Is Spam in the Bahamas really $9.00? Find out in the November issue of SAIL Magazine, featuring an article by Yours Truly! Peter Nielsen over at SAIL asked me a while back for a piece with tips on preparing for a trip to the Bahamas. So, Phillip and I put our heads together and came up with a few key factors to consider when prepping for the Bahamas and what provisions and supplies we would recommend stocking the boat with. For us, it all started with the Explorer charts. Those are a must! I hope you all grab a copy of the November issue soon and let me know what you think of the article. Many thanks to the hard-working crew over at SAIL Magazine for putting this one together. We love it!
And, stay tuned next time as we will be announcing our cruising plans this winter in a fun new video next week. You’ll never guess where we’re going!! : D
It’s always the people. When you come to a new place and have an experience you know you will remember for a lifetime, it’s often because of the people you met there. People you connect with instantly. People who feel like long-time friends in a matter of minutes. Phillip and I are always humbled and astounded at the quality of people we meet cruising. It doesn’t matter if they are dirt poor or filthy rich, big corporate CEOs or car mechanics. For the most part, cruisers are just quality people, with astonishing stories and experiences to share. And sharing is what they do best. Before I dive back into another vivid video from the Bahamas, I had to share this one in words first. I believe in words. And, they are the only thing that could do this pair justice. I give you, Pat and Steve:
“Sailboat coming in from the south. Sailboat coming in from the south,” we heard his voice crackling over the radio. Phillip and I were just preparing to drop the hook at our first island in the Berries when he reached out to us over Channel 16. Phillip and I looked around a few times. There wasn’t any other sailboat that was coming in at the time. We literally had the place absolutely to ourselves.
“He must mean us,” Phillip said as he picked up the receiver.
“This is the sailboat coming in from the south,” Phillip said cautiously.
“There are mooring balls just a bit further north of you,” the voice said. “They’re free and good holding. Hell, I helped drop them. The sands and strong shifting currents don’t make for good holding here. You’d be best on a ball,” he said over the radio.
Phillip thanked him for the advice and asked about the Berry Island Club (a place we thought we would go to ashore to grab a sandwich). We thought wrong.
“Hasn’t been kept up in years. It just changed owners, but it’s a dust bucket right now. But, get settled in on the ball, then come ashore to my house. It’s the yellow one on the north end. Feel free to use my dock. The name’s Steve. My wife is Pat. See you soon.”
Phillip and I shared a bit of a what-else-are-we-doing? look and said “Alright, thanks! See you soon, Steve.”
Just like that, a relationship was formed. And, I’ll tell you, I am 100% confident I will not meet two people quite like Pat and Steve as long as I live. They broke the mold and built a new one in its place. My mind is struggling with where to begin. I’ll start where we did.
When Phillip and I tied up the dinghy at the little dock next to the “yellow house on the end” and started making our way up the hill Steve greeted us. He was cheerful, tall, and clad in a hodge-podge of clothes it looked like you would wear to paint a house, oversized and old. His shoes were duct-taped together. His hat was dirty and crooked. And I loved him instantly. You could just tell from the way he shook your hand, to the way he welcomed you into his home, and told you about its trusses he built back in 1982 that Steve was a man who could care less what you wore, what you owned, or how much money you made. He judges character by experience. What have you done with your life and what have you gathered that you can share? Because boy did they! Their food, their home, their time, their stories, their laughter, their help, their advice. Even their toilet paper! And they don’t have much of that there. I’m getting ahead of myself, I know. It’s just so inspiring to meet people like this. My fingers are tingling.
When Pat came out from the back of the house, she, too, looked like a painter’s apprentice, draped in a stained men’s button-down that was three sizes too big for her, sporting blue pants, and pink Crocs, and I loved her even more. She was, just, hilarious, is the best word.
“Would you like a Rum And?” She asked me.
“A rum and … ?” I repeated, a little confused.
“Yeah, rum and whatever we got.”
When we got the truck stuck in the sand on the way to our hot dog party (we’ll get there), Pat plopped down, happily started digging sand out from under the tires, and said: “Well, it wouldn’t have been any fun if we just got there.” I mean … kudos, Pat. Well said.
These people just don’t see any point in getting upset or stressed over things they cannot change. It’s humbling and refreshing. While Phillip and I have met many hearty, resilient, interesting people in our cruising—Pam Wall is a perfect example—Steve and Pat have a story, a past, a presence, and a perspective that reminds me every day that if I wake up and I’m coherent and breathing and walking, it’s a good damn day! Listen to this:
Steve was an engineer. He’s freaky smart and can fix, build, and repair anything. And I do mean anything. He spent a good bit of his adulthood building and growing a program where high school kids built submarines then raced them in a competition. Submarines!? Are you with me? Steve and his son built their yellow house on the island in the Berries themselves. From the ground up. On an island that does not have any running water. No electricity. They sailed all of the building materials, including the trusses he showed me, in on their boat. Mixed concrete by hand in buckets. Built scaffolding out of trees on the island. Can you imagine taking on a project like that? Then, when Hurricane Andrew took the roof off in 1992, Steve built it back. When Hurricane Matthew struck in 2006 and tried to pull it off again, he repaired it.
“It would have ripped the whole thing off like a Band-Aid if the porch roof would have gave. But it didn’t,” Steve said with a wink. “Cause I used 5200 on it. Have you heard of that stuff?”
Have I …
Steve, what a guy. And, Pat, her story is even more inspiring. She was a teacher and helped Steve with the submarine project for many, many years. Before she and Steve began teaching stateside, they (much like Pam Wall) took their two children to live aboard a sailboat, and they sailed around the Caribbean for several years. Pat home-schooled the children and Steve worked odd jobs to allow their kids a childhood rich with experiences and travel. You can see in this photo a framed picture of their boat behind me and Pat.
Gusto they named it.
“Oh, that’s a great name. Live with vigor,” I said. “How did you choose it?” I asked Pat.
“A beer commercial,” said Pat as she imitated guzzling from a can. “When we were thinking about a name for the boat, a Schlitz ad came on that said ‘Go for the gusto,’ so Steve did,” she said laughing.
Pat. She’s just awesome. No matter the situation we found ourselves in, she found humor and an entertaining perspective. I mentioned the stuck truck. That didn’t phase her.
We couldn’t find a good place to make a fire pit to roast our hot dogs: “Use that old toilet,” Pat said. “It’ll be a hot dog potty.” I’m not kidding.
Jostling around in Steve’s Volkswagen creation in the hot, hot sun, Pat was just smiling and cheery. “We call him Mr. Toad,” she said with a snort. She’s not kidding. Steve starts it by touching a wire to the 12V battery that sits behind the passenger “seat” (plastic chairs bolted in) and flicking an “on” button. I’m not kidding.
When talking about the painful root canal Pat had to have a few years back: “We went to Hungary to have them done on the cheap. Steve and I got the ‘tooth’ for one special,” Pat said with a cackle.
When telling us about the horrific plane crash that almost crippled her and took her son’s life: “He lived more in his 21 years than most do in a lifetime,” Pat said.
I hope your heart is beating as hard as mine right now. I look forward to every day, every experience, every stuck truck, and every hot dog potty because of the very fact that it is beating. And because I’ve met people like Pat and Steve who inspire me to keep the right perspective, never sweat the small stuff, and fill every moment of my life with … well … GUSTO!
And, speaking of hearts beating, thankfully, island life requires they be hands-on, hard-working, active people. At 73 and 74, Pat and Steve are able to walk steep hills all over the island. They are more mobile and capable than many, many older people I see in the states, and far healthier. The lifestyle speaks to its own health benefits. Maintenance of the house, rigging up the solar and sistern, and foraging in the sea for food keeps them fit. And, Steve is always fixing something, for either he and Pat, or Dan, Donna, or any of their other five neighbors on the island. Here, Steve is fixing a leak on Dan’s water cistern.
The island has an intermittent population of approximately ten, and eight buildings total, two of which Steve built. He built Dan and Donna’s house up on the hill which has a stunning view of the entire island. The four of them come from such diverse backgrounds, with different educations, careers, and socioeconomic status but, as Pat says: “We all have the same view.”
And boy do they! That’s Steve and Pat’s view! And that’s Plaintiff’s Rest in it!
Love those people. Dan, Donna, Pat, and Steve are all very good friends who spend a portion of each year together in the Berries where they relax, fish, garden, read, and play dominos together every night. It was so fun to be invited to their game and learn about all four of them over many-a Rum Ands!
Oh, but the dominos came after dinner, which we shared with Steve and Pat every night when we were in the Berries. About an hour after we met Pat and Steve in their home, Steve asked us if we wanted to know where the good reefs were on the island. “Of course,” was our response. But before we could get that out Steve was grabbing his wet gear. This is not the kind of guy who just points things out on a map. “Well, let’s go!” he said to our stunned faces. “Get your spear!” Pat shouted to him. “And bring us some dinner.”
Us. They had already considered Phillip and I as part of their crew. Having only known us for an hour, we were already an “us.” It was such a cool feeling. Steve and his spear then took us out and did, in fact, catch us dinner. I got to see myself (for the first time in my life) a fish speared! A lobster stabbed! Fresh dinner caught right before my eyes!
And, remember Steve is doing all of this at 74! What an inspiration. He taught us so much, that very first day, about fish and spearfishing. Phillip was wide-eyed and happily challenged. I was excited and happily hungry! Here, Steve is showing Phillip how to look for the lobster’s antennae and hold gently onto the reef to steady his launch.
We were all so chummy by the time we got done spearfishing and snorkeling, it didn’t phase us at all when we dropped Steve and the fish off at his house and he said: “Y’all go spiff up at the boat and come on back for dinner. Bring anything you’d like.”
“We like eclectic dinners!” Pat shouted from inside (because you have to remember there is no grocery store there, they live off the pantry and land). “We won’t starve!” she promised. And she was right. Every night with Steve and Pat was shared over a fantastic, fresh fish dinner, mixed with a fun side of “canned whatever” and rice. They’ve got lots of rice! And conch! Steve showed us how to look for conch that are fully developed and harvest them, and Pat taught me how to clean a conch with my own two hands.
Once that wiggly alien-looking thing was out, she gave me a tenderizing hammer, told me to “beat the shit out of it, then make conch spaghetti.” You see? I can’t make this stuff up! Island people are so resourceful and creative.
And, every night after dinner, the four of us, Steve, Pat, Phillip, and I, would walk up the hill, a pretty hearty but much-welcomed digestif, to Dan and Donna’s to play dominos till dark.
Our experience in the Berries was just … unforgettable. Sure, the island was beautiful. The spearfishing was thrilling. But, as is often the case: what made the Berries our favorite stop in the Bahamas was hands-down the people. Before we left the island we stopped by Steve and Pat’s place one more time to bring them a little gift, a signed Salt of a Sailor(Pat’s going to love it I’m sure!) and some toilet paper. They were thrilled! You have to really scrimp on that stuff there. It was a bittersweet goodbye, but I’m confident we’ll see Pat and Steve again. Hopefully in the Berries, and hopefully with a spear in hand.
Steve, Pat—now, two of our absolute favorite people—this one’s for you:
Whatever Phillip and I may do, wherever we may go, I know now, thanks to you, we will GO WITH GUSTO!
High times at Harbour Island High! These high-flying kite-surfers were also there on a boat at Harbour Island when Phillip and I were there, back in March of this year, only their boat was just a smidge bigger. Owned by a billionaire. Yes, with a B. It’s amazing the potluck of people you meet while cruising. But, they were super humble and a lot of fun to “hang” with … get it? : ) From Spanish Wells, Phillip and I decided to hire a captain to help us navigate through the treacherous coral-ridden path, known as the “Devil’s Backbone,” into Harbour Island, and we spent a fabulous three days exploring ashore, kiting our a$$es off (with the billionaires!), and hiking the south side with Brett and Kristen from Life in the Key of Sea. As we share work from our time in the shipyard this summer, it’s also fun to remind ourselves what all of that hard work is for. Flash back to one of our last stops in the Bahamas this past March with a fun video and photos for you below from our time in Harbour Island. Enjoy!
There was no end to the surprises the Bahamas kept revealing were in store for us. At Spanish Wells, we were honestly expecting a more industrial fishing town, not many stunning sights. But, then we got this:
It won the award on Plaintiff’s Rest for most beautiful beach in the Bahamas. For us, anyway, our first year there having only made it through the Abacos, Eleuthera, and the Berries. We’re often told the beaches and shorelines in the Exumas are just incomparable, but we haven’t seen them in person yet. So, until then, this neon-breathtaking-blue beach on the north shore of Spanish Wells will have to do. C’est la vie.
But, Harbour Island turned out to be a great surprise, too. Initially, when Phillip and I were planning our route through the Bahamas in 2017/2018, Harbour Island was not one of our intended destinations. Our (very vague, back in 2017) plan was to tinker through the Abacos, then make our way down through the ragged islands and the Exumas—to the extent we could—before we needed to get the boat back to Pensacola for hurricane season. When we got to Spanish Wells, our cruising timeline was starting to close for the year. Currently, Phillip and I are more “commuter cruisers,” who spend roughly half of the year aboard our boat cruising and the other half (broken up here and there) back home in Pensacola working. Somehow you gotta pay for all this fun, right?
So, we knew our window was closing and we still had on our list: the Berries, the voyage back across the Gulf Stream to Florida, and all of the wonderful cruising we wanted to along the west coast of Florida. With that in mind, Mother Nature decided to throw us a curve ball. Around the time we were planning to leave Spanish Wells one of those very common north fronts came through and it looked like it was going to blow for days.
This meant we had one of two options: 1) Run down to the Exumas and try to find a place to hide there for the four-or-so days we expected weather. (And, many of you who have been to the Exumas likely know—hiding is not a great thing to try and do in the Exumas. The islands are just so small and sparse, they don’t offer great protection.) So, we could either race down to the Exumas, try to hide for a bit, hope for a few clear days, then race back to the Berries and onward to home or … Option Two. Tuck into Harbour Island, which was just a short half-day jaunt over in Eleuthera. Here is where we were in the Bahamas:
We could then drop the hook there for a few days to escape the coming winds, explore Eleuthera and the Berries slowly, then pick our way home. As you can imagine, any option with the word “slow” in it is likely the one that’s going to appeal to us. You just cannot do the Exumas in five days. I think it’s blasphemy. Birds would start flying backwards. Ducks would bark. Strange things would happen. I’m sure.
With the Harbour Island decision made, Phillip and I then had to decide whether we were feeling brave enough to navigate the very rocky and coral-ridden inlet to Harbour Island—known locally as the “Devil’s Backbone”—on our own or hire a captain to take us safely through. You can see here the many, many coral heads that litter the path from Spanish Wells into Harbour Island! Makes me want to tuck my keel and run. Yipes!
The cost to hire a captain was roughly $120 (and we added a $20 tip). While we are in no way made of money, our keel and hull are not made of material that is good to slam into a coral head. It just seemed worth it to us—our first time coming into Harbour Island—to hire a captain to ensure a safe entry, no damage to the boat, and avoid the immense stress it would put on us trying to do that ourselves. Now that we’ve been in and out and laid a track, I feel confident Phillip and I could now do it on our own, but we didn’t feel the need was great enough to chance it the first time, in light of the fairly low cost to ensure safe entry with a captain.
There were several captains available to take you most days, either at 9:00 a.m. or around lunch. The run through the Devil’s Backbone took about 3.5 to 4 hours, traveling as we do at roughly 4-5 knots under motor. The captain that took us in was very knowledgeable and nice and told us to follow him “very closely.” He did not tie up to our boat or board, but he puttered slowly in front of us, making sure we were on a safe path, communicating with us often via radio, and he got us in safely.
And, while it was a beautiful day, gorgeous waters, and a successful navigation, there was one thing about the trip that bothered me and Phillip. When we were envisioning doing the Devil’s Backbone ourselves, both of us had a mental image of one of us standing at the bow, sun directly overhead, pointing out coral heads left and right, giving cues to the helmsman at the wheel. To be frank, we kind of wanted to gain that experience while following a captain so we knew we would be safe. Like a test run with training wheels on. But, here’s the thing: we couldn’t really see the coral heads. Neither Phillip nor myself could make them out. Sometimes I would feel like I saw one up ahead and it turned out to be a big patch of black sand or grass. Then sometimes I didn’t feel like I’d seen one at all, but there it was breaching the surface where I thought there was no coral.
I can’t explain why we couldn’t see the coral heads. Perhaps it was too early in the day, although it was a very clear, bright day, and we navigated the corally (that’s a word today) section from about 10-12:00 p.m. Perhaps we just don’t have good coral eyes (another linguistic gem for you.) Whatever the cause, that part about the trip made us very glad we had hired a captain because he obviously could either see them where we couldn’t, or he just knew the route between them by heart. (We later learned it is both but mostly the latter). Either way, it was a beautiful day and a very enjoyable journey.
Once in Harbour Island, the captain rafted up with us briefly to get his fee then sent us on our way. Phillip and I navigated the shoals (which would later become our kiting ground when the tide was out) to drop the hook behind Harbour Island on the south side. We took the dinghy over to Man’s Island and snorkeled around, which was really fun. I saw my first lionfish underwater. Oh, and sea cucumbers, too! Those lovable lazy slugs. Phillip and I were also very surprised to find such a diverse, budding little town ashore with plenty of shops, eateries, nice restaurants, conch salad shacks, clothing boutiques, etc. There was a laundry mat where we washed all of our clothes and linens for $4/load and wifi in certain places. I certainly had one of the nicest, most beautiful “offices” I’ve had in a while. No complaints from this little remote worker!
The north side of the island also promised pretty pink beaches! While I imagined an entire beach shoreline the color of conch shell pink, that’s not really what we got. But the sand did have a nice rosy hue to it and—pink or not—it was gorgeous! One of my favorite parts was seeing the horses walking along the beach. The locals apparently give horse rides on the beach often to attract tourists (and it works!) but it was still cool to see my favorite animal in now one of my favorite places: the Bahamas.
We also inadvertently ended up dropping our hook next to another cruising couple we had previously connected with on social media: Brett and Kristen aboard Life in the Key of Sea. We met up with them one of our last days in Harbour Island, hiked the south side, and ate at the famous Sip Sip with a stunning view of the Atlantic shore. Brett and Kristen were very like-minded and easy-going (as most cruisers are) and we connected instantly. It was fun to hear the places they had been, their plans going forward, and a lot of the wacky, unfounded questions we all get from people who aren’t cruisers. Like “How do you feed the dogs?” Kristen told me someone had asked her, as they have two very lovable rescues aboard. It’s like the ability to buy dog food in advance and store it on the boat while cruising cannot be fathomed.
People are funny! But we always get a kick out of some of the questions we get, too. For instance: “What do you dooo all day on passage?” is another one of my favorites. You don’t have time to think about it, you’re usually so busy fixing things, checking the weather, holding your shift, cleaning, napping, fixing more things, researching, cooking, more cleaning, fixing something else, then it’s all of sudden the next day and you don’t know how it happened. We definitely had a good time laughing with Brett and Kristen about these shared bewilderments from our followers!
Phillip and I also did some of our best kiting from our entire Bahamas trip in Harbour Island. Mainly because the folks we kited with made it so memorable. It’s always the people, am I right?! Phillip, from our table at a little vegan restaurant, saw someone pumping up a kite on a tiny spit of sand in the harbour. He couldn’t help it. That man smells wind, I tell you. Instantly, he was up, “Check please,” and we were on our way out there. We met the folks and got to talking to them. Obviously—when you’re all on a tiny island with no airport—the question of “How did you get here?” often comes up. The gal with them said offhand “Oh, we’re staying here on a boat.”
“Oh, cool. Us, too. Ours is that sailboat over in the distance,” as I pointed.
“Oh nice,” she said (I now know) graciously.
“Where’s your boat?” I asked looking around for perhaps another monohull or cruising catamaran.
The gal got a little quiet and responded, “We’re on the biggest one here. It’s the Trending Yacht over there.” And by “over there,” she meant a vessel big enough to block out the sun. The thing is 165-feet of mega-money. It is a badass boat. Fun video for you here:
I mean. Whoa. We later learned her dad, who owns the boat, is not just a millionaire. But a billionaire. With a B. Say it again. Whoa. Check out more photos, video, and info about the boat and crew and the charters they do at Trending Yacht.
But, the crew (the two guys in the video above and photos below) and the daughter, “Biz” (short for Elizabeth), were super cool and a ton of fun to hang out with. The crew also told us the owner of Trending is—much unlike most other mega-yacht owners who are total douchebags—very low-key. He just wants everyone to have a good time, and wants to keep the boat in good working order so folks can appreciate it. It felt pretty freaking cool to meet my first billionaire! We had a great time kiting with them several days in the harbour. The two guys helping Biz learn to kite and crewing on the boat were total adrenaline junkies, trying to loop their kite (which usually ended in monster crashes into the water), hoisting each other up into the air, launching wicked jumps on the kite, etc. The “Trending Show” was a heck of a lot of fun to watch.
In all, Harbour Island was an unexpected treat. Phillip and I had never really envisioned ourselves heading this deep into Eleuthera during this trip to the Bahamas. (We had envisioned ourselves in the Exumas instead.) But it was just further proof that when we go where the wind takes us (and not try to fight the universe’s obvious coaxing) we usually are rewarded to an unexpected but surprisingly unique and memorable new place. Harbour Island definitely fit that bill.
Hope you all enjoy the video, write-up, and photos below. We only have one more destination in the Bahamas to share before we scoot back across the Gulf Stream and start trickling up the west coast of Florida back to Pensacola, in blog time that is. As I mentioned in the video, in real time, we just splashed back after 4.5 weeks in the Pensacola Shipyard with Perdido Sailor, having accomplished some very awesome and necessary projects on our boat, and we’re now working to prepare our workloads and stock the boat for this season’s cruising. I will announce our plans soon. We’ve got something very, very cool in store for you followers. Stay tuned!
For now, let that Harbour Island footage roll! Enjoy!
Following the captain through the Devil’s Backbone:
Off on a dinghy adventure to snorkel around Man’s Island:
Our favorite time on the boat: Captain’s Hour
Exploring the awesome little town on Harbour Island:
The pink beach on the north shore!
Time to get our kite on!
The fun billionaire-ess and her cRaZy crew!
Enjoying the little eateries and shops in town:
Hiking and dining with Brett and Kristen from Life in the Key of Sea!
I was completely sober when I took that picture … promise ; )
Life is swell in Spanish Wells! Or breathtakingly beautiful at least. Phillip and I were happily shocked to find our favorite beach from our entire Bahamas trip tucked away on the north shore of what we thought was going to be an industrial little fishing island in Eleuthera. We were also really excited to make the jump to this island because it would be the first we were back offshore since crossing the Gulf Stream to get to the Bahamas. We love to travel offshore. The sunsets underway are just indescribable. I love when they bathe the boat, and everyone on it, in “sunset.” Fun video for you all here, and photos below, from our sail down to Spanish Wells and the beautiful north shore we paddled there. Lobster, cannonballs, and starfish await! Dig in!
Spanish Wells is about 50 nm from Little Harbour. We decided to make the sail overnight to arrive in daylight at Spanish Wells. We left Little Harbour around 4:00 p.m. the day before and arrived in Spanish Wells around 7:00 a.m. the following day. A nice, 15-hour run. We didn’t have much wind and had to motor a good bit, but we didn’t mind! We love being underway!
Love this man.
We installed AIS back when we had our mast down in the shipyard in 2016 and we have never regretted it. It is so comforting to see large ships on the screen and know their direction, speed, and the closest point of approach. It is also good to see their name and know you can hale them if you are unsure your vessels will pass safely. We only receive AIS; we do not transmit.
Plaintiff’s Rest, happy on her hook!
Where you see that big yacht there is the entrance (through Devils Backbone) to Little Harbour. We’ll take you there on the blog next! There were so many mega, mack-daddy cruising yachts in there!
Favorite beach from our entire Bahamas trip! The north shore of Spanish Wells! Have any of you been here?
Little drizzle sand castles. My brother used to make these when we went to the beach as kids. It brought back a lot of memories for me. Like someone left them there just for me!
It’s hard to even say when the water begins and the shore ends. They just melt into one another.
Conchy yard art! : )
Fresh caught lobster tails we bought from a local fisherman. Only $5 a tail, can you believe it?!
Back to the boat to cook up the best dinner on the island!
Baked lobster with Phillip’s famous mushroom risotto. I am one lucky girl!
Poor Phillip snagged his toe on a branch when we were walking the north shore. Be careful when you walk folks! Pick up your feet and dodge the ragged, jagged things!
Aren’t the colors in the Bahamas beautiful? All roads, fences, signs, etc. are all so tropical and vibrant!
What’s up? SUP, that’s what! Time to paddle!
Or time to perch (while Annie paddles).
That’s Phillip way out there (the little spec on the horizon) paddling away. We could see for miles across the neon teal water it seemed.
And, Phillip got our inflatable YOLO paddle board for me as a birthday gift years ago. (You see? Lucky girl!) It has proven to be a very convenient and valuable little “toy” to have on the boat. We like it because it packs down and serves as an extra vehicle to and from shore. It’s also a great workout and a wonderful way to explore flat, shallow waters.
If you see a bridge over water, you must jump! It’s an Annie rule. CANNONBALL!
You know you’re living the good life sitting in the cockpit of your boat, drink in hand, and someone’s bikini is off! ; )
Or how we rig it on OUR BOAT, I should say. Ahoy followers! You ready for a little virtual sailing lesson? That’s right, float away from your desk for a minute, imagine yourself on the sunny deck of a gently-swaying boat, looking out over green, glistening water. Can you smell the salt in the air? I hope so! But, there’s only one thing that’s bugging you: that occasional luff-crumple-pop of the headsail. The light winds over the stern combined with a kicked-up sea state is causing your easy downwind run to be much more of a strain on your headsail than you would like. Every third wave, she luffs, curls, and then snaps back out with a vicious pop when she fills again. I know you’re cringing right now hearing it. So, what do you do?
Rig a whisker pole!
We’re going to share with you today a detailed step-by-step process, with photos, of our whisker-rigging method as well as some tricks and very important lessons we learned when first working with and learning how to rig the whisker pole on our boat while we were cruising in the Bahamas, namely the following:
Where to attach the outer end of the pole (the Pam Wall Rule).
What else to attach to the pole (the Captain Frazer Rule).
And, where to attach the pole first (the HaveWind Rule).
All lessons are free today. Feel free to learn some at our expense!
No one likes to hear a sail pop and flail. I always feel like it’s a dog yapping and running around in circles because thunder scared him. You just want to hold him close and calm him down. Yes, I would do that with our sails if I could. In a heartbeat. But, unfortunately, I can’t. Trust me, I’ve tried. Our jib just kicked and squirmed and whacked me solid across the face. Thanks Wendy. Don’t try to be a human whisker pole. Be smarter than me.
As I mentioned in the spinnaker trainer video I shared in our spinnaker video last week and in our Bahamas Boat Project Recap, for Phillip and I, getting our whisker pole functioning and learning how to safely and comfortably rig it ourselves underway, was one of our big “sail plan” goals last year while we were preparing for our trip to the Bahamas. Our sail to Cuba in 2016—bashing for days into strong head winds—taught us many things. One was that we needed to expand our sail plan and hone our sail skills to have more options to keep our boat and the crew sailing safely and more comfortably in a variety of wind speeds and directions. Mastering the whisker pole was a key factor in that.
If you recall, in our Bahamas Boat Project Recap, I talked about what we had to do to get our whisker pole ready for cruising. While she came with the boat, and rode with us idly for many years in two handy little stanchion post brackets on the starboard side near the bow, we had not actually used our whisker pole for years because she had a glitch. She had a rather significant dent that prevented us from being able to slide the extension out to make it long enough to actually reach the sheet of the sail. This meant for years we were lazy and just didn’t use her. Bad sailors! You can say the same thing about us with the spinnaker. We didn’t bust ours out on the boat for years just because we thought she would be big and cumbersome and we might rip her during the launch or douse. Again, bad sailors! Why would you skip out on allll this awesomeness over fear of failure!
We’ve since learned you have to just get out there and try stuff. If you’re afraid you might damage a system because you don’t know exactly how it works, then ask a more experienced sailor to come out on a sail with you (offer beer or other booze and snacks, of course) and figure it out. Yeah, you might break something, or find something was on the verge of breaking anyway, but it would be better to break it or find our it was about to in the comfort of your home waters, not while underway across the Gulf or some other blue-water body, am I right? As a good friend of ours often says (Tom, if you’re reading this), when the sailing gets boring, he smacks his hands together and says: “Time to break some shit!” It is a saying Phillip and I have readily adopted on our boat, hand-clap and all.
You can’t be afraid to try something out just because you might break it. And, I can say all of that lofty inspirational stuff now because Phillip and I were pansies for years and did not fly our spinnaker or use our whisker pole simply because we didn’t quite know how and didn’t take the time to figure them out, get them working, and get ourselves used to using them. Shame on us, I know! But, that’s why I can boldly write this post, because we have since done just that and I’m proud to share.
Now, the dent in our whisker pole. That was a fun story. Phillip had the idea for me (and specifically me, specifically in spandex) to take our dented pole to an auto body shop to see if they could work the dent out (much like they do on vehicles) to get the pole’s extension capabilities functioning again. And while I had every intention of paying them for their work, the guys had such a great time ribbing each other and working on this “oddball boat thing” they called it, seeing who could work the ding out the best, while I watched in spandex, that they just did it for free. I tried and offered repeatedly to pay, but the owner, Travis, said it was such a fun show to watch, he was happy to help a local for free. So, many thanks again to the great guys at Coastal Body Works here in Pensacola for getting these sailors up and going again!
Once we had the whisker pole working, we then started to toodle around with it on the boat and found that while a whisker pole can be very useful in light winds where it’s not quite enough to keep the headsail full or not the right angle for you to fly the spinnaker, what we learned during many of our downwind sails during our time in the Bahamas, was that it can also be useful when there is enough wind for your headsail, but a churned-up sea state, and accompanying erratic movement of the boat, keeps causing the sail to cave, crumple, and snap back with a bang. Not cool. This was one of our biggest “aha!” moments with our whisker pole. You can see in this photo the sail is luffing and will soon snap back once the boat tips and it fills with wind.
As we all know, luffing and popping is not good for the sail. And we had some decent wind here in this photo. I believe it was blowing around 8-9 kts, plenty to keep the sail full … in smooth seas, but not enough to keep her taut when the boat is bucking around in churned-up 2-3 footers. What Phillip and I did not know, initially, was that the whisker pole was something we could not only use to get more wind in the sail on a light-wind downwind run, but also something that could prevent luffing and popping in kicked-up seas. Very cool.
And once you rig it in some funky seas, you’ll find the boat rides smoother. The crew is more comfortable not having to listen to that occasional crumple and bang. And, the boat is infinitely grateful for the more comfortable set-up. Having made several mistakes in the beginning (don’t we all?) Phillip and I learned a few helpful tricks that allow us to easily rig the pole in most conditions and to even furl up the headsail quickly without having to un-rig the pole. Pretty cool, huh? Now, I will be the first to admit most of these very cool tricks were learned at the hands of other, more experienced, sailors: friends and mentors who have many (many!) more blue-water miles under their belts than we do, and from whom we love to learn. So, a big thanks in advance to the ever-amazing Pam Wall and our fellow Captain and friend in Marathon, Captain Russell Frazer, and his exceptionally-skilled wife, Lynn, for sharing some of these tips with us.
Our Three Biggest Whisker Pole Lessons
Attach the pole to the sheet, NOT the clew of the sail (The Pam Wall Rule)
Rig preventers fore and aft (The Capt. Frazer Rule)
Attach the pole to the sheet first, THEN the mast (The HaveWind Rule)
The Pam Wall Rule: Attach the pole to the sheet NOT the sail
I actually recall when we were speaking with Pam about this. It was during a work/play trip to Ft. Lauderdale. Sometime in the spring of 2016, I believe. And she and Phillip got to talking about this whisker thing on the boat. I wasn’t really sure what they were talking about, but I always hate to interrupt because of my own confusion (because it’s so frequent) so I did what I often do in a situation like that. Pretend and nod and try to say stuff that won’t expose my ignorance. I remember Pam mentioning some sail training video she had been involved with but when she saw the final product, and the “whisker pole was attached to the clew! The clew?!” (she shouted) she told the production company she did not want her name anywhere near it, because that was not right.
Now, did Pam’s comment make sense to you? Me, I had no clew, pun intended. At the time, that is. I’ll be the first to admit how much more I still have to learn about sailing, but I have come leaps and bounds since my first few years with Phillip and, thankfully, that makes sense to me … now. Phillip, who knew immediately what Pam was talking about then and who fervently agreed, won her salty, sailing heart over right then and there. Pam’s a sucker for a good sailor. Sorry, Pam, the word is out. But, it didn’t come full circle for me until Phillip and I began rigging up our own pole on our boat and I then realized why attaching the pole to the CLEW was just about the worst thing you could do.
Imagine if, for some reason, somehow, someway, that pole got unclipped from the mast. Because that never happens on boats, right? Something that was once fastened becomes unfastened? It could get whacked, cracked, loosened, a number of freak things that happen often underseas on a pitching, yawing boat. Now think what would happen if that pole came unattached at the mast and it was attached not to the genny sheet, but to the clew of your sail. Do you see it? A huge pole being flailed and clanged and beat around on the front of your boat? It’s like the genny is a big ring master and the pole at the end of her sail is like a big metal bullwhip. She’s slashing and snapping just for the fun of it! And, how do you get that pole secure? Without getting knocked unconscious first? The answer is: you may not. Finding your headsail with the leeway to sling and bang that thing around however she would like is not a situation you want to be in. While there may be a bang or two if the pole comes unattached at the mast and is attached only to the sheet, eventually the pole will likely settle to a fairly-secure place on deck or get tossed overboard and remain hanging from the sheet into the water. Which outcome would you prefer to find yourself in? The bullwhip or the dangler?
Now that the “clue” makes sense to you, take a very good lesson from Pam and apply it on your own boat: NEVER ATTACH THE POLE TO THE SAIL, ATTACH IT TO THE SHEET.
Thank you Pam. Moving on.
The Captain Frazer Rule: Rig preventers fore and aft
While Phillip and I had thought about rigging a preventer forward, to the bow, and did that on our own initiative the first few times we used the whisker pole, we did not rig one aft. The preventer we ran to the bow was primarily needed, in our opinion, to prevent the pole from flying back and banging the shrouds. We put waaaaayyy too much work into those shrouds when we re-did the rigging (from rod to wire) in 2016 to have anything slam into them. Protect those shrouds people! But, we had not yet run one aft, until we talked to a good friend of mine, Captain Russell Frazer and his wife, Lynn, who are both very experienced fellow sailors in Marathon, about our travels when we returned from the Bahamas back in March of this year. Russell suggested running preventers both forward and aft so that you can roll the headsail up while still leaving the pole and its rigging in place.
This is another situation where rigging the pole to the sheet not the clew of the sail proves, once again, useful. If the pole is attached only to the sheet, the sheet will then run smoothly through the mouth of the pole, allowing you to furl the sail up while the pole—held fast with the topping lift and two preventers—remains firmly in place for you to deal with at a safer time. Imagine something crazy happened on deck (because that’s always possible), the seas kicked up and some metal piece flew off and put a nice rip in your headsail. You want to get it furled (if you have a furling headsail) as quickly as possible to keep the wind out of it and prevent it from ripping further, or worse, shredding entirely. If you have to go topside and un-rig the pole before you can furl the sail, you’ll have to leave your sail exposed and vulnerable while you do that, and if the seas are kicked up and things are flying around on deck, that’s not a time you want to be going topside and trying to wrestle a whisker pole anyway. Instead, if you can simply furl the sail while leaving the pole securely in place until it is safer to go disassemble the rig, that would be a much better alternative.
So, the Captain Russell Rule: rig a preventer fore and aft. And, thank Russell and his wife, Lynn, for that one!
The HaveWind Rule:
Attach the pole to the sheet first, then the mast
Boy, did it take Phillip and I a while to get this one. Granted, we probably could have done a little more research before we got out there (this was on our way across the Gulf headed down to the Bahamas, our last day on a five-day run, almost to Key West), and we are doing it all so totally wrong. Tssk tssk sailors!
We had decided to just “play around” with the whisker pole then, having not read much or watched detailed videos on the best way to rig it before just getting out there and tangling ourselves up in it. We usually choose that method, though. Part of it is kind of fun to figure it out yourself on your own boat and we would much rather be tinkering around with it hands-on, out in the sun, on the boat, than watching a video at home. So, if it’s safe to learn OTB (on the boat), we like to do that.
But our efforts proved in vain here, as our first time trying to use the whisker pole we found ourselves struggling to keep a hold of our preventers and make everything work by attaching the pole first to the mast, then trying to finagle the swinging end of the pole, six feet away, to make it magically snag the sheet. Silly us. I know. We just hadn’t thought it all the way through yet and were still tinkering.
After some experiments, we found it was much (much!) easier to first attach the pole to the sheet. I usually do this while Phillip is holding the rest of the weight of the pole on the other side of the boat. We have our two preventers, fore and aft, attached to the end of the pole at this time, and I usually have to push the pole out only about 2-3 feet over the side of the boat to get to the sheet. We then use the pull line (I’ll call it that) that runs the length of the whisker pole and allows us to open the mouth of the pole from afar. Once the mouth of the pole is attached to the sheet (not the clew remember!), I then push the pole slowly out while keeping a hand on my preventers. You can either have these lying on the deck in preparation for cleating once the pole is up, or (if you’re really good and have them pre-marked or you’re just a much better guess of distance than I am) you can have them pre-fed under the lifelines and down to their respective cleats before you push the pole out. We haven’t got that cool … yet! Phillip then pushes the pole out its entire length while I keep a hand on the preventers and attaches it at the mast. Then voila! the pole is up and holding our headsail out in a nice open and secure position.
We have found on lumpy downwind runs, this is a great way to get a little extra oomph out of light winds and some better rest for the boat and crew as she sails much more comfortably and quietly without the sail luffing and popping during the entire passage.
So, for a quick re-cap, this is our procedure, start to finish, of how Phillip and I rig the whisker pole on our boat. As always, we welcome feedback, and hope this helps some of you bust out your own pole and start using it too!
How We Rig the Whisker Pole On Our Boat
1. Check the integrity and functionality of the pole and its pull line (the line that runs the length of the pole and is used to open the mouth of the pole from afar). Look to make sure there are no major chafe points in the line, or areas where the line looks like it might break). Make sure the mouth opens and closes easily on each end of the pole. (Fighting that thing, once the pole is out and mobile, in seas is not something you want to do). After years of no use, sitting up under the sun on our deck, we found our pull line had deteriorated and it broke clean in two the first time I pulled it (that’s why ours is wrapped around the pole in the photo here, we haven’t yet fixed it). But a severed pull line is not something you want to happen underway when you cannot easily or safely reach your hands out to the end of the pole to detach it or you are forced to wrestle a pole on deck that is still gripped to your headsail sheet with a bad case of clench jaw.
2. Once you confirmed the pole and its moving parts are working great, take the pole out of its holster and lay it athwartship (or hold it in hand or in your lap, with preferably two crew) while you attach the fore and aft preventers at the opening behind the mouth at the outer end of the pole. You can then run the preventers out and back under the lifelines to their respective cleats if you would like, or let them fall free to the deck. As Phillip and I get better at this, I plan to have two preventers with lengths pre-marked so I know how far off to cleat them in advance. We attach our preventers to this opening (arrows below) behind the mouth of the pole, which is on both ends, where the topping lift also connects at the other end of the pole.
3. With one crew member holding the pole on deck, the other crew member will raise the end of the pole by pulling and cleating the topping lift for the pole. This is just an eyeball method to raise the pole roughly to the height of the clew of the sail. If you are single-handed, I imagine you could attach the pole to the mast and deck cleats to secure it temporarily for this step, then detach them after you’ve lifted the pole so you can then attach it to the sheet.
4. Loosen the sheet of the headsail so you will have enough slack to extend the pole out from the mast. (You can imagine how Phillip and I learned this one the hard way trying to wrestle that pole out. It was just inches from the mast and we were pushing with all of our might, a definite set-up for a slip and fall, before we realized we were fighting the sail itself.)
5. Attach the mouth of the pole to the working sheet of the headsail. Remember the Pam Wall rule: do NOT attach it to the clew of the sail. Attach it to the sheet. I usually have the pole extended about 2-3 feet over the side of the boat (with Phillip holding the other side near the mast), and I attach it to the sheet by setting the teeth (we’ll call them) on the sheet, then pulling the pull line from afar and the mouth then opens and drops down to snap around the sheet. My preventers, fore and aft, are attached at the time to that opening behind the mouth, and I am usually holding both preventers in my hands around the pole while I push it out. You can see in the photo below, the pole is locked around the working sheet of our jib, right behind the bowline knot. Our aft preventer has been computer-graphically inserted (as I mentioned we hadn’t yet learned to run one aft).
6. Then slowly push the pole out (running the preventers through your hand on the pole, if they are not pre-cleated, so they do not go overboard), until the other end of the pole reaches the mast.
7. Attach the other end of the pole to the ring at the mast.
8. Secure or trim your fore and aft preventers making sure the pole cannot hit the shrouds. I like to push my weight against the pole toward the stern making sure it cannot be pushed back and make contact with the shrouds, if so, I will tighten the forward preventer.
9. That’s it! You’re sailing under the whisker pole! Sit back and enjoy the no-luff-and-bang ride!
10. When you’re ready to disassemble, remember, if you would like, you can furl the sail under pole, leaving the pole (secure under its topping lift and two preventers), firmly in place and then disassemble the rig once the sail is secure. Or, you can disassemble the whisker pole rig with the sail remaining out by simply following the previous steps in reverse.
I was so happy when we got this thing rigged up, I did a dance. A pole dance.
Sorry, couldn’t help it. Yes, that is totally me. 100%. Every single rib. All 40 of ‘em. Yep.
If there is one thing the steady north winds in the Bahamas are good for, it’s flying the chute, headed south to Little Harbour! Ahoy followers! In blog time, we are just wrapping our stay at beautiful Hope Town, Bahamas (where we got lucky enough to snag a ball inside the harbor our first night there!) and sail this badass boat south to Little Harbour. Under spinnaker! I mention in the video below another video we put out last year showing exactly how we rig and hoist the spinnaker on our boat for any of you just launching yours (don’t worry, it took us years before we were brave enough). Here’s the LINK to that trainer video. Little Harbour turned out to be a fascinating little hurricane hole at the south end of the Bahamas. We had some friends from Pensacola who were there at the same time on their Katana catamaran, so we got to rendezvous with them at the fantastically-fun and quirky bar, Pete’s Pub, and meet the infamous Pete, himself. Pete is the son of Randolph Johnston, an American teacher and bronze sculptor who first settled with his family in Little Harbour in the 1950’s. Some fascinating history there. Hope you enjoy the video and photos below!
And, we’re off! After a beautiful few days in Hope Town, we bid that quaint little cruiser’s gem adieu and set our sights on Little Harbour. We had some friends, Tom and Christy, who were going to be there at the same time, sailing in on their Katana-built catamaran and we were eager to go meet up with them and have a drink at the famous Pete’s Pub! There’s the Hope Town lighthouse in the distance. Say “Au revoir!”
Anyone recognize this unique boat? It’s Mary and Sharon on s/v Tipsy Gypsy!! We met up with them several times in the Abacos (and both being fellow bloggers, but both partaking in some excellent goombay smashes at the time, we all forgot to take a photo together!). But, true to boat code, I never forget to snap a pic of a fellow cruiser’s fine-looking vessel on the water. Look at Gypsy go! You can follower Mary and Tharon’s adventures here! https://www.maryandtharon.com
It’s SPINNY time! We love flying our spinnaker. Well, I can say that now. Phillip and I will be the first to admit, we waited waaaayyy too long to break this bad boy out. I can’t really say why. We were never in a hurry. We thought it might have been a huge headache, or we would get it all snagged up and rip it. Who knows. We were crazy stupid. But, last summer, when we were planning our adventure to the Bahamas and knew we wanted to enhance our sail plan and sail options, we busted the spinnaker out on Plaintiff’s Rest for the first time (and found out she’s this beautiful red, white, and blue!) and learned how to rig her up and fly her with ease. While it did take some finagling and some mistakes, we learned, they usually don’t lead to a rip in the sail if you are methodical about it and take your time to follow all of the lines and make sure the sail isn’t twisted as it is coming out of the sock. Little things like that. Now that we’ve mastered it, this is probably now our favorite sail on the boat! Video link for you HERE again on exactly how we rig and hoist our spinnaker on the boat if any of you out there are just getting into it.
Ahhhh … happy place!
As I mentioned in the video, we found the inlet to Little Harbour to be a bit narrow and one you have to “play the tides” to get in and out. Not a big deal, but we didn’t know when we would be leaving Little Harbour and we wanted to freedom to be able to come and go without having to wait on the tides. For this reason, we decided to anchor on the outside in the big harbor outside of Little Harbour, and it was absolutely no mistake. Wait until you see the crystal green waters that awaited us there. Some of the most stunning we had seen in all of the Bahamas!
Dinghying in to Little Harbour!
This is Tom and Christy’s catamaran that they sailed to Little Harbour on, s/v Odalisque!
Looking out over the harbour. We didn’t know it at the time, but Tom and Christy told us Little Harbour is a hurricane hole. They have had winds of up to 130 mph there with little to no damage to the boats inside the harbor. Good to know when Phillip and I find ourselves back in those parts and need to tuck in somewhere. We’re happy to play the tide to sneak into a hurricane hole for cover!
Love this gal! Hi Christy!
I can’t recall if this was the triggerfish tacos or not, but every meal we had at Pete’s Pub was out of this world!
The view from Pete’s Pub at night. Just stunning.
And, hey hey, if we didn’t meet Pete himself. A real ladies man, that one! Heart of gold, too, and with such a neat history and story to share. We made a lot of fun memories at the pub!
The sunset view on the Atlantic side behind Pete’s Pub did not disappoint either. Gorgeous colors on the horizon and awesome craggy rocks where the water would splash up and put on quite a show!
After a fun night “on the town,” which in Little Harbour means “at the Pub” (it is the only restaurant bar on the island, but easily one of our favorite in all of the Bahamas), Phillip and I woke to these breathtaking waters right around our boat the next day. I couldn’t take enough photos. You could see every blade of grass on the bottom, every link in our chain, every glimmer of the sun. I could stare at those waters all day long and be in absolute bliss!
One of the very cool things about Little Harbour, that struck Phillip and me, was it’s amazing history. Not only did Randolph Johnston bring his family here to get away from American consumerism and just the hustle and bustle and noise of life in the states in the 1950’s, they also had to live in this cave for some time before they could complete their house. But, they worked hard and persevered and the bronze sculpting foundry that Randolph established there back in the 1950’s is still the foundry they use today. His son, Pete, carries on his tradition and makes some fabulous sculptures that he sells there in the gallery at Little Harbour. I love when history meets art and makes the whole trip just that much more memorable. Pretty cool huh!
Pete, finishing a very cool bronze sculpted shark!
This was a piece in the gallery that Christy really had her eye on, the evolution of the life of a man from baby, to toddler, to healthy male, to feeble old man, to death. It really was a very unique piece. You better get on it before Christy does! If she hasn’t already! (And she drives a hard bargain, trust me! : )
Perfect tagline for not only Pete’s Pub, but just about every little quirky bar in the Bahamas. You never know who is a millionaire, billionaire, boat bum, river rat, and the best part is no one cares because it doesn’t even matter. We just “cheers!” and carry on!
We hope you enjoyed our trip to Little Harbour. Next time, we will take you back out into the Atlantic Ocean on our way down to Eleuthra to our most breathtaking beach in the Bahamas (well, consider we haven’t been to the Exumas yet) but the north shore on Spanish Wells made my heart stop. Thankfully, Phillip was able to get her kickstarted and going again. He always gets me fluttering. ; ) Stay tuned!
Enough with this maintenance in Marsh Harbour! It’s time to get sailing and set our hopes on Hopetown. This was one of our favorite stops in the Abacos. Many cruisers live here full-time on a ball in the harbor which gives the place a very welcoming, community feel. There are lots of quirky little shops, beautiful flower-lined roads and bike paths, great restaurants and the stunning Hopetown Lighthouse, one of the oldest manual Kerosene-lit lighthouses in the world. Phillip and I were incredibly fortunate to score a ball in the harbor our VERY FIRST night there (some people have waited years for one) and enjoyed a stunning three-day stay at Hopetown. Enjoy the snorkeling in Marsh Harbour, our sporty sail over to Hopetown, and a bike tour around picturesque Hopetown in the video and photos below. Stay tuned next time for a trip to Little Harbor, a little-known hurricane hole at the south end of the Abacos where we were welcomed by friends who had just built an amazing little bungalow there. Plenty more to come!
On our way back to Marsh Harbour. We were thrilled to find that a Delta flight opened up recently from Atlantic directly to Marsh Harbour, so that makes leaving the boat in the Bahamas while we fly back and forth to handle issues at home much easier!
I love the view from a plane window. So much to see!
While we were thrilled to return, after leaving out boat in Marsh Harbour for six weeks while we flew back to Pensacola to handle some work things (and another huge thanks (and yet she still deserves dozens more!) to fellow Marsh Harbour live-aboard, Diane, who sent us amazing photos of our boat every couple of days while we were gone), we had plenty of work to do to open up and clean the boat and re-provision and prepare her for another two months of cruising in the Bahamas. We spent the first day cleaning her, filling the batteries and propane, grocery shopping, turning the engine over, etc. And, we were pleased to find our baby was just as excited as we were to have us back and she was full of juice and cranked right up on the first try! Way to go Plaintiff’s Rest!
We were pleased to find, having left our Kanberra gel bins full while we were gone, that the boat smelled super fresh when we opened her up for the first time in six weeks and there was hardly any mold on the ceiling. (In Pensacola, pre-Kanberra, we used to have tons of mold that we had to constantly wipe away with Clorox wipes during the summer). This Kanberra stuff is the real deal people!
Filling the batteries. Ours are Trojan wet cells that we have to fill with distilled water about every 30 days – 6 weeks. I always laugh because Phillip looks like a coal miner when he does it!
We were thrilled the find our fancy wine bags were still in tact!
It had rained a good bit in Marsh Harbor while we were gone, which was actually a good thing because it kept the bilge flushed out and fresh. We emptied her one time down to bone-dry to watch anew for any possible new leaks.
Then after all that work, it was time to go snorkeling in Marsh Harbour! I got some great footage of the fishies and plant life in the video. Hope you all enjoyed it!
Post-snorkel meal at the Jib Sheet. Oh yeeaaaahhhh!
We packed away our Bahamas courtesy flag while we were gone. She was only a little tattered from her first six weeks in the Abacos!
Back to our happy place! Sundowners and read-time in the cockpit of Plaintiff’s Rest!
I made a new friend at the marina, too. This amazing Labradoodle was so cute. She would sit in this chair, looking very much like a human being, and watch as people walked by. She was darling!
Sunrise over Harbourview Marina!
Time to de-dock (that’s a word in Annie land) and get this boat moving over to Hopetown!
It was a great day sailing, with winds of 18-20 kts. On the nose, but we’ve got much better at reefing down our offshore 90% working jib (“Wendy”) so now anything up to 20 kts is still comfortable for us on the boat. That did not used to be the case with our 135 genoa!
Following our waypoints on the Explorer charts to a “T.” I love those charts! They make cruising the Bahamas, even with a six-foot draft effortless. Just follow their lat and lons and play the tides and you are golden!
We couldn’t reach anyone via the radio to see if there was an open ball in the Harbor at Hopetown (we were pretty sure they’re wouldn’t be as folks had told us cruisers covet those balls and hold them often for years), so we dropped the hook on the outside and dinghied into the Harbor to get a lay of the land. It was kind of nice, too, to traverse that narrow inlet for the first time in our tiny little rubber boat, not the big beauty!
And, we totally scored!! After talking to a few boats, asking around about a potential open ball (and having a few of them lightheartedly chuckle at us), we were finally sent to a guy named Dave on a catamaran who unofficially monitors the balls, and he got us in touch with this amazing guy, Truman, who runs the balls at the Harbor, and as luck would have it a couple was leaving that afternoon, so we were going to spend our evening ON THE BALL! Phillip and I knew exactly how lucky we were and we were super excited! But, the ball would not open up for a another few hours, so we headed to shore to grab a bite and explore!
And Hopetown, of course, did not disappoint. Stunning Atlantic shores, crystal blue waters, stretches of white stunning beach. It was everything we hoped it would be (no pun intended … okay maybe just a little one ; ).
We ate here at Brandon’s Bar on the beach, an awesome little salty lunch spot overlooking the Atlantic Ocean!
These pictures don’t really do it justice. But the sunsets and sunrises in the Harbor at Hopetown were breathtaking. It was all you could do to just sit and watch and look around. Something about all the boats floating around you and the colors on the water were just mesmerizing.
Time to go see what this lighthouse is all about!
Beautiful little flower-lined streets guided us along the way. One of my favorite things about the Abacos are all the rich, luscious colors that greet you just walking the streets. All of the pathways and roads are also very narrow, which means no freaking stink-pot, tank-sized SUVs. Thank goodness! Just little golf carts and foot traffic. I have to say there is no part of me that misses the consumerism and traffic of the states. None.
You cannot NOT go to the Bahamas and NOT get conch fritters (three times at least to compare at different places! ; )
There’s the lighthouse! One of the last remaining manual, kerosene-lit lighthouses in the world. This beauty was completed in 1864 and used to guide ships around the treacherous Elbow Reef.
We signed the book! S/v Plaintiff’s Rest was here! 101 lighthouse steps we never fear!
Isn’t the view from the top amazing? The striking colors of the water is always what catches my eyes and breath when we view the Bahamas from up high.
Got myself a little Hopetown Lighthouse trinket (and proceeds for buying this beauty go toward lighthouse preservation and restoration). Cute huh?
Then it was time to explore more of that awesome little island. We rented bikes (24 hours for $24, very reasonable) and spent the next day and a half biking around Hopetown.
It was even cooler to see the lighthouse from our ball in the Harbor after we had walked all the way to the top and saw the view from up there.
We left this little thank-you note and our “ball fees” ($20/night) on Dave’s catamaran, along with a bottle of white and one of my books as big thanks for his help in enabling us to score a ball our very first time there. We certainly enjoyed our time and can easily say Hopetown is one of our favorite stops in the Abacos. But, gees, it’s hard to even pick favorites. There are so many. Hope you all enjoyed the video and photos. Next time, we will take you to Little Harbour at the south end of the Abacos and Pete’s Pub! Stay tuned!
Pffhhhhh … I have to let out a long huff even as I read that. It was so hard to leave our boat behind. I feel like I’m still apologizing to her, but I also feel like (or hope at least) that she understands. Somehow we have to pay for all this Bahamas fun, and more importantly, pay for all the work and maintenance she requires. B.O.A.T. right? You all know what that stands for. So, we had to leave our baby behind for a bit (January 21st – March 10th) during our Bahamas trip and fly back home to Pensacola so Phillip could handle some things at the office. While my job, thankfully, goes wherever we go (HaveWorkWillTravel! : ), his does not, although he is able to do a good bit of work remotely via emails and phone calls. Although it may not appear from our photos and posts, we do spend about 30-40% of our time while cruising working remotely. We are incredibly thankful for our phones and laptops and the internet which allows us to do that.
While we were planning our trip to the Bahamas, Phillip and I knew that we were going to have to leave the boat there for some stretch of time to fly home for a bit, so we chose Marsh Harbour because it is a pretty protected harbor with a marina where we could keep the boat tied up secure for a month or more and it also has an airport for flying to/from the states. While Marsh Harbour was a solid choice and proved a good decision, we did not know at the time (back in November when we were making plans) there was another good option in the Abacos: Treasure Cay. It’s amazing the things you learn when you actually go somewhere and start talking to the locals. While at Treasure Cay, we learned from some other cruisers who were staying there that they offer a November-through-February special, offering cruisers a monthly rate at the marina for only $500. Five. Hundred. I know. Don’t ask me what we paid at Marsh Harbour. But, we didn’t know about the Treasure Cay option, and we had to make a decision ahead of time. But next time … Treasure Cay is a fabulous (safe, protected) place to make “home base” while cruising the Abacos. Several cruisers we met booked a month or two there while they sailed around and gunk-holed all the wonderful islands in the Abacos, knowing they always had a safe place reserved for them at Treasure Cay so they could duck in and hide when the northern fronts came fast and fierce. The next time we do the Abacos, if that deal is still running at Treasure Cay, we will likely do that.
But, we were very pleased with the staff and amenities at Harbourview Marina. The dock master, Ron, and owner, Troy, were exceptional. They are very hands-on and they make sure every cruiser feels welcomed and has everything they need for a comfortable stay at the marina. Ron helped us dock up to the fuel dock and move to our permanent slip in some pretty heavy winds and he was very calm and competent and made sure our boat never suffered a scratch. He also checked on us every day as he walked the docks to make sure we had power, water, wifi and knew how to find groceries, restaurants, a cab, etc. We learned when we returned to Marsh Harbour in March that Ron had also boarded our boat many times while we were gone to adjust the lines to make sure our boat was always floating safely right in the middle of the slip and that none of the lines suffered any chafe. That’s service. Troy was also a pleasure to work with and the minute we told him we were planning on leaving the boat for a month at the marina, he immediately asked how to get access inside in case he needed to check the batteries or bilge or move her in an emergency. You could tell these were “boat people” who truly cared about boats the way we do. Troy, Ron, and the entire staff at Harbourview, we can’t thank you enough!
Here is a pretty cool video, with some great drone footage, showcasing the marina at Harbourview:
We got a very good slip, too, at the marina that was seated back away from the T-dock (where the winds cause the boats to romp around a bit) and was wedged in between some monster yachts, which also helped to block her from wind.
Phillip and I were also happy to find we were surrounded by several long-time Marsh Harbour liveaboards who would be living aboard their boats while we were gone, walking the docks every day, and who said they would keep an eye out for our baby while we were gone. To Dave on Southern Heat, if you’re reading this (you and Rocket Man!), thank you! Dave is actually a fellow writer and wrote a rather harrowing account of his own passage across the Gulf Stream in his book Summer Heat. But, I must share a story with you all that showcases how generous and compassionate cruisers really are.
Our last day aboard the boat (January 21, 2018) we were doing all of our final checks, cleaning things, packing, etc. My last chore was to empty the fridge, and I hate to see food go to waste. So I shoved all of our very enticing fridge food (think half-empty jars of salsa, mayo, and other condiments, some cheese, butter, milk, sodas, etc., I think there was even some salad stuff, carrots, cucumbers, etc.) into a trash bag (making it even more enticing) and began knocking on nearby boats to see who wanted to be the winner of my food charity for the day. While I tried, first, the several boat owners we had already met (so I wouldn’t seem like such a crazy person), for whatever reason, that morning they were all off and away, their boats locked and empty. So, I started knocking on new boats! And, the first boat-owner to heed my call was the infamous Bob aboard he and his wife’s beautiful trawler, Islandia.
I had never met Bob before but he is a cruiser through and through. “A trash bag full of half-eaten food? Sure! We love food!” was his immediate response. He was a lot of fun to chat with and had actually raced years ago on a Niagara up on Lake Ontario so we gave him a fun little tour of our baby, exchanged boat cards, and asked if he wouldn’t mind keeping an eye on our Niagara while we were gone. Bob said he’d be happy to and he graciously accepted our food and helped us get off the dock. Bob’s wife, Diane, was not on the boat that morning but, after returning later that day and finding the food we had left her, she took it upon herself to start sending me pictures and updates on our boat. These are the kinds of people that await you out there: cruisers who will open their hearts, their hands, their fridges, and their boats to you, for the simple reason that you are a cruiser, too, and we all “get it.” There are no distinguishing titles, no type of boat that is seen as better or greater than another (not in earnest anyway, only in jest), no importance placed on what we do for a living (or don’t do) or how much money we make (or don’t make) or the types of clothes we wear (or don’t wear!). We are all just cruisers, owners of boats that cause us lots of angst, cost us lots of money, and afford us the tallest tales and sweetest memories. Boats equalize people in a way I have never found any other common thread to do.
And this amazing stranger, a fellow boat-owner who knew Phillip and I were anxious to leave our boat behind unattended took it upon herself to send me these numerous email updates and keep a watchful eye on our boat the entire time we were gone. Mind you, this is a woman I had never met, and these are the actual emails and photos she took the time to send me while we were back in Pensacola and our beautiful baby was staying all by herself in Marsh Harbour. Not at my request, just of her own accord. I was shocked and thrilled when I received an email, out of the blue, from Diane just a few days after we left. And the photos and updates continued to roll in.
Diane, this tribute is for you!
Hi Annie, took this picture a few minutes ago. All is well. We are expecting quite a blow for the next 4 to 5 days, so we will check your boat every day. Diane and Bob
Hi Annie, you guys did a superb job of tying off your boat. [We subsequently learned this was also mostly due to Ron, who continued to board our boat and adjust lines accordingly.] The wind has shifted 45° and it’s pretty much been blowing a steady 15 to 20 and sometimes 25 kn. And yet your boat is right in the middle of the slip looking great! Bob and Diane
Good morning Annie and Phillip, Thanks in advance for the dinner invite. That will be fun! Today a rainbow landed on your boat! Cheers! Bob-Diane
Later that same day: Yes, that was so cool that the rainbow landed on your boat. We are in the middle of a power outage on the dock, don’t know how long it will last. Any special instructions for your boat once the power gets turned back on?
Hi Annie, so your boat is doing well in strong winds and extreme tides. Most of the sailboats are aground here. Once the super moon passes the tides shouldn’t be so extreme. We are leaving the marina for a week, so I’ll send you another update next Wednesday. Cheers! Diane and Bob
Hi Annie, we are back at the dock. Your boat is still looking pretty darn good! Cheers! Bob and Diane
Hi Annie, That’s crazy about 60 mph winds! Fortunately it’s becoming calmer here. Winds are slated to hover here around 10 to 15 for most of the week. I was out on my paddleboard today, so I thought I would snap a shot from a different perspective. Diane
Subject: “Waving at You!”
Hi Annie, you’re too funny, going out to dinner will more than suffice. We are headed out of the marina for 4 or 5 days, taking advantage of the nice weather coming up. I’ll be sure to send you an update as soon as we return. Fair winds! Diane and Bob
Here is your boat on Wednesday and again today. She continues to look great! We are headed out for a week so I’ll send you an update on the 24th. Cheers! Diane
Hi Annie, These photos were taken a week apart. She’s looking fabulous. We fly home on Feb 27 and return March 7. I’ll send you another photo on Tuesday before we depart. Cheers, Diane
Subject: “Sunset at the Marina”
March 9th (the day before we flew back!)
Hi Annie, we were delayed a day getting back due to the snow. Got in yesterday to very strong northwest winds complete with whitecaps at the dock. But again you [meaning, Ron] have tied the boat so perfectly it never touched the pier. Had a gorgeous sunset last night and now the winds are finally abating. One of our guests may not make it in today so it’s possible we will still be on the dock when you arrive tomorrow. You must be getting excited to return to the Bahamas! Diane
Finally it was time for Phillip and I to fly back to the Bahamas and reunite with our beloved boat and I got to wrap my arms around this amazing woman (whom I had never met) who gave me such peace of mind and comfort the entire time we were away from our beloved boat. (Who did fabulous on her own by the way! She was charged up, dry, not moldy, thanks to our Kanberra, and ready to crank right up and go! Way to go little boat!)
Thank you Diane! You were a God-send. Phillip and I (and our boat!) will forever sing your praises! One cruiser to another, we can’t thank you enough!
Have any of you ever wondered this? “How do they change their oil when they’re sailing around the world?” I’ll be honest, when we were first boat-shopping, I wasn’t even entirely aware the boat had an engine, much less one that had oil that needed changing, or that we (Phillip and I) would be the folks to do it. I was so clueless in the beginning! When I finally did start to ponder it, I thought we would just pull into one of those 10-minute oil change places, like you do with your car, and have it done. Yeah, ‘cause those exist on the water. It’s amazing Phillip has put up with me all these years. The blonde is real people.
After our beloved boat, primarily under the power of our engine, a Westerbeke 27A whom we lovingly call “Westie,” took us to fourteen stunning Abaco cays, it was time to change out his oil. A few years back, we found this nifty manual oil pump that allows us to do it ourselves right in the saloon. I put together a detailed, informative video for you all here from our “Maintenance in Marsh Harbour” and some photos below showing you how we change the oil on our boat, as well as the primary fuel filter and zinc. I also included one way, in particular, how NOT to do change the oil on a boat. You’re welcome! Watch and learn and we’ll hope an oil spill on board never happens to you. “Better get some towels,” the captain said. *gulp*
Ahoy followers! I hope you love boat maintenance as much as we do! While we’re not the best at it, we certainly strive to keep our beautiful baby ship-shape and in top Bristol fashion. Mainly, we feel very lucky to have purchased our boat from a previous owner who loved her just as much as we do and took exceptional care of her for twenty-eight years. WWJD: What Would Jack Do? is a running joke on our boat. We just try not to mess up what he started. One of the upgrades Jack made to our Niagara 35 was an ingenuous shift of the oil filter from a horizontal position (which forced the dirty oil to spill out of it during an oil change) to a vertical one, where it at least gives us a chance to catch the oil that will spill out when we swap the old with the new by placing a bag underneath. Thanks Jack!
We also found this great plastic oil pump kit (with a pump bin, hoses and fittings) a few years back in St. Pete (from a very interesting marine vendor, fun story for you here) that we stow on board in a big Rubbermaid bin that fits in our hanging locker. I’m not certain of our particular brand, but West Marine seems to have a comparable version of it here. We previously had a dirty old metal one, but the plastic one is much lighter and cleaner. Thank You Backdoor Marine Supply Guy!
We also feel very fortunate to have great engine access on our Niagara. The galley sink and cabinets simply pull back (we prop them on the table with a pillow) and we have instant access to all the major checkpoints on the engine. We can also remove the stairs for more access and I can crawl into the hatch in the aft berth and get behind the engine too, if need be. So, we can accomplish 360-degree access for major projects. Westie isn’t safe from our grimy hands anywhere! Ha!
Jack also installed a tube drain from the oil reservoir in the engine with a hose attachment that has a shut-off valve. The tube (currently capped and sealed off) is laying on the engine floor to the right of the transmission in this photo.
We connect this hose Jack put together for us (you will see the red shut-off valve) to that fitting by the transmission and then place the other end of the hose in the oil pump to literally suck the oil out of the engine and into our plastic oil pump.
Before we change the oil, we always crank the engine and let Westie run for about ten minutes to let the oil warm up and get viscous. Then we shut him down and rig up this pump and hose set-up. Once connected, we give the oil pump 15-or-so pumps to create the vacuum suction, then Phillip or I turn the red valve to the open position and you can literally see the black oil coming up through the hose into the oil pump. We can also hear it (a whooshing sound) and feel the heat of the oil going into the pump. We repeat this pump-and-release process about three times until there is barely any oil that comes through the hose upon release (meaning the oil reservoir in the engine is mostly empty).
In this photo, you can actually see the oil about halfway up the hose, about to come up over the bend and down into the pump near my hands. Phillip is watching that to make sure the oil is draining.
Once Westie is drained, we set to taking off the old filter (which Phillip is doing here with multiple Ziplock bags beneath), and I begin filling the new filter with oil. We put about a quart into the new filter and lube the gasket with it before putting it on the engine. We have also learned to wipe where the old filter was mounted and check to make sure the old gasket did not stick to the engine.
Once the new filter is on, we set to filling Westie back up with fresh, new oil. He loves that! We usually put about 2 – 2.5 quarts into the engine (plus the quart in the filter which equates to about 3- 3.5 quarts total. We have over-filled it before so we try not to do that. Our goal is to shoot a little low (plenty of oil for Westie to run and stay lubed, but definitely under the “full” mark on the dipstick) as we have found the new oil tends to expand a bit when we first run the engine after an oil change.
“While you’re down there,” I can just hear our buddy Mitch saying now. He was the friend who helped us deliver our Niagara when we first bought her back in 2013 from Punta Gorda up to her home port in Pensacola and all 6’3” of him didn’t seem to enjoy the process of climbing up and down our “little toy stairs,” which meant every time I went down to grab something, it would be immediately followed by a request from Mitch that started with “While you’re down there … ” So, while we were down there, with the engine all opened up and in our grease suits, we decided to also check on the sacrificial zinc in our heat exchanger and the primary fuel filter.
The zinc actually looked pretty good. We’ve pulled this guy out before to find just a little grey nub. We also try to occasionally (I’d say once a season) drain the heat exchanger and clean out all the little leftover zinc bits in there. It usually looks like a zinc graveyard, and those guys all tumbling around can restrict water flow. So, a little bit of maintenance in that regard can go a long way.
The fuel filter did not look near as good. All that black grime around the bottom means it’s time to change it out.
Thankfully, that’s a rather easy job on our boat, just pop the lid off of the globe, pull this piece out, dump the old filter, and put a new one on. The only tricky part is making sure the two (2) spaghetti size o-rings on the globe wiggle back into place before you tighten the lid down.
We are also lucky in that our engine is self-priming. When we turn the key, it starts to bleed the air in the system (that we allowed in by opening the globe). We wait about thirty seconds for it to do that (and you can see the globe filling while it does) before engaging the glow plugs then turning him over. He cranked like a champ. Way to go Westie!
Now … about this oil spill. I share here because I hope this never happens to one of you. While we are definitely pleased with our plastic oil pump, it does have one drawback. One we were not in any way aware of when we bought it. Apparently, when dumping the old oil out, if you tip the pump more than 90 degrees, oil will fill the pump chamber and it ruins the pump. Not only will it no longer be able to suck oil in, the awesome side effect of doing this causes the pump to actually shoot oil out of the handle when you engage it. You’ll see at the end of the video above this is what happened to us. Not knowing this “90 degree dump” issue, I had taken the pump to an Auto Zone for proper disposal of the oil and the guy behind the counter dumped it for me. I saw him, and he definitely tipped it completely upside down, I just didn’t know that would cause any kind of a problem. But, the next time we had to change the oil and we set the pump up, oil shot out of the handle on both sides when I pulled the handle up. Fantastic. “Get some towels,” Phillip said.
You can see now why we lay so many sheets and towels down when we change the oil on the boat. If any of you use one of these types of pumps to change your oil on the boat, I hope this tip helps an oil spill aboard from never happening to you!
Best of luck out there grease monkeys! Keep those diesels purring!
Schadenfreude. I know it’s German, but I have no idea how to say it. A good friend of ours taught it to us when he was telling us what great pleasure he took in seeing Phillip and I knee-deep in boat projects instead of wading in crystal green waters, cocktail in hand. “Somehow I like the idea of you two working hard instead of playing in the Bahamas. That must be the German side in me coming out. And, did you know that Germans are the only culture that has a word to express joy in another’s discomfort or pain? Schadenfreude. Says a lot about the culture doesn’t it?” He’s a funny guy, that one. So, for Conrad and all the other brutal Germans out there who would take great schadenfreude in our boat project phase, this one is for you. Misery loves company! Although I wouldn’t say Phillip and I are anything near miserable when we’re doing boat projects. Seriously! We’re usually smiling most of the time. I know. We’re those people. Don’t you just hate those people?
We don’t! We are those people!
Ahoy followers! Following our awesome voyage to the Bahamas this past season, Phillip and I definitely (as we always do) racked up a pretty extensive list of boat projects to tackle when we got home. Some were necessary repairs that we had been watching for a while and knew we finally needed to get serious about (think hauling out and dropping the rudder). Joy. Others are just for cosmetic or comfort reasons—some inspired by our cruising this past season—but we’re eager to get on those just the same.
And, if you’re starting to think we might just have a bit of a falling-apart boat because we sure spend a lot of time every year doing boat projects and maintenance, we’ll I’d have to say you’re just crazy. Plumb cRaZy. Boats require a ton of maintenance and upkeep. Even ones (well, I should say especially ones) in great condition. It took a lot of work, time, and sweat to prepare our boat this past year to take us comfortably to the Bahamas, but it was all totally worth it. Phillip and I feel privileged and lucky to own such a fantastic, old blue-water boat that we’re honored to get to work on her. At least that’s the word we use when we’re stinking, hot, sweaty, and cramped into some ridiculously-uncomfortable places while working on her. “I’m sure honored to be here pretty gal,” I will whisper. But our Niagara has definitely earned all of our spare time and money each time she cranks right up, pops out her sails, and whisks us away to another fabulous distant shore, usually steering the entire time all by herself.
With plans this coming season to likely head back to the Bahamas to truly enjoy the Exumas, which we did not have time to explore this past winter, Phillip and I are eager to dig our teeth into this summer’s list and get it knocked out so we can start the long and arduous process of provisioning and packing for our next adventure. Hooray! Who’s on board? Let’s get this party started already! Here is the actual (always growing) list:
Project No. 1:The Rudder
That’s a pretty important part of the boat, right? Next to hull integrity, a sturdy keel, along with solid rigging and sails, the rudder is one of the only things that, without it, the boat simply cannot go. In fact