Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A Bit of a Summary

Enough about travelling for now. I realize that some blog readers may be looking for information to help prepare them for their own cruising adventures. It is time to discuss some of the practicalities of cruising. These include what things have worked well, and what things have been a disappointment. First, some context. We have been cruising since May 4th, 2009 when we left our ‘home’ at Liberty Landing Marina in Jersey City and headed into the East River and Long Island Sound. As of April 15th, 2010 we had travelled 5799.6 NM. To accomplish this we have sailed for 795 hours and motored for 293 hours, including going into and out of harbours. By our definition, if the engine is on, even if the sails are up, i.e. motorsailing, it is motoring. I have been very happy with the ratio of sailing to motoring since many cruisers end up motoring significantly more than they sail. This ratio of hours is largely because of three factors: we did not come down the ICW and instead went offshore to the US Virgins, Ainia sails really well in a wide variety of conditions, and we really look to sail first at every opportunity.

Equipment Review
June figures that everything on the boat should work, after all it is all pricey and supposedly engineered and built well. In theory, I agree entirely with this view, but the reality of boats is not so positive. Having said that, our experience has been overwhelmingly good. We have had quite a few minor problems but no major ones. We have been able to fix most things with only a few things that will need more attention (and possibly professional intervention) when we get back to the US. Anyway, on to comments on specfic gear. If anyone has questions about any of this stuff, add a comment at this site and I will reply on the blog so that everyone can get the info. Apologies for the grading system(s) – you can take the teacher out of the classroom, but not the classroom out of the teacher.

The Really Good Stuff – in modern teacher talk, ‘exceeds expectations’
· The MVP award has to go to Morley, the Monitor windvane steering system. Morley has steered for something like 4000 miles, including every point of sail, every sail combination and done brilliantly. There is a bit of learning curve at first to get everything set right, but now it has become pretty much second nature. It is hard to imagine life without Morley – the hours at the wheel that have been saved. GRADE – A+

· We have been very pleased with our Digital Yacht AIS system. We bought this at the Annapolis Boat Show at a remarkably good price (less than half of the next cheapest one we could find). For those not familiar with AIS, it allows you to ‘see’, on your chart plotter or radar, other AIS-equipped vessels within a range of 30 or so miles. A triangle appears on the display and when you click on it you get a variety of information about the vessel, including its name, course, speed, size, and its closest point of approach to you and when that will occur. We bought a transmit unit (some are receive only) and our vessel information appears on other vessel’s displays. On night crosssings I have seen freighters alter their course a bit to give us room several miles before they got close. The unit was inexpensive and works exactly as advertised. GRADE – A+

· Our Kyocera solar panels and Solar Boost 2512i charge controller have virtually eliminated any concerns about keeping our battery banks charged. In fact, when we were at anchor in Grenada for more than 3 weeks we never had to run the genset or engine to do battery charging. I installed the panels (one is 125w and one is 85w – I think) on our rail (they swing up and down but they are up 99% of the time) so they are exposed to as few clouds as possible. After installing them and the controller I felt like I should be doing something – but no, there is no user input at all. The system just works away happily generating loads of free energy. GRADE – A+

The Good Stuff – meets expectations
· We bought two North sails from their loft in New Jersey. One is a #2 genoa (135%) that has proven to be a real work horse and has been up more than 95% of the time, including during some strong winds with large reefs taken. It still looks to be in excellent shape and will go in to a loft for a check only. The assymetric spinnaker has not been used that often but has proven to be very handy at times. It was the smaller of the two sizes they offered, around 1300 square feet and is the right size for our needs. We have had it up in winds to 20 knots true and it was manageable without problems. GRADE – A

· Ainia came with an ancient Hood genoa furler that had seen better days – in any winds furling was a task. We replaced it with a Schaeffer 3100 system that has worked very well indeed and has made furling and reefing much, much easier. GRADE – A
More grades in a later posting …

What It Has All Cost
When we started this lifestyle we really did not have a clear idea of how much it would cost. Beth Leonard has a variety of cost ranges in her Cruiser’s Handbook and we heard her on this topic at a seminar at the Annapolis Boat Show, but it was not clear to us where we fell on her continuum between deluxe and ultra simple. Our boat is much larger and complex than her simplest case and we eat out, just not often or at fancy places so we would certainly be on the low side. So … we decided to keep close track of all of our spending and then do monthly summaries by category of spending. These reflect several factors. We have tried our best to live modestly while not missing what the islands have to offer. This has meant avoiding marinas and not eating out very often (or at very expensive places), both of which can balloon spending. Also, Ainia was well-equipped and fully-provisioned to start. The cost of these factors is not included below. At the very least the overall cost would include reprovisioning and some consideration for equipment depreciation. As well, boat insurance is not included which would add almost $400 a month to the totals.

Total Monthly Costs ($US)
· Nov - $1140
· Dec - $1045
· Jan - $1004
· Feb - $1446
· Mar - $3825*
· Apr - $879
*The March figure includes the purchase of a new windlass (the old one was working but this was a major upgrade) and new computer. Without these the spending was about $1200.

Spending by Category
We created a number of categories of spending to help us analyze where our money goes. First figure is total expenditures for six months, followed by monthly range.
· Boat Capital Expenditures (defined as boat improvements only) - $2635 - $0 to $2197 (windlass)
· Boat Maintenance (defined as keeping what we have in good repair and replacing existing equipment) - $924 - $39 to $390
· Fuel (diesel and gasoline for dinghy) - $575 - $0 to $304
· Water (we also use the watermaker and collect rainwater) - $28 - $0 to $14
· Groceries (including beverages) - $1875 - $187 to $459
· Internet access (includes buying drinks at bars that offer Wifi) - $100 - $4 to $48
· Eating out/touristy expenses - $1162 - $31 to $391
· Land transportation (we take local buses rather than taxis) - $145 - $10 to $40
· Government fees (customs, immigration, permits(Bahamas $300!)) - $575 - $24 to $300
· ‘Boat boys’ (not the problem we had been told) - $18 - $0 to $17
· Marinas and moorings - $239 - $20 to $80
· Laundry - $53 - $0 to $25
· Personal items - $711 - $0 to $430
· Miscellaneous – $36 - $0 to $22

Total spending for six months was $9338 (+insurance

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Getting cooler - water is only 25C

We are now in Georgetown, Bahamas with the next country to be the USA where we will be leaving the boat for the summer (hurricane) season. We are noticing that it is cooler here, particularly in evenings.The last blog came from Puerto Rico which we very much enjoyed. For some reason not many people cruise PR other than to get to the next place east or west. We quite liked it and it was very nice to find a place that was not at all crowded with boats. We even went to a Sam’s Club store with our one-day guest membership to provision since shopping there was *much* cheaper than in the Bahamas where there are now income taxes and high duties on almost all imports – and almost all food is imported.

From Boqueron, PR we decided to make a long push all the way to southern Bahamas (about 430 nautical miles). This turned out to be just slightly more than three full days (75 hours in all) with two fast days of reaching in good winds (171 and 150 miles) and one day of tacking downwind to get around the Turks and Caicos Islands (the latter are much larger than I expected). This was a good trip since it was our longest passage with just the two of us on board and we had a good sail with no motoring at all. It seems to both of us that the worst passage length is two nights since it takes that long for one’s body to get used to the motion so that sleep comes more easily. A trip of more than two days at least means that you can sleep well after two nights.

We entered the Bahamas at Mayaguana which is about as far away from most people’s image of the island chain as could be imagined. It is a large island (something like 20 by 5 miles) with a population of a few hundred. We anchored off the largest town, Abraham’s Bay which has a population about 70, but two large churches. People are incredibly friendly and helpful. We could not find the town store (why should it have sign, everyone in town knows it is the store) and someone walked us to it from some distance away – we had passed it on the way. As we walked he told us about the churches, their pastors and who the next pastors would be when the incumbents retire in the next few years. Cars and trucks had Mayaguana plates with numbers like 56 and T34. There was free internet there, you sat on the cistern outside the Adminstrator’s Office (see picture) and you could use Wifi, as long as you had a good antenna to get a decent signal. There were only two other boats in the large harbour – but no sign of life on one. The dinghy from this boat was ashore with one inflatable tube deflated. The big boat was also looking a bit worn – we wondered if it could have been abandoned.

One reason we came to Mayaguana was there were predictions of pretty nasty weather for a few days with squalls of 35 knots. The harbour is well-protected by its reefs but also very shallow with few places more than 10 feet deep. We had to anchor more than half a mile away from shore – in fact the dock can only be reached at mid-tide and higher, even in the dinghy. This photo shows a squall coming in over the harbour but we did not get the high winds that were predicted.

Speaking of abandoned, there are three C47/DC3s at the airport that were forced down there during drug flights to the US from points south. The airport is interesting as well. There was a US missile tracking station on the island at one point and they brought in almost everything by plane. To do this, they built an 11,000 foot runway – longer than those at major commercial airports I think. They only use less than half of this for the three flights a week to the island from Nassau.

After Mayaguana, with nasty weather forecasts prominent in our thinking, we continued our tour of the less-populated ‘Far Bahamas’ as they are called by doing an overnight to Long Island where we spent three nights in two locations. This is still a pretty laid back island but a lot more lively than Mayaguana. We spent two nights at a lee anchorage at the south end of the island. The beach here was gorgeous with lovely sand and very shallow waters. Again we could not anchor close to shore and even had anchor the dinghy offshore since it was so shallow.

Clarence Town is famous for having two churches built by the somewhat legendary Father Jerome. This Englishman was an architect who became an Anglican priest. He came to the Bahamas in 1908 to fix a rebuild seven Anglican churches on Long Island that had been devastated by a hurricane. Later he went to Australia and became a wagon train driver, horse breeder, monk and missionary … not to ignore the fact that he converted to Catholicism and becoming a different kind of priest. He returned to the Bahamas and built even more churches on Long and Cat Islands and in Nassau. His highly distinctive churches are quite lovely but also very robustly built to survive any future hurricanes. The photo shows his Anglican church (1908) in the foreground with his Catholic church (1930s) in the distance. The latter was fancier than this one and could easily have been in Spain with its white walls and pastel blue trim.

After Long Island we came to George Town on Great Exuma Island and the atmosphere totally changed. This is the kind of Bahamas that we generally think of with lots of people, resorts, and other tourist facilities. George Town holds a unique place for the cruising fraternity. Hundreds of boats come here each year, overwhelmingly from the US and Canada, and stay for the winter time for the biggest event of the year, the Family Island Regatta which involves races in traditional Bahamiam-style work boats – although these are race boats for sure.

I am a library fan and the one here is terrific. It is in a little blue building and crammed with books. You can join for $3 and this lets you both borrow books and exchange books. The books you bring in are not directly exchanged however. They look them over and decide which ones they would like to add to their collection. Duplicates, and books that they cannot fit on the shelves get added to the exchange collection. The librarian was an added bonus. She knew what they had in the collection – no catalogue for these folks and was immensely funny too.