Tuesday, August 11, 2015

We Just Flew In From Mexico...

And boy, are our arms tired!  Our Son-In-Law is a Navy Helicopter Pilot.  Cool, right?  Well it gets better...

All photos are taken from the internet with proper credit attributed.  We were not allowed to take photos of our experience due to secrecy concerns.  Our experience was with "the real thing".  Actual equipment used to train our fighting Naval Forces.  These photos are from San Diego and other Naval facilities and depict the MH-60R and the MH-60S.  If you're interested in helicopters and not just our story, click on the photo credit links to read the corresponding stories.

Photo Credit
Yesterday Scott told us that he had secured time for us to use the MH-60S tactical operational flight trainer (TOFT).  It's the simulator that Scott trains on to fly!!! Bruce immediately said yes... my response was a little slower.  Sounds kind of scary although my biggest concern was that I would become motion sick and toss my cookies into the multi-million dollar faux-cockpit!

Two. Hours.  We get to play with this machine for two hours!  We arrived at the base and after a quick tour of Scott's work environment, we were led into the facility where the TOFTs were housed.  We showed our ID and were issued badges signifying that we must be accompanied by authorized personnel.  We followed Scott down dimly lit halls and through a doorway marked "SECRET".

Photo Credit
Scott announced our arrival and intention to use trainer #8, which sent one of the men off to prepare our simulator for civilian use.  There are secret functions that we are not allowed to see, which must be shut down prior to our entry.  It didn't take long until we found ourselves slowly mounting the stairs and crossing to the landing of one of two hulking giants.

Photo Credit
They looked like something out of a Transformer's movie with their gleaming white bodies and electronic legs... We would be experiencing movement as well as visuals during our session.  We wanted to play it cool of course, but Bruce and I could not stifle the huge ridiculous grins on our faces.

The interior was darkened with a control center aft, which had video screens and two chairs.  Our escort finished up the settings with the question: "do you want guns and missiles?" to which Scott replied YES!  Awesome!  We get to blow stuff up!!!

Photo Credit
I graciously allowed Bruce to go first in the cockpit just forward of the control center.  There were two seats (just like the real thing) that slid back for entry, then slid forward to bring the operator right up into the controls.

Photo Credit
From my seat just aft of the cockpit between Scott and Bruce, I could decide whether I wanted to watch them to my right, or see what they were seeing out the windows on a video screen to my left. The view from the cheap seats was a little distorted, so much of the time I watched the video screens.  

There was also a camera just behind Bruce's head that showed me the instrument panel he was seeing.  I could listen to Scott instructing Bruce and see what he was seeing on the panel.  

I was able to keep up and learn how to work the cyclic and collective and see the vessel's reactions to Bruce's movements.  I was also able to feel the simulator move, sometimes making me glad that I was seat belted in, because let me assure you, I would have been tossed to the floor otherwise.  

It was difficult to separate reality from fiction as we would go into the occasional uncontrolled free-fall... at which time Scott would take control and bring us back to straight and steady flight.  Bruce brought us out to one of three simulated ships that were steaming along in our simulated world.  The boys got carried away blasting the carrier with missiles and guns.  They ran out of ammunition and Scott talked me though replenishing their weapons on the computer control panel in the back.  

Photo Credit
I listened closely as Scott taught Bruce to increase and decrease speed and altitude.  Then came time to land the helicopter on the deck of the carrier.  We encouraged Scott to take us through that and watched in awe as visibility became seriously limited.  He had to literally do the last bit blind, bringing the bird down onto the deck, which we felt as a jolt.  

What we saw was very close to this picture but we had the pilots view as we followed the wake of the carrier and zeroed in on the deck runway.  Once we landed safely, Scott asked if we were ready to switch!!!

Gulp!  It was my turn.  I was nervous but after listening and watching Bruce do it, I was ready.  I stepped into the pilot seat, slid the chair up way too close to the controls and strapped myself into the seat belt.  One belt between my legs, lap belts clicked into the central lock, then two over-the-shoulder belts clicked in to complete the process.  I was securely trapped!

Photo Credit
Scott went over the controls with me from his side, while I held the cyclic and collective in my hands to get the feel for it. We went over use of the foot pedals as well, but he says they aren't really for use at higher speeds, mostly for close in work (which we would leave to Scott). Then it was time to power up and take the vessel up off the deck.  It wasn't my finest hour I can tell you... I rocked a bit as we rose, then I got all catiwompus and had to have Scott rescue us before we crashed into the Pacific.  

Once he got it steadied out, I took control again and kind of got the hang of it.  I got a little brave, but was content to just putt along at about 70 miles per hour, nice and easy.  I did a few turns and Scott said "OK, where do you want to go?".  To which I replied "MEXICO!!!".  So I turned the cyclic and headed for Los Coronados.

Scott told us that they often see whales down in the water as they fly overhead in the real Sierras (that's what us insiders call them... Sierras).  This experience was so real, I found myself peering over the instrument panel into the shimmering water below in hopes of seeing one...  If they could populate our make-believe world with target ships, surely they could muster a whale or two...

I turned my sights back to the Coronado Islands looming ahead.  I began to descend and Scott told me that I was getting the hang of it quickly.  I felt like I almost knew what I was doing and it was becoming more natural. I began to relax my tensed up muscles and enjoy the ride.  

Photo Credit
In some ways it is very similar to sailing.  Just like you can feel the pressure on the rudder of the boat, you can feel that you need to adjust the collective.  When you raise the nose of the helicopter, the speed drops and you must counter that with increased pressure on the collective to remain constant... and likewise if you lower the nose to increase speed, you can counter the increase by lowering the collective power.  It was really pretty neat to feel like I was really getting it.   

Photo Credit
Just as I was feeling more settled and relaxed, Scott told me to go ahead and fire away at the island.  WHAT???  (it's all make believe, it's all make believe...) So I eased my right thumb beneath the protective flap and depressed the fire button momentarily.  Whoa!  We could feel the helicopter shake as the little dots of light arched through the air in front of us.  WOW!  

Even more exciting was the fact that I instinctively moved the cyclic and collective to better position for a hit.  One after another my dots of light arched to the hillside with a satisfying little >poof<.  Scott told me to shoot continuously.  He said that way I could see where my shots were landing so that I could adjust the flight to hit where I wanted to.  I held the button down and a continuous rain of white dots sped off to the mountainside.  Multiple >poofs< signaled my success.  YAY!  

Then Scott switched me to missiles!  No more little jolt...  There was a bigger jolt as the fireballs flew.  This time they landed with a >CABLOOEY<!!  Missiles are FUN!  Suddenly I realized that the island was looming fast.  Just in time, I pulled the cyclic back to avoid hitting the side of the island.  I could almost hear the Starwars music in the background... I eased us between two peaks and pointed us towards mainland Mexico.

Photo Credit
Next I wanted to see the bullfighting ring.  I could see the faux-waves as they caressed the long sandy shoreline. I could NOT see the bull ring.  It should be huge, why can't I see it?  I realized another similarity to sailing... Many times Bruce or I have been able to pick out a landmark or navigational aid long before others (non-sailors) could see it.  I guess pilots have developed the ability to distinguish between landmarks just like we have on the water.  

Scott knew just where it should be, from his training flights over this area.  He knew what it should look like, and as we neared the shore, he pointed it out to me.  There!  I could see it.  A low brownish looking row.  I pointed us there and began to descend.  When I got near, I gladly gave up the controls so that Scott could land us down in the bowl.  

He asked for our input as he brought it slowly down, down, down.  When landing, the pilot can't see what's beneath the helicopter.  Although this is not real, we sunk slowly into the center of the bullring.  the top edges rose around us and we could no longer see the surrounding countryside of Tijuana.  The only indication that this was NOT real was the lack of detail.  There were no rows of seats, no aisles, no ring at the bottom, no people.  We felt the ground beneath us as we rested there momentarily, grinning in delight!  

The controls came back to me and I lifted us up and out of the bowl.  There is a lighthouse just next to the bullring.  We buzzed it as we ascended to head along the coast and back to the USA.  We flew over Scott and Brittney's old house, laughing about lobbing a missile or two at the place, just for fun.  (but we didn't).  

I saw a flashing light off Point Loma and asked Scott what it was.  He said, "lets go over there and take a look"... it turned out to be the lighthouse on the low point of the channel.  Awesome!  We turned away and set our sights once again on the ships as they tried desperately to escape our wrath.  

Scott asked me if I was ready to switch out with Bruce again.  In relief, I agreed to relinquish my hold on the controls.  It seemed as if I was regressing instead of improving.  My skills were decreasing.  I couldn't "feel" it anymore.  Scott explained that this is common when people first learn to fly.  They are so nervous that their bodies reactively tense up, causing a sneaking fatigue which affects their reflexes and ability to concentrate.  I had that.  

I got ready for Scott to land once again on the carrier deck so that we could switch seats.  My shock could not be more real when he stopped the helicopter in mid air and said "OK".  I laughed!  It's NOT REAL!  Of COURSE we can just stop in mid-air, like some kind of cartoon.  I extricated myself from the seat belts and slid back to allow Bruce to take the hot seat once again.  

Photo Credit
I fell into the spectator row in relief and buckled myself in.  It was a good thing too because this time, the boys did a lot more maneuvering.  Scott taught Bruce how to speed up and slow down, how to hover, how to turn.  He let him use the foot pedals... then they blew some more stuff up.  I had to reload for them AGAIN!  

Our time was nearing the end of our two hours in the simulator.  Scott took us in for a landing after Bruce found the airstrip.  But then he turned it back over to Bruce and talked him through it.  It was a bit bumpy, but Bruce got us safely back to the earth.  We did some more hovering and spinning... if there was ever a time for motion sickness... this would be it.  But neither of us had any problem with is.  I guess our sea legs are good for something besides sailing!

With less than ten minutes to go, Scott began to show us how to land the helicopter if we lost  engine power.   He took it up and then cut the engine causing us to begin a free-fall.  At the last moment, he threw it into a counter rotation that cushioned our landing enough to keep from damaging anything.  It was at that point that we ran out of faux-fuel!!!  

Scott turned off the simulator and we felt it settle back to the ground.  Once the warning sounds stopped, signifying that the simulator had returned safely to off position, we were free to unbuckle and open the door to leave.  Even though I KNEW that we had never left this room... it felt as if we had been on a grand adventure.  I had "seen" Tijuana and the bull ring.  I had landed on the deck of a carrier and fired missiles at Los Coronados.  

We climbed down from the simulator full of absolute joy.  We just can't believe how lucky we are.  We realize that this was an experience that a rare few people will ever know. 

We may have come down from the clouds when we descended those steps... but in our minds we continued to soar well into the next morning.  Thank you Scott and thank you Navy!  I only wish that I could have taken pictures to share and make this as real for you as it is for us.  

P.S.  When we got back home and my daughter asked us about how it went... Scott told her: "Your Mom wanted to go sightseeing!"

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Cross Country

Dos Libras sleeps quietly in rain drenched heat back in Gulfport, FL while we zoom across the entire US of A in our car.  By sea and now by land, we are packing in the sights, sounds and smells of our great (and by that I mean great BIG) country.

Photo from the web
The trek from Florida to Texas has now become more commonplace for us, as we've made it several times... One stop in Baton Rouge at the La Quinta (they allow pets at no extra charge) and we were off again, arriving at our Townhouse in Corpus Christi by late afternoon.  And that was even with a side trip to Aransas Pass to pick up some fresh Gulf Shrimp to assuage our craving.  

You just can't get shrimp like these anywhere else and we've been pining for them...

Next stop was "home".  I use quotes because it doesn't feel like home anymore.  Home is where our boat is.  It's the strangest feeling and is completely indescribable.  We walk through the halls and rooms of the townhouse that we bought, remodeled and decorated in our own eclectic style... we see familiar things, treasures we once highly valued... but now there are also things not ours there.  My mother is living in our town home and paying the expenses so that we can cruise without the expense of keeping the house.  It's a win-win for everyone.  

She had a few things listed for us to take care of during our brief visit... like clean the leaves that collect on top of the atrium for starters...

So between visiting our friends at BYC and lunches and dinners with other cherished friends... and dinners with family (Mom fried up those delicious shrimp as only she can do)... we did a few chores.  

Well, I guess we are still technically homeowners, guess that qualifies us for "house projects".  

Bruce and I both had medical visits while we were in CC.  Yes, there are Doctors everywhere, but if we have the chance, we still like to see our long-time physicians and dentists.  

And so, with all of that out of the way, we were ready to continue on our journey across the country... but sadly, with only one fur baby.  

It isn't written in stone yet as we are still having wavering moments... but when Mom heard us talking about our Jetsam aging and how it's becoming increasingly difficult for her being on the boat... she volunteered to keep her at home.  

Our initial reaction was NO WAY!  We can't leave our baby!  But when we started to think about it, Jetsam really seemed to remember the townhouse and settled right in, we began to reconsider.  Granted, we were now sleeping in the guest room and she was no longer welcome in the master, where Mom and HER cats are now living...  She still seems so comfortable in the house.  We tell ourselves that it will be an easier life for her in her declining years than sailing off into the unknown.  

The sad day of our departure leaving our Jetsam there and driving away with only Jezabelle was tough.  If we can't stand it, we can always swing back by Texas on our way back to Florida and snatch her back...  But we keep telling ourselves that it really is what's best for her as her growing physical ailments manifest in so many ways, maybe it is best for her to be in a place she knows and can be more comfortable.  I just hope she adjusts quickly and doesn't miss us as much as we miss her snuggles. 

If Jezabelle misses Jetsam at all, it isn't evident to us. She has been such an awesome traveller we really count ourselves lucky.  She has become so comfortable in the car, and equally comfortable in the places we have stopped. She's just taking it all in.  It is only mildly inconvenient that we can't stop spontaneously and check things out because we can't leave her in the car... but that's OK, we love her.

Things began to change drastically as we left the familiar parts of Texas and headed West.  The terrain was vast and dry at first glance.  The land was punctuated by uprising hills and rocky cliffs.  

We were surprised that the plant life present was so green.  
This aerial view is MUCH different than what we're used to!

Once out of Texas, things went more quickly as we zoomed along.  Temperatures began to climb as we made our way towards Deming, NM, where Bruce's brother and his wife have graciously extended an invitation for us to stay in their home for the night.  

Our day was long, traveling 11 and a half hours so that the next day would be shorter, giving us time to visit with Phil.  

We were relaxed and refreshed as we hit the road again late the next morning.  

I enjoyed seeing the dust devils spin out on the plains, very different trade from the possible waterspouts we left behind in Florida.

We approached a huge raincloud and felt the momentary respite from the heat as a few fat raindrops splattered across our windshield, cleaning the dust from our view.  We were treated to quite a dramatic landscape as we drove through the rain. 

Our view
I was fascinated by the sudden lift of the land to soaring heights and enjoyed playing with the aerial Google view to see what the places we were driving through looked like from above.  

Bird's eye view of the same spot.

Zooming through Tucson

Cities were few and far between as we sped West.  The speed limit was 80-85 and we marveled at the number of traffic cops we saw waiting to catch speeders.  WHO would WANT to drive any faster than 85mph???

We are used to signs out on the water, but you never see a sign that says "High winds next 49 miles" or "Dust storms possible next 49 miles"...  These are things that I've never seen before and were of high interest as I peered out the window in search of said dust storms...

But the winds were not bad and all we saw were the dust devils, which are evidently as camera shy as dolphin.. it's hard to get one in a picture from a moving car.  

Driving along I10 West, the traffic was steady but since everyone was going the same way at that breakneck speed, it didn't seem like much.  We saw SO many 18 wheelers carrying goods West... and just off the highway I was delighted to see - TRAINS-!  

I love trains.  There is a lot of stuff being moved to and fro out here in the desert.  

Next milestone was crossing out of New Mexico and into Arizona.  We traveled briefly through parts of New Mexico years ago on a trip to Colorado... but Arizona is officially new territory for us.

As the miles traveled continued to climb, so did the temperatures.  A friend had warned us that it was unwise to be in the desert in the heat of the afternoon... Not really having a choice, we would find ourselves in the hottest part of our trip during peak heat.  

I watched... it rose and rose.  I wondered where it would top off as it got impossibly HOT!  We just crossed our fingers and hoped the car would not fail us now!  

Welcome to California!
The terrain became more rocky and we began to spot saguaro cactus along the way. (sadly no pics!!!)

Somewhere along the way we got a messaging on the iPhone welcoming us to the US and telling us their prices for internet data.  WHAT???  I freaked out a little!  We weren't data rooming!  We are STILL in the US!  But I guess we got close enough to the Mexican border to confuse the iPhone!  Creepy!

The California border was suddenly in sight.  There was an abrupt change in scenery as we crossed in.  From a distance we could see huge sand dunes.  HUGE. Sand. Dunes.

I know I'm easy to thrill, but this was WAY cool!  There was also a ribbon of water snaking through this arid landscape carrying sparkling blue green water to somewhere...

The Colorado Desert (part of the Sonora)

Just as suddenly as the dunes appeared they were gone.  We traveled along for a while with flat nothingness as far as the eye could see.  The Colorado Desert, which is part of the Sonora Desert, where we were surprised to see that we were at sea level.  Shortly after that, we went even lower to almost 300 ft BELOW sea level.  (creepy fun facts) This is where the heat really hit it's peak and I kept thinking it would go impossibly higher than 116°... but it never did.

Then began the foothills of the Laguna Mountains where we began to see huge wind turbines slowly spinning.  I love them.  They are so majestic and I think of all that lovely wind power.

We drove through several fields of these gentle giants.  What fun it was to speed along right beneath them.  We have these in Texas, but it wasn't until after a lengthy battle with birders.  Their fear was that the swiftly moving arms of the turbines would kill birds as they moved through the air at deceptively high speeds.

California doesn't seem to have such problems as they have wind AND also many solar fields to harvest alternative energy resources.  I guess the stranglehold of Texas Oil just won't let progress happen.

I was excited to see the mountains and thrilled at ever thousand foot mark.  One Thousand, Two Thousand, Three Thousand feet.  And then passed a sign signifying the Continental Divide!  What??? Awesome!

I was nervous about the sounds our car was making as we climbed higher and higher.  Bruce was using the manual function on our car and it sounded like it was working as never before.  We just aren't used to driving in the mountains... Bruce may have made some uncharitable suggestions as to what I could do with my advice... as we made it up and over one summit after another.

The eastern side of the mountain range was decidedly rocky.  Just pile upon pile of loose boulders and scrabble.  Vegetation was sparse and in many places, nonexistent!

At some point on the way up, Bruce mentioned that maybe we should have stopped for gas before we entered the mountain range... There were some tense moments as I quickly scrambled to find a nearby gas station... in the mountains.  Lucky for us, there was one in the little mountain town called Pine Valley.  Very cute, but very expensive gasoline...  Beggars can't be choosers...

We took on a few gallons and continued on our way down the green side of the mountains.  Temperatures that had dropped into the high 90s as we climbed, were spiraling downward the closer we got to San Diego.  We were astounded to see them fall into the high 80's!!!

We had traveled over 2, 600 miles (over 2,311 nautical miles). That's about as far as we traveled on the boat during most of our first year cruising!!!

We did it all in only four travel days... very fast.  We hope to take a little more time on the return trip after the wedding and see some sights... maybe take advantage of some of those photo ops that went by in a blur.  What an awesome opportunity this is for us. We will soon have our first glimpse of the Pacific Ocean!

Monday, July 27, 2015

Finding Water In The Bahamas

Browns Marina, Bimini
When we bought Dos Libras it had a water maker "available but not installed"...  What that means is that the PO must have bought one second hand and only partially installed it before selling the boat.  What that meant to me was that with a little bit of work..we would have one.  That didn't work out quite the way I had planned.

But thats OK... So many other Cruisers assured me that we would have no problem finding water in the Bahamas.  So, we decided that we would go for season and then decide if we wanted to spend the $$$$ money to buy and install a water maker.

Now that we've had our first season in the Bahamas, although I am by no means an expert and these are just my nonsensical ramblings, I can tell you that yes, you CAN find water in the Bahamas.  But it is an adventure, and depending upon your individual water consumption needs and your expectations about water quality, you might want to rethink going without that water maker.

Everyone is different.  The vast majority of hard core Cruisers will scoff at my opinion, but in the end, you have to know yourself.  We carry about 125 gallons of water in our tanks and have another 5 five gallon jugs on the deck.  There are those who could live for weeks, even months on that much water.  But I don't know how...

Way back when we were studying the Cruising life, one of the things that I anticipated bothering me most was the lack of cleanliness.  I hate being dirty.  I hate for my living quarters to be dirty.  I don't want to be sandy or salty... I want to be clean!  I would almost call myself a "clean freak", borderline at least.  I wash my hands probably 25 times just making dinner.  I need to bathe and can't go long without a complete "cleaning day" for the boat.  I just knew that having to forego my normal cleanliness routines due to lack of water for cleaning would slowly make me crazy.  But I was willing to try with the promise of crystal waters to "shower" off the transom and an ample stock of disinfectant wipes packed away.

Spoiler alert, we never actually RAN OUT of water and it wasn't until our very last week in the Berrys that we even got close...But in my mind, I was constantly thinking about how much we had and where we would be able to take on more... It was ALWAYS on my mind and it was probably second only to weather in our route planning process.

So let's get to it.  Where did we find water?  Well first of all, we left the US with nearly full tanks obtained from Crandon Park Marina, where we topped off our diesel tanks.  They were very nice about allowing us to top off our water tanks for free!!!  We tested their water with our cheap little tester and found it to be about 175 ppm of total dissolved solids.  (this is good)

For reference, according the US Standards, TDS levels above 500 "can give water a disagreeable taste" and levels above 1000 ppm can cause corrosion in your tank and pipes.  Our water maker advises that water is considered potable with less than 750 ppm TDS... and our city water back home in Corpus Christi regularly measured 450... needless to say I didn't drink it.

So anyway... upon arrival at Bimini, we chose Browns Marina based largely upon the information provided by Active Captain that there was "free RO water".  As often happens with us, what was free before our arrival, is no longer so, and NOW they charge a mandatory daily rate for water at the dock, whether you use it or not.  Well, OK, it was like $4 per day.  We could use all the water we wanted for the three days we are here and leave with full tanks, right?  What is $12 compared to the thousands we would pay for a water maker???

But wait.  There's more.  Evidently getting anyone in the Bahamas to say categorically that the RO water is potable and that you can gladly fill your tanks with it and drink it all day long... does. not. happen.  What they would say was that yes, it's "City water".  And no... they don't drink it themselves... but YOU can if you want.  WHAT???

We tested the city water at Browns and it came up in the 450+ range.  It smelled.  We left there without filling our tanks.  At that point, we didn't really want the substandard water in our tanks.  Some people on the docks had in-line water filters that they attached the water hose to in order to filter the water before it went into their tanks, but we didn't have one of those...

** You can buy drinking water at the Big Game Club on Bimini.
Collecting rain water from our deck drains
So for the days between Bimini and our next available water source, I was a mess.  We had weather issues and spent several days in an anchorage off of New Providence.  But wait!  We had rain!  We could fill our tanks with rainwater!  Last fill was February 1st... it's now February 18th.

I scoured the internet for information about drinking rain water.  Many Cruisers say you CAN... but what I found said NO.  Well, we could catch the water and keep it in our jerry jugs to use for washing.

We tested the rainwater and found a huge difference between the first jug and the last...  The first one tested in the 600+ ppm range, while the last one was in the high 200s.  WOW!  Why the big difference?  My only guess is that there are particles in the air from the belching smokestacks at the nearby power plant.  As the rain literally washed the air, the particles became fewer.  The really creepy thing was that the jugs sat on the deck for some days, unused.  We were horrified to find them full of thick green algae.  Won't be using that water, even for cleaning!!!

When the weather finally gave us a break to escape West Bay, we made our first water related decision... We would head for a marina where we could get water.  Once again, according to Active Captain, the Palm Cay Marina had good RO water for sale.

We arrived at Palm Cay tired, dirty, beat up by wind and waves, and running from another norther'... with nearly empty water tanks.  We needed to re-group and relax... and CLEAN!

Using our mandatory water to wash the rugs
But once again, we found the staff to be vague about the potability of the water, stating that it is City water and that they do not drink it themselves.  They used to have drinkable RO water at the facility but no more.  Oh, and the city water at the docks was again a mandatory fee, whether you used it or not... We took full advantage of our time there to clean the boat from top to bottom.

We left there with drinking water we bought at the grocery store for $1 per gallon.  If we had an in-line filter we might have used it to fill our tanks.  It would be three more days until we could get "good RO water".

Active Captain told us that we could get RO water at Highbourne Cay. Even their own website advertises RO water!  At last!  We could fill our tanks with glorious delicious water!  We pulled up and questioned the attendant about the water extensively.  He was confident that their water was only the best RO water they made themselves... not "city" water.   We  paid $.50 per gallon and filled all 125 gallons with it.  Then we tested it.  It tested 457 ppm.  WHAT???  We just paid for barely drinkable water!  Maybe we should have tested it BEFORE we filled our tanks with it.  Learned that lesson the hard way.

By this time, our standards were relaxing.  We rationalized that this water was about the same as we got back in Texas, and we DO have a Seagull filter at our galley sink.  So, we began drinking the water filtered through the Seagull.  We went about two weeks to our next water opportunity at Black Point.

Black Point is a small out island settlement.  The people are poor, the facilities are scant.  But they have water.  And they share it with Cruisers.  For free.  For. FREE!  This was such a refreshing and welcome attitude.  The forecast high winds, the calm anchorage and the free water, kept us here at Black Point for nine days.  Nine glorious days during which we didn't have to worry a bit about finding water.

To get the water, we loaded our jugs into the dinghy and motored over to the shore just down from the government dock.  It was best to go at high tide, since the stairs don't reach all the way to the water.  We toted our five jugs up the stairs and across the street to the public spigot.

There, we filled our jugs with the glorious free and sparkling water, tested out at 175 ppm... and then came the arduous task of getting the weighty jugs back across the road, down the stairs, across the sand and into the dinghy... then back up into the boat where we syphoned them into our hungry tanks.

This is a good time to mention our shaker syphon hoses.  They are awesome, we have one for water and another for fuel.  They make transferring the water from jug to tank a breeze.  No pouring, no funnel.  You can even transfer fuel or water in bouncy seas if needed.  They are perfect for our purpose.

As I mentioned, the people here are poor.  It is suggested that Cruisers take only what water they need to get them to the next water source and not be wasteful.  So while we did relax our water restrictions a bit and did some cleaning, and maybe had more showers than usual... we had become used to rationing pretty strictly and tried not to waste this awesome resource.  Still... it's difficult not to become a hoarder at this point...

We did give back to the community for the free anchorage and water, by participating in a clean-up day and by eating out more here than anywhere else in the Bahamas.  We did our part to put some money into their coffers.

Leaving Black Point we were four days from our next water opportunity, so we didn't really tank up, but left with about half full capacity.  We pulled into another marina, Emerald Bay.  Once again, this place advertised RO water.  We docked in the "cheap seats" where there was NOT water at the dock.  So while we had access to water at the fuel dock, the marina staff acted kind of funny about us hauling our jugs in dock carts to the fuel dock to get water.  They charged about $.27 per gallon.  We filled our five jugs and they charged us for only 20 gallons.  We tried to argue that clearly we got 25 gallons... but they wouldn't listen.  The water tested at about 270 ppm, which wasn't bad.  But we didn't get any more... with the promise of free water to be had at our next stop... Georgetown, Exuma.

The unassuming looking source of life
Ahh Georgetown.  We were there a little over a month.  We were expecting guests.  Weather and lack of water had caused us to postpone their visit until we could get here to GT where there was protection from the elements and access to plentiful free water for washing.  We found the source, offered free to us by the local Exuma Market.

We relaxed our water usage standards and had regular showers, even washed our hair!  The dinghy trip to the water source was 1.2 miles across a wide open expanse of water.  Many days it was a wet and bumpy ride.  We adopted a practice of getting at least SOME water almost every time we went to town.  In the end, we moved the boat over to an anchorage closer to town to prep for our departure to the out islands of the Exumas.

** Of Important Note:  One week our cat refused to drink the water.  She acted like it was bad and we had the devil of a time with her.  She cried all night and looked sadly at us when we refreshed her water bowl.  I was NOT going to buy bottled water for a cat when we were drinking the tank water...  Some people said that GT was know for adding  bleach to the city RO water.  Sometimes they get it a little strong.  I could smell the bleach in the water.  It eventually cleared out and the cat went back to drinking the water.

We visited Long Island, skipped Cat Island and made it out of the Exumas and as far as Eleuthera before we found water again.  We arrived in Rock Sound about a week later with dwindling water supplies.

Rock Sound is another poor out island settlement, though not as poor as Black Point.  Rock Sound also had a free public water spigot.  When we asked about the whereabouts of the spigot and got directions, we asked also about payment and received puzzled looks.  Why would they charge money for water??? Why indeed...

We repeated the same routine as Black Point, only this time I stayed on the dinghy to keep it off of the glassy beach, while Bruce took our (new to us) cart across the street to fill the jugs.  Before we were done, a gentleman broke away from his pals at a nearby beach bar and came over to help us haul our water back across the street.  We gave him some money for his troubles, impressed at his industriousness when the rest of his friends just sat all afternoon at the bar drinking and laughing.  It wasn't much, but maybe he could get a couple of beers for his work.

We spent five days in Rock Sound awaiting a weather window to continue on.  We learned a valuable lesson here.  Because there were several other boats in the anchorage with whom we found lots of fun things to do... we failed to take on water when we could, opting to run and play in the sun.  When it came time to leave, we had a brief window and no time to carry water, so we left without refilling our tanks.  Rock Sound was the last place we found free water in the Bahamas.

We sought refuge from days of intermittent squalls and wind in the safe waters of Hatchet Bay, Eleuthera.  We had heard that there was also free water to be had from public spigots but when we asked around, we got blank stares.  So, we took our bottles up to the water plant to have them filled with the sweetest, purest RO water we've yet to encounter...  We paid $5.30 for each five gallon jug and you had to bring your own.  They don't sell them, no matter how much you beg as another cruiser friend learned...

This involved parking at a low dock behind the government dock and across the street from the plant, waiting for the fill and lugging them back across the road to the dinghy.  But the water was delicious and tested at 22 ppm.  That's almost completely pure.  We didn't dump that into our tanks.  We kept it on the deck in the jugs and used it strictly for drinking.  We kept our tank water and drinking water separately for the remainder of our time in the Bahamas.  We were uncertain about our ability to get good quality water and didn't want to waste our delicious drinking water.

We did eventually find those public spigots we had been told of... but when we ran a little water into a glass and tested it... it was literally brown.  No need to get our tester dirty on THIS water.  We'll skip it.

We made one more trip to the water plant before leaving Hatchet Bay but still left there with our tanks full.  We had rain.  And lots of it.  We didn't collect the first deluge, but when it continued to rain and rain and rain... we figured we would give it another try.  We were thrilled to find the rain water tested out at 150 and 120 ppm.  This we would put into our tanks.  We collected it in buckets and when that proved too slow, we made a dam from a wet rag on the deck and let the skies fill our tanks directly.  It took mere minutes to fill our primary 50 gallon tank and even less to fill our other, smaller tanks.

My shoes are floating in the dinghy pool
Several times while it was still coming down, Bruce had to go out and pump out the dinghy to keep it afloat.  We wished we had more tanks to fill and after it was all over, we thought it might have been fun to throw our dirty laundry into the dinghy and stomp around on it instead of paying for laundromats or using our buckets.  Next time!!!

From Hatchet Bay we headed for the Abacos.  No water in Little Harbor because we didn't get a mooring ball... no water at Man-O-War Cay even though we DID get a mooring ball.  No amenities whatsoever come with MOW mooring balls... We could have paid for it at the fuel dock, but when we were ready to leave, a boat was docked there with no intention of leaving... So we skipped it.  From there we went to Treasure Cay where we were able to pick up one five gallon jug fill for free out of a water hose at the marina before the hose disappeared.

At Treasure Cay, the Active Captain information showed RO water available for sale at the fuel dock on the way into the mooring/anchorage basin.  We stopped by the fuel dock and they were selling five gallon jugs but you couldn't get a refill.

We found out that the bar at Treasure Cay Marina will fill jugs for less than $5 per jug.  Their water tested out at 175 ppm.

We were in the Abacos for about five weeks.  In that time, we stayed at Mangos Marina and the Marsh Harbour Marina... both of which have mandatory daily charges for water at the dock.  This is the "city water" that nobody likes to drink.  By this time, we were routinely filling our tanks with the water and using the RO drinking water when we can find it.  We didn't really want to run much water through our Seagull filter if we could help it.  In the end, we tossed that filter and installed a new one when we got back to the US because the water coming out of it wasn't good.

Anyway, back to Abaco water.  We paid about $.30 per gallon for water at Hopetown Marina.  It tested at about 110 ppm and they said they have their own RO plant.

During our time in the Abacos, we had a visitor onboard for nine days.  She was very good about conserving water but drank a LOT of water.  We pretty much showered in the on shore facilities everywhere we could and so our water supply was adequate.  Plus, we had marinas at the beginning and end of her visit.  I was (unpleasantly) surprised that the Abacos didn't have many non-marina options for obtaining water.

We left the Abacos headed for the Berrys and the end of our time in the Bahamas.  Never wasting a chance to take on water, our last stop at the south end of Abaco, Sandy Point... we picked up two very pure RO bottles from their small grocery store for $6 and change each.  You will need a trade in bottle.  I'm not sure they would sell you the water without a trade in.

We never took on water while in the Berrys.  There was a marina at Great Harbour where water could be obtained, but we weren't staying in the marina.  There was no water at the fuel dock there.  The rest of the Cays in the Berrys are sparsely or completely uninhabited and we found no water available in the places we stayed.

As our week there progressed and we got closer to our exit, we pretty much just snapped.  We were tired, we were dirty, we were sweaty and running very low on water.  We decided to skip our last stop and run for Frasiers Hog Cay, but we learned via VHF that they had no water available.  No answer from Chub Cay and we weren't willing to go to the trouble of entering the marina basin without a sure thing... We had enough to get us back to the US if we rationed.  We went for it.

Our last stop at Cat Cay, we picked up a bit of fuel and about 50 gallons of water.  We really didn't need to but we had some Bahamian money to spend and by this time I was kind of in a frenzy about it.  (remember that earlier mention of slowly going crazy?)  When we reached the US and anchored in the afternoon, the wind was still and we really appreciated that water when we stood under the shower before bed.  The next day we went back to Crandon Park and filled up with diesel and all we could hold of their lovely free water.

Things should be much easier now, we're back in our own country.  We knew that we could get water for free at Tarpon Basin so we weren't really too worried about it... until we got to Tarpon Basin and found out that the source had been cut off about a month prior.  It seemed like that was just the last straw.  We were tired of being ruled by our quest for water.  Perhaps it really wasn't as bad as it seemed at that moment... but to us, it seemed immense.

We have a friend whose husband is in the water maker business and after a nice dinner with them, we ordered one.  He answered all of our questions and really took the time to analyze our needs and make recommendations.  We even felt that his recommendation was conservative, he didn't try to up-sell us at all.  We ordered the (next bigger model) Cape Horn Xtreme.

After we placed our order, we had a period of buyer's remorse.  That thing is expensive.  Yes, you can buy a LOT of water for what we're paying for the water maker.  But I'm going to rationalize that we don't just count the water we have to buy... we count the laundromats we pay exorbitant amounts in which to wash our clothes (we've paid up to $42 at a time), and we have to consider the times we've stayed in marinas just so that we could have water...

There is water in the Bahamas but the supplies are unreliable and subject to change.  The quality is questionable.  Having access to good clean plentiful water will enrich our personal cruising experience and allow us the freedom of choice - instead of need - governing our movements.  We will be able to spend less on marinas and experience some of the more remote anchorages.  If we weren't planning a more extended cruise, we would be fine without one.

I wish I had known then, what we know now about the water in the Bahamas.  So much of what we were told did not turn out to be true.  I think we would have installed the water maker before we left.  Each Cruiser will have their own personal experiences and opinions.  But ultimately, this boat is our home.  Homes have water supplies.