Summer 2021 - How We Made a Weeklong Trip Take Half the Summer
March 08, 2022
For a week, I've been laughing at the size of John Lennon's butt crack.
I mean, that's a ridiculously long biological feature.
And speaking of ridiculously long features, let me tell you about how long it took us to get to the Bahamas last Summer.
We planned to leave almost as soon as school was out. We got a lot of gear stored the weekend before, and then we did a final load of gear and provisions the day before we were set to leave. I was to get up at first light and head out.
The weather was a long way from ideal. It was blowing 25 knots, straight from the direction we would be trying to travel. In fact, it had pushed so much water from the Gulf up into Lake Pontchartrain that we had to wade out to the boat in water that fluctated between shin-deep and waist-deep while walking on the deck out to the boat.
On our departure date, I started the motor, got the lines off of the dock, and started to back off. As soon as the dock was out of reach, the motor died. I tried a few times to restart it, and then I screamed for help.
That monster wind was blowing us backwards, straight down the canal, and we were getting faster and faster. A crash into someone else's dock was imminent. Mrs. theskinnyonbenny called for the anchor (which was brilliant), and we got it down in time to stop our inevitable wreck.
I still couldn't get the motor to restart, so we hit #1 on boat speed-dial, Sea Tow. They sent a guy who was helpful, but he didn't think that with the wind gusts, he could move us around safely. We sent him on his way.
I spent some time troubleshooting and found that the deisel didn't smell like deisel. We had a ton of water in there. I won't get too technical, but there's a fuel/water separator in there. I spent an hour or so pumping fuel in there, skimming the water, and repeating until we were seeing actual deisel in there. After that, the motor started right up.
Afteer that, we decided to wait for a little bit better weather to shove off again. Two days later, we took off without incident.
On our first day out, the wind was better, but still pretty string, and still right on our bow. Once we got to Mississippi, we stayed inside the barrier islands, but we were still crashing into waves steadily under motor all day. The wind and waves settled down as it started to get dark, and that's when we noticed another problem.
Our AIS (a dandy little piece of electronics that draws the position of other boats while we're out underway) had been giving us problems. Other boats were seeing us on their screens, but our screen didn't show any of them. I turned on the radar so that they would show up as purple blobs, at least, and it wasn't working either. We also had one light out. That's a whole lot of the things we have on board to make sure we don't bump into big giant ships in the middle of the night.
A nighttime passage across the Mobile Bay shipping channel is stressful enough under normal circumstances. From a distance, it's hard to tell a rig from a ship. At about 2:00 AM, I was thinking, "They shouldn't be allowed to put a red light on a rig like that. People will think it's the port side of a ship," and just then, the "rig" radioed me to to ask me to pass to his stern as he entered the Bay from the Gulf. Oops.
One night of that was enough, so we put in to Pensacola for repairs. I found a super-competent guy who was able to get a new AIS and a new radar shipped overnight, and got them installed. But as he worked, other electronic components started dying. He diagnosed a lightning strike, and told us that stuff would be failing one by one all Summer long. It was a dark time.
Memorial Day weekend was on us, so we went to a nice little anchorage near the mouth of Pensacola Bay. We had anchored there a time or two before, and usually shared it with a few other boats, some fishemen, and a dolphin or two. On Memorial Day weekend, it was boat tied to boat tied to boat from one shore to the other. Take a meth lab, the shittest modern country music artist, a beach resort, and roll it into one, then multiply that by a thousand. That's what was there.
We went up the sound towards Orange Beach, maybe a mile or so, and we had nice spots to kayak, swim, and dinghy for the weekend. A couple of dolphiins popped up near our dinghy, and Rosie decided, "fuck it, I'm chasing them" and dove into the water swimming for her water-bound playmates. We found a pretty good taco truck one night. It was a decent weekend.
After that, the electronics guys were tearing apart our boat to replace things for a week. The cat and I stayed on board, while the rest of the family took a rental car and headed home. Liveaboard life by oneself on a boat where all of the panels are pulled off isn't fun. I had a bike and a dinghy to use for food runs, but not much close. I pretty well wiped out our summer's supply of hot dogs. It was a week of hot dogs, watching baseball on an ipad, and getting a lot of work done.
We finally got out of Pensacola June 11. Most of our stuff was working, but we were prepared for stuff to be failing. The plug for shore power air conditioning hadn't been replaced and was unusable, but we don't spend that much time in a marina anyway. The sail to Key West was more or less uneventful, and once there, we resupplied, visited some of our favorite hangouts, and tried to avoid the Covid-laden crowds.
Speaking of Covid, we had to get V a test to get in to the Bahamas. Mrs. theskinnyonbenny and I were vaccinated and K was under the age where they care. A very nice medical professional came out to our boat, stuck the swab up his nose, and disappeared. Results to follow by email. We rolled the dice and headed out. While still in sight of Key West, a monster squall blew through and tossed us all over the place for an hour or so. That was no fun.
The rest of the passage was fine. A couple of days and nights later, we were close enough to some Bahamian islands to unbox our hotspot and check the internet. The hotspot was an ancient piece of equipment whose screen showed something like 3TB of use up to that point. It was working okay, but if you put down your device to do something else for a bit, you had to power the hotspot off and back on for it to connect again. Not ideal.
Somewhere in here, I also had an incident where a stream of salt water spray came right through a hatch in calm seas, landing right on my computer keyboard. The computer was toast.
On June 18, we pulled in to a marina in Nassau to clear in. We had V's covid clearance, and all of the paperwork was fine. I decided to fill the water tanks while the rest of the family moved booze and gear to a charter boat that our friends would be picking up later that same evening. The waater ran and ran and ran. It was taking forever. I blamed Bahamian water pressure, but still, it had only been a few days since we filled up in Key West. After forever, I pulled up some floor boards and saw that the water was running from our aft tank straight into the bilge. We were just filling fresh water and just as fast, the bilge pump was pumping it overboard. For the rest of the trip, a high water alarm would occasionally go off because of leaking water from that tank (later identified as a host to be replaced). The alarm shrieked an ungodly, inescapable scream, which is good for a high water alarm on a boat, but still....
After a full day sail to Highborne Cay, I tried moving the SIM card from the Bahamas hotspot to a different hotspot that we keep on board. Didn't work. I moved it back to the ancient hotspot and now it didn't work either. Without data, we were going to be pretty screwed. We went to bed frustrated, and pretty much assuming that our summer trip was entirely fucked.
I woke early the next morning and made a last ditch effort with the SIM card. I had forgotten about my work hotspot that I keep in my computer bag. What do you know, it worked! Summer was unfucked!
This gave us a chance to appreciate that we were in clear blue water, under sunny skies with a cool breeze. There were starfish, rays, and an island bar (where they were kind of rude and super expensive, but on this trip, we weren't going to get it all. In fact, this starts a stretch of summer that was only maybe 20% bad. Let's pick up there next time.
A bunch more pics from this leg of the trip are posted over here.