SYL makeover and memories

 When you first buy a boat… new owners have an overwhelming desire to add or subtract equipment in an effort to make the boat exactly what they were looking for during that super fun phase of boat ownership “the search”…  We were no different, our first makeover was our most expensive because we made all the repairs AND added new parts that will also wear out or break at some point too!  I certainly don’t regret any of our additions… Linda and my definition of a minimalist is a guy that doesn’t care if he keeps his boat at a marina that has floating docks or not…. lol.  Don’t get the wrong idea, we like to anchor out better than use our boat as a condo like 90% of the boats you see… we enjoy days on end at a remote beach location.. not seeing another mast or hearing as much as an airplane passing overhead, where the only sounds are the sea birds, water rippling against the side of your hull and beach waves..   In paradise, on the rare occasion that it rains all day…. I have the tools to make us comfortable… if it’s muggy I’m running the AC all night to dry out the boat, we like to sleep in comfort.

Now that we have the systems we want it’s all about keeping the boat fresh.  When we moved SYL from Georgia last year I “put her up wet”.  What I mean by that is I didn’t fix some the things that wore out or broke on the last big Bahamas run.  SYL is now getting the makeover she deserves after carrying us about 4,000 miles to another country and back.  Saying it that way sounds wierd… that after 4,000 miles you need a refit.  That’s like saying every time you change oil in your car you need to do a list of maintenance items too….  You must understand that 4,000 miles on a sailboat is a considerable time investment, especially when you stay in one place for several days then move to the next place at a blistering 5 miles per hour.

If you have ever owned a non-trailerable boat you know it’s similar to having a swimming pool.  You either love it, or regret the money and time you spend on it.  Boat ownership should be your passion more than a single plane desire… if your not deeply passionate about owning a boat, I suggest finding something you are passionate about and spend your recreational time and money there.

That being said, Linda and I have a deep emotional connection to our catamaran.  Buying our little ship… the initial search and eventual purchase was the biggest “retail high” a water lover can experience.  I have fond memories of going through the tall stack of printouts from Yachtworld…. years of thinking about the boat buying process and making the multifaceted decision of when, where and what boat to invest our future in.  Beyond the ultimate retail high of the purchase, Linda and I deepened our commitment to the boat with fountains of memories over the years… sharing baby blue anchorages…  good an bad passages…  epic miles per day records….  friends we love that we would have never met otherwise… tales of how clear the water was in the crooked islands and tons of mental snapshots that will be with us forever while aboard SYL. 

I remember the time we first met our Crooked Island friends.  People from our home town that we had never met until we found them in the Bahamas.  They settled and built a house on a remote island before there was even electricity available in the mid 80’s.  If you have been around us very much you have heard this story because I keep it in my scabbard.. close to me, available to pull out on a moments notice.  A mental snapshot that was worth the whole price of admission to me.  Returning from the Turks and Caicos, Linda and I had strung several of those 5% days together…. you know… the rare times of wonder that is every sailboaters dream, an experience that encompasses everything you think about when you imagine sailing across wild blue seas in perfect conditions.  The Crooked Islands alone… paid for our boat with it’s lasting memories.   We have many loving cruiser friends.. the story to follow is about one of these couples and the special days leading up to our meeting.

After a couple picturesque weeks in the Turks & Caicos SYL was returning to the Southern Exumas.  Along the wild and remote path we sailed over the deepest most beautiful water we would transit in the finest conditions you could ask for.  This path has to be planned well because there are no marinas, not even places to buy fuel for hundreds of miles.  The Crookeds are just over half way back to Georgetown.  Our first landfall after leaving the T&C was Mayaguana where we had the second best boat / dolphin experience of our life.  You almost always see dolphins out and about, but this was special. 

That first day out we had good winds and a strong current behind us… we saw a whale and about 4PM we pulled into an amazing shallow bay on the Eastern Tip of Mayaguana.  As we entered the very shallow bay a pair of dolphins came out to meet us and escorted us into the mouth of their 5′ deep personal resort.  Very few boats pass buy.. much less enter this shallow bay because most boats draw 5 feet or more.  This was very seldomly travelled so it was of great interest to me.  Being the clearest water we had experienced and the shallowness of the bay the pair of dolphins were 100% visible anywhere they swam.  They circled and played around SYL as we poked about looking for the perfect spot to anchor.  The rattle of the anchor chain and sandy prop wash as I set the anchor sent them bolting for a second.. but they came right back to check my anchor for me.  The two crisscrossed the little bay for hours with us as their focal point.

The next day our sail would only be a short 30 miles, to the Western lee of the same island (Mayaguana) so my leisurely morning was spend on the beach shell hunting while Linda squared the boat and made breakfast.  Without many “finds” along the shore I raised the dink and we slid out of the bay mid morning watching for our dolphin buddies…  They were otherwise occupied I suppose, because we never saw them again. 

Atlantic trade winds are from the SE so my plans were to slowly wander the 30 miles to the other end of the island… anchor out on the West coast of Mayaguana where the sea had no fetch so we could break out early the next morning with no obstructions to worry about for the long (90 mile run) to the same west end of the Crooked Islands.  The short sail was nice with following currents and favorable winds.

80 miles is a good daily mileage target when you sail sun up to sun down, the 90 we wanted to make the following day would require leaving early in order to arrive at a new anchorage with plenty light to find our way in.  But for this short days run from one end of Mayaguana to the other, we made it a leisurely day.  We rounded the north western corner quickly and set our anchor behind the island on a marled bottom in super clear water 20 feet deep.  Other than the awesomely clear water that looked non-existent when the waves laid.. not much to report about Western Mayaguana other than it was the predecessor to the focal point of my story.. the next day.


I was up well before dawn and roused Linda a few minutes later with the sound of the anchor chain as it rattled over the bow roller.  I nested the Manson in her blocks on the front beam and we were off!  Our direct departure was all set up the night before, the sailcover was off, the GPS was all set.. my plan was to get everything poised to sail off the anchor as early as I wanted the next morning leaving Linda to sleep if I could sneak off without waking her.  SYL’s engines would not touch the water all day.. I quietly raised the main and drew out the jib while anchored.  After setting the interior lights on low I left the mainsheet loose…. snugged the jib and drew us forward then to port with the windlass at a half a knot.  We sailed off anchor beautifully angling away into the early morning darkness.  The tight jib drew the bows Westward as the anchor found home… then finding my required heading off the wind to the WNW I engaged the autopilot…. by now the main was pulling nicely and I loosed the jib to match.   Down wind and down current the day was all set!  With “Otto” steering I stood outside the cockpit to watch the end of the night and look for any evidence of sunrise over Mayaguana distancing itself behind us.  Soon Linda joined me and we saw the sun rise through broken clouds over Mayaguana as we glid further and further away from it’s well provided protection.

Off the wind we had a very comfortable ride.  Long lazy swells that were far enough apart to not push the sterns around as they pass…. nice.  Linda’s coffee tasted good as she joined me to watch the sun paint the deep water purple once again and talk about memories we made over the past few days.  We talked about me spotting a whale broach off the stern in the distance as we left the T&C…. and later when we almost ran over another one baking his big sides in the mid day sun.  I remembered sitting at the table across from her when I saw Linda’s eyes get really big and try to form words….. but nothing came out.  The whale passed to starboard (behind me).  The big fellah heard us coming and his hump and tail rose a bit to eye level as he rolled flat to ready his dive.  It was so close Linda could not figure out what she was looking at!  then it lifted it’s tail 10′ in the air to sound, and the flukes dissapeared underwater as the tons of weight sank into the sea.  That’s when Linda finally got out the word… “whale”!  I never saw it……..  Linda shared that her first sight of it looked like the round bottom of an overturned boat off the bow as we approached, that was puzzling enough.. but then thru the side windows she struggled to decide just what she was seeing as the magnificent beast dove to safety.  It was like trying to figure out the outlines of a bus in the next lane looking out your car window.  But fun none the less.  I confessed a bit of news that I held back about the last couple days….. I spotted two waterspouts off the port stern many many miles away soon after I saw my whale broach.  I lit the radar, did some ranging and found out they were over 20 miles from us, but running a parallel course.  After a couple hours the cell dissipated and clear skies prevailed.  I let her know SYL was never in any danger because of the distance, and that I monitored the movement carefully.  We shared memories of the past weeks and watched as the sun filled in the day.

Our early departure allowed us good progress on the day… the longish trip went by nicely as we enjoyed great sailing with lots to look at along the way.  In this part of the Bahamas you seldom see another boat.  When you do there is always radio contact and a friendly exchange, if nothing else…. lone sailors often trade routes and sail plans as they pass in the distance.  SYL passed the North coast of the Crooked Islands comfortably with several daylight hours to spare.  As we approached Landrail Point the lighthouse eventually came into view off to port, and I thought I saw a mast off the starboard bow too.  Sure enough as the hours passed a large ketch became a clear outline a bit further offshore and headed in the opposite direction. 

I had acquired some local knowledge while transiting Mayaguana on my way to the T&C (his direction) about how to avoid some of the current that is now pushing us home.. so I made a VHF call to the passing boat.  Shortly he responded, I told him to hug the SE tip of Mayaguana as the Southern passage is most favorable, and to not swing wide off the land point, if you do…. the current gets very strong in your face offshore.  Additionally there is a nice back current skirting much of the Southern coast of the island.  His intent was to anchor in the exposed bay on SW Mayaguana for the night so the information would be useful on his way to the Carribean.  On our trip out… we used the same anchorage so I told him where to find the best sand bottom for his anchor, and mentioned that it’s a deep beach so you could get in close.  We shared the same anchorage with “Zero to Cruising” and “Texas Two Step” when we came thru there.

In the radio exchange we swapped home ports, I told him Beaumont Texas and he shared Anchorage Alaska.  He had transited the NW passage on his way to the Carib.  What a trip!  I thought it was a long way home to Texas!  His mast had not fully faded behind us when we rounded the lighthouse at Landrail Point to again anchor off the lee side of this island.  Nice sand covered the bottom everywhere so finding a good place to anchor was brainless.  Our 90 mile trip went by quickly.  We put the manson in the sand through 25′ of invisible water well before dark.  Linda cooked us a nice meal, we sat and ate, then out of the blue… a call came over the radio!  “Sea Yawl Later this is Island Time”…..  Linda and I scanned the horizon thru the windows and there were no boats to be seen in any direction… Linda asked; who is that?!  I instantly said “somebody with binoculars” because there was no other cruising boat as far as the eye could see.  The call was loud and clear so that made it even more amazing…. a scratchy hail would not have given us as much start.. but this one was wall to wall and crystal clear!

Normally my back is to the radio when Linda and I are in our customairy seats.  I am on the starboard side of the salon because all the controls are there, including the electronics that nest just behind my head while seated.  The radio is in the companionway as you step down into the hull.  I stood and turned, opened the mike and returned the hail.  “this is Sea Yawl Later, go ahead”…..  We didn’t know it then but a lifelong friendship had just been born.  We first met Jim and Lynne Finley on April 18th 2011.

Apparently everyone on the Crooked Islands uses a VHF radio to make house to house calls because there is no telephone service.  Only recently… centrally transmitted electricity came to this historic outpost of the far Bahamas.  More… on the rich history of the Crookeds later….  Lynne had heard us talk to the Alaska boat on the radio where we mentioned we were from Beaumont.  Amazingly we had parked our boat directly in front of their house, she too was from Beaumont Texas.  There was no hesitation when they invited us ashore for the evening.  I lowered the dinghy as Linda got ready and we were walking up the beach trail 10 minutes after the more than surprising radio call.  Jim and Lynne never met a stranger and took us in like lifelong friends.  Our sail plan had been to strike out for Long Island the next morning but that all changed.  As the girls shared names of friends both women knew, Jim and I talked about his place, when they built it and how long they had been in the Bahamas. 

As it turned out there is a small community of mostly Louisiana folks that built up a fly in destination on this remote island.  They all had private planes and used the houses they built as a respite until they retired here a few years back.  The runway was improved and life began again on the Crooked islands.  In the square rigger days Landrail Point was a major shipping port of call for travelers and merchandise going to and from the new world.  Eventually the port (I use the term “port” loosely) fell out of favor when bigger faster ships no longer needed the respite of landrail point.  Crooked island dwindled to only a few scattered shacks and “Gibson’s Lunchroom”.  Mrs. Gibson always had something to cook for you.  Generations of Gibson’s have kept the business alive thru thick and thin, mostly thin…..

We talked and enjoyed Jim and Lynne’s gracious company at “Island Time” well into the night.  We were invited to stay but our ship lay a only hundred yards away with everything we needed in it… so at 11PM Linda and I loaded up in the dink and putted home to SYL.  The slow trip out to the boat in dead calm water spread a memorable icing on the wonderful day’s cake.  As we idled out under a full moon… not wanting to disturb the evening, I got to noticing something in the water behind my smooth little bow wake.  Amazingly… what I was seeing at 11 o’clock at night…… was the shadow of our dingy in the moonlight on the bottom….. in 20′ of water!  Minds were blown.. what a day!  What a week…….

Instead of leaving the next day we repeated the visit to Jim and Lynne’s for 7 days.  Eating together, driving to town and learning the history of the island…. then the wondrous trip home to SYL at night over virtually invisible water in the dinghy was amazing.  I discovered sea glass during the visit and began making a bit of jewelry.  We will see them again….  such is the life (on a good day) of a sailboat cruiser…..

sv “Sea Yawl Later”    Rusty and Linda

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