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The Bahamas

Into the Bahamas, slowly

Lindsay McRory
April 18, 1996

Cat Cay customs house
The Gulf Stream gave us a little more of a fight than expected. The ride was not that bad, but the winds were coming straight from the east at 14 knots. The swell they created when combined with the Gulf Stream slowed our speed over the ground to two knots for the first four hours.

This changed our arrival time from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. Dusk. Any Bahamas cruising guide says over and over, never enter an anchorage at night. And here we were, our first night in the Bahamas, breaking a golden rule.

We could either stay out for the night and enter at first light, or we could sniff our way around Gun Cay to an anchorage. There was only one sand shoal of any concern, and the wind was still on our nose, which would aid a quick retreat. And it looked much easier to enter at night than many of the small harbors we've visited in the Pacific Northwest. So we gave it a go and had no problems finding our way around. As it turned out, boats were coming through all night long.

The next morning we motored a little less than half a mile to Cat Cay to clear customs. We tied off to the customs dock and filled out our 11 forms as instructed, paid $30 for our cruising permit and fishing license, and we were done.

The wind had really picked up from the north to 20 to 25 knots. None of the anchorages in the area were safe from this much wind from the north, so we stayed at the Cat Cay Marina. The rates are a little high, dockage is $1.50 per foot, water is metered at $.25 per gallon, and electricity is metered at $4.50 per kilowatt .

We are currently "stuck" here with four other sailboats waiting to cross Great Bahama Bank to Chubb Cay. Chubb Cay is a jumping-off area for quite a few areas in the Bahamas. Like a bunch of old farmers, we complain about the weather and what a bad year it's been. It looks like we won't have another weather window until Sunday or Monday.

The weather pattern since January has been to get two or three days of sailing in, then wait five to eight days to cross any long distances. Unless we can start making some major miles soon, we will not have time to get to Granada for the start of hurricane season. We will keep playing it safe, and see where we are in mid-May before making any decisions.

More refrigeration problems. The engine compressor died last week, and after crossing the Gulf Stream the air conditioning unit stopped working. Spending money on refrigeration techs and mechanics is one thing I regret most. Three separate refrigeration people have fixed the engine-mounted compressor and declared it sound as the rock of Gibraltar. It's never lasted a week.

In Titusville, a fridge tech came to inspect the air conditioning unit because of ongoing problems it had engaging. "Just a little low on freon," he says. "The clicking sound is normal." Three weeks later it clicked itself to death.

Now after spending $1,100 on fridge repairs in six months, both units are down. So I called a well-advertised refrigeration place in Nassau thinking they must do a lot of this. I asked what their hourly rate was and Mr. Bones (his real name) said, "We don't do things like that, mon." I asked how do you do things, and Mr. Bones said, "Well, you know, I go out and fix it. Then I tell you how much."

The cruncher came when I asked him what he had for equipment. Mr. Bones said that if we had a set of refrigeration gauges, he knew how to use them. That was the last straw. I was reluctant to get into fridge repair because you cannot purchase R12 freon in the United States without being a certified technician. In the Bahamas, anyone can buy all they want and it's cheap. After spending a couple of hours studying the manuals I traced the problem to an intermittently fired thermostat that was creating an under-voltage condition at the compressor (that was the clicking sound).

Problem bypassed and my beer is cold again. More good news: the fridge now draws two fewer amps than before. A friend in Canada is sending gauges, a leak detector, and some parts. In Nassau we will pick up some freon and I hope never to call a fridge tech again.

I can't convey how disappointed I am with the marine repair industry. In eight years of owning a boat prior to Hakuna Matata, we never had a problem with repair companies, whether it be engines or electronics or rigging. The problem is that we are transients. We blow into town and call the local fix-it shop that placed a card on the marina bulletin board. The attitude seems to be to get us patched and get us out of there. Odds of us seeing them again are slim. We're not going back to Titusville, St. Augustine, or Ottawa. There must be better people to do business with. If so, I would sure like their names and numbers. But the message for the distance cruiser is to be seriously self-reliant.

But a look across the water brings everything around. From what we've seen, the Bahamas is beautiful cruising. Crystal-clear water, uninhabited islands with miles of beaches. Kita and Wesley are really enjoying the beach and swim time. If only I could get my head out of all this repair work ...

Copyright © 1996 Starwave Corporation.