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  • Ron Hesmer

Bahamas-Bound 2 | November 25, 2022

This is Ron's account of KORKZcrew's latest journey southward, headed once again for the Bahamas. Greta and Skeet and I will join him and Steve-the-dog in the Abacos in mid-December. I'm continuing to play "catch up" on my blog from KORKZcrew's adventures in the Exuma Cays in the spring of 2022. Please bear with me as there'll continue to be posts "from the past" that chronicle our journeys through early May. For more "real time" updates, follow me on Instagram here. I typically post current news about KORKZcrew in my Stories.

- Katharine

From Captain Ron:

"You’re just going to salt back up."

The end of our stateside road is Fort Lauderdale…specifically, Lake Sylvia. The town has placed markers (tiny crab pot buoys with red flags on them) around the lake to let boaters know that they’re only allowed to anchor inside that parameter. This keeps a clear path for navigation around the anchorage … and it prevents transients (us) from encroaching on the audacious residences that surround the lake. For each extravagant domicile, the common trend here seems to be (2) boats: one large boat for passages to the Bahamas and a smaller jaunt for slow-rolling the neighborhood during cocktail hour. Many of the homes have gas torches and elaborate dock and landscape lighting, all of which keeps Lake Sylvia aglow until midnight. So it’s not the serene little anchorage it could be, doubly so now that the local battle of Christmas illumination has begun. Also, because it’s a circular cove, it’s pretty difficult to escape the constant whir of leaf blowers during the day. There are very few leaves here, but the lawn, pool and grounds maintenance business is en fuego. Despite its light and noise pollution, Lake Sylvia is a pretty cool staging area for return or departure to the Bahamas. If the tide is low enough, you can take your dinghy under the canal bridges that separate the anchorage from restaurants, laundry, Winn Dixie, hardware. The only problem: it’s manatee season, which means "No Wake" zones throughout. So what could be a 5-minute ride into town is now a 15-minute ride (25 if the canal bridge short-cut is blocked by tide).

From Paul: "Ron’s idea was that if we pushed up on the concrete supports - it would push down on boat to crawl under bridge. Fun on incoming tide but crazy worked."

Living on a boat yields what’s commonly referred to as “Cruisers’ Midnight”…also know as 9 p.m. The day catches up with you and if you look around the harbor you’ll see you’re not alone…everyone has snuffed their lights for the night. It’s a pattern we’ve readily slipped into. We wake early (5-7) and we crash early.

Problem is…we’re not really living on a boat; we’re just sitting here bored out of our gourds watching a weather forecast that doesn’t look like it’s gonna change any time soon…and as if that’s not enough, it’s been raining for days. For me, that’s the perfect “redrum" cocktail for a Jack Nicholsonesque devolution. — But there’s a raw bar nearby and we soldier onward with the spirit-lifting power of REALLY good oysters. Paul ate 3 dozen in one sitting. (Musta been fighting a slew of demons)

The most dangerous thing to have on a boat is an agenda. Schedules, reservations, plans, etc… get you in trouble on a boat. I know this well, but we’ve really max’d out our tolerance for staring at each other in the rain…so when there’s a miniscule opening in the weather, we’re quick to rationalize a “plan" of departure.

I typically use Chris Parker’s weather service, along with the Predict Wind and Windy apps. The apps are great for me because they allow my feeble mind to “see” the wind and wave predictions on a chart, so that I can guesstimate how they’ll affect our heading when underway. Paul’s not pushing me, but I know he’s ready to pounce on the first break we get. The problem with this particular break in the weather is that it’s been roaring out of the north for a week and the mariner’s rule for crossing the Gulf Stream is that you give it a day to calm down — then you go. That sucks for us because don’t know if we’ve even got two decent days before it starts blowing again. “They” say that if there’s a whisper out of the north, don’t go. The Gulf Stream can be treacherous, no joke. (i.e., fuck around and find out.) Our window of opportunity is showing very little wind — like 4 knots in the middle of the day. I just don’t see how the Gulf can be terrible if there’s no wind, but “They” also say: beware of the “light to variable” ass-whipping. So there’s that.

We’re going. We decide to wake at 5 a.m. and check the apps. If they’re unchanged, we’re going.

Neither of us sleeps well. I wake at 4:40 and check the Windy app. After a solid week sitting in Lake Sylvia, we pull up anchor at 5:15 a.m. and head out into a dark, dense fog. Depending almost solely on the chart plotter, we make our way toward the inlet and exit into rolly seas at 5:45 a.m. There’s more roll to the seas than I anticipated, and just moving from one spot on the boat to another demands a structured approach. The “3-point rule" (maintaining 3 of your 4 limbs in contact with a surface or grab rail) is in full effect.

The sun finally rises and burns off the fog, but more importantly it allows us to attain a visual on the roll of the ocean. The conditions aren’t bad…very manageable. Still, getting tossed about in the dark is strenuous, so we’re happy for daylight.

Fort Lauderdale isn’t the preferred hop-off point for heading to West End, Grand Bahama. Departing from Boca or the West Palm area would have knocked 10 miles off our trip, but Lauderdale was my destination because I initially thought I might sell my davit crane to a maritime consignment shop there. Turns out, the owner of the shop triggered my bullshit detector, so I nixed that plan. Yes, we’ve got additional mileage to traverse, but the Gulf Stream flows north, and we should pick up an extra knot or two of speed.

From Paul: "Passenger from 20 miles off FL - now a Bahamian"

Mercifully, the weather forecast holds true and after a few hours the roll of the sea begins to dissipate. It’s sunny, hot, and we’re in the doldrums — just what you want the middle of the Stream to be (unless you’re under sail). We arrive at the Old Bahama Bay marina in West End at 2:50 p.m. The crossing took us 9 hours.

Just prior to making landfall, I spent an hour putzing with our onboard printer trying to print Steve’s vaccination record. For the hour prior to docking and the hour after docking, my blood pressure goes through the roof. Paul tries to get me to chill but I’m stressed to the max. Here’s what I’ve got going on:

  • We have no internet, unless I use my phone and roam internationally via AT&T. Even so, they’ve throttled my hot-spot data speed.

  • I attempt to restore data to our SIM cards left over from last year, to no avail. The ALIV (Bahamian) network doesn’t recognize my old number. I text Skeet and, unbelievably, he still has all of our 2021 account info. He goes online and successfully completes the transaction, or so I think.I try to log onto the revamped account. Nope.

  • A few minutes later I get a text saying the card was denied due to suspicion of fraud. (UGH) I tell Skeet to retry…he does…we think it goes through. It does not. We later discover that it cannot be reactivated and I will have to purchase a new SIM card in the Bahamas.

  • I need internet because I need to access some bookmarked veterinary info (Doctor's License #, etc…) on my desktop computer.

  • Once I access the info, I need to commit forgery with regard to Steve’s health certificate. He’s healthy, but getting him into the Bahamas requires: (1) Requesting a permit from the Bahamas Dept. of Agriculture months in advance (2) Up-to-date vaccine record (3) Examination by a veterinarian within 48 hours of arrival. That last one’s gotta be intended for folks coming in by plane because it’s near impossible for a cruiser to determine their arrival date. Cruisers come to the Bahamas from all over the world, not just the U.S. Kinda hard to sail from anywhere to here in 48 hours. I’m pretty damn sure they’re not going to ask for the document (they haven’t the last 2 times I’ve brought Steve) but I’m going to forge the document in the event they ask for it, then hope (stress) it’s not scrutinized.

  • I still can’t get the printer to work even tho I’ve got a USB connection. I pull my fuc%&!*#@!!! hair out until I discover that a new software version is required.

  • I say “Fuck it, I’m going to check in… maybe they won’t ask for this stuff."

  • I walk 20 yards to Customs, then walk back because I forgot to take a pen.

  • Once inside the Customs office I’m greeted by a fellow cruiser who says: “Order pizza, I’ve been here 3 hours.”

  • The agent asks me if I used the “Click-to-Clear” app to clear in; I say no. She says "go back to your boat and get a phone, tablet or something with wifi capability".

  • I have both a phone and an iPad, but I know there’s going to be a ton of typing involved in the process so I opt for my laptop…which is dead.

  • I return to Customs with my iPad and its charging cord, plug it in, and wait. I tell the agent why I brought my laptop (keypad) instead of a tablet.

  • She says: “Go get the iPad and I will help you enter the information.” She wants the iPad so that she can take pics of documents with it and upload them to the Click-to-Clear website. (You can’t take pics with a laptop.) I go back to the boat and fetch my iPad.

  • The agent is a pretty, sweet, tolerant Bahamian girl in her mid-20s. She asks for Steve’s vaccination record (the one I can’t print). I fumble to explain, but she sees the forged document and says: “Let me have that paper.” (oh shit) While she’s looking it over, I quickly interject “I have the vaccination record in an email on my laptop.” She says, “Okay…show me."

  • My laptop (plugged into the wall and sitting on the floor in the corner of the room) now has 3 percent of battery charge and I scramble to find the email. It’s not showing up. I’m flustered and I think that maybe I haven’t used this laptop in so long that the email accounts haven’t merged and, as a result, I’m never gonna find it on this laptop. I’m sweating. A few millennia later I am able to retrieve the document…BUT…I don’t want her to see the header on the email because it will show the actual veterinary contact info, as opposed to the erroneous info I conveyed in the forged document she’s now holding. I scroll down the email to where the header is no longer in view but the vaccination record remains…she instructs me to hold it up so she can take a pic. I happily oblige and she promptly returns all of my freshly stamped pet import documents, including the forged one. God --- Damn.

  • We go through boat documentation (size, tonnage, engines, value, hull color, dinghy info, home port, port of departure, etc.) and she does all of the data entry without my assistance. Then she hands me several Customs pieces that I have to fill out by hand. While writing, I have to turn my wrist so that my elbow is way off to the right because I’ve been sweating like a whore in church and now my wet forearm is turning the form into a soggy mess.

  • I have to fill out crew (Paul's) information. The agent is entering our passport info and spies me straining my neck to get a closer look at Paul’s passport. “What’s his address?” I ask. She exclaims: “I don’t know! There’s not one on here!”

  • Paul has a new passport and for some reason there is no home address on it. I run back to the boat and ask Paul his address…and run back to the Custom’s office.

  • The agent takes a pic on my iPad and holds the image …says take it to that window over there and pay that lady $600. (Cruising permit for 1 year…anything over 3 months = a full year) The cashier in the window jots down the information in the image, takes my money, and instructs me to wait.

  • I pack up my strewn belongings and 2 minutes later I am officially checked into the Bahamas.

  • I tip the girl $10 and leave the office…it’s 5:00 p.m.

Crew isn’t allowed to leave the vessel until we’ve cleared Customs, so for the past 2 hours Paul has been forced to sit on a hot boat in a windless marina with a panting dog. After lowering our quarantine flag and hoisting the Bahamian flag… we were now free to roam the docks.

I took so long clearing customs that the only place on this end of the island that sells SIM cards is closed until 10 a.m. tomorrow.

We elect to take a space at the dock ($2 per foot + $15 for water + $25 electricity). The shore-power voltage is too low (I’ve fried an AC unit that way) so in order to run the AC we are forced to run the generator all night.

Time for a drink.

We both want to take a plunge to cool off in the pristine harbor. Paul goes first (out of necessity because he dropped a flipflop overboard). One of the lady agents from the Customs office sees him and gets out of her car to ask: “What are you doing?”

Paul replies…”I’m getting my flip-flop.” She says: “No — get out of the water immediately. We have bull sharks in this water…be glad there’s no one here cleaning fish now…and keep your dog out of the water too.”

Okee-Dokeee. 😳

We shower and head for the only restaurant in town. Some young peeps (working on a private yacht) pop in and hijack the juke box, pump up the vibe and we celebrate a long-awaited Gulf Stream crossing with conch and cocktails.

Immediately upon docking yesterday, a man tried to sell us some conch ceviche. This morning he made a sale. Then based off that sampling…he made another. Paul is happy.

While waiting for the SIM card shop to open, we check out the beach (Old Bahama Bay Resort). It was once a fairly nice development…now it clings to its laurels of decades past. The lodging still looks pretty decent and the grounds aren’t totally neglected, but it’s obvious to the layman’s eye that funding failed to keep pace with expenses.

Our destination is Hope Town, Elbow Cay. To get there we need to leave West End and cruise 50 miles around the northern aspect of Grand Bahama Island, anchor overnight in an uninhabited anchorage, and continue another 50 miles southeast into the Abaco Islands. We’ll likely stop and check out the various Cays along the way (Spanish, Green Turtle, Treasure, Great Guana, Man-o-War), but for now we’re just prepping for the passage. I get lucky and procure a SIM card, stop at the dockmaster’s office and get a rebate for the low voltage shore-power, and we fill both tanks with water. Paul gives the boat a thorough wash down and as he does, a weathered old man walks by and says:

“You’re just going to salt back up.”


Approx 73 nautical miles traveled

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