can you imagine how fatiguing it is breathing through a tube while diving on colorful reefs for lobster and grouper. Sometimes we have to do this all day! There have been times when this has proven so stressful we've had to chill-out (actually never "literally" chill-out!) by hanging around beaches and collecting shells. Please, feel sorry for us! OK, we're rubbing it in.
Fishing: If you like the outdoors then winter in the Bahamas is for you. We never have had a day when it didn't reach at least 70 F. The typical daily temp here is 75-80 F and mainly sunny. Lobster fishing season ends April 1st so winter has that draw as well. We are certified divers but tanks are not allowed here for catching fish nor are spear guns. You have to free dive and use only a sling type spear. It means you get eyeball to eyeball with the prey.
We were lucky to spend a week cruising with a couple who are accomplished divers and hunters. They completely changed what we do when we go fishing now. Everyone talks about Bahama waters being fished out. They proved it isn't the case as they - Peter and Sandra - could go out for 2 hours and always fill the lobster catch bag. Hey, toss in a grouper or two, as well. The key is diving on the windward side of the cays in deeper waters. Another key is knowing the environment your "prey" likes. There's a catch ... in fact two. First you have to operate in deeper water. We dove for lobster in 20-30' foot places, and ... here's the biggy ... when you are diving these spots you occasionally get visited by "men in gray suits". Sharks.
When we see sharks we get out of the water and say things like, " ... I'd rather eat canned chili anyways". Once, when diving for conch alone in the reefs by Rum Cay I was "visited" by a shark much larger then me. I had no spear with me and got quite itchy as he was slowly circling, and eyeballing me. Creepy. My mask was flooding and the bag of conchs was getting heavier by the second. Anyway, all's well that ends well. Now we always have a dinghy with someone in it when we dive where sharks frequent, especially if we're spearing.
When spearing you always want to get the fish quickly out of the water. Sharks smell blood from far away and are supposed to hear noises from wounded fish. Also barracuda are notorious for darting at speared fish, especially silvery colored snappers. Once after "throttling" a grouper in the rocks I swam bank to the dink ... fish out of the water stuck up on my spear the whole time ... and gave it to Pam to put in the catch bucket. Pam told me about a big "cuda" lurking around. The fishing was so promising I told Pam I'd rather hang in the water and swim parallel to the dink, but would she please keep a lookout?. When I got about 10 yards from the dinghy the barracuda charged me ... then veered away at the last second. It happened even too fast for me to "inflate" my wetsuit! Two seconds later I was in the dinghy.
Sound scary? No way. The waters here are safe but some common sense goes a long way. We love being in the water every day. We never tire of it.
The First Month Cruising on my J/34c
By Pam and Glenn Cooper
Our getaway date was October 3rd. but work required on our rudder bearings and refrigeration delayed our departure. The days we stayed at Crocker's Boat yard featured delightful early fall New England weather. When we pushed off on October 7th the forecast was headed "south"; cold, grey and building winds.
Our home port is Manchester-By-The-Sea, Mass. For the first week our itinerary was to go to Mamamroneck, N.Y. via the Cape Cod Canal, Block Island and Port Jefferson, Long Island. Glenn's mother lives in Mamaroneck, she is elderly and a bit frail, and we wanted to pay her a visit.
On our way to NY we punched through a week's worth of really "stinky" conditions with one low point in particular: large, steep, close seas on the entry into Buzzard's Bay (30 knots of wind on the nose against a ripping tidal flow). This was clearly a miss-calculation on our part. We took such a pounding - first Colette's bow aimed where John Glenn was headed and then plunged straight toward China! The pounding was so great that when we finally settled in for the night the first thing we did was check the engine mounts. Between leaving Manchester and arriving in Mamaroneck we counted 10 minutes of sunshine. Most of the sailing was close-hauled and rarely we had less then less then 20 kts of apparent wind; toss in howling rain storms and big seas through Block Island Sound. Each day, however, we tucked in concluding that in spite of it all we were having fun.
Our plan was to use the dock at a yacht club in Mamaroneck but when we arrived it was clearly not to be. About 50 yards away we heard a voice call out, "Nice J-Boat ... can we help". It was one of the guys at McMichaels (a J-Boat dealer). They told us to grab a place on their docks and sort out our problems the following day. The next day I chatted with Howie McMichael about our plans in Mamaroneck and beyond. Howie insisted we stay put and be their guests as he considered us to be in the J-Boat "family".
When we started sharing our cruising experiences on this web page we had no intention of making this into a "commercial" for J-Boats. Instead our idea was to let people know how we have converted our mid-sized "J" cruiser from a comfortable weekender/week-long boat to a real livaboard. It has also been our intention to pass along what we've picked up from cruisers who have been at it longer than us.
As far as we're concerned it is J-Boats responsibility to fight the wars with the so-called "cruising" boat manufacturers as to what qualities make a "proper" cruising machine. However, after a month at it we have seen ample evidence why our Colette is a far better choice for cruising than the heavy displacement - can't sail except for a gale over the stern - cruising boats.
Here's just one example of the kind of experiences we've found along the way: It took us 32 hours to sail (and motor) from Mamaroneck to Cape May. The last 5-6 hours into Cape May found us in 3-4' breaking seas and a wind gusting above 25 kts. apparent smack on the nose. We had a reef in the main, and were flying our 110% jib. What a great way to enter a new port after an overnighter: like a big swooping bird. Once in, we heard all sorts of "war" stories about mean, tiring motoring conditions from the boats ahead of us.
In Cape May we met a couple who did "only" the Sandy Hook run to Cape May in 36 hours ... motoring all the way. They were very tired and told us about all the wrestling they had to do with their helm while motoring against a 20-25 kts wind. They are sailing a Pacific Seacraft 37'. Two Island Packet owners told us similar stories. All had bought their boats convinced that no matter what kind of a beating they took, their boats would do just fine. Shouldn't it be the other way around? Naturally we told them about our experience of "finger-tip" helm control while enjoying an invigorating morning sail. That afternoon, I'm sure, we could have sold a few J-Boats! Pam at helm leaving NYC....heading South....Pam and I got stuck in Cape May for 4 days first waiting for an engine part, and then because a huge cold front pretty much shut down Delaware Bay (nasty stuff right on the nose and "tight" navigation). Delaware Bay is no sailor's paradise. It is shallow, features a strong tidal flow over dangerous shoals, and is full of commercial traffic. I think sailors have only one good reason to go there: to get to the Chesapeake. Our original intention was to spend a few extra days going down the Chesapeake, and to sample what we would like to explore in more depth during next spring.
After seeing all the victorian homes in Cape May (they're lovely), and becoming intimate with our diesel's cooling system, we were getting itchy to leave. Finally we decided to go on the outside, down the Delmarva Peninsula to Norfolk, and bypass the Chesapeake for the time being. We and NOAA were forecasting NW winds for about 24 hours then real light and variable air from the south. Time to go. When we left the other cruisers stayed waiting for a window up the Delaware. One other couple was planning to go on the "outside" but they decided to delay it a day.
The run to Norfolk was further proof that in the real world of how cruising boats are typically used we J-Boat owners have a measurable advantage. The first leg is 2-3 hours to cross the mouth of Delaware Bay to Cape Henelopen, N.J. The wind was NNW and blowing 20-25 kts. Waves came tumbling down the bay like demonic bowling balls. We did the traverse with a single reef in the main and a furled jib. The weather cloths we added around the cockpit kept some of Delaware Bay from joining us! With the sea state being a bit bouncing, and knowing we'd be sailing overnight, we opted for comfort. Once we put the cape between our stern and the Delaware entrance the sail was unforgettable. With main and 110% jib (by the way our 150% jib is wintering in a storage locker), and a broad reach in 15-20 kts of apparent wind, we flew. Our boat found wave crests and worked them for all they were worth.
For people who are thinking about overnight passages here is what we do. Once night comes we always shorten sail ... assuming we're not motoring. We also put on safety harnesses and attach ourselves while in the companionway before stepping into the cockpit. Another rule is never leave the cockpit to go forward if alone. We run our radar on standby if the weather is clear but have it at full function if the viz is limited. We use it mainly for collision avoidance. Should we be maintaining a collision course of two miles or less we make sure both of us are awake together, doing whatever alleviates the situation, such as manuvering of hailing the other vessel via radio, etc.
Before we left on our trip we changed the waterline to reflect all the weight we were adding. In fact, Pam and I joked about just calling the toe-rail our new water line! On the way down the Delmarva we were convinced, even though we had to raise the waterline nearly 3 inches, the boat's performance didn't seem to be noticiably compromised. Concerned we would arrive in Norfolk too early, and to assure as much sleep for the off-watch as possible, we furled the jib once night fell. Early Morning Watch Approaching Norfolk, VA.
When we calculated our speed upon arriving in Norfolk we discovered we made the run from Cape May with an average speed over the ground that exceeded 7 kts! More than that we were there ... we were rested ... and it was warm! As predicted the wind faded and backed and we entered Norfolk close hauled doing about 2.5 kts. wearing bathing suits! After two weeks of feeling winter's threat we had finally tasted the reappearance of summer. Two days later we entered the ICW via the Dismal Swamp Canal.
After a few weeks of being "on the road" Pam and I concluded there is no cruising quality more important than having a boat that limits fatigue. Everything is tougher to do, and becomes progressively more dangerous if you're tiring. A boat that will lie secure on its beam ends on coral but will beat the brains out of the crew is not a good cruiser. If you're tired there's a better chance you'll end up on the coral than when you're fresh and alert!
Along the way we've found other advantages we have over most other cruisers. One Hinckley owner bypassed Charlston because they felt their boat was not manuverable enough to handle the high winds and currents they would have to tackle to enter the City Marina. If you're gunkholing in Maine or headed south on the ICW you'll have to enter certain areas where you're a stranger.
With unforeseen currents, flukey winds, limited space you want to know you can tip-toe around safely. On the ICW there are quite a few traffic jams, especially waiting for bridge openings. We have watched boats go aground because they weren't nimble enough in tight situations. By the same token we've had several skippers ask us what kind of boat we had as we held fast in one spot or backed slowly, around hazards, in conditions almost like a rush-hour New York subway ride. Our J-Boat is nimble on the "outside" and nimble where space can't be found.
Most people do not have windlasses and our observation is most also operate with undersized primary ground tackle. Ours is a bit oversized for a J-34c: 35# CQR with 30' of chain attached to 200' feet of rode. We also beefed up our stemhead. We don't have a windlass and, as you can imagine, getting the hook up can be arduous. But every night we sleep comfortably.
In Charleston one of our anchorage neighbors was using the same ground tackle as us. He, however, was on a 33' Hans Christian, which has huge windage compared to us, and displaces 20,000 lbs! How did he sleep? Our shape, above and below the water, helps us sail better and hang on the hook better when the day is done. Typically we can be safe on lighter ground tackle then can other 34 ft. boats, which means less fatigue. We are using a nylon rode backing 30 ft. of chain and a CQR as our main anchor. Our preference would be to be on all chain. Next time!
Several times we have had visitors who are familiar with J-Boats including a mechanic in North Carolina who crews on a J-24. All want to clamber aboard Colette and see what's below. Few have been on a "J" crusing boat, and they're always surprised by the amenities and comfort surrounding us. In Beaufort, N.C. we berthed next to a couple sailing a Sabre they've had for ten years. The boat was a beauty and showed lots of loving care. The guy told me he was close to buying a J-160 at the Annapolis show but his wife stopped him! He assured us she'll cave.
End of the unexpected commercial. Here are some early impressions of our "voyage". First, the ICW. Starting early 1998 Pam and I started reading up on the ICW and also attended the Atlantic City Sail Expos' "going south" seminars. Our impression was we'd be facing what the Allies faced at "D-Day"! One seminar talked about tactics for staying in the channels as large power boats - which he called "Hatter-Asses" - charged by. We saw the "ditch" as a necessary evil. "Make sure the insurance is paid up", was constantly on my mind.
We have loved the ICW. We entered in Norfolk and haven't left. Of course sailing is a rare pleasure ( we haven't hoisted the main for two weeks). The anchorages are heavenly; the place teams with wildlife; every place throws its arms open to us "boat-bums"; and few days go by where there's not a dolphin pod greeting Colette.
Now for those power boaters: they are extremly thoughtful. Only twice, during the last 30 days, did we have a power boats pass is with too much way. One was a Coast Guard vessel! It must be frustrating for people with 1000 hp power plants to throttle back to a crawl to edge by a "snail" but they do. I hope sailors appreciate the "stinkpotters" on the ICW.
How about tugs, barges and fisherman. Same story ... all are very hospitable and helpful to sailors. Actually we are surprised how few commercial vessels we encounter. Want to make a few new friends? Chat with bridge tenders. They are kind and helpful, and regularly wish us a pleasant trip.
We've grounded 4-5 times, once in a channel at low tide, once because of a navigation error, and once because we cut a buoy to close. Nevertheless we both feel ICW navigation is very manageable for a couple. We make our "general" plans the night before and change them as we go. Key are low water hazards, places where channels change, places to call it quits for the day, and adverse currents. There is one place in the ICW where the danger of rocks exist. It is after Myrtle Beach, S.C. on the route south. We passed it (useually called the "rockpile") at high tide and never had less then 10' under our keel.
We've stopped at a few marinas. We do it if we're in a place we want to explore where the anchorages make it tough (Charlston, for example). We also like to be alongside for doing routine maintainance (getting rid of used oil, etc). Marinas we especially thought memorable have been South Jersey Marina in Cape May, the free dock at the auto/boat visitor's center on the Dismal Swamp Canal (it's the only rest stop in America that has "parking" for boats and cars!), the free tie-ups in Elizabeth City, N.C. where the "Rose Buddies" come to the docks at 4:PM to host a wine and cheese party and present the ladies with red roses grown in a garden just for that purpose next to the dockage, and the Alligator River Marina in N.C. The anchorages have been better still.
In marinas we average about $1 to $1.25 per foot and pay about 75 cents a gallon for diesel. In one marina we paid 67 cents!
There are too many "can't miss" places to mention here. A few extra special places are, again, the many river, creek and marsh anchorages that are just off the beaten paths, and the special waterfront cities/towns of Beaufort (pronounced "bowfort") N.C., Charleston, S.C. and Beaufort (B'yew-foot), S.C. All are worth, as the Guide Michelin would say, "a side trip".
Before we left on our trip we invested in many guide books and a few charts. The order should have been reversed. Moreover, sailors will be frustrated if they invest in the typical ICW glossy guide books. They are really for power boaters, especially if a priority is finding the local shopping malls. For us the "essential" information sources are "Sailor Bob's Guide to ICW Anchorages", the superb "Intracoastal Waterway Chartbook" by the Kettlewells, Claiborne Young's guides to the Carolina's and Georgia ( we plan to get his Florida guides), and NOAA charts for going off the beaten path. We're sure there are others that are helpful for sailors and in time we'll discover them. By the way, we also make constant use of Reed's.
We meet lots of people for a day or two and then they're gone. So many are headed for the Bahamas that we feel sure we'll rendezvous, enjoy happy hours, and swap stories later. Maybe 25-30% of the other sailors we meet are Canadians. If anyone wants to seize Canada the time to do it would be late November. I'll bet no one is there except for a few hockey players!
That's about it for now. When we look down at the compass it says "S". Ahhh. Glenn is growing a scruffy beard, and Pam is thinking about it! Our "plans" are to try and be in South Florida for Thanksgiving and, hopefully, my daughter Colette, who our boat is named for, will join us there. In the next "edition" we'll talk more about the liveability of our "home", and also talk about using one key accessory we haven't had a chance to enjoy thus far: the swim ladder!
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.