Some say this is the definition of cruising: repairing your boat in exotic places. Tied to a dock for six months, we rarely find anything that needs to be repaired because we don’t use many of the boat’s systems when we aren’t sailing and are connected to shore power. A few days before we left this year we turned on the chart plotter and discovered the backlight circuit had failed. It was cheaper to buy a used display than to get it repaired. We found several on eBay and drove a few miles to pick one up. Once we leave the dock and all systems are running it’s not unusual to discover something needs to be fixed. We hope that it happens before we leave the States where parts are readily available, but of course that isn’t always the case. There are old boats and new boats, but no matter how carefully they are maintained, repairs are a necessary part of cruising. Seas the Day is only five and a half years old and she has been at a dock for over half that time, during hurricane seasons. Even with excellent care, there are many intricate systems aboard and eventually parts fail.
Several days after we left Stuart we arrived in Miami and discovered the watermaker wasn’t working. A Spectra Watermaker technician who lived nearby diagnosed the problem, ordered a new pump and in a few days the watermaker was working again. When we got to the Bahamas, we realized that we were having a voltage drop between the batteries and the buss where the power is sent to everything that needs it. The batteries and buss are connected by a long cable. This was a major problem last year, but we hoped with the addition of a sixth battery and the new wind generator we would have plenty of power even with a voltage drop. If the voltage is low the freezer turns off, even though there is plenty of power in the batteries to keep it on. In the middle of the night our voltage might be 12.2V at the batteries but the buss reads 11.7V. Last season Mark made some changes which helped including putting in a better cable, but decided to take another look. After checking everything he couldn’t figure out anything else to do so he started to put things back together and suddenly there was a burning smell and a cloud of smoke came out of the top of the inverter. Mark has done the same procedure multiple times when working on the batteries and nothing happened. This time the inverter stopped working. Without the inverter, we have no AC power so the outlets don’t work and we can’t watch TV, do laundry, use the breadmaker or ice maker, or charge electric toothbrushes and camera batteries. We can’t use the microwave, the toaster, a blow dryer or a coffee bean grinder. We have 12V chargers (cigarette lighter chargers) for our phones, computers and tablets, Kindle, etc. so we don’t need AC outlets for them. Most of the systems on the boat run on 12V and they don’t need the inverter either. We didn’t panic, but realized if we weren’t able to replace the inverter, or repair it, our living conditions on the boat would change. Oddly, the next morning we noticed the inverter was back on! Apparently when it overheats it turns off and when cooled down resets itself. Broken parts rarely fix themselves so this time we were lucky.
Next, our 21KW generator (huge and left over from when we were a hybrid boat) stopped working. We use it to charge the batteries if the solar panels and wind generator don’t give us enough power during the day. We don’t run the generator often, but sometimes on a cloudy, still day we need an extra push to keep the batteries charged high enough through the night. Mark tried several possible fixes, but in the end discovered that the repair is inaccessible without removal of most of the outer cabinet work and possibly the genset body, which won’t happen until we get back to Florida. Our only alternative now is to run one of the diesel engines for a half hour or so to charge the batteries. This isn’t a good practice because it puts unnecessary hours on the engines but until we repair or replace the generator this is our only choice. Luckily we don’t have use the engines while we are anchored very often since there is plenty of sun and wind in the Bahamas to keep our batteries charged.
One day in Georgetown, the dinghy motor died while Mark was crossing the harbor to go to town. The current pushed him along while he tried in vain to fix it. A couple in an anchored motor yacht noticed his dilemma, lowered their dinghy to go rescue him, towing him back to our boat. After a few hours, Mark had repaired the motor. It would be a disaster if we didn’t have a dinghy motor because the dinghy is our “car” while we are here.
The next mechanical failure was the watermaker….again. Until this year, it had been working perfectly, making clean water out of sea water whenever we were away from a dock. The watermaker was running on our way from Williams Bay to Blackpoint but shortly after we dropped the anchor we ran out of water. I had done four loads of laundry on the way there that day, but this was not nearly enough to empty the tanks which hold 120 gallons. There is no gauge on the tanks but the watermaker makes 12 gallons of water an hour and the tanks should not have been empty. Removing the floorboard over the watermaker, Mark saw water running out of a broken part and collecting in the bilge. Until we were able to get a new part, the watermaker would not work. Many cruisers here do not have watermakers and get along fine. In reality you never make up the money it costs to buy a watermaker, but it is convenient to be able to have all the water you want, any time, any place. We were near Staniel Cay so we brought the boat to the fuel dock, purchased 120 gallons of water at 40 cents a gallon, emailed the watermaker dealer in Florida and ordered the part. Then we went a few miles north to Cambridge Cay to get protection from an approaching front and waited for the part to arrive. It’s very easy to get mail at Staniel Cay via Watermakers Air whose small airplane flies round trip from Ft. Lauderdale twice a day. Within two days our new part was waiting for us at Staniel Cay.
The watermaker is fixed and all is well……at least we don’t know of anything that needs to be repaired. Another saying is “Everything on your boat is broken……you just don’t know it yet.”
Photos below are from Cambridge Cay and Staniel Cay where we have spent the last few days.
This was the view from our mooring ball at Cambridge Cay. We were at the end of the field of 12 mooring balls, all taken by boats needing protection from a front passing through the Bahamas. Obviously this picture was taken before the strong winds and choppy seas arrived.
Some dogs love to stick their head out of a car window. In the Bahamas, our dinghy is our car and Sailor, like all boat dogs we’ve ever seen, enjoys riding in the dinghy and he doesn’t even need a window to feel the wind in his face.
In Staniel Cay there are three grocery stores: the Pink Store, the Blue Store, and Isles General. All three are in houses. Isles General is on the bottom of this two story home. (The Pink and Blue stores are much smaller.) There is a small room stocked with groceries and another small room with boating and household items. For $39.10 today, we got two large cans of juice, some fresh broccoli, a package of frozen broccoli, and two large containers of yoghurt. These prices are the reason we provision before we get to the Bahamas, but we still need to buy fresh food from time to time. The more populated settlements, such as Georgetown, have larger stores with more reasonable prices.
One of the highlights of Staniel Cay, besides having the James Bond movie “Thunderball” filmed here, is Pig Beach. Years ago a few pigs were left on Big Majors Island and every year there are new piglets. People come close to shore in their dinghies or small boats and the pigs swim out to beg for food. We didn’t get close enough for them to do that because Sailor might have jumped out of the dinghy to play with them and that would not be good!
Most of the inhabited islands in the Bahamas have a Batelco (phone) tower. Under it is always a Batelco store, which makes it convenient to find one. These islands have strong phone and data signals, but the ones that don’t have towers and are far from islands with towers have weak or no signals. Cambridge Cay is in the Exuma Land and Sea Park where there are no Batelco towers, thus there is a very weak signal coming from the tower on another island and sometimes no signal. We have a Wilson cell phone signal booster and by placing our Bahamas phone in a cradle with a cord running to an antenna outside the signal went from no bars to five.
We’ll be at Staniel Cay for a few more days and then will start north, stopping at a few islands before we leave the Exumas and sail to Eleuthera.