Monthly Archives: November 2010

Exploring the Abacos

This is a brief overview of our trip so far:

Day 1: In transit, lovely sail through the night.

Day 2: Arrival on the Bahama Banks, quick (cold) swim. Spent the night somewhere in the middle of a shallow, watery desert.

Day 3: Motored through glassy seas, greeted up close by dolphins. Arrival at Great Sale Cay, explored by dinghy and spent the night.

Day 4: Wild and wonderful sail all the way to Green Turtle Cay. Double reef in the main, 20-25 knots of wind. Often 8-9 knots of boat speed. Listened to loud music and generally had fun.

Days 5-8: Checked in with Bahamian official and explored Green Turtle Cay by dinghy and on foot. Found a great little grocery store (Sid’s) and met Sid and Martha, proprietors. Went to the museum and sculpture garden; got a different perspective on the American Revolution as settlements here were established by loyalists who sided with King George instead of George Washington. Had ice cream and bought our first loaf of Bahamian coconut bread (yum!). Walked to the Atlantic side and found beautiful beaches with unusual shells and sea life (star fish, conch and sea cucumber among the finds.)

Days 9-11: Move to Great Guana Cay, north end. Disappointed to find mega-yacht in man-made cove and big construction projects on pristine beach. Very pleased to find small, uninhabited island with good beach, tide pools full of sea life, and nice hiking for small explorers. Snorkeling on reefs on the Atlantic side—the best we’ve ever experienced. Thanksgiving Day spent playing in water and on beach, eating turkey and having family movie night.

Days 10-12: Investigated Marsh Harbor. Found coin laundry—perfect for washing the comforter soiled by seasick cat. Appointment with Dr. Minnis, O.B., and got ultrasound of new baby girl. Jay found a great hardware store, but Tanya ran out of time for re-provisioning at big grocery store. Went to Curly-Tails Restaurant and ate great sea food (but lousy steak).

Days 13-14: Move to Man-O-War Cay to check out protected harbor. Decide it’s too crowded, but kids had fun playing in ocean waves on Atlantic side. Successful shop at grocery store on Monday—right on the water so the groceries went straight into the dinghy. Cool. Moved the boat to more protected anchorage to the north. Rest of the day rainy and windy, excellent for movies and baking cookies. Kids hoping for better weather so they can swim again. Me too.

FAQ: How do you receive phone calls?

I mentioned earlier that our US cell phones are forwarded to us here in the Bahamas.  We wanted to make it as simple as possible for people to get in touch with us.  Our cell numbers were already well known and we wanted to avoid changing our contact information.  We also wanted to avoid high international rates charged by most carriers, both for ourselves and ourcallers.  To meet these goals, we forwarded our US (Verizon) cell numbers to a US Skype number which is then forwarded to a Bahamian cell phone.  So far it is working very well.  Details can be read below for those interested.


Our cellular plans have plenty of minutes and forwarded calls count against them, but they also allow us to provide a set of numbers that are airtime-free and the Skype number is one of these.  The downside is that we are continuing to pay for a US cellular plan that we aren’t using.  If we had better planned ahead we could have “ported” our cellular numbers to Google Voice, which could forward those calls to Skype for free, and we could have then suspended the cellular plans.  Oh well.  I'm also the guy paying $10/month for Tanya's old email address from an ISP we haven't used in (best guess) 11 years.

The Skype number costs $18 for 3 months.  Calls to it can be answered anywhere in the world with a Skype “phone”, which is generally an Internet-connected computer, though other devices do exist.  We usually have Internet access to some degree.  I use it for work, we use it for email, news, weather, etc.  But since we are often hitting Wi-Fi hotspots that are miles away it is seldom good enough for Skype, and we have never been fans of VoIP to begin with.  Local cellular networks offer better call quality and greater coverage area, so we bought a Bahamian SIM card for $15 and forwarded the Skype number to that.  

The Bahamas is one of those places where the caller pays for calls to mobile phones, so the phone only incurs costs when we make local calls from it.  But since we’re forwarding from Skype, we are the caller, and have to pay an international rate to boot.  Fortunately, this is what Skype does best and the rate is only 24¢/min.  Further, Skype has subscriptions that let you buy a block of minutes at a lower rate.  A block of 400 minutes to the Bahamas is only $14/month which drops the rate to 3.5¢/min.

Outgoing calls to the US are a little trickier.  Skype doesn’t currently have any facilities that would let us call the US cheap without using VoIP, and we certainly didn’t want to dial internationally from our Bahamas cell phone.  Initially we would call using Skype and struggle through the first few minutes of the call before asking the person to call us back.  Google, however, has a nifty callback feature that helps out here.  We can initiate a call via Google Voice on either the website or through an app on my US cell phone.  Google first calls us, then calls our party and connects us.  An Internet connection is required in either case, so we can’t initiate calls from remote areas.

We expect that this strategy will work equally well in other countries.

Sarah’s Prayer

She says she already knew that God answers prayer, because that’s how Eli got Sam for a baby brother. So she never doubted for a second that if she prayed for a sister, eventually she would get one. We had our 20-week ultrasound this afternoon at a clinic in Marsh Harbor, Abaco, Bahamas. The baby has a four-chambered heart, two-hemisphered brain, two legs and two arms, and all the organs are developing as expected. In fact, there is only one thing missing from this baby—a certain “extra” that is only given to baby boys.

That’s right—Sarah has gotten her wish for a baby sister. Until the end of April, there will be many a debate at dinner time over what to name the newest addition, but I think at this point we can cross off Tom, Dick or Harry. We may pick one boy name on the off-chance that the technician was wrong (she says the predictions are usually about 80% correct), but Sarah has her hopes up, and a smile on her face. She came with me to the clinic and was the first one to shout out, as the dinghy approached the anchored boat: “It’s a girl!”

I, for one, feel relieved to have accomplished the feat of finding an O.B. in this remote place, making an appointment (he only comes to Abaco Island from Nassau once or twice a month), finding the office and walking there, and getting the ultrasound done. I feel like I can now relax and enjoy myself more as the weight of that responsibility has been lifted. It is always a relief, as well, to hear that healthy heartbeat and to see that everything is going well inside there. What an incredible mystery! And what a privilege to be the bearer of a priceless gift—and an answered prayer, for my daughter.

Happy Thanksgiving

It was an unusual Thanksgiving here for us on Take Two. The food was traditional, but the surroundings were definitely different! This was the first year in as long as we could remember that we were far from family and close friends…you were all missed! Sarah helped with all the preparations, including a pumpkin and an apple pie, and beautiful decorations. All had a hand, though, as everyone was required to peel at least one potato if they wanted to eat!

We spent the day relaxing and preparing, but mostly relaxing. The kids were off school for the day, so they played while I baked. In the afternoon, Jay inflated the pull-toy. This was a new diversion, and a popular one at that. It looks like a giant covered inner tube with a long tow line. Jay would zoom out in the dinghy across the smooth, crystal clear water pulling one or two kids behind him. I sat on the beach under an umbrella and watched the fun from afar.

We are thankful for so much that it is hard to name just one or two things, but the big ones are life, family, the ability to pursue our dreams, and the amazing beauty we see around us. We, like the pilgrims, are thankful for another years’ “harvest,” as God has again provided Jay with the income it takes to fuel these adventures. He has brought us safely into this new place and with good health to enjoy it. Though they are far away, we know we have family who love and support us, and that is no small thing in this crazy world. Every day brings new wonders and surprises—and more for which to be thankful! We hope you all had a very Happy Thanksgiving, too!

FAQ: How do you do night watches?

Cruising aboard a sailboat entails very little actual sailing—mostly it’s getting to a destination as quickly as possible and then enjoying it as slowly as possible. Liza Copeland in her books about her family’s around-the-world travels estimated that they actually sailed only a years’ worth of days in their eight-year circumnavigation. Still, unless you’re just island-hopping or skipping down a coastline, eventually you’re going to have to make at least one overnight passage to get to your destination. Timing can be tricky. You want to arrive with enough daylight to navigate channels or around coral, and just generally to have enough time to get settled comfortably. So you have to guess how fast you’re going to go and then time your departure accordingly. But because wind speed and direction are subject to change, you may go faster or slower than you estimated.

Sometimes, for folks crossing the Gulf Stream, leaving at sunset and going all night makes sense. You have to have someone keeping watch at all hours, to keep an eye on sails, weather, passing ships, to listen to the VHF and to navigate. Since we’re always shorthanded, that means taking turns sleeping. Different couples have worked it out different ways. We are already experts at night watches. This may sound arrogant, since this is only our second overnight trip, but we’ve survived having four newborns and know how to function on very little sleep and pass like ships in the night (ha ha). Of course, so far, the weather has been pleasant and the autopilot and GPS do most of the work.

Here’s how it seems to work best.  Since I’m a night owl, and love star-gazing, I take the sunset-to-midnight shift. Night sailing is what drew me into this bizarre lifestyle to begin with (I’ve told the story in a previous entry). The stars, the bioluminescence in the water, and the rare solitude to me are a wonderful part of sailing. I can listen to music, read a book, write, or just think. My sailing-mom friend Vicki gave some good advice, which I have followed: set a “snooze alarm” on your watch, so that you look around the horizon at least every ten to fifteen minutes. That helps if I’m reading or otherwise distracted, or simply having a hard time keeping my eyes open. A bucket with a comfy “seat” in the cockpit helps, too; since I’m pregnant, I would be going below every fifteen minutes to use the head.

I get Jay’s pot of coffee ready and he takes over at midnight. I usually get up at 3:30 and have a snack and cup of tea. This is the dawn watch—another privilege, but also a practicality. Since I have to be up and available for the kids, it makes sense for me to take a short early morning watch and then catch a two-hour nap before I’m on duty as mom. Jay takes over at sunrise while I snooze, and then he does most of the sailing and navigating during the day. I am a good napper, so I can catch up on sleep in the afternoon.

All that said, I still don’t feel ready to cross an ocean with this young family of ours. A couple of days like this are a pleasurable break in routine—a chance to use my new laser pointer to show a kid a constellation at 4 AM, to play dominoes in the cockpit instead of correcting spelling, and to make easy, snack-y food instead of cooking regular meals. But for weeks on end? I’m sure you get used to the routines and a life at sea, but at present, I am satisfied to enjoy this time as a rarity and not a regularity!

Moving House

Typically, when people move, they pack up their belongings, load them into a truck and drive to the new house. They then unload their stuff, put it all away in the new location and get to know the neighbors. When we move house, we mean that our house is actually moving. “Packing up” has a different meaning for us. (Chiefly, it means packing every square inch of storage space with food and spare parts!)

One major difference between a catamaran and a monohull is basic stability. Catamarans want to be level, which is to say that they have a strong righting moment. To reach this balance, they may make shorter, jerkier movements than a monohull, but the end result is that they are a basically stable platform. My countertops don’t have fiddles, for example (the raised edges to keep things from sliding off.) That doesn’t mean things don’t slide, though. I’ve figured out through trial and error what must be put away and what I can leave out. (Cantaloupes have to be put away.) A monohull can spend hours, or days at a 30˚ angle or greater. They have things like gimbaled stoves and pot clamps. Not only do they heel, but they also roll. Their movement is often more rhythmic and predictable, though, so some people prefer them to cats for that reason.

How does this affect the house when it moves? If you live on a monohull, all the cabinets and lockers have locking mechanisms. Everything must be stowed carefully and locked away before leaving the dock or anchorage. If your boat is your house, this can be daunting. For us, although there is a place for everything, not everything is always in its place. If we want to go somewhere with our boat, though, we just make sure nothing is precariously balanced or poised to cause injury or damage. Then we go.

When we left Boot Key Harbor, the seas were a bit rowdy. I did more than one walk-through of the boat trying to make sure we had stowed anything that might become a projectile. I was pleased to see that the shelving Jay put in my pantry keeps my mason jars safe in pretty rough chop. We had neglected to completely stow everything in the cockpit and on deck, but after things calmed down a bit, we were able to do some last-minute tidying-up.

So now the house is moving. When we get to the next anchorage, we won’t have much unpacking to do, so we can skip straight to exploring and getting to know the new neighbors.

Green Turtle Cay, Abaco, Bahamas

We're in the Bahamas!  The trip from Florida was fantastic.  We successfully timed our trip so the mighty Gulf Stream was smooth as glass, but then we had lively sailing conditions in protected Bahamian waters.  We did a little exploring ashore today, but are generally catching up on rest and trying to figure out what to do next.

We have Internet access when we're near civilization (which hopefully isn't all the time).  Our US cell phones are forwarded to Skype, so that is available but we're not sure yet how well it will work.  Give it a try?

Marathon, FL to Abacos, Bahamas

We're in final preparations to leave Florida and head to the Bahamas.  We've been waiting for the weather to cooperate and finally see a window we like starting tomorrow. 

If I get to it, I'll update this post with more details about our expected route, anticipated weather, etc.  Our SPOT messenger will be on and our real-time track viewable on the Where Are We? page while we're underway and for a few days afterward.  My father is our emergency contact ashore.

Friday Night Kickball

It is true that our kids have the benefit of being raised in a spontaneous and fun environment, with opportunities for adventure and exploration. However, the predictable and routine activities of childhood are sometimes missed—things like boy scouts, gymnastic classes, music lessons, or team sports. They may get these “extras,” but they will have to be on our schedule and fit with our family rhythms. Sometimes this works out perfectly. For example, we took a ten-week beginner ice skating class for homeschoolers when we lived in Clearwater. Sarah had the opportunity to take riding lessons last spring as part of her birthday present. Here in Marathon, we found free music classes for children at the United Methodist Church, and that has been great as there is little obligation.

But doing a team sport is a horse of a different color. Firstly, the practices inevitably overlap the dinner hour, a sacred time for us, and eat up weekends, preventing spontaneous boat trips. Then there is the expense of specialized shoes and uniforms. Of course, every kid is on a different team and you end up running around like headless chickens. Finally, the atmosphere of competition can make something intense which should be (in my opinion) fun and relaxing for children. We don’t need any extra stress at the end of the day. So, until now, we have steered clear of things like soccer, basketball, and football. But when the opportunity arose to join in “pick-up” games of kickball on Friday nights at the local park, I ran it past the children and they responded enthusiastically. There is no sign-up, no cost, and no record-keeping. You just show up and play.

It has become the highlight of my week! With the bread baked, boat clean, and dinner prepared early, our day of rest has begun. What better way to start the weekend than with a time of family fun? The first week, Sarah bailed out after the first play of the game, and since they were short a few players, Sam joined in. The players are supposed to be ages 6-11, so, at 3, Sam is a bit young. I stayed nearby to coach him on kicking, running and stopping at the bases. After he got the hang of it, he was unstoppable. Literally. The adults helping out never let the kid be “out.” If he kicked it and ran, it didn’t matter who tagged him, the umpire shouted “Safe!”  All he talked about for the rest of the week was how much fun kickball was and when could he play again?

The weeks since have brought much improvement in play. As all the kids get the basics, the game moves a little quicker and everyone seems to have more fun. Our kids have the added benefit of having extra practice time at Homeschool P.E., another program the Marathon park puts on during the week. Last night, there were lots of kids and the game was fun to watch. Sarah joined in and got three runs for her team, plus a great play when she tagged someone out at first base. Eli and Aaron both got in some good kicks and runs, as well as fielding the ball, and Sam kicked well and made it safely to every base.

I usually laugh myself silly in the stands, and cheer the kids on, but last night had us rolling and crying. At some point, Sam got tired of playing infielder and started making his own fun. He started by turning circles until he got dizzy and fell down, then moved on to headstands and forward rolls in the grass. By the end of the game, he had corrupted another small player and the two of them were rolling around by the pitcher’s mound, occasionally impeding play and being told to “roll back over there.” Then they started building sand castles out of red clay, completely oblivious to the game going on around them. At one point, the ball rolled right between them and someone made a comment about kicking the ball between “the two goal posts.” In a culture where children’s lives seem so scheduled and organized, it’s good to find a time and place where kids can have some spontaneous, old-fashioned fun.


It was a productive day here on Take Two.

I started off with a simple (hah) project to temporarilyre-route the engine fuel lines to jugs. 
We need to run the engines out of jugs so we can limp overto the fuel dock to fill up. 

You may recall that we ran our tanks dry with our profligategenerator use.  We now know that thegenerator uses 0.45 gallons/hour and we burn about $2.50/day.  This of course doesn’t consider the wear andtear on the generator, nor the costs of our solar installation, or batteries.  But without those factors, this is prettygood.  When is the last time your monthlypower bill was $75?  Of course this comesonly by foregoing air conditioning.  Bumpthe generator usage up to 8 hours a day and our power bill jumps to $360.

Our engineslive in the middle of our hulls.  We havelittle stairwells from the main cabin down into each hull.  It is two steps down on either side, then twosteps either forward or aft.  The enginesare under the landings.  When I’m workingon the engines and the covers are off we just step right on the engine head.

But this morning when I stepped on the starboard engine Iwas treated to a spectacular fireworks show right under my feet.  The kind that can only result when 3,500cranking amps finds a dead short.  Whileit stopped arcing as soon as I took my weight off the engine, the next coupleminutes showed me that I probably need better access to my battery switches.  My plan for the day was officially cancelled.

The post-mortem revealed that the starboard engine had aloose motor mount under the alternator. 
Stepping on the engine caused it to compress on that side until thepositive post on the alternator contacted with the motor mount, which of coursewas grounded through the block.  This wasan awesome thing to find out before we try to cross the Gulf Stream.  Jay: 1, Murphy: 0. 

The last jerk to touch that motor mount cross-threaded theupper nut and decided to just leave it that way, rather than fix it.  The resulting vibration (which I’d noticed,but hadn’t yet found) loosened the lower nut which led to the problem above. 

I found four battery cable lugs to replace: the alternator positive,the solar positive and negative, and the starter positive.  Unfortunately, I think the alternator is fried.  This will be the third time I’ve had themrebuilt, and we hardly even use them.  Ialso installed new hour meters on the engines.

It isn’t unusual to be faced with these unexpectedprojects.  The boat is heavily stockedwith tools, parts, and other supplies to prepare for them.  It was somewhat satisfying to survive today’sunexpected projects without any need to go ashore.  The only thing I didn’t have today was a newnut for the old motor mounts.  I havefour completely new motor mounts waiting for that starboard engine, but thatwas a bigger project than I wanted right now. 
To be clear, I have big nuts, but none that fit.

In other news today, Sam showed he knows 15 letters.  Sarah sewed herself a purse.  We set the big boys loose on the kayak fortheir first solo explore.  And Tanya madeuse of our local cruiser’s net to find herself a haircut.  Oh, and it’s cold.  Getting time to leave.