Friday, April 14, 2017

"Man is Born to Trouble"

Carl engulfed with exhaust at back end of ferry
Yet man” (and woman) “is born to trouble, as the sparks fly upward.” Job 5:7

Okay, that IS a bit overly dramatic, but the other title for this post would have been “The Winter of Our Discontent” or possibly, “The Winter that Sucked Heartily.”
How small Northern Star looks in the slip next to  the 108' luxury yacht

Oh, I know—it could have all been SO much worse, as we have been reminded so many times.  When the lightning hit, it could have put a hole in the hull of our boat and we might have lost everything to the deep.  Or, we could have been injured.  It COULD have happened in a more remote location such that we could’t have reached anyone to help us.  And it could have rained down fireballs from heaven too, but NONE of those things happened, so really, we were lucky, at least by those measures.  Sympathy is not to be expected when one is “stuck” in a pleasant climate while nearly everyone we know in the Midwest is wearing parkas. 
Northern Star's "home" at Harbor View Marina for 59 days

From February 2nd to April 3rd Northern Star sat in a slip at HarborView Marina in Marsh Harbor; we were hooked up to shore power because the boat wasn’t able to convert engine power or solar power into useable energy to run our refrigeration, lights and more importantly, our 8 agm batteries would have been destroyed. So, I made bags while Carl dealt with all the details of boat repairs.  
Bag making kept me busy

He ordered the parts from all over the U.S. to be shipped to Abaco Freight in West Palm Beach, and then once there, had them flown by Cherokee Air to Marsh Harbor, in the Abacos, Bahamas.  Our boat Insurance, IMIS paid for a large portion of the $20,000 in repairs and the $3,000 slip fees. We would have not been in a marina, but rather, at anchor, were it not for the lightning damage.  We swallowed our hefty insurance deductible and tried not to chastise ourselves for our decision to choose a high deductible.

Northern Star under sail
Repairs were completed on April 1st (no foolin’) and we left the dock for the first time in 59 days.   Our water maker still doesn’t work, however, and there is water seeping into the bilge, ostensibly from that. and part of our charging system has a temporary fix. But, over all, the boat is in working order. 

View from Lighthouse
We whooped when we backed out of the slip for the first time again.  It was so exciting!  (In truth, it was me that did the whooping.)  Our third set of boat guests were with us at that time, and were the only ones of our six winter guests that did get to sail with us a bit in the Bahamas this winter. 

Ferries connect the islands to one another
 During our previous boat guests’ visits, our mobility was dependent upon our feet and a ferry that left Marsh Harbor from a harbor 1.5 miles away.  
Man o' War Cay, known for its' boat building

The ferries took us to the islands of Man o’ War, and Elbow Cay a couple of times while our friends were visiting.  

We managed to snorkel with each couple at least once although not where we had wanted to take them.  We saw one of the couples off with a professional dive instructor so they could see a truly spectacular  reef.  
Green Emerald Hummingbird

And, our last guests arranged for a day of bird-watching with a guide, which I was fortunate enough to experience too.  Carl was not so lucky.  Instead of bird-watching with us he was, take a wild guess………fixing an electrical glitch on the boat once again with the electrician.

Hub of the electronics on Northern Star
Our first day away from the dock we sailed to a place called Tahiti Beach on the south end of Elbow Cay.  That was where we discovered that our electric windlass did not work. (We had not checked to make sure the windlass worked after the lightning event. We hadn’t anchored after that). 
Our 65# Mantus anchor with 200' chain

The windlass dropped our 65# Mantus anchor and 10’ of chain and then stopped. We sent our guests ashore in the dinghy to beautiful Tahiti Beach while Carl and I spent the entire afternoon moving stuff from anchor locker to bed, to cabin and back to anchor locker after Carl figured out how to fix the problems.  I looked longingly at the distant beach from our anchorage.  Another beautiful day, taken up with boat repairs. Sigh.  
Tahiti Beach in foreground.  Our boat on horizon

As of yesterday morning, we are back in a marina slip again.  This time it’s because of me.  The hamstring and hip-area pain that I have been experiencing since ~April 1st has progressively worsened.  I went to the doctor in Marsh Harbor on Monday from our boat at anchor.  I have found that most seated positions are excruciatingly painful, and sitting in the dinghy happens to be at the top of that list. 
Normally, getting in and out of a dinghy is not a problem

Some cruising friends are also at anchor nearby and they helped Carl move the boat.  Being in a marina means that I can get off the boat without the agony of a dinghy ride. So here I sit on a chaise lounge under a breadfruit tree at Mangoes Marina with a pain medicine and a muscle relaxant to help me rest. 
Racing Curly-tails

The noteworthy events of my day thus far have been the two breadfruits that fell from the tree narrowly missing my leg and then my head, and the two curly-tailed lizards that just ran across the boardwalk in front of me. 
Breadfruit Trees in the Bahamas.

We are glad that we took out insurance for just this sort of medical situation.  DAN or (Divers Alert Network) is an evacuation policy that originally was designed for divers injured while out of the country.  It has expanded and is available to cruisers traveling outside the U.S.  It’s a relatively inexpensive policy and will fly an injured or ill person to the nearest major medical facility if the situation warrants and there is no comparable medical service locally.  We have been in contact with DAN by phone and email.  They have authorized transport to West Palm Beach, FL or to Nassau, Bahamas for a CT or MRI, neither of which are available here in Marsh Harbor.  

A green breadfruit
The level of pain has diminished a little since Monday’s doctor visit, however, and so I have chosen to NOT be flown out for further tests in the U.S., at least not yet.  That option still remains if the pain worsens again.  Meanwhile, I am on the lookout for falling breadfruit and racing curly-tails.  

Saturday, February 25, 2017

When You've Got a Lot of Lemons

Beach on Treasure Cay, north end of Great Abaco Island

Paradise!  Nope, that is not where we are, but it’s not far away.

Northern Star sustained a lightning EMP (electro-magnetic pulse) one month ago, January 23. It occurred just two days after arriving in Green Turtle Cay (pro. key) in the Abacos of the Bahamas.  Ironically, the day before, we had congratulated ourselves on getting a mooring in White Sound on Green Turtle Cay precisely so that we could be safely tucked away ahead of the big storm that was coming.  We were tucked away alright, although “safely” would prove to be the elusive adverb.  
Island of Green Turtle Cay, after the storm

A few days after the EMP, during which we discovered more and more electronics that did not work, we motored to Marsh Harbor on the island of Great Abaco to begin the recovery stage. The marine electrician that had been recommended to us met us upon our arrival.  He was efficient and very bright.  He and Carl spent the next two days crawling around every part of the boat, tracking down every piece of electronics that no longer worked.  It was becoming a very long list but by Friday afternoon, the evaluation phase was over.  He spoke to our insurance rep by phone with Carl at hand, and the plan was that he would send us the list of parts to be ordered on Monday morning.
Emptied our lazarette to make room to work
And…… that’s where things fell apart.  Our wonderful electrician vanished.  Monday came and went.  Tuesday…Wednesday.  We called.  We texted.  No responses.  He had just up and abandoned us.  No parts had been ordered.  That long list of things needed was left incomplete.  We had given him some cash as partial payment toward his work.  The receipt for that was supposed to be emailed to us along with the long parts list. Neither was received. 
Friends picked us up for a day visit to Little Harbor, southern Great Abaco

So here we sat.  Two full weeks.  Every day wondering, is this the day he’ll call or come back and we’ll get things moving again?  Vacillating, should we try to find someone else?  Options are few here in the Abacos, the northern part of the Bahamas.
Marsh Harbor, on Great Abaco Island

Frankly, we’ve been going through a very low period.  A bad patch, as it were.  What to do with ourselves while we’re waiting and wondering if we are going to spend the entire winter in Marsh Harbor.  
"Mangoes", a well known restaurant in Marsh Harbor.

My brother wisely counseled me to “make lemonade.”  Lemonade? Marsh Harbor is not the place one goes for the beautiful beaches and pristine waters of the Abacos.  Visitors come here to stock up on groceries, fix their boats and enjoy the restaurants. 
Island of Lubber's Quarters

Because of its very large natural harbor protected from all but the northwest winds, it is a place sailors go to wait out storms.  
Island of Elbow Cay

From here, they sail to less protected islands— islands, however, that vie for the title of “paradise.” Marsh Harbor is not in the running for the title.

Island of Guana Cay

 Marsh Harbor is the third largest city in the Bahamas at ~8,000 people, more than a thousand of which take the ferries to Guana Cay every morning to work.  These are the Bahamians who provide the work force for an enormous private gated community there called Baker’s Bay.  People who do not carry their own luggage own second (or third or fourth?) homes in Baker’s Bay. 

Northern Star is dwarfed by this luxury yacht at Harbor View Marina
We happen to be privy to the little parade of well-heeled folks going to Baker’s Bay via their private jets or commercial airlines because they are brought from the airport to the very marina where we are docked, Harbor View Marina.  From here, the rich (and sometimes famous) are transported in a very large, shiny speed boat which happens to dock next to Northern Star. I surreptitiously peer at the boats’ occupants to see if I recognize any movie stars.
Designed these to be shower bags

What could I do but try to sell them some of my bags?  

When I moved aboard Northern Star, I came equipped not only with my powerful SailRite machine, but also with sail materials, rope for handles, grommets, zippers, buckles, Sunbrella fabrics….you get the picture.  
My giant beach bag holds my fabric rolls

I’ve made a few bags over the past year and a half.  I made bags for our children and two of their significant others for Christmas.  I agonized over those—they had to be bags they’d really want to use.  
Small beach bag for a child with wealthy parents

But making those also gave me some practice at designing and choosing the kinds of things that are most fun to make. 

First attempt at a label

Last year, I toyed around trying to come up with a design label to sew on my bags, pillows and other projects.  I have no intention of starting a business, mind you, but I figure that nice bags always have a tag or label of some kind on them.  
getting closer to the final product

Without giving it any serious consideration, the phrase “a li’l fishy” popped into my head and since it wouldn’t leave again, that’s what the labels would have to read. It’s a phrase that lets people know I’m not taking myself too seriously.  I tried designing some labels to make by hand but they turned out too big and bulky. 
It wasn't the fish design I wanted but it works

I finally gave up and ordered some from one of those online companies. 

With that bag making history behind me, I furiously launched into bag making, even before I realized that we’d been abandoned by our electrician.  
A large, lined, canvas handbag.  Carl knotted the zipper pull.

We knew we’d be here for at least a month anyhow. I had a little rash of bag sales right at the outset.  That was due to having been “bumped” off the boat when it was all torn apart for the electrician’s explorations.  
Pool and covered patio where I set up my sewing machine

During those two days, I set up my sewing operation under a covered patio which happened to be located right by the entrance to the marina—an ideal location to attract attention. 
Pleased new owner of sailcloth bag

The first bags I made were sold before I finished them!  After I moved my operation back onto the boat, however, sales slowed down to a snail’s pace.  

Then I happened upon a strategy to display the bags to passers-by.  
Bags of all kinds and sizes.

Every morning, I hang them across the bow of the boat and from the foresails so that people can see them up a bit closer.  It’s not an ideal “kiosk” but I can’t exactly set up shop here in the Bahamas, either.  
Waterproof roll-top duffle with strap

Everybody in the marina seemed to hear immediately about the first bags that I sold.  I was a bit worried that I could get into trouble since I don’t have a work permit so I’ve told anyone who is interested that bag making is my art/hobby/therapeutic past time to help me get through the thumb twiddling weeks after the lightning. It is not a business.

Design idea for child's bag
Boat update: we did find another electrician and he did come back after the evaluation was redone.  Carl has been ordering parts all week.  When they arrive from the U.S., we will begin Stage 2 of the Recovery Phase; another one to two weeks from now, at least.  
Jax has to go below when people want to look at bags.

On average, I can make one bag per day if I am working at it. There are fifteen bags hanging on the bow so far.  
Bags are made from old sails, canvas, Sunbrella and Pfifertex.  Designs by " a li'l fishy'." That's me.
Eventually I’ll run out of materials to make bags. I hope we are out of Marsh Harbor before that happens or there will be no more lemonade.
Sunset from the stern of our boat in Marsh Harbor

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Stupid, Stupid Lightning

We crossed the Gulf Stream at night and then spent a long day crossing the Little Bahama Bank.  The next day, we called ahead to the little island of Green Turtle Cay on the Sea of Abaco to secure a mooring.  We were fortunate to get one.  With so many boats crossing the Stream at the same time, there were certain to be a number of them headed to the same place we were.  The marinas could be expected to be full, as well as the mooring field and anchoring room in the two sounds, Black and White Sound.  Both harbors provide excellent protection in nearly a 360 degree circle.

The reason we wanted the mooring was that a major weather system was anticipated to move in within two days of our arrival in the Abacos.  This was predicted to be one of those rather rare systems that would plow across the southern U.S. and barrel on to the Bahamas bringing high winds and heavy rain the entire way over the course of two days’ time; the possibility of straight-line winds up to 70 mph, torrential rains, and rainspouts forming over the ocean was a nasty prospect. 

  We were ready however.  We tied everything down.  We brought the cushions, pillows and anything else that we thought could possibly get blown off the boat, down into the cabin.  Took down the flags to prevent them from being shredded.  Pulled the dinghy up on davits to keep it closely connected to the boat rather than have it sailing around on its painter behind the boat while the sailboat was being pushed from side to side.   Added a third back-up attachment to the mooring by adding one of our own lines in addition to the two pendant lines.  And, we put our moveable electronics inside the oven.
A good place to protect small electronics, the oven

Yes, the oven.  An oven provides the same sort of protection from lightning as a person has while sitting inside an automobile.  The protection is, of course, from being contained within a closed circle of metal (a Faraday Cage), not because the car has rubber tires, as has been suggested by some.  So, we put our phones, Kindles, iPad and MacBook inside the oven.

We awoke at 5:00 AM to the sound of a howling wind and our boat heeled as if under sail.  The wind was clocked at 60 mph in Black Sound near us.  On the mooring, our boat swung back and forth, sometimes heeling, but she was safely attached.  We weren’t going anywhere. It was an impressive wind!  We stayed up for an hour and watched the lightning and a couple of unfortunate boats around us drag at anchor in the dark.  Those poor folks were out there on deck trying to reposition their boats in the wind and rain.  Dreadful conditions to work in and we were feeling so fortunate to be safe on a mooring.

We went back to sleep finally around 6:00 AM.  Too early to get up for good. CRACK CRASH FLASH and then my exact words, I believe were, “Oh SHIT!”  It was 7:00 AM and we were definitely up for the day after a lightning strike so close to us. 

We noticed immediately that some of the control panel lights for the electrical components were black.  But first things first.  Carl went out in the storm to help one of the boats dragging on anchor, and then we began the hunt to track down what did and did not work on Northern Star.  
Some of the solar panels don't work.

The new anchor light was toast. Part of the VHF radio still worked. A faint smell of something burnt lingered near the control panel.  Thankfully, the bilge was dry—we were not sinking.  One of the bilge pumps, however, was done for.  Part of our solar panel array was not working and other electrical components we use to charge our batteries were dead. The gauges and senders that monitor our fuel and water tanks were useless. Nonetheless,we thought that we’d been fairly lucky.  It could have been a LOT worse.  Apparently we took what’s called an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) which is essentially a close but not direct lightning hit that tends to wreak havoc with systems that operate using circuit boards.
The chart plotter works.

We met some folks for Sundowners at 4:00 that afternoon and everyone was talking about the lightning strike.  As is my habit, I took a few pictures with my new camera.  When we returned to the boat, we discovered a few more things that weren’t working.  Sigh. Then I plugged in my new camera to download photos and when I did, there was an immediate burnt odor.  Even my hands smelled burnt. My new camera was fried!  I whimpered.  

Our biggest problem though, was that the boat was not charging. And of course, the water maker still did not work. Later, another cruiser nearby, who works in marine electronics in the off-season kindly came by and spent time helping my husband ferret out what exactly was wrong, system by system.  There was a LOT wrong.  Some of the major functions still did work however:  the engine ran, chart plotter and autopilot worked and our refrigerator and freezer were functioning.  
Fridge measures 46.0 F, Freezer measures 7. 0 F

Optimistic, I dug out my old camera—-the one that I used last year in the Bahamas.  The old camera still worked fine. I had replaced it because it received hard use all year, including underwater photography. It was showing signs of general wear and tear.  Since I am loathe to be without a camera for even a day, I figured I should replace it in advance of going to the Bahamas.  The old camera needed charging however, so I plugged it in.  Promptly smoke and an acrid smell came from the connection. TWO cameras!  Dead!  I admit there were tears.
 Inside of the control panel

But we had all these other decisions to sort out—should we stay in the Bahamas and limp along as best we could?  Borrow a charger from a guy so our batteries can make power while we’re motoring? Plug in at marinas as much as possible and buy water since we can’t make it?  Stay close to populated areas? Or do we head back to Florida to put the boat in a shop to replace all the things that have been zapped? That would probably take another month or more to do that—and then come back to the Bahamas?  We have friends who have already bought tickets to meet us in the islands of the Exumas, a couple hundred miles south of here.  Stupid, stupid lightning!  
The charging system

After stewing for a few hours we had no option but to move the boat into the adjacent marina where we could get shore power to keep the batteries charged. A few more hours (er, days) of stewing led to the decision to move the boat to a marina in a somewhat larger town, Marsh Harbor, where we found an experienced marine electrician. He will be able to have replacement parts flown to us from the U.S.  
At Bluff House Marina

With that connection established, we’ve been waiting for the right weather and sea state so that we can negotiate a difficult ocean cut called “the Whale.”  Because the Sea of Abaco is quite shallow in places, one cannot sail from Green Turtle to Marsh Harbor without going back out onto the ocean through the Whale.  
Northern Star

We are now on Day #8 post-lightning (EMP) and counting. Tomorrow begins Stage 2 of the recovery—the boat moves to Marsh Harbor.  Wondering how many days (weeks) there will be in Stage 2.