Beyond Nassau

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March 24-31, 2018

    Nassau had allowed us the opportunity to see our best friends again, as well as provided the chance encounter with our new friend Ray.  Nevertheless, after nearly a month at New Providence, to say we were chomping at the bit to move on would be a vast understatement.

     The Exumas, a long line of small cays stretching southeast for over a hundred miles, just southeast of us, seemed like the most logical choice for us to visit next.  Many people we had spoken with had raved about them, and photos provided further evidence of what appeared to be the quintessential Bahamian paradise.

     Tucked in between the Exuma Sound (essentially the open Atlantic Ocean) on the east, and the Tongue of the Ocean to the west, the Exumas are comprised of a tiny thread of cays and landmasses that barely emerge above the water, dotting the easternmost edge of the Great Bahama Bank.  In fact, very few of the cays have elevations that exceed fifty feet above sea level. 

     We decided Rose Island would make for a perfect launching point to head south.  It was twenty two miles east of West Bay, which gave us a head start in the direction we needed to go, as well as got us away from much of the boat traffic surrounding Nassau and New Providence.

     We often joke that we can determine the direction we intend to go by the wind direction.  It seems to always be coming from the direction we’re trying to head… not ideal from a sailing standpoint, for sure.

     Heading for Rose Island, we struggled to gain an angle we could sail under without pushing ridiculously far off course which would also just add additional distance to travel. 

     As we pressed further offshore than we initially intended, we were perplexed by what appeared to be land sitting barely above the waterline in the distance, maybe a mile off our port side.  The perplexing part was that there was not supposed to be any land in that direction… certainly not so close.  We could still see New Providence clearly to our right… evidence that we, in fact, were where we thought we were; but also evidence that the nearest land to our left should be well over the horizon.

     We edged closer to investigate.  Surprisingly, what we discovered was that our land was actually an island of sargassum seaweed, floating on the surface of the water, covering an area that had to be nearly the size of a football field.  As we got closer, we saw an additional road of sargassum seaweed leading both to and from the sargassum island as far as we could see in either direction.

     Not wanting to suck a giant mound of sargassum seaweed into our raw water pump, we avoided plowing right through the middle, though the idea was certainly a bit tempting.  We juked back and forth for the next hour or so, avoiding additional seaweed congregations, or choosing a narrow point when we had to cut across a road of seaweed that blocked our path.

     Finally the water appeared clear in all directions, and it seemed we had left the bizarre highways and islands of living plants behind us.  

     However, during that time, we began to notice that our engine tachometer, on the helm pedestal in the cockpit, had  begun to swing erratically, bouncing up and down from the actual engine speed, at times even spinning completely around.  Another Twilight Zone situation unfolding.

     Even stranger, the volt dummy light on the main panel at the top of the companionway steps had begun flashing on and off intermittently.  The battery voltage appeared fine at the main switch panel, the solar panels were charging, and everything on the engine seemed to be running perfectly fine, so we decided to continue heading for Rose Island, which was still two to three hours away, monitoring things while we were underway.

     The voltage dummy light (which should have indicated a lack of charging when lit), continued flashing on and off, becoming more and more incessant and staying on for longer periods of time.  Also, we noticed when the light came on, the temperature gauge and engine tach on the companionway panel also stopped working.

     Still, the engine seemed to be running perfectly fine.  Not wanting to shut things down and risk the engine not starting back up, we pressed on.

     By 5:00pm, we had safely arrived at Rose Island and set the anchor.  However, an hour later, when we tried to start the engine to see if the voltage light was still acting up, we got nothing… no warning buzzer, no engine starting.  It wouldn’t even turn over.

     Fuck.

     The following day was a game of chasing down the electrical ghost in the machine.  Taking off panels.  Identifying, following, and tracing wire paths.  Checking connections.  Testing for continuity and voltage from point to point with a multimeter.  Wires disappearing into a hole in the wall or a bundle of other wires, only to emerge again who knows where else.

     Troubleshooting electrical problems are a bitch.  Not only because I am NOT an electrician.  That doesn’t help.  But, also because electricity goes beyond science, and even magic… into the realm of voodoo.  

     Not just protons, neutrons, and electrons following the laws of physics.  Not just the magic and spells of sorcerers.  But full on chicken bone, snake eyes, and pig’s blood voodoo kinda shit.

     After consulting by phone with our electrical witchdoctor Tom (the electrical engineer who had installed our solar setup) for advice, the standing theory was that the likely source of the problem was either: a faulty connection somewhere, a failing ignition switch, an alternator belt that needed tightening or a problem with the alternator itself, or possibly we had not offered a sufficient blood sacrifice.

     Every wire path and connection we could get ahold of was checked (finding two suspect loose terminals along the way).  We tightened the alternator belts.  For the time being, we opted to hold off on the blood sacrifice.

     When we turned the key in the ignition, the warning buzzer sounded.  When we pressed the Start button, the old Perkins fired up immediately.  No charge fault light on the panel.  After shutting everything down and trying again, we got the same result.  All good.

     Fucking voodoo…

     With the electrical spirits seeming to be content, we now just had to placate the weather spirits.  

     Sitting at anchor just off Rose Island for a week awaiting a change in the wind direction, we came to thoroughly enjoy our remote location.  The lights of Nassau still spread across the horizon.  Yet, we had only a handful of other boats at anchor around us.   

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     We could go ashore and take in the breathtaking colors of the water on the opposite side of the island, dinghy around the shallow bay that separated the mangroves at the shore of Rose Island from a narrow spit of land just opposite, or hang out on the beach of that spit, typically the only people ashore at any given time.

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Outside the barrier

     Finally, on the last day of March, we hoisted anchor and headed out.  The Bimini Islands were now behind us and in front, across the shallows of the Bahama Banks, lie the Exumas.

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