"It takes a very long time to become young."
--- Pablo Picasso
Zach and Pat Krochina… Alaskans...
Zach is one of those guys that I describe with one word ... clever and resourceful... ok, well that’s two words... smart as a whip, he’s one of those guys that can repair most anything ... plus it is nothing for him to dive down as a free diver and hold his breath like forever... he speared three lobsters one afternoon while I shot my spear like a shooting star missing any target I had hoped for...
Anyway, besides being an all around handy man, Zach is a very talented writer. When he included me on his email blast to friends back home, I was taken aback with his accurate and entertaining description of the Bahamas, the reefs, the geology and general information I had been unaware of…
so with his permission, I will share his keen description of some of the Bahama facts and observations below... Thank you Zachary!
Here are Zach's words...
Made of limestone, essentially sand stuck together by calcium, the Cays are highly susceptible to erosion and therefore result in some very intricate and varied structure. With extensive history in Hawaii, my father at first thought the islands were volcanic, and certainly the richly textured and often blackish rock does have a certain resemblance to hardened lava, but upon closer inspection it becomes evident that the "rock" is little more than compacted sand, which, in different freshly exposed areas, can actually be wiped off with a hand! However, this is not to say the rock is soft. Where it has been exposed and weather-beaten for some time, the limestone has solidified into an endless riddling of intricate pockets, valleys, holes, shelves, and arches.
Although brittle, all of the crevices and ridges make this stone extremely sharp and hazardous. Traversing this terrain in flips-flops is asking for scratchy sliced-up feet, and heaven forbid you actually slip and fall, such would be the equivalent of tumbling down a human-sized cheese grater, ouch! But if you can keep your footing, exploring the swiss-cheese structure has its rewards and offers some stunning vantage points to soak in all of the surrounding water colors.
If you want relief from the rock, there are no shortage of warm welcoming beaches awaiting on nearly every Cay. On one island, an endangered and exclusive species of iguana sun themselves on the beach, unadulterated except by us nosey tourists. When landing on a beach at another island you will be met by a hungry pack of now "wild" farm hogs, who eagerly await, demand even, leftover snacks from all visitors. The renown Thunderball Grotto provided the perfect villain's liar for a vintage James Bond film, and is a must-see snorkel trip, requiring a brief dive through one of various cave openings to get inside. Staniel Cay Yacht Club has a long history of catering to foreign boaters, and was a fitting place to finally have our first long-awaited cold beer. Cheers! Neat little town there, rich history of Bahamian sailing, and plenty of inviting people. Even got a tour of one of the ever-vital mailboats, the vessels that actually connect all of these scattered islands, and form the backbone of local economies by delivering mail (surprise surprise), goods, supplies, passengers, vehicles, vessels, and whatever else the beefy fixed crane can lift and find space for on deck.
Currently we are enjoying Blackpoint, another settlement in the Exumas, one of the biggest actually, complete with a K-9 school (high school is in Nassau only), a police station (operated by one officer), a clinic, and three restaurants. Blackpoint holds boasting-rights to the best laundry and happy hour in the Exumas. We are taking advantage of both. In fact, we took a little too much advantage of happy hour last night...the world was fuzzy and a bit too bright this morning. But we had a good time mingling with cruisers and locals alike, and listening to the live music of a newly made friend, Joe, a retired school teach from the vessel Glory Days, who also hosts the local cruisers net every morning on VHF channel 69 at 0900. Keep it up Captain Joe!
It is in places like this where disparate worlds cross paths, where some of the complex realities of a globalized interface rise to the surface, floating questions and considerations, but offering little in terms of solid conclusions. What does it mean to be one of thousands upon thousands of visitors who come every year to experience this slice of paradise? What is it like for those with generations of family history woven into this unique marine environment, a land/waterscape that traditionally provided an entire livelihood, a livelihood which is now drastically different and dependent even, on opening up to an incessant stream of foreign passer-bys? This is evident, in part, from the endless crackle of VHF radios that are installed behind every bar top and grocery store counter we've encountered, now a necessary piece of business hardware.
Is this a good thing, providing a simple, cheap means of connecting people in a world that is becoming increasingly interconnected anyway? Or is it detrimentally forcing the hand of an island nation to cater to the whims of its wealthy neighbors? What are the hopes, desires, and responsibilities of all parties involved? What, if any, is the role of national governments?
SV/Guacamole… an Irwin 27
These questions are of course massive, subjective, and defy all hope of any straightforward, simple answers. Nor are they unique to the Bahamas alone, but are being wrestled with in various places and cultures the world over. I wish I had some intelligent insight to elucidate a definitive meaning, but perhaps just acknowledging that the questions exist is good enough...or at least the best I can manage at the moment. I really don't know what to make of it all, nor do I know what the Bahamians truly think. Certainly they are a laid-back, generous people, always making time to chat or going out of their way to be helpful. But the ceaseless flow of visitors on and off their islands, their natural harbors constantly cluttered with all manner of foreign-flagged vessels, all of us looking for more of less the same things, stopping at more or less the same places, asking more or less the same questions and politely thanking them for their assistance with more or less the same sincere yet detached smile, the smile of a traveler, which has in it gratitude but also reservation, like appreciation for a photograph in which beauty is well-captured but ultimately its disposable, something that can be easily misplaced, lost in your knapsack, or haphazardly jammed into a dog-eared book, stuffed among a whole collection of "unforgettable" moments.
What do the Bahamians really think and feel when they receive just such a smile? So sometimes I feel self-conscious and guilty; sometimes carefree, confident, and interactive; sometimes withdrawn and broody; but mostly, I'd say I feel excited and grateful. Whether or not its deserved or fair, not everyone gets the chance to sail through a unique culture set amidst beautiful ocean islands, I'm trying to make the most of it!
But there's more… Here's a tale Zach shared on his blog today… Actually, it is NOT a tale… it is a true story that I witnessed and one that he survived to tell about… sit back and read on… it is well written if you have time…
Imagine discs of cartilage separating vertebrae--as I described the Exuma chain in a past email--in which the soft cartilage has deteriorated thereby leaving a gap or opening between the string of boney Cays. These gaps are the cuts, narrow channels through which the sea may pass from the deep waters of the Exuma Sound into the shallow waters of the Great Bahama Bank and back again. They are are as varied as they are plentiful.
No matter their shape or size, however, these cuts all share a restricting bottleneck feature, a narrowing of passage through which massive amounts of water must move, and thereby each cut warrants a similar warning from the chart-book: Caution, waters are rough when tide opposes wind. With today's instant access to tide tables and such a plainly stated warning, it should be easy to avoid a hazardous situation...but sometimes we make ourselves learn lessons the hard way.
Instead of approaching this particular cut soon after slack tide, as intended, we instead manage putting to sea at the very height of an ebbing tide rip, the rapidly receding water rushing headlong into a stiff easterly breeze. And when I say "we" I should clarify. For the first time since departing Marathon I did not have the companionship of my father, who is enjoying a change-of-pace on a friend's boat. With less than ten miles to cover that day, we reason that its no big deal. I am happy to single-hand, Joe is happy to have a bit of crew, and my father is happy to try out a different boat.
I am the first boat to pull hook, and so with a head start I am the first to enter the cut. Being as we are traversing dead into the wind, sails are furled and engines are humming. After pounding through the first set of steep four-foot breakers, seeing the surrounding water swirling like a washing-machine, and knowing the limitations exacted by reliance on an outboard engine as the sole means of propulsion, I should have turned around right then and there. But like I said before, sometimes we choose to learn lessons the hard way.
Instead of turning around on my own volition, I let circumstances make the decision for me...a long-staning habit of mine, for better or worse. But before that happens, Guacamole proves game for a beating, and despite her dunking cavitating engine and a deck awash from bursting waves, she has amazingly made it about half-way through the cut. On one side a massive exposure of rock spits and sputters all sorts of riling water, on the other Glory Days is just beginning to pass me, the crew already donning life-jackets...hmm, maybe thats a sign that I should do the same? But no time for that. In the next moment Old Betsy--my 1985 extra long shaft two-stroke Evinrude 9.9 HP engine--coughs and dies. Okay life, guess I'm not supposed to go out this cut, I hear ya now, loud and clear.
"I got no engine" I cup my hands and shout across the wind and waves to my buddy boat, "I'm turning around!" They were tossing as well, but the deep purchase of an inboard propeller ferries them the remaining distance into the safety of deep blue water.
Meanwhile, I release the roller-furling line and watch my headsail bloom into shape as I press against the tiller, turning my vessel clear around. Now the wind is on my back, I'm in a dead run, but moving headlong into the full force of a draining tide. Remember the chart book warning? Yeah, the two forces are directly opposed and they are not happy about it, and I happen to be directly in the middle of their temper-tantrum. The seas are frothy and confused, white caps everywhere, breaking, sloshing, pulling, and biting at my poor vessel. She tosses and tumbles, hems and haws, groaning as she is repeatedly caught and tripped-up by the steeply stacked seas. Wave after wave breaks over her transom, cascading hundreds of gallons into the cockpit, some of it exploding through the unpreparedly open companionway and into the cabin. I am glued to the tiller, trying my best to maneuver my vessel through the absurdly disturbed seas in the safest way possible. I'd like to think that Guacamole was never in any real danger of being sunk--just of getting damn wet--but it would be foolhardy to believe the ocean can't take what she wants when she wants. Either way, I didn't want to make the offer more tempting by taking repeated waves broadsided, hell, I was having a hard enough time keeping them quartered, and even then they were breaking all over the boat. Wow, I thought to myself, this is not good.
Another preparedness failure for the day's travel is in regards to the dinghy. Over the past several weeks my father and I had become lazy after all of our "inside" sailing, whereby the seas were kept small and quiet due to the shielding effect of the islands. Although we still made sure to remove the small 3.5 HP dinghy engine when covering any distance at all, we had become more lax about the other items that lived in the vessel--anchor, flip-flops, life-jackets, manual bilge and air pumps, etc. In addition, we had gotten in the habit of towing the 8-ft inflatable boat from her own painter, which kept here nice and close to the hull, rather than at the end of a long floating tow-line. Again, in small protected waters this proved fine, reduced her drag, and made pulling her up alongside much quicker and easier. But now, I am not in protected waters. In fact, I am in some pissed-off raging waters, and they don't care much for the convenience of my lackadaisical ways.
After repeatedly bashing and banging into the transom of Guacamole the dinghy is had enough. Tired, wet, and pulled too close, she is simply overwhelmed. I happen to look back as a massive wave--in an effortless way of ballet beauty--succinctly flips her upside-down.
But an inflatable is full of air, right, its not like she's going to sink? I am reassuring myself. True. But a boat designed to ride the water one way, rides it much different the other. Rather than a surface-skimming torpedo, I'm now pulling a water-dragging sea anchor. Her choke chain of a tow-line forces her bow to plummet, into the waves, and her flat bottom acts as a massive catch. Oh geez, but at least I still have the thing, right, even if all her contents are spilled, and she is still floating, right, so I'll just deal with it later. First things first, I gotta get out of this damn washing machine, I mean I can see the end right there, just another few hundred yards, it shouldn't take long, just grit your teeth and get through it.
This is what I'm thinking until I begin continually checking my progress, my bearing, against one of those massive frothy water-breaking rocks I mentioned and I realize that I'm not moving. For the next half-hour I am more or less hovering in place, holding steady in anything but steady seas.
Krikey! If I'm not actually making headway then this whole situation is going from bad to worse. I need more propulsion! And what is that horrible buzzing sound? Takes me a good five minutes to discover its the autopilot, still plugged-in and perched from its socket in the cockpit. Not that I've been using the thing, but I have it ready, just in case I need to leave the tiller. Well the incessant shrieking hum and gibberish on the display assures me that I won't have any relief from helm-duties. So much for a trip up to the mast to raise the mainsail, not gonna happen, not that I would have trusted the autopilot in such conditions anyway, so at least now I know, resoundingly so, that its good for nothing. I quickly try the engine once more, hoping against hope...nope, its still a no-go. Maybe if I can flip the dinghy back over, I can regain some speed. I wait for a "lull," leave the tiller in the hands of the gods, and clamber to the back of the boat. I get the dink pulled in close, get two good handfuls of boat and brace myself, giving her everything I got...not even a budge!
Her overturned cavity now acts like a massive suction cup, there is absolutely no way I can turn her over, and by now Guac is flailing in the seas. Forget it, back the helm, right my steering. Shit, what am I going to do?
By this point my father and Captain Joe, aboard Glory Days, have returned from the ocean and are passing me once again. Of course they want to help, but no one really knows what to do and communication is difficult. Certainly a tow from them would give me added propulsion, but how do we actually manage the logistics? The boats would have to be brought in close to one another, a line would have to be tossed and received, then tied off, all of this in turbulent thrashing seas with my helm left unattended. And Joe, of course, has his own boat to worry about, even with a solid inboard engine a lot can still go wrong, especially once you start dragging lines in the water. Okay, maybe as a last chance hail-mary all-in final attempt, but I'm not willing to risk the towing option just yet. Of course I can cut the dinghy free as well, maybe they can retrieve it before the rocks claim her...but this also sounds ridiculously risky. Just then I notice my vessel slowly every so slightly gaining on the rocks, I am making progress! I wave-on Glory Days and they pull ahead into a protected lagoon, standing by to see what happens.
So I keep at it, maneuvering the boat along the surfing wave fronts into the backs of others, adjusting here and there to keep the seas on the quarter and the sail full. Slowly but surely I am plodding through the slop, my cockpit drains keep up with the water, and it turns out that time is in my favor...the longer this takes, the more the tide is slackening. Another half-hour goes by and then, as if from the finger of Poseidon himself, a bouncing wave overturns my dinghy once more, this time leaving her upright! Thank you, thank you! I'm finally moving again. I can feel the boat gain a couple of knots. I push through the last bit of narrow channel, get around the rocks, and smear into the calmer waters where Glory Days is still waiting. But even that isn't calm enough for me now, I don't want to be anywhere near that cut. With the wind still behind me I sail on, rounding the next island before dropping my anchor in the placid waters of her lee. A long exhaul. Phuuuwwwwwweeee.
Glory Days follows behind me and anchors nearby. My dad comes over and helps clean up, mostly drying the sheets from my now soaking chart book...thank you water-resistant paper! I flush out the engine and get her running again. The now defunct tiller pilot goes back into storage down below. Water is mopped up, lines are put back into order, and our last beer is shared in the cockpit of Glory Days.
Despite the setback, Joe still wants to make the next anchorage and has enough time to do so if he gets going. So we say goodbye, get back to Guacamole and just finish putting things back together when Glory Days hails us on the radio, "Totally understand if you don't want to mess with the cut again, but I tell you what, the seas have really laid down out here, its a totally different scene now. Got through no problem, its not bad."
Hmmm. My father has just pulled the hook and we are getting underway. We are planning on taking a much longer, around-the-way detoured route, but at least it keeps us in the safety of protected water. But something is gnawing at my gut...some sense of giving-up. I don't want to be outdone by the cut, by my own unpreparedness. Despite the lingering bad taste in my mouth from the hazards I just narrowly escaped, something else inside is urging me to take another chance, to face my fears and get back out there. If we are going to do it, right now during a tide change is the the time to do it.
"Alright pop, turn her around, we're going out the cut!"
This time the mainsail is already set, a slightly different course is chosen, and the engine doesn't even hiccup moving us through the now gentle two-foot seas. What a difference slack tide makes!
Or maybe, despite some of his other annoyances and obstinacies, my first-mate father is good luck. Either way we make it out with little fanfare, tack, set the sails and enjoy a blustery romp SE. We are shy of our intended waypoint but manage to find our way through a different cut, weaving between a series of islands, rocks, and corals, ducking through a narrow channel before reuniting with Joe (who had a substantial 4-5 mile lead) at the final turn. My father, who thinks himself a bit of a hotshot, can't help but sail our way right through the other anchored boats, gaining the closest spot to shore (most protection) before we efficiently drop anchor, use the sails to help set it, and tuck everything away just in time for a sunset. And so, against my better instincts, my father manages to buoy my spirits and restore my pride...that is until we flip the dinghy that night trying to climb in it, while still tied to the side of Glory Days. Hahaha, Joe you are too good a host.