Day 4 - Lunch at On Da Beach ...

December 10 - Rented a golf cart and cruised around Elbow Cay while waiting for conditions to calm down further. Had lunch at On Da Beach, which has great fish. Hung out on the beach for a few hours. There is a spot with a great break for surfers and the waves were big so we watched the surfers who came to take advantage.

We learned that the reef off the Bahamas is the third largest in the world. Props to Great Barrier and Belize. But in a few million years, watch out!

Day 3 - Tahiti Beach

December 9 - After listening to Cruiser's Net at 8:15 (68 on your vhf dial), we are another day or two from better conditions. We climbed the lighthouse, Ginny took a cool 360 video, then back to the boat where we headed out of the harbor and south, to howling winds dead on the bow. Perhaps, just as hotels in hot places try to save energy cost by setting their thermostats to read 10 degrees cooler than it really is, the charter companies set the wind gauges to read higher - I don't know - but I do know I was getting 40kts apparent as we headed south for all of about three a miles, before tucking into White Sound Harbour at the southern end of Elbow Cay. Got a nice end tie, but with blowing that hard straight off the dock, it was a challenge. I pivoted Callisto, which despite its size, maneuvers fabulously in tight quarters thanks to the twin engines, to get a stern line on then pivoted back using it as a spring and got the bow on. 

Walked down to beautiful Tahiti Beach - a sandbar that extends on the inside of the southern tip of Elbow Cay - and lounged for awhile, then walked back and had wine, cheese, salami and crackers on the boat.

Walked that evening to Abaco Inn as one last system moved in and through. Met a group of cruisers celebrating a 50th birthday who had the bar rocking, and met some cool people. Rain and wind was crazy in town and it was pitch dark walking the half mile back to the marina. Back on the boat I grilled steaks and veggies on the stern, baked potatoes, and we had a great meal.

Plan is to head south to Little Harbour tomorrow, southernmost point in Sea of Abaco and home of Pete's Pub and gallery.

Day 2 - recipe for a good night's sleep:

December 8 - Recipe for a good night's sleep: fly a redeye and get a total of about two hours sleep in short catnaps, get on a boat the next afternoon, have about five drinks, and then be gently rocked into a shallow coma. 

Weather was unsettled from earlier storms so we did a short jaunt across to Hope Town. Last time here, which was our first time, Ginny thought picking up a mooring ball meant going to the local hardware store. I explained that they are already there and we just have to tie onto one. So the method we improvised was to motor to the ball and then display sufficient incompetence to attract a passing dinghy who would pass our line through the eye on the ball and hand it back. Today we modified our system where Ginny got the line from the ball with the boat hook, I put the engines in neutral and sprinted down to the bow, got the line through and cleated it off. Hope Town harbour is on the crowded side and there's wind and current, so I don't recommend this method to others. We will fine-tune.

Had a late lunch at Harbour's Edge, spent a nice afternoon walking the little streets, a drink on the boat at sunset, dinner at Hope Town Lodge, and firmed up our plans to head south from here in the morning.


Day 1 - Arrival in Marsh Harbour


December 7- I flew into Marsh Harbour from Florida in the late morning. Steve, who was flying in from California straight from his company holiday party, took the redeye and three flights later, arrived in the late afternoon.

 I had my elderly taxi driver stop off at Maxwell's grocery so I could pick up some initial provisions and told him that before being dropped at the boat, I needed to a make another stop for alcohol. He followed me around the store and when I was almost finished, he tapped me on the shoulder. He was standing there with a store employee offering me a choice of a green or a clear bottle of rubbing alcohol. I told him no, I wanted alcohol like vodka or beer and we all laughed. I had asked if there was anything he wanted and when I checked out, he had four pretty large packages of oatmeal cookies at the register ready to go.

 We met Terrace at the marina, and he jumped in to help when he noticed the driver was struggling on the stairs. Got my provisions and luggage to the boat and Steve arrived a few hours later. We had drinks at the Jib Room. Later that evening Steve made spaghetti for dinner on the boat and we got a good night's sleep at the dock. Weather has been rough here so our plan is to head across the Sea of Abaco to Hope Town tomorrow and let things settle down.


Great Trip Out to Farallons and Drakes Bay Shows Why It's Always a Good Idea to Have a Back Up

We had the pleasure of taking a brand new, 2015 Beneteau Oceanis 38 out for a weekend offshore. Beautiful boat, twin rudders and slides so smoothly through the water you wonder if you're even moving. It's part of my club's limited fleet of offshore-equipped boats: meaning that in addition to the gps-chartplotter, it has radar, a life raft, EPIRB, jack lines to tether to, etc. 

We filed our float plan and set out Friday night from Sausalito to anchor at Horseshoe Cove, on the Marin side right by the Golden Gate, to get a very early start out to the Farallons Saturday morning. However we were greeted with the prospect, or perhaps foreshadowing, of sailing into a bank of thick fog that had flowed in through the gate. We chose to divert and anchored by Cone Rock, just off the Tiburon peninsula, where we proceeded to have a turkey meatloaf and way too much wine for three people. We had fussed repeatedly with the instruments, and never got a good nav view, but chalked it up to unfamiliar equipment. 

We were off and under the gate by 7 am, and enjoyed just fabulous sunny weather all the way out to the Farallons. As we approached, the wind kicked up, and under full sail we reached the islands. We wanted to come into Fisherman's Bay and see where the "rat pack" of smaller male great whites liked to hang out, before heading around the island to the territory of the sisterhood, where up-to-20-foot females roamed (these so named by the researchers who had been stationed on the desolate island studying great whites each year). 

Still unable to get actual chart data on the GPS, I reverted to my iPhone, onto which I had bought and downloaded the Navionics charts. This showed us depths and nav features absent from our boat's GPS. 

After sailing around the islands, we headed on a 28 mile close haul into a northerly wind to Drakes Bay, a secluded and beautiful anchorage about 30 miles north of San Francisco. We arrived at dusk, and just south of Chimney Rock, around which is the safe entrance into the Bay, we saw countless pelicans gorged on fish and lolling on the water like husbands on Thanksgiving watching football after too much turkey. Then we saw the whales, spouting and breaching, and managed a few photos. 

We came into Drakes after dark as fog rolled in over Pt Reyes, and spent a quiet night. The next morning it was thick fog, and it was clear at this point that our navigation was missing. Turns out the chip on this new boat hadn't been installed, so all we got was a barebones outline of land, with no no depth contours, no buoys, no nothing having to do with navigating a boat. Heading south some 20 miles to pick up Bonita Channel, we needed to find buoys, and we did so with a combination of backups. First and foremost, my iPhone with Navionics worked like a charm. We used paper charts to plot a course to steer at each way point and kept a regular log of location in case we had to pick it up totally old school. We had crew on the bow, and picked up the channel buoys by the sounds of whistles and bells, and used radar to dodge fishing boats all the way in. No big deal, but it was nice to have a backup. 

When we reached the Golden Gate bridge, we didn't actually see it until we looked up, and there it was. We were already under it. Had we been headed for one of the towers we would have seen it in time, but we were between and so didn't have a visual until we looked up. Then shortly after we were out of the fog and caught some nice pics of sailboats by the bridge.

All in all a great weekend, and a nice reminder that back up is always a good thing.

There Are Plenty of Good Sailing Instructors. But What Makes Someone Great?

The sailing school and charter company in which I am a member teaches the ASA/US Sailing curriculum in one of the most challenging locations there is. The San Francisco bay area sees high winds, strong currents and lots of ship traffic, and coastal/offshore students can face big and sometimes very rough seas, fog, shoals with breaking waves miles offshore, a minefield of crab traps, and even more ship traffic. It's a great program and they have a really good group of instructors. They are having an event next month and asked if I wanted to nominate an instructor for recognition, and this was what came to mind.

Here’s what I would say to every instructor: Instructors need to realize they are not just teachers but leaders. How they carry themselves as leaders is very much connected to how effective they are as teachers. People don’t enthusiastically follow (and learn from) someone they don’t respect, and good leaders know that gaining respect comes both from competence and from giving respect. That means being calm, strong, fair, secure, and honest along with being highly knowledgeable and competent.

There are some very good instructors in the program, but I’d highlight Arnstein as most strongly exemplifying all of those qualities. His leadership is not imposed on you but it comes naturally from within. He comfortably accepts being questioned and considers other ideas with thoughtful responses rather than dismissals or reprimands. He is stern if he needs to be, but never otherwise. He genuinely enjoys sharing his very deep knowledge – he is generous. And he can be extremely funny.

I’ll always smile at the memory of his walking through an emergency medical procedure that would only apply if thousands of miles from land and too many hours from rescue to have any other option. The procedure would only be contemplated if a major head injury led to such great intracranial pressure that the person “blew a pupil,” which meant death was certain in a few hours or less. The last resort was to drill a hole in their skull to relieve pressure. It happened that another student on our boat worked for a medical devices company that did deep brain stimulation, and they casually discussed the best size bit to use for drilling through skulls. I believe Arnstein liked a 14mm while the student used a 16 mm when she drilled cadaver skulls at work. (Arnstein did caveat that the discussion was not a part of the official school curriculum.)

Dinghy Boy and Anchor Girl

Catamarans are said to handle like an army tank in that you can throttle forward on one engine and back on the other and pivot the boat on its own axis. We're talking extreme maneuverability, and while I've never actually driven a tank, I can say that despite its girth, a cat, with its two engines, is very easy to handle in tight quarters. With one engine, it's a different story. 

We departed Treasure Cay this past April early one morning to head east out through Whale Cay passage into the Atlantic, north around Whale Cay, and back into the Sea of Abaco through Loggerhead, another cut between the outermost barrier islands, on our way up to Green Turtle Cay and Manjack -- beautiful islands not always reached by casual charter cruisers out of Marsh Harbour. One reason some don't venture this far is that the passages out and back can be dangerous at times, because the Atlantic goes from very deep to very shallow very quickly, and weather systems far offshore can push water into the cuts to where there can actually be breaking waves on a sunny, otherwise mild day. So you approach them with respect, but reports were that conditions were very good that morning, and off we went. 


Aboard were myself and my wife Ginny, along with our son Stevie and our niece Marisa - both of whom were still asleep. About forty five minutes out, as we reached a waypoint on the GPS, an alarm beeped. I cleared the waypoint from the GPS thinking that was the source of the beeping, but it didn't stop. I was stumped and continued to fuss with the GPS, and having no success changed tactics and shut down the port engine. Still the beeps. I started it again then shut down the starboard engine, and no more alarm. I restarted the starboard and got the alarm again. I shaded the gauges against the bright sun and leaned in close and yes, there was the idiot light signalling high temperature. The impeller, which sucks seawater in to cool the engine, had gotten clogged and burned out. No starboard engine, so I turned the boat around and we headed back to the little harbor at Treasure Cay to seek repairs.

I had nicknamed my niece Anchor Girl because she was my go-to for anchoring, and Stevie was Dinghy Boy because though having no prior experience was game to drive the dinghy to help tie a mooring line to a mooring ball or to shuttle us in for a trip to the beach or for dinner. Now I needed them both, and Ginny roused them. We would be motoring through a small maze of anchored vessels back to a mooring ball. As nimble as cats are with two engines, with one they like to go in lazy circles. Cats also have a lot of windage, meaning that trying to head into or just off the wind means you get blown down easily. We had only a port engine and about 10 knots of wind, and the mooring ball was directly into the wind. 

Dinghy Boy and Anchor Girl dropped the dinghy, climbed in, unclipped the lines and started drifting astern as Stevie tried to pull-start the engine. People on the other boats settled in with their coffee to watch the morning entertainment. They weren't disappointed. "Daaaaaaaad" Steve yelled a moment later, "the rope won't pull!" I'm threading through boats toward the ball and don't have a lot of time before I reach it. "Take it out of gear" I yell back, which is met with the reply "what does that mean? I don't speak boat." 

He gets the outboard into neutral, and the rope pulls, but still it won't start. I reach the ball and have to turn and weave back through the boats on one wheel to make another pass. He gets the engine to start, they race up to the bow, get the line from Ginny, and together we make another approach on the ball. This time as we get close, the bow crosses the wind so that both port engine and wind are pushing hard to starboard, and even with the wheel all the way left we blow down and have to come around another time. 

The third time was a charm. I approached with the ball farther to starboard, crossed the wind as we got close so the bow was blowing down toward the ball, and Dinghy Boy and Anchor Girl zipped to the ball, pulled the line through, zipped back to the bow of Callisto and got the line up to Ginny who cleated it off. Routine. 

We spent a lazy, extra day at the beach, got the boat fixed that afternoon, and the following day made our way all the up to a beautiful, deserted beach in a sheltered cove at the north end of Manjack. We snorkeled, hiked around to a windswept beach on the exposed Atlantic side, and lazed around the cove. We then headed back a bit south to Green Turtle, where Anchor Girl helped us lay the hook and dinghy boy drove us to the docks at the tiny town where we had drinks, dinner and watched the sun set. 

The last requirement...

Had a fun weekend sailing. We were assigned to tag along (no instructor) and sail the same itinerary as one of the instructor-led class boats, which is the last requirement for my coastal/offshore certification, and the instructor was somewhat over zealous at times. I had as my crew a 20-year navy vet in his late 40s and his wife, who among other things sailed a 33 foot boat across the Atlantic, and the other couple included a navy munitions diver with a 100-ton coast guard captain's license and his wife, a navigator for the navy who can chart blindfolded in her sleep. At one point the instructor came aboard to review her charts, which were perfect, but he couldn't help himself and gave her a few helpful tips. He looked away for a moment and she rolled her eyes at me and formed an open fist and jerked her wrist up and down a few times.I love this woman.

The highlight for me was when the instructor declared a towing emergency as a drill. We're out in a rolling ocean, and you can really mess up the boats trying to get too close. As the rescuing boat, we are supposed to be in command of the situation, and my guys are pretty commanding people, but the instructor in his eagerness soon took over his boat from his students (it's an exercise, dude, calm down). We rig a towing bridle on our stern cleats and inform them we'll pass them a line, and he takes over from his student skipper and tells us no, he has rigged a towing bridle on his bow and will pass us a line. Etc. So we have all kinds of friction going on, and they are ignoring our reasonable and appropriate instructions and giving counter instructions, but we work it out and get them attached and start towing. At that point, with things settled down, we come up with the idea to radio them that we are now looking for the day shapes to signify we are restricted in ability to maneuver. Just a little icing on the cake. So my guy Brad (the munitions diver) tells them, and the instructor responds by radioing something like okay great (smart guys), now I want you to go ahead and fly them. So we're looking, and we're not going to start cutting up the settee upholstery, so I tell Brad just radio them and tell them the shapes for restricted ability to maneuver and we'll call it a day. So Brad hails them, they acknowledge, and Brad says with cocky exuberance, and I quote, "Your big fat ugly ass is restricting our ability to awesome. Ball diamond ball. Out." I was shaking my head laughing and asked him if he's trying to get me failed.

Great crew, and it was cool just being on the same boat, never mind being their skipper. 


Why we named her Callisto

Callisto is a nymph in Greek mythology. The very short version is that after breaking a vow of virginity (Zeus seduced her), she was cast into the heavens as the constellation Ursa Major…the great bear.

Obviously important to sailors throughout the ages, in our case it happens that our grown daughters have taken to calling Steve “bear” and Ginny is short for Virginia. 

Callisto brings together the virgin and the bear and so that’s the name that came to us.