Sunday, 12 April 2015

Getting a cup of coffee on the last Bahama.

Marsh Harbour on Great Abaco is 100 miles north and east of West Bay, Nassau, so when a gentle east south east wind was forecast, I went for it. It meant an overnight passage, but Marsh Harbour would make a good jumping off point for going back across the Atlantic. 

The boat sailed well all afternoon on an easy close reach, sometimes hitting 7 knots. At dusk, the wind faded, and there was a shipping channel to cross south of Great Abaco. I was very appreciative of the AIS (Automatic Identification System) I've fitted. Mine has a transmitter and receiver, so the ships can see me on their computers as easily as I can see them on mine.

Here are two tankers coming from the west, and two cruise ships coming from the east. I turned close into the wind to slow the boat down, and at around 3.5 knots, I can see by the AIS that this would allow tanker 1 to pass half a mile north of me. After he'd gone, I'd be able to proceed at whatever speed I could make.

However, this tactic doesn't seem satisfactory to the tanker pilot, and he turns 25 degrees to pass two miles south of me. How nice!

It may seem odd for a tanker to get out of the way of a little yacht, but the nautical rules of the road stipulate that sailing boats have right of way over motor boats, unless they are in a channel which constrains the bigger boat's manoeuvrability. Whenever two boats might collide, it needs to be established who has right of way. The boat with right of way is obliged to continue the course they are on until the danger is passed. The other boat must  manoeuvre around the first boat. Rules of the road on the sea can get very complicated, depending on what angles boats are meeting at, and where the wind is coming from, but in all situations, it must be established who has to hold their course, and who moves about - otherwise, if two boats both try to get out of each other's way, things could quickly go wrong.

I do like my AIS! I can set an alarm too, which goes off if a ship might collide with me, and I use this far out at sea so I can sleep without too many nightmares. All ships over 200 tons are obliged to have AIS running, and so far, every ship I have encountered I have seen first on the AIS. And they have been able to see me, and find out that I am on a 9m sailing boat, and they can see how fast I am going at what angle, and what would be our closest point of approach.

Tom, get yourself an AIS!

Anyway, I sailed up the coast of Great Abaco through the night, snoozing and checking every half hour or so for other boats - there were none. At dawn, I was approaching the entrance to Marsh Harbour, and put the kettle on for coffee. The gas ran out. I tried switching bottles. I had just one left - a great big bottle I'd bought in the Dominican Republic when I found I was unable to fill my European bottles there. As soon as I turned the valve on, gas whistled out. The valve was bust. My great big bottle of gas, that I had filled at great expense and carried a mile back to the boat (with Jack's help) at Georgetown, was useless. No coffee for me.

In fact, no nothing for me. I'm on a gluten-free diet because someone with a crystal told me my energies were being sapped by gluten. Actually, it was a doctor with an antibody test and the diagnosis was confirmed by an endoscopy. So I'm on a stupid diet, which means there are almost no ready-made snacks available for me. Almost everything I eat I have to cook first, and with no gas... hungry times!

The bottle was useless without a leak-proof valve, and to change the valve would require the bottle to be empty. The best place to empty the bottle would be out at sea.

What a waste! But I could see no way to capture the gas - I tried connecting another bottle but the regulators only allow gas to come out of a bottle, not go in. So I just let it out into the air. The whistling soon stopped.

The bottle was frozen. I threw a bucket of sea-water over it, and the gas started flowing out again, but not for long. I threw a few more bucketsful over it, but I really needed to navigate - I was sailing the boat down channels between reefs, and I needed to pay attention to that. I also needed to be able to start the engine if the channel forced me directly into the wind. I didn't want to start the engine with the air full of propane. But I did want rid of the propane before I got to harbour. Discharging it in a possibly crowded anchorage wouldn't be good. One solution:

That got it fizzing. The sea warmed the bottle enough to stop ice building up as gas escaped. :)

Once I'd anchored, I rowed to the shore with my big and now empty gas bottle. I assumed I'd need to find a new gas valve for the bottle first, and then go to the gas filling station. I came across a hardware store, and having told the proprietor of my predicament, I was told I needed to take a taxi quick to the gas filling station. It was Saturday (I never keep track) and the place closes at noon till Monday. It was 11:30 am. I was hoping to sail for the Azores on Sunday, if the weather was kind. There being no taxis obvious, the proprietor collared a fellow in his shop and instructed him to take me to the filling station, a couple of miles away, and so we were off.

Gas bottle valves must fail often, because it was standard practise at the filling station to fit a working second-hand one onto a bottle for a tip. $5 seemed sufficient. Then back to the boat, attach the bottle, and finally, a cup of coffee at lunch-time.

After breakfast/lunch, a mad run around town buying all the supplies I need for a trans-Atlantic voyage, because tomorrow is Sunday, and perhaps nothing will be available. And then, at the end of the day, I find a wifi connection, check the weather, and realise I have to stay put. The forecast has changed. Now I have to start eking out my gas, carefully preserve my new perishables and be ready to go when the wind god interpreters suggest the omens are good.

Boats eh? 


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  2. Any thoughts on repowering when you return? With your success with your solar panels have you considered electric motors? The downside is the weight of the batteries is constant (vs diesel tanks weighing less as you use the diesel) but if you've got good sun you'll never run out of "gas".