Sunday, March 14, 2010

All Conched Out

I really do hate having to do a post like I did yesterday, trying to remember all the interesting details of 3 or 4 days worth of sailing and sightseeing, but I suppose that is the way it has to be when you don’t have an operable computer and have to borrow one and write the post as fast as you possibly can.

I’d like to make a few comments on the sail we had over here, some of the more interesting facets of that, and some things that I learned before I move on to the events of yesterday and today. Prior to leaving Ft Lauderdale, David and I had both pored over the forecasts for sailing across, and we were both convinced that a) this was the one good window for crossing for the next week or so – all the forecasts said this, and b) that according to these forecasts, which we trusted so much, the wind that was going to be on our nose when we started was going to shift and come in from the south which would speed us across. I learned two things from this. #1 – plan and sail to the wind you have now, and not to the wind you are supposed to have later. It is much easier to adapt and change your sailing plan once you are underway and the wind becomes more favorable, if it does change at all. #2 – do not under estimate the strength of the Gulf Stream, which I think we all did. As I wrote yesterday, the forecasts and models we looked at had the Gulf Stream running at about 2 ½ knots, when in fact the current we ran into was measured by another boat at 4 ½ to 5 knots. We did indeed make it to our destination, and did well at it, but we probably would have been here much sooner and sailed a much shorter distance if we had followed these two observations.

The wind we did have came from the east for most of our sail, and that seemed to really chop up the Gulf Stream. You have a situation where the current and the swell it creates is headed north, and the east wind adds in a cross chop, this makes for a very bouncy sail. Not really rough, but I can see where it would get very bad in the right conditions, but a steep chop that is very close together. I would imagine that with a southerly wind the stream would have moderate rolling waves and swell, but I can see where a north wind would build the waves and the chop to very large proportions.

The amount of drift we encountered was incredible. We were making one knot north for every knot east, and so despite our heading of 90 degrees, due east, our true course was almost an exact 45 degrees. In the future I will definitely over compensate for drift, and sail much further below Miami before I turn east. On the way back this current will help me though, I intend on letting the stream take me just as far north as it will, I hope to hit the Florida coast somewhere around Ft Lauderdale, or perhaps even Palm Beach.

So back to current events.

Bimini is the western most island group of the Bahamas, and is 47 miles off of the coast of Florida. It sits right on the edge of the Gulf Stream, and has 2 main islands, North and South Bimini. North Bimini is where most of the folks live, it is about 7 miles long and 200-300 yards wide. Alicetown is at the very southern tip of North Bimini, and is the heart of the island. It is where the government buildings, the cargo dock, the school and the power plant are located. It is also where the few hotels and the islands primary marinas are located. There are other towns on the island, but they all butt up against one another, so when you are walking each town kind of blends into the next. We have walked about 2 miles north, so we have really only explored the lower 1/3 of the island, but that was enough walking for one day in this heat. It is quite warm here, most days have been in the high 70’s to mid 80’s, but today seems a bit cooler. The wind here seems to be constant and consistant, no matter what the time of day, or the temperature, there is always wind.

The airport and water plant is on South Bimini, and that is also where there seems to be a very large housing development that, from here, looks newly constructed. We have not ventured over to south Bimini yet, but that seems to be the plan for the day. There is a ferry that runs back and forth from north to south Bimini, and it is an old US Navy LCM, or landing craft. The main resupply ship that comes to the island is an old US Army landing craft, I am not sure of the actual type of vessel it is, but I have seen similar boats at Ft Story in Va beach. The resupply boats come every day, they bring in everything to the island, from food and water, to fuel and building supplies. Water here on North Bimini is expensive, 60 cents per gallon, not the place you want to resupply, and I am glad I am completely topped off.

Since we have been here we have met a ton of really nice folks, there is Larry and his wife Roberta from Oriental, NC, John and Sylvia from Denmark, Josh and Samantha from Hilton Head, SC, their friend Eric from Rhode Island. Josh, Samantha and Eric are traveling together on 2 smaller boats, and it looks like Matt may join them and form another small flotilla. We meet new folks everyday, and it seems that every evening we have some sort of get together here at the marina.

The Omni Present Conch
Island food is based on seafood, there is great fishing here and the water is full of marine life. It seems that the local staple though is conch. There are millions of conch here, all you have to do is walk out onto any one of the reefs or banks here and you can find them. Where we as Americans find the conch shell to be such a rare treasure, here they are piled up by the thousands. There are piles of conch shells everywhere, and so many of them are so beautiful. So far in our quest to sample local life we have had conch salad, conch fritters, and fried conch sandwiches. Anthony Bordain would be jealous of all the local food we have sampled so far. It seems that you can fix conch in as many varieties as Bubba Gump had variations for shrimp. Last night we gave a try at making our own conch salad, Matt and a few of the other boaters in the anchorage went out on the reef and looked for conch, you don’t really catch them, you just shuffle along and pick them up, it not like they can make a speedy escape from a determined conch hunter. You have to knock a hole in the shell to release the vacuum that holds them in their shell, and then you just pull them from the shell. If you have a conch shell with a hole right at the crown in the first set of whorls, like all the ones I will be bringing home, you know the inhabitant was removed for someones dinner.

Conch salad is diced up conch, the smaller ones are much more tender than the large ones, and then you add chopped vegetables, the standard mix seems to be onion, tomato, green and or red pepper, and maybe a bit of garlic. You drench this mixture in lime juice, sprinkle it heavily with garlic salt, and voila, you have conch salad. Pretty tasty, and pretty easy to make.

I went on walk about with Spook yesterday, and we went down on the beach and collected a ton of shells. After lunch, where we had conch fritters at a sea side restaurant (to call it a shack would demean it, but, it was a very small restaurant in a very small building) and while David, Matt, Larry, and Roberta talked at the table, Peg and I went looking for shells and sea glass. Many treasures to be found, the beaches here are littered with shells.

Today I helped John with his alternator belt, he has a situation where his old belt was worn, and the replacement belt he was given was a bit too long, but he made a minor alteration to the set up, and it seemed to work well with the new belt. Matt has had an on going problem with his charging system, so I went through the entire DC electrical system, and got his issues worked out. He is now charging properly, and not constantly discharging and running his batteries dead.

We are planning to go over to south Bimini today and see what is there, and maybe check out a place here that belongs to a friend of Peg and David. It is a huge private compound that is reported to be very well landscaped with a great view of the ocean, and its own private lagoon.

Tonight we are going out and probably eat some local fish, and more conch as well. From the weather forecast it looks like I will not get a good wind out of here until Saturday evening, so it seems like I am going to be "stuck" here for another week. I am starting to feel the pressure to get going, but, if you have to be stuck somewhere, I suppose there are many places that are worse than this little slice of island paradise.

No comments: