Monday, May 14, 2007

Bell Island to Black Point, Exumas, Bahamas

18.5 nm
Wind: E-NE 5-10 knots, building to SE 15
Seas: Building to one foot
Latitude: 24°06.03’N
Longitude: 076°24.32’W
Maximum speed: 5.3 knots (under sail)
Average speed: 3.0 knots

We had some conflict today about destination. The same debate continues between the two of us: Karl wants to race to Georgetown, and I want to stop and enjoy the Exumas. As we sailed past cay after cay today, I enumerated in my mind all the things we were missing: snorkeling the Sea Aquarium in the Exuma Land and Sea Park, visiting the Rocky Dundas caves with stalagmite and stalactite formations, the Friday night chicken barbecue at the Thunderball Club, the site where the movie “Splash” was filmed, etc.

But a decision had to be made, and Karl made it, and it’s probably for the best. I could have spent another two weeks in the last eighteen miles. And probably about $200. So even though I had a depressing day, watching everything go by, it seems mean-spirited to dwell on it. At least we had a glorious sail, close-reaching down the string of islands, in about ten knots of wind, at about four knots, eventually beating into the harbor. We sailed virtually the whole day, only using the engine for a little boost when we were anchoring.

We’re also getting better and better at using the Master, our autopilot, to steer, even while sailing. It’s crazy to me that this technology from the sixties is still functioning, and seems better than any electronic autopilot that we’ve heard about to this point. It can’t counteract bad weather helm or heavy seas, but I haven’t heard about any autopilot, other than wind-vanes, that can. It’s a little weird to have all the natural sounds of wind and sea and then the little whirring of the electronic Master, but it’s still far better than the dull throb of the diesel. I know I can seem a little old-fashioned, but I’m not a Luddite. I love my computer, for instance. And I love the Master. Using electricity isn’t bad--we can even generate our own with our solar panel. Lately Karl’s been talking about getting rid of the engine again, replacing it with a little outboard that we can use both for our dinghy and for the boat. It’s not a bad idea, actually.

The key thing with the Master is learning to balance the helm, something we’re getting better and better at. All we really needed was good weather and open water for sailing. Lately all we do is read our sailing books, watch the telltales, and trim the sails, trying to find the absolute fastest and most efficient point of sail. When we do that, the tiller hovers right in the center of the cockpit, and the Master doesn’t have to work at all. As we’ve read, the well-designed sailboat trimmed perfectly doesn’t need to be steered at all. It will steer itself.

We still eavesdrop on the VHF, and today we heard two other cruising sailboats that had spent years cruising around the Caribbean. Both of them said they had tried to sail and weren’t able to today. Neither had any sail out, not even the main up to give them some lift. It blows me away. These people have spent years in the Caribbean, and they can’t sail in ten knots of wind? It makes me really happy that we have a light race-boat, which can blister along in light wind. Either that, or happy that we’re content averaging three knots, instead of thinking that we’re becalmed if we’re going less than six knots. We never go six knots. Not even motoring. I don’t know where these people are going that they think they have to get there so fast. Most of them seem to go about ten miles and then anchor again.

We went to town today, for the first time since Bimini, another tiny Bahamian village named Black Point Settlement. There wasn’t much there, a couple of little restaurants and a little store, but they did have trash disposal and fresh water and phone booths. We were able to call our parents for the first time since Bimini, which was nice. If the weather’s bad, we might go back over tomorrow and try to buy a couple of things from the store. They don’t have a big selection, but it might be nice to have some fresh eggs and tomatoes. Or we might just hold out until Georgetown.

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