Immigration woes (or “you can’t always get what you want . . .”)
While in Marsh Harbor, we had planned to stop by the Immigration office in order to extend our visa past the end of March. (If you remember from our initial entry after crossing to the Bahamas, we were given only 50 days. Most people are given 90 – 120 days.) We were told by Immigration in Marsh Harbor that we could only extend our visa on the day it expired or maybe 1 or 2 days earlier. Also, the only places in the northern Bahamas where we could make the extension were Marsh Harbor, Treasure Cay, Freeport and West End. (There are several out islands where a customs officer will handle immigration for clearing into the Bahamas, but they are not permitted to extend the visa.)
Marsh Harbor and Treasure Cay are only a few miles from each other on the eastern end of Great Abaco island. We expected to have already left these ports behind well before the end of March. However, Freeport and West End , which are on Grand Bahama (and therefore further west toward the US), were not going to be much help either. Freeport requires a trip on the open Providence Channel, which didn’t appeal to us, and West End was the jumping off point for the crossing back to the US. If we made it that far, we wouldn’t need to extend our visa. So, we were left with a decision to make. Stay near Marsh Harbor until March 28th in order to extend our visa then, or head out of the Abacos much sooner to ensure we could clear Bahamian waters before our visa expired. We decided to do the latter.
Since we didn’t want to be forced to travel on a specific date (which can be disastrous if weather doesn’t cooperate), we investigated what would happen if we couldn’t leave by the visa expiration date. We were told that a) the extension is usually granted without problem and b) if it wasn’t extended, we just couldn’t go ashore, but we could stay in Bahamian waters waiting for a weather window. While many cruisers told us not to worry about the extension, since it is unlikely to be checked, we didn’t feel comfortable with that approach.
So, we left Marsh Harbor after filling up with fuel and fresh vegetables, and started working our way north. The first stop was Treasure Cay.
Treasure Cay is a resort community with a small, well-protected harbor. By paying an anchoring fee, you get access to the resort’s amenities, which include showers and a nice pool. We also sat in the deserted open air bar each day to get internet access. This became a cruiser networking spot as we used the bar stools and counter as impromptu office desks. The bar also had a game with a ring suspended on a long string that you tried to swing onto a hook on a nearby pole. Dave got very good at this before we left.
We had continued to stay in daily contact with Bonnie Lass, but we hadn’t been able to connect for over 2 weeks. They had moved to Man of War Cay and then to Marsh Harbor after we left. We finally hooked up again in Fishers Bay on Great Guana Cay, where we moved on Sunday (Mar. 11th). When we arrived, the bay was as full as we had seen it – a likely result of the combination of the start of spring break week and the Sunday pig roast at Nippers, which attracts huge crowds. There was still plenty of room for us to anchor comfortably, even with a 125ft motor yacht that preceded us into the bay. (Their tender was almost the size of Orion.)
We managed to snorkel some for the first time here in the ocean, just off the beach, but the winds were still making the waters a little too rough to risk going too far from shore. We saw some blue tang, some fan and brain coral. Afterward, we rinsed the salt water off in Nippers pool and spent some time enjoying a frozen Nippers drink, while relaxing in the sun by the pool.
White Bird had purchased a “hogfish” in Marsh Harbor, whose appearance lived up to its name, including some unfriendly-looking teeth. Joanne was tired of having it stare up at her from her freezer, and so, after asking our advice on how to cook it, she invited us over to help do it in. Val made neat work of filleting the fish, and then we disposed of it quickly, since it tasted far better than it looked.
Can you hear me now?
Soon after leaving US waters on our crossing, our cell phones stopped working. Although we’ve seen some analog signals in a few places since then, they mostly sit on the shelf like 2 lumps of coal, uncharged and unloved. The cost of making a cell phone call just didn’t make it reasonable to try to use them unless an emergency arose. However, it wasn’t long before we began to hear about another calling alternative called Skype, an internet-based telephone service that allows you to make international calls for a few cents a minute.
In Spanish Cay, Bonnie Lass let us use their connection to call home to let loved ones know we had made it safely. We decided to sign up for the service, but we had a few obstacles to overcome in order to be able to use it.
First, we needed a secure internet connection to purchase the service, so we wouldn’t risk our credit card information being stolen. The manager at Spanish Cay offered the use of her business wifi connection, which was a security-enabled connection. This worked initially, but then we realized we had paid for the US-to-US service, not the international calling “credits” that we needed. It took another week to work that out and to find a place to make the additional payment for the credits.
Next, we needed a headset to give us a microphone for the computer and speakers that would keep our conversations private. After checking stores in all of the out islands, we finally find some pricey ones in Marsh Harbor. These were in short supply as well, as fellow cruisers discovered the wonders of Skype.
Finally, we needed a strong enough internet connection to support a reasonable call quality. When we first used the service on Bonnie Lass’ computer in Spanish Cay, the satellite internet connection provided for clear call quality, but an awkward delay between speaking and being heard. It meant we were constantly stepping on each other or waiting for the other to speak. In Marsh Harbor, Dave discovered that a wifi connection that was easily strong enough to do e-mail only allowed him to make the call connection. The person being called could not hear him, although he had no trouble hearing them.
However, with a strong internet connection, we were able to call loved ones back in the states and keep up to date with things happening there. This has made us feel not so out of touch. E-mail is still more reliable, but the ability to call periodically is reassuring.
While we are at no risk of running out of food, one of our provisioning assumptions was that we would be baking bread, rather than buying it. It costs $4-5 a loaf in most stores. Cathy was thinking that this wasn’t such a high price to pay, considering the effort required for the alternative. Dave, however, said we had bought all this flour, yeast, etc. to make bread, so . . .
So, we broke out the flour, yeast, and the pressure cooker and took a day to make a loaf of bread. Since it had to rise for 3 hours, it took the better part of a day to make. Dave had read a method of baking bread in the pressure cooker, which we tried as well. Much to Cathy’s surprise, the bread smelled good and tasted even better. The pressure cooker approach meant that it didn’t have the same golden brown crust that would make it pretty, but the taste and texture were unaffected.
However, given the time involved, maybe next time we’ll make two loaves instead of just one.
We had been looking for an opportunity to practice heaving to, a technique of setting the sails so that the boat sits at a comfortable angle to the wind and waves, but makes little headway. This is a storm survival tactic that is good to know. We found our opportunity on the sail from Treasure Cay to Great Guana Cay. The wind was on the beam and steady at about 15 knots. We tried various combinations of main and headsail furled to varying sizes. We did successfully stop our progress, but didn’t get the angle we were hoping for. After doing some reading about this later, we decided we needed to have more mainsail for the lighter winds we had in our trials. We plan to try again to see if we can get this technique down. Once we do, we’ve been told we should then try it in 30 knot winds to see if we can make it work then too.
Of course, we would have to be willing to travel in 30 knot winds . . .
In Treasure Cay, we met Lena and Ron from Discovery, who had been with us briefly at the Bluff House Marina in Green Turtle Cay. Lena let us use her connection to make a Skype call and we exchanged information about how to get weather information. Dave showed her the electronic grib files he could get from NOAA and how to bring them into her navigation software. She showed us the weather faxes she could get on her SSB receiver radio, which requires a much smaller investment than a full SSB radio with transmit and receive capability.
Discovery wants to travel back to the US around the same time that we do, so we promised to stay in touch in the event that this will work out.
We’ve heard from Marianna and Merlin, who are ready to travel north from Georgetown to the Abacos to hook up with us. However, weather is not cooperating yet. We will move slowly north and anticipate their joining us before long. They always travel much faster than we do, when left to our own devices. Who knows where the next update will find us?