We still have problems, but they are changing in both scope and kind. They are fewer and less debilitating (at least so far), and they relate to logistical complexity rather than survival. What is more to the point, they are occurring while we are in paradise, rather than hell.
We have made it to paradise. We are where we intended to get, and it is sweet. Here's just a taste.
We left Nassau on 28 November headed for our first stop in the Exuma Cays, Allan's Cay. ("Cay" is pronounced "key".) The Exumas are a line of small cays along the extreme eastern edge of the Great Bahama Bank, starting about 30 nautical miles ESE of Nassau and stretching SSE a distance of about 120 nautical miles to the far end of Great Exuma Island, which anchors the "cay-chain" at the southern end. Hawksbill Cay is our fourth stop along the way, having stopped at Allan's, Highborne, and Norman's Cays first, overnighting at Highborne and Norman's and spending two lay days each at Allan's and Hawksbill, which latter is also our first stop inside the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park, a Bahamas National Park. Our next stop, tomorrow, will be at Warderick Wells, where the Park headquarters lies.
This area is literally almost indescribably beautiful. Lane talked about it at length in his book because, lacking digital pictures back then, description was all he had. You can read about it there (see Chapter 17). There's no point in repeating it here except to say it has not paled even slightly in the intervening decade. We've got pictures now, and we're going to use them, hoping that even a tenth of the transcendental grandeur of this place gets through. We offer them with the observation that a tenth or so is about all you should expect, for the same reason that a picture of a swimming pool does not provide the experience of swimming. We're here for the other nine tenths, which requires immersion. We plan to steep in this place.
We're planning to revisit most of the islands we visited ten years ago when our daughters were 7 and 5, plus new areas. We're here in large part to give our girls an opportunity to experience as adults what we saw here a decade ago when they were too small to have it register. We are doing this with a double purpose: first, to put them in a position to have it register now (and to have it stay with them forever), and second, to afford them the opportunity to tie it back to their lives as young children, to anchor that thread. To this end, Tania is at this moment up forward in her berth reading a hardcopy of Lane's book to bring to consciousness (for the first time) what happened back then.
As we have explained to our children on numerous occasions, this is how parenting really works: we parents can't make our children turn out one way or another. What we can do is plant in their heads things we think they might find useful later on, and let these things grow and suffuse their lives as they themselves grow -- not so they are forced to be any particular way, but so the experiences are available to them in later life for whatever use they wish to make of them. Children are free to accept or reject the "lessons" those experiences may bear, but they must first have them. That is the contribution parents make: building blocks that may or may not get used in any particular time or circumstance, but which are nonetheless indelible. We print things in our children -- early when they can't avoid the imprint -- and we don't ask their permission.
Roxanne and Tania know this, and have known since they could understand the concept. When they first heard it they thought it was "unfair" of us -- of parents, that is -- but have since come to see that there's no other way it could be. Imprinting is inevitable for every one of us, it happens before we have the option of rejecting it, it must happen if we're to be someone, and the only question is where it comes from. Better if at least some of it comes from people who love us, whatever faults they may have. It could be worse, and for some unlucky people, is.
With that as background, you can understand that a lot of what we are doing here is tying place after place and experience after experience back to 1994 when we were here before, and you'll see that in the photos below. As Tania reads, for example, in many cases she is discovering that all she has left of that earlier trip is occasional, fleeting, disjointed snippets of memory that the book, a few bits of surviving memorabilia, and these islands themselves can retrigger, so that they now register in a what is now for Tania a cohesive mental world.
One such bit is a ten year old Polaroid picture of the two of them riding the main boom of Daybreak as we sailed across the Great Bahama Bank from Nassau to Allan's Cay in March 1994. Tania has it affixed to the cabin bulkhead above her berth, where both she and Roxanne can see it. When they learned in Morgan's Bluff that we were not planning to stop in Nassau, they were disappointed we would not be able to exactly reproduce that situation on this trip. In fact, had Wind Song's centerboard pennant not broken, we'd have been motoring into a stiff headwind all the way to Allan's Cay the next day. Tania said she was actually glad something happened to force us into Nassau, because it meant she and Roxanne would get a second chance at re-experiencing that March day in 1994, possibly again under sail in mild conditions.
And boy, did she get her wish: same exact route waypoint for waypoint, same conditions, same wind direction, same tack, same point of sail, same heel angle (very little), nearly the same the same boat speed (Wind Song is generally faster than Daybreak was), and even the same brand of sail (Hood) against which to lean. Take a look.
March 21, 1994
November 28, 2004
The "problems" we mention above stem from the fact that Wind Song was neither intended nor built for "real cruising". She was intended for weekending and an occasional week's vacation on the Chesapeake Bay, and she has limitations. We knew this when we bought her and figured her advantages would outweigh her disadvantages. This may (probably will) turn out to be true in the end, but right now we are facing her shortcomings with a certain immediacy. Chief among these are 1) she does not do well in any real sea, so we must choose our traveling weather carefully, and 2) her capacity to carry supplies, including diesel fuel for the main motor and gasoline for the dinghy motor but especially water and propane, is very limited. This is problematic because water and propane are in very short supply in the areas of the Bahamas we most want to visit (the remote islands), and because we do not want to hurry. But with only a 7-day water supply in the main tank plus 3 days in jerry jugs (at our rate of use of 6 gallons/day), and only about three to four weeks of propane (which is in even shorter supply than water in these islands), we are having to entirely restructure our cruising plan around propane and water availability, including possibly not being able to go at all into some areas we really want to see. We're trying to work this out now.
By way of comparison, at the reduced rates of usage we experienced ten years ago when two of us were much smaller and in a larger boat, our water capacity was 95 days and our propane lasted a good four months. We knew Wind Song had less actual capacity (0.4x for propane and 0.27x for water compared to Daybreak), but had not anticipated the 160% higher rate of usage we're seeing. We were expecting around 50%.
This means we absolutely must find water every ten days or sooner without fail -- and that's if our three 6-gallon plastic water jugs don't develop worse problems than they already have. (You're wondering, "How can a plastic water jug develop problems?" On a boat, anything can.) And there are no replacements around here. Without them, our limit is seven days. And as it turns out, our existing itinerary has us being away from water as long as 21 days. Guess that will have to change.
The propane story is similar. It lasts longer but refills are less available than for water. We're not sure why. In the only other 3rd world area we've cruised in before, Central America, propane was everywhere, and dirt cheap.
OK, so if that's the worst news we've got, we'll do fine. Two weeks ago we were about an inch away from throwing in the towel over a broken cable, for heaven's sake. We survived that, and now Lane has finally found the voltage regulator adjustment and has got the batteries charging to a level that at least remotely approaches full capacity (we're around 75%, but that's still double what we had before!), which means we can now actually run lights, both laptop computers, and the stereo through an evening and still have enough for the anchor light. Bliss!
24° 28.04' N, 76° 46.10'
Warderick Wells Cay, Bahamas
Tuesday, December 7th, 2004
And then we arrive in this remote outpost and discover they now offer water and *gasp* wifi! Our emotions swing so wildly over what you undoubtedly think are pretty small things. Let's review: a cable breaks, and like the straw that broke the camel's back, we're ready to quit and go home. We manage to fix that for what amounts virtually to pocket change, we find the voltage regulator adjustment, and we unexpectedly come across water and wifi in the Exumas, and we're in heaven.
In case we haven't mentioned it lately, let's recall that the height of our emotional highs is always directly proportional to the depth of our emotional lows, and the realities of cruising tend to upset the even keel we carefully engineer into our land-based existences. Out here, one must be willing to be surprised -- constantly and frequently, good and bad. It's a muscle we're trying to re-develop now, after it atrophied during the decade just past.
OK, time for some pictures.
Allan's Cay anchorage from Daybreak,
Lane dinghying in Allan's Cay anchorage,
Here's what winter weather looks like around
here. Left, the morning after we arrived in Allan's. Right, evening of the
same day. We experienced a rough night. (By the way, that other vessel is
also named Wind Song.)
Below left, the office at Highborne Cay Marina.
Below right, Tania on the beach at Highborne, Wind Song behind.
Below left, we walked across Highborne Cay
to the beach on the east side. Those waves are breaking on limestone rocks
and coral, with very deep water just beyond. Below right, the sugar-white
coral sand of the Exuma Cays.
Toward evening, nurse sharks congregate off
the end of the main pier at Highborne Cay, in the shallow water below the
fish cleaning station, awaiting the possibility of a meal of blood and guts
that did not materialize on this particular day.
Sunset at Highborne Cay, off the marina beach
(below left) and off Wind Song (below right)
After Highborne we moved down to Norman's Cay, where the girls took most of the pictures (they say they're going to write that up), we sailed to Hawksbill Cay in balmy five to ten knot breezes over a flat, azure sea. This is one of the quintessential Exuma Cays and our first stop in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park.
These images deserve to be large.
Hawksbill Cay, 1994
Hawksbill Cay, 2004. Same dinghy, same motor.
Wind Song in paradise. If this doesn't
make your heart sing, check your wrist for a pulse.
Hawksbill Cay, 1994. Our girls, someone else's
Hawksbill Cay, 2004. Our girls, our boat.
We were the only people there.
Roxanne in Wonderland. Try to remind yourself
you are looking at ocean.
At Hawksbill Cay there's a break in the shoreline
leading to a mangrove lagoon that begins with a clear pool over fine white
sand. There isn't much water in it at low tide -- or at high tide for that
matter! (The tidal range is two feet.)
If one side of you gets too warm, you just
We reanchored Wind Song for the night
in the sandy shallows among some small cays off the south end of Hawksbill
The sunset cast a perfect glow over the end of a perfect day that was followed by a night of perfect stillness.
The next morning, Wind Song is alone
Leaving the girls aboard in the afternoon,
Lynn and Lane take the dinghy into the tidal channels among the cays.
Wind Song rests on a glittering expanse of azure . . .
. . . as we marvel at an endless playground
seemingly flung down upon the Earth for our delight alone.