Monday, November 29, 2010

Dis 'n' Dat

First of all, one of the reasons that Dave did the post on the Legend trip is because this is how I spent most of the trip… …That’s your laugh for today! It took me almost two days to stop feeling the affects of the one precautionary Dramamine pill that I took.

We finally signed up for our Out Island Internet connection for the next 4 months, so we will be able to post more regularly on the blog. Up until now, we have been catching a few free wifi signals, or trying to stretch out 10-minute trials in different harbors, just to get our emails.

TODAY, all systems are working on New Horizon. That is subject to change at any time, since of course it is a boat. Our exciting discovery has been that our refrigerator healed itself over the summer. We had a new one all picked out and ready to purchase, but just for the heck of it, I turned the old one on, kept checking the temps and it is working fine. We think that what happened is that when the generator shut down with the fridge on, it didn’t reset itself. According to the owner’s manual, you need to wait 5 minutes after a power interruption, to restart it. It is strange that it hasn’t happened other times during the many years we have owned it. It’s nice we have the small fridge as back up though.

Other problems have been cropping up also, but that is to be expected on a 1984 boat that has been sitting all summer in the sun and salt air. Having a full time mechanic living onboard makes a big difference and is becoming a necessity. So far Dave has been able to overcome all the obstacles.

Once we were floating again, we anchored in White Sound at Green Turtle Cay for several days. Actually, Dave found an abandoned mooring block that we hooked up lines to, so we were prepared in case of storms. None materialized, and in fact the winds were fairly calm and we have BOTH been swimming almost every day (living in our swimsuits has been awesome! Saves water too, since laundry has been minimal). However, due to huge offshore waves, we had to wait for better conditions to get through the Whale Cay Passage. Many long time residents have said they have never seen the waves breaking on the reefs and shore as high as they were. Our next post after this one, written by Dave, will tell you about a sobering scenario that happened to a cruising sailboat.

After making it safely to ‘the other side’, we anchored for a few days in Fisher’s Bay, Great Guana Cay. Northeast winds were predicted, but during the first night the wind veered to the Northwest leaving us totally exposed to the whole Sea of Abaco. After two hours of ‘bronco bucking’, and just as we were contemplating moving to Guana’s Settlement Harbor (something I cringed at, being nighttime), the wind thankfully moved to the north and then northeast. After that we enjoyed the rest of our time there working on the boat, exploring, swimming, and snorkeling.

From Guana we moved on to the hub of Abaco, Marsh Harbour. We did quite a bit of provisioning at the new huge grocery store ‘Maxwell’s’, which is comparable to the size of stores in the States! Although prices are higher on most items, some aren’t too outrageous. We were quite impressed with the cleanliness of the store, the well-stocked shelves, and the professionalism of the employees.

Now we are back on our mooring in bustling Hope Town, just in time for volunteering at the Box Cart Derby (I’ll write a separate post on that). It has been great seeing our friends again and getting back into the swing of things. Everyone was glad to see us too, and the camaraderie here is amazing. We had barely secured the boat to our mooring, when two different couples invited us for cocktails. And so the winter season begins…

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

How It's Done

Want to cruise to the Bahamas on a real freight boat? It’s not that hard, and anyone can do it. It’s reasonable at $150 per person, one way. A pallet of freight would cost you an extra $50. You will need to declare your freight and there will be a stamp tax and/or duty on it at arrival. I believe you could go to any destination that the boat calls at. That would be Green Turtle Cay, then Marsh Harbor in the Abacos, then Spanish Wells, Eleuthera, and on to Nassau on New Providence. The challenge of it all is that I don’t think you can return to the U.S. on the boat because of port security issues. You would have to return via air travel. One way fares are common practice here, so this is not as big of an obstacle as it might seem. You need a current passport. You also need to prove a place to stay AND your return ticket. The Bahamas wants to be sure that you eventually go home. CASH only for the LEGEND fare. When you are ready, you contact Hubert Bethel at Palm Beach Steamship, since he is the agent. He’ll need your date of birth and passport number and date of sailing. He will need to know about a week in advance. Remember, you need to be flexible. These voyages are subject to the weather, mechanical logistics, and unforeseen circumstances. Nothing here is guaranteed but the adventure itself. I can provide his e-mail contact, or you could just google it. Hertz has an agency in Lake Park that is only a few miles from the port and they were happy to drop us off there. The entrance is off 811, Alternate A1A, on Martin Luther King Boulevard. You don’t use the cruise ship entrance. It is not easy to get into the port itself. You need time. We were fingerprinted, and photographed. You have to be escorted at all times. No pictures may be taken. They are very serious about security. This voyage is most advantageous for passengers with excess baggage or pets. I believe if more people knew how to do it, more would take advantage of it. Tell Mr. Bethel that Dave and Carol on NEW HORIZON sent you.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

We interrupt this program...

…for an important message. We have completed the Whale Cay Passage! This is always a major step for us, as it can be very rough. Today, however, it was almost flat calm with just a few mild ocean swells. Normally, during the past couple of years, we have found it easier and quicker to transit the inside route across the sandbanks, called Don’t Rock Passage, but the tide was too low to go this way. We opted for the ocean pass around Whale Cay and I can honestly say that it was gorgeous!. Now we are anchored in the beautiful white sand of Fisher’s Bay, Great Guana Cay, with several large starfish scattered on the bottom. We are expecting a cold front this evening and the winds will go back to being Northeast at 20-25 knots. Until then, we will enjoy the peace and quiet.

Now it’s back to Dave and the last chapter of our freight boat trip.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

All About the M/V Legend

There is an awful lot of information to remember and even more numbers and facts. I will try to keep them all straight and give you a good report about this amazing ship and its job.

The LEGEND and her near sister, LEGACY were built in Alabama by Rodriguez Boatbuilders in 2006 and 2002 respectively. Rodriguez is known as a no-nonsense shipbuilder with an eye toward practicality and thrift. These are steel ships, just under 500 gross tons. They are called ro-ro’s, for roll on and roll off cargo through the bow door that folds down onto the freight pier when docked. LEGEND is 180 ft. long, 38 ft. wide and draws about 6 feet of water at a half load. They are specifically sized to get into the inter-island ports that they service. She can carry 13 40ft. containers and has a half-hold beneath the forward decks for dry cargo. There are 3 Caterpillar 3412 V-12 diesel engines and 2 60kw generators in the machinery room, which I was into within the first hour of being onboard. Mr. Andrews was the relief engineer for this trip and he showed me just how everything works, and some amazing numbers. Every week, the ship uses between 3,000 and 3,500 gallons of diesel fuel. The oils are changed at 500 hour intervals, which he said was about once every 2 months of running time. These big CATS displace 27 litres each. Each litre is 60 cubic inches for you car people. That is 1620 cubic inches, EACH. They are in a real mild state of tune and I estimate them to rate a little less than 1,000 h.p. each. They run along at 1,200 r.p.m.s going about 11 knots.

There are 2 semi-permanent 20ft. reefer units on deck for perishables, plus they will carry consignment reefers also. I was amazed to see a whole bin of aluminum 30lb. propane tanks. These are fuel for all of the forklifts that move the pallet freight about. There is even a dedicated forklift in the hold to stack up the pallets there also. All of the deck cargo is subject to the weather, and everything gets a thorough drenching. There are cars and trucks and machinery aboard. All of the containers are cross chained down and adjusted during the voyage. The ship does rock and I don’t know how all of this stuff stays put. I even found ONE SMALL BIN for the mail, apparently most of the mail goes by air now.

We were welcomed up in the bridge anytime.
Captain Miller and First Mate McKinney answered any questions I could dream up and let me sit in the captain’s chair. No one actually steered the boat. It was always on a GPS interfaced autopilot, and there was no conventional wheel anyway, since it was steered by joystick. There was a bowthruster, but with the triple screws and the flat bottom, LEGEND was easy to pivot around and get into the freight piers with ease. Upon sighting our final destination of Green Turtle Cay, I asked to go up on the bow-bridge, which is a catwalk/observatory across the main deck, about 30 feet up. What a vantage point! I was out of everybody’s way and could see EVERYTHING. I watched them prepare to dock and watched the docking and unloading procedure.

The crew was multi-national and very tolerant and helpful. Although this was a working voyage on a working ship, everyone was polite and made sure we were as comfortable as we could be.

The LEGEND has a passenger area designed to accommodate 12 people, with its own head. There is no dedicated place to sleep, so you just have to bed down in the vinyl recliners and drone to sleep.
It seemed like the air conditioning was stuck on wide open, so it was freezing besides. I guess if there were a lot of passengers, this might be a good thing.

All the machinery is pretty noisy. I would catnap for a while and then go down on the main deck to walk amongst the cargo and watch the dark ocean go by. It was like a ghost ship at night, just a faint red glow from the bridge and no sign of anyone. The deck cargo was subject to a lot of spray and the decks were always wet. There was bulk lumber and building materials too.

The mate said that business was in a severe downturn due to the U.S economy and the ship was losing a lot of money on this voyage. The owners pay out of pocket when times are bad just to keep the schedule. Judging by the fuel they use and the crew they have, these expenses are a constant drain. I don’t know how they do it. Freight prices are extremely competitive and consignments are scarce. The Dean family that owns these ships has been in the business for generations and they always seem to make it work out. Ernest Dean, the founder, passed on this summer, well into his nineties. He was proud of the fact that he ‘never lost a man’. Lets hope these boats continue to haul the Bahamas into the 21st. century. It certainly is quite an evolution to see these 2 modern, application specific, ships in real life action situations. It was an experience I won’t soon forget. These ships never sleep. I wonder where they are right now…………..

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Dave's Turn

I am excited to be your guest blogger during this 3 part series of our adventure on the mail boat LEGEND. Carol really enjoys writing these blogs, and has given me the opportunity to share this particular experience from my perspective. I am going to make these 3 different reports because I find this subject incredibly interesting, and this trip has been seldom experienced or reported.

In the first blog, I will explain the geography of the Bahamas, the population disbursement, and the importance of the mail boats in Bahamian culture. The second blog in this series will be for the gearheads, and explain the workings and mechanics of the LEGEND, and some of her sisters. I will also try to explain the evolution of these freight boats. The final blog of this series will tell of our experience and how to do it, if you are so inclined for this type of adventure travel.

The Bahamas are an island chain spread out over 700 miles, mostly oriented north to south. They gained independence from Great Britain in 1973, and are an emerging 3rd world country, hampered by a small population spread out over considerable distance. The current population is just over 350,000 people, with over 300,000 settled on New Providence Island, where the capital of Nassau hosts a majority of the cruise ships that call on the Bahamas as a destination. The uninitiated will think that Nassau IS the Bahamas, but the true island character is spread out through the ‘family islands’. There are small settlements spread throughout the entire island chain and freight boats are essential for their sustenance.
At Potter’s Cay in Nassau, there is a Hub of this mail boat activity for all commerce within the Bahamas. Then there are the U.S ports of Miami, Ft. Lauderdale, and Palm Beach, where goods are exported to the bigger ports in the Bahamas.
Where we winter, in Abaco, it is approximately 200 miles due east of Palm Beach. The LEGEND makes a weekly run from the Port of Palm Beach to Green Turtle Cay and Marsh Harbour, both in Abaco, then on to Spanish Wells in Eleuthera, and ending up in Nassau, then retracing her steps back.
This happens every week weather permitting. Dean’s Shipping has a sistership to the LEGEND, called the LEGACY, which does a weekly run within the Bahamas starting and ending in Nassau. These boats, and there are many others, are the lifeline of the islands, and EVERY form of goods imaginable travels by them. There are at least 5 shipping companies offering service from U.S. ports and countless freight boats within the island chain, servicing from Nassau. Some are rogues doing runs off the beaten track, and others are fleets of shoal draft vessels and fuel tankers servicing every settlement and district. Weather is a huge concern, and service is often rescheduled around the storms. So the mail boats reach when they reach. But eventually they always get there. Service is very competitive and consignments are unpredictable. With our down turned U.S economy, the freight boats are struggling to survive. Somehow, they do get by and goods get delivered. This is where the term ISLAND TIME comes from. As you might imagine, the boats themselves vary hugely, in various states of disrepair, and of various ages and configurations. Freight does come in by air also, but this is hugely expensive and the loads are only a fraction of the capacity of the mail boats.

Our trip was on the LEGEND; the run was Palm Beach to Green Turtle Cay. The departure date was supposed to be November 8th, and storms pushed it back 2 days. The run took 15 hours and had to cross the Gulf Stream and the Little Bahama Bank. We made it just fine and are anxious to share our adventures and pictures in the next installment.

Friday, November 12, 2010

We have Arrived!

We are floating again! It’s been a very interesting past few days. I will write more about our trip on the freight boat when I can post pictures, but for now I can only write a bit of text with the wifi that I am using.

Once we arrived and climbed on board New Horizon, we were very pleasantly surprised to find that the inside of the boat was mildew free and as clean as when we left it back in April. Even the floors are still slippery from the overspray of the wax I used for the teak walls. The decks were in much better shape than previous years, keeping leakage down to a minimum. We also left the bilge drain plug out this summer, so there was no standing water in the bilge and this helped immensely. Perhaps it even enabled a bit of airflow.

Once we were launched, our two Yanmar engines started right up, but the electric generator fuel pump refused to work. Luckily Dave found a new one in our vast spare parts inventory, that we thank previous owner Mike for keeping it in stock. It shouldn’t just be called a spare part, because it is more like a marriage saver! As always the generator took a long time to start its new season, but finally it rumbled to life so we can now live off the grid. Actually, without having our refrigerator running yet, our power output has been so small the past two days that our solar panel, that kept the batteries charged up during the summer months, is keeping up with the electrical draw.

Now we are securely anchored in White Sound, Green Turtle Cay, while the fresh wind airs out the boat. Tomorrow we will attempt to start the watermaker and do lots of outside cleaning, plus try to stock up on some groceries (the stores are not stocked up as much as usual due to it still being the slow season). Soon, New Horizon will be back up to par and ready for the winter months here in Abaco.

Much more information will follow, especially about our latest adventure to get here, when we get a better wifi signal.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Hurry Up and Wait

Surprise! Remember how I said in my last post that the waves wouldn't affect the freight boat? Apparently that isn't totally true, since we drove down to the Port of Palm Beach to find out that the Legend was still in the Bahamas due to high seas. What a let down, since we were so ready to go.

Back to Daytona we drove, but at least we were cruisin' I-95 in comfort. Our free upgraded rental vehicle ended up being a brand new Yukon XLT.
It is gigantic and Dave was so happy that he didn't have to cram all our huge bags, plus his water skis, into a compact car. It has every option imaginable, including a rear video camera, sun roof, satellite radio, leather seats, dvd player, etc. Now we know why the Daytona Hertz office wanted us to take it as a one way rental to Palm Beach, since it is much more suited for the clientele down there. Luckily it was still available for the two days we need it to come back up to Daytona and then back to the port again. We were told to call at 10 AM on Wednesday to see if the Legend made it back and was ready to 'set sail' again.

Dave just called the boatyard in Green Turtle Cay to tell them the situation, because New Horizon was supposed to be launched tomorrow. As soon as Mary heard who it was, she told him that she already knew and we had been rescheduled for Friday. That means that they must have noticed that the Legend was still in Green Turtle awaiting better crossing weather, so we never would have made it by Wednesday. Gee, everyone knew but us. Oh, well, once again we just have to laugh and adapt our plans.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Forging Ahead

Luckily Tomas is heading more to the east so we won't have to deal with huge swells on our freight boat trip on Monday. The cold front has passed here in Daytona also, and now the predicted wave heights are 'down' to 7-9ft. Dave called the shipping company and they said that the seas won't affect the 180ft. M/V Legend. Famous last words? Hopefully not last words, but only time will tell.

The Legend is a flat bottom landing craft type freighter that has a bow door that allows the freight and containers to be be driven on and off for loading ease. It is commomly called a 'Ro-Ro', short for Roll-on, Roll-off. Besides the pictures above, I am having a hard time rounding up any other good photos of the Legend, so I will have to take my own in a few days.

This will be my last post until we get back to New Horizon and find a good wifi signal. I'll have lots of details to report once we get through Bahamian Customs and get our boat launched and floating again.

Bahamas here we come!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Weather Woes

I am getting nervous about our scheduled freighter trip to the Bahamas on Monday evening. It is supposed to depart from the Port of Palm Beach around 5-7 P.M., and arrive in Green Turtle Cay, where our boat is stored, 15 hours later. However, between the strong cold front that is due this weekend (it is only going to be in the 60’s here in Daytona), and possibly the offshore waves from Tomos, the seas are predicted to be 10-12 feet with a 3-5 foot additional swell. Even though the Legend is 180ft. long, this still sounds like it will be a very long rough trip, especially in the Gulf Stream. Hopefully the predicted conditions will improve as the time to leave gets closer. If doesn’t, we will just have to take lots of Dramamine and sleep the whole way. That should be interesting, since we have heard that as passengers on board the freight boat, our only accommodations are chairs in the crew’s lounge. If that is the case then I hope they have seat belts!

Stay tuned for what may be the continuing saga of the Pahls trying to get to the New Horizon. Actually this new experience may end up being a new horizon… or perhaps no horizon at all (aka the bottom of the ocean)!