Saturday, April 23, 2016

Provo Radio

In Providenciales, TCI, all vessels are expected to announce their arrival and departure to Provo Radio. We weren't aware of this protocol as we arrived, so we were a day late announcing our arrival. This wasn't a problem as the radio operator is friendly and their primary concern is safety. They simply asked me to confirm that we had cleared into the country with Customs & Immigration.

Shortly after raising the anchor in our spot tucked in beside Bay Cay, I hailed Provo Radio on VHF 16 to announce our departure. The Provo Radio operator asked me to switch to Channel 74, which I did while maintaining dual watch on Channel 16. Traffic on Channel 16 made it difficult to have a conversation on Channel 74. The Provo Radio operator asked me to confirm that we had cleared out with Customs & Immigration and had supplied them with information on all passengers aboard. I confirmed this, the operator wished me a good day, and we both returned to monitor Channel 16.

After about 15 minutes of motoring, we heard, "Singing Frog, Singing Frog, Singing Frog, this is Provo Radio, Provo Radio on Channel 1-6." Surprised, I returned to the nav station and hailed Provo Radio. Again, the operator directed me to switch to channel 74 and this time, I first turned off dual watch.

"Provo Radio, this is Singing Frog," and we proceeded to have a conversation for the operator to obtain emergency information about our vessel and passengers. The operator explained that they had been unable to obtain a vessel description or a passenger list from Customs & Immigration, then explained what information he would require from me. He first confirmed the spelling of our boat name as "Sierra-India-November-Golf-India-November-Golf Foxtrot-Romeo-Oscar-Golf" and I responded, "Confirmed."

The operator wanted to know our boat description (sloop), including hull colour (white) and draft (5' 7"). I provided the make (Benéteau) and he responded, "That one is a good boat." He asked if we have a life raft (8-man Plastimo) on board or a tender. He asked if we have a EPIRB and I responded with Skye's prompting that we have a PLB. The operator asked for the PLB identification number and Skye brought the unit to me. I need to practice my phonetic alphabet because I stated "Beta" for "B" instead of "Bravo." The operator graciously didn't correct me. He asked if we have other radio equipment on board, to which I responded, "Negative." He asked me to provide our call sign if we have one. I supplied our MMSI number.

As I provided the names and birth dates of the crew, the operator acknowledged that we have a gentleman on board who will be celebrating a birthday in a few days. I responded, "Yes. It's a big one - a decade birthday." The operator congratulated Skye and wished him a happy birthday.

The operator asked if we have emergency communication equipment on board, such as a satellite radio. I responded that we do not have a satellite radio, but we use a SPOT device as a backup for reporting emergencies. His other related request was unclear to me and I asked him to respond. Skye was standing beside me by now, asking for clarification of the request. The radio operator elaborated with examples, "Someone back home, a mother or father, favourite aunt or uncle, to contact in case of an emergency." I chuckled sheepishly and responded, "Yes, my mother, Linda Olson," and provided her telephone number.

As an aside, this exercise reminded us to make sure that all our emergency contacts have a way to contact each other. We aren't sure that my mom knows how to reach Skye's dad, for instance.
At the completion of our radio conversation, the Provo Radio operator apologized for the interruption (are we sure they aren't Canadian?) and wished us good weather and safe harbours. He also assured me that all information obtained was solely for emergency purposes to share with Turks & Caicos and the US Coast Guard.

"Thank you very much. We appreciate your concern for our safety."

This was our first experience of providing such detailed information on our vessel and passengers over the VHF radio. I enjoyed the process and the feeling it gave me that someone was looking out for us to keep us safe. We wondered if TCI gets some funding from the British government for this service, and if their proximity to Haiti has necessitated it. There has been some marine criminal activity originating from Haiti, including human smuggling and boardings. In the Dominican Republic (DR), our next stop which is a border nation to Haiti, the country requires clearing in and out of every port and prohibits entry or departure before sunrise or after dark.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Lessons Learned in Turks & Caicos

Bay Cay, TCI
We arrived on the banks at Providenciales around noon on April 19. After three hours of motoring and visual piloting to avoid coral heads, we dropped the hook about 2 miles SW of South Side Marina.

Skye promised to prepare dinner if I would clear in. The clearing in process can be somewhat daunting at times due to the unknowns and being at the mercy of the officials who will grant us entry to their country.

Skye prepped (lowered it from the davits, attached the outboard and pumped up the pontoons, replaced the paddles and gas tank) the dinghy while I collected the boat papers, passports and my wallet. Skye had confirmed that Customs' hours were to 4:30pm and I was ready to go at 3:55. The 2-mile dinghy ride we had compared to "Chat 'n Chill to the end of Monument" (George Town, Bahamas reference) turned out to be more like "the end of Monument to the end of Sand Dollar" and NOT parallel to the beach.

I was driving our 10-foot dinghy by myself into waves and 15-knot winds. In settled conditions, I am challenged to get up on a plane with my short arms and no weight at the front of the dinghy. I tried shimmying forward on the port pontoon to have my weight as far forward as possible. I nudged the gas tank forward in another attempt to balance the boat, but it kept sliding backwards. I realized quickly that I was riding in the wet (windward) side of the boat, so I carefully switched to sit on the starboard side to steer. The starboard pontoon was pretty soft so I felt the pressure of every wave. I debated pumping air into it, but was nervous about losing control of the dinghy.

Several times, when I tried to drive faster, I scared myself into thinking I nearly flipped the dinghy. My flotation device was an old waterlogged, ripped life jacket that we had been keeping as a "spare." I was wearing the kill cord, but didn't know what I would do if I ended up in the water, especially with an overturned dinghy. I was using my upper thigh muscles to steady myself and clenching my teeth out of fear. I was angry about how country rules that ONLY the captain (Skye and I are co-captains) can go ashore to clear in, can cause real risk to personal safety.

After about 40 minutes, I arrived at the calm and protected South Side Marina. Unsure about where to locate the dinghy dock, but also mindful that I was late for Customs, I hastened to tie off behind a skiff. With wobbly legs and feeling pretty shaken, I approached the marina office and opened the door to step inside. I was greeted pleasantly by Nevarde, who supplied me with a welcome kit of forms, magazines and brochures. She told me that a Customs official would meet me soon under the gazebo.

I sat at the gazebo table to complete my paperwork, then waited ... and waited ... and waited for the Customs official. Delthea arrived around 5:30 to clear me in. Then I still needed to wait for Immigration to stamp our passports. Nevarde called Immigration but was unable to get through.
I tried to radio Singing Frog to let my family know I was ok. When, after several attempts, there was nothing heard, I asked to borrow the marina's radio. I tried VHF 5 and 16, but still had no response from our boat. I later learned that they were hearing me, but I could not hear them. Occasionally, I heard static on Channel 5, but never anything discernible. As daylight disappeared, imaginations wee active on Singing Frog.

Around 6:00, Bob (the marina owner) was able to reach Daniel from Immigration, who said he would come to the marina, so I resolved to keep waiting to be properly cleared in. I purchased a courtesy flag from the marina office and I was feeling encouraged that I would soon finish and return to the boat going downwind before dark (I hadn't brought a light).

As time went by and the sun was going down with no sign of Daniel, I finally decided to return to the boat and come back the next morning to finish clearing in. As I was bailing the dinghy (yes, we have a small water leak), other boaters called to me that Immigration had arrived. They invited me to go first, but Daniel wanted to speak first to the people who would be leaving early the next morning. He explained to them that he didn't have his equipment with him and arranged to return in the morning to stamp their passports. I interjected to explain that I would be back around 11:30 the next morning, then rushed to get home to Singing Frog.

Leaving the flat channel to the marina, I accelerated to plane and was able to maintain this for most of the way back to our boat. I was again motivated by sheer fear, especially as the skies were darkening fast and coral heads were appearing near the surface on my route home. The drive home took about 20 minutes and I arrived, shaking and tense, to a fretful crew. Austin met me at the swim platform and took the dinghy painter to hold me to the boat. He helped me off after I placed the radio and my bag of documents down at his feet. He hugged me tight for a long time and I couldn't stop the tears from coming.

Skye had paddled over to a neighbouring boat, "Hullabaloo," to ask if he could borrow their dinghy to look for me. I heard Singing Frog being hailed on the radio and Austin went down to let Skye and Hullabaloo know that I had returned safely.
Don't feed the iguanas!

Love the rock formations

Singing Frog anchored off Bay Cay - couldn't escape the swell

Exploring Bay Cay

Lessons learned:
1.     Consider bringing another crew member ashore to balance the dinghy if the distance is far in rough conditions
2.     Be alert to the dangers of being a woman alone in (potentially) a poor country. Bring Austin, Aidan or Skye with me.
3.     Wear a life jacket for long dinghy rides alone
4.     Carry a flashlight
5.     Whenever possible, call ahead to arrange to meet with Customs & Immigration

6.     Test the hand held VHF radio before leaving Singing Frog

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Let's Meditate

We are all getting pretty tired of being at anchor in one place. Weather and tides have kept us in Marsh Harbour longer than we had originally planned.

We discussed potential boredom busters and I recommended meditation ... for all of us!
Austin shrugged, but Aaron moved into lotus position, eager to meditate right then and there.

A few minutes later, Aaron moved up to the deck and invited me to meditate with him. We settled in, just forward of the dodger, seated comfortably on cushions. We closed our eyes and
Aaron guided the meditation.

"Close your eyes, Mum. And listen.
Listen to the calm water. The ripples.
The cool breeze.
The night sky. The stars.

Austin blurted out some loud and silly noises in the galley, as he tends to do on his dishes night. Aaron didn't miss a beat and just reminded me ...

"Focus your attention on meditating.
Nothing else matters."


Anchorage at night
Night zephyrs chase across the bay. Ripples twirling across the dark water. Anchor lights bobbing. The air is heavy and wet. Delicate rain drops appear out of the night. They tease with their sudden appearance only to vanish moments after I close the hatches. An uncomfortable swell wraps around the harbour, rocking the boat unpredictably, my inner ear protesting. 

Not long ago the wind was blowing from the south east, gusting over twenty knots. More wind is soon expected from the north. This is the third front in five days. Each bringing rain and wind interspersed with calm. The worst is still forecast to come. All I can do is wait. 

We've hardly left the boat in days. The pantry lockers are well stocked. The deck has been scrubbed clean. The tanks are full with rain water. The wet weather chores are done. I feel that all the good books have been read. The never ending overcast days have left the batteries drawn down. The wifi signal is weak. The lag making it impossible to lose minutes in the meaningless chatter of Facebook. We have lots of board games but I'm not interested. The awkward roll kills my desire to think. Tempers are short. 

I contemplate a quick night ride on the paddle board. Anything to break the monotony. I crave activity but it's dark and I don't want to be caught out when the winds return.

I look longingly at charts of anchorages with white beaches and coral reefs. I read the ActiveCaptain descriptions that capture glimpses of places that are wonderful to explore in prevailing winds. Anchorages made treacherous by this slow train of fronts.

I must be content. We have chosen this bay for its protection. We are safe. I may be uncomfortable, I may not be entertained but this is a good place to be. I know the anchor is well set. I know we can ride out anything in the forecast. But do we really understand the risks of boredom?    

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Bahamas Arrival and Shake Down

A little over three weeks in the Bahamas. Despite coming here on Singing Frog twice before, this is actually the longest we have ever been in the Bahamas. The previous two visits, the Bahamas were just stops on the way to somewhere else. This time we intend to stay as long as possible! Our three week tour of eastern Canada (details in a forthcoming post) were exciting but far from relaxing. It is now our intention to take the pace back a few notches and watch some clouds, or something.


Backing up a bit, all the way to December 13th. We arrived in Marsh Harbour, Abacos, Bahamas just past sunset after a long day of flights, cabs and much waiting around. Not a single bag or child went missing along the way. A nice fellow met us at the airport with our rental van and after a brief, and in my mind rather ambiguous, set of instructions, left us to get on our way.


Given our late arrival and then unknown amount of work needed to splash the boat, we decided to rent a cabin on the beach for three nights. The nice family renting the units had gone home for the day but left the side door unlocked for us. If anyone is looking for a nice place to stay in Marsh Harbour we can certainly recommend Pelican Beach Villas. They are not cheapest in town (but also far from the most expensive) but you are right on the beach, there are nice big rooms with lots of beds, a full kitchen and two bathrooms each with their own showers. You can swim from the beach over to the fun snorkelling at Mermaid Reef (and we did!).

Driving in the Bahamas is interesting. Cars drive on the left but a good number are imported from the US (as was our van) so there are a lot of left-hand-drive cars. Except for the main highways between settlements, folks tend to drive nice and slow. There's a single intersection with a traffic light in Marsh Harbour, the only other town outside Nassau and Freeport to have one. Similar to what we saw in the Caribbean islands, the general driving attitude is to be helpful and give way to other traffic. We often saw cars on a main road stop and wave turning traffic through. Horns tend to be used a lot as friendly signals and rarely in frustration or anger. Very nice!


Splashing the boat generated a bit of anxiety but was uneventful. It took a few more days to really unpack and get everything put in its place. Actually, who am I kidding, we are still working to find homes for a few things!


Once settled on the boat, we had to wait for a nasty bit of weather to pass and for favourable tides. The boatyard has a shallow entrance so we can only pass through on a high or rising tide. We took advantage of the downtime and the fact we still had time on our rental van to do some driving tours of Grand Abaco. Treasure Cay, a spit of land that's been developed into a resort community, had a lot of interesting houses and an amazing beach. The harbour there is pretty good too so we may go again by boat. We tried to find the in-land blue hole that is reported to be in the area but we were not successful. Still, it was fun to do some off-the-beaten-path exploring.


Hope Town on Elbow Cay was advertising a fun Christmas Village on the morning radio net. Since we figured we were stuck where we were for a few days, we decided to hop on one of the foot ferries (Albury's Ferries) and go see what was happening over on Elbow Cay.


The weather eventually cleared, we got our favourable tide and we rode a perfect SSE wind all the way to Fishers Bay on Great Guana Cay. We'd had enough of bustling Marsh Harbour so we decided to camp out here for nearly a week and relax.


Christmas on the boat this year was low key and intimate. Lots of Lego with a strong Star Wars theme followed by a delicious pancake and turkey bacon breakfast. The adults sure didn't miss all the hustle and stress of the usual shopping-filled lead-up to the big day but time with family was certainly missed.


One of the venues on Great Guana is called Nippers and they host a BBQ on Sundays. We decided to check it out and got to meet a fun family visiting from the Washington DC/Maryland area. The beach was perfect, just enough surf for the kids to have fun but not be dangerous. Nippers also has a couple guest pools which were perfect after swimming in the salt water (there's a hose to rinse off with first). We left by mid-afternoon as the college party atmosphere was starting to become a little "adult-oriented" for the younger ones.


Fishers Bay at Great Guana Cay was a perfect place for us to hang out for a while and just settle in. Lots of great sunsets, a relatively calm bay to tour on the paddle boards, decent holding (at least for us). Unfortunately we started to get low on food and water so we had to return to the "big town" in Marsh Harbour. That and we knew some exciting weather was soon to be headed our way and we wanted to be settled-in with confidence before that happened.


We subscribe to the "painless cruising" philosophy which means we only sail to windward if it's blowing less than 15 knots and the seas are nearly flat. The prevailing winds in this area are typically from the E-SE which means the conditions are not often good to make our way in that direction. We waited an extra day in Fishers Bay and got rewarded with a perfect sail back to Marsh Harbour.


After waiting out another front (a strong one this time) we are now planning our next move. We feel that we'd like to see more of Hope Town (in the daylight this time) and we'd really like to see if we can do some snorkelling at Sandy Cay down by Little Harbour. Syncing up with school and work are also on the to-do list. But we are also mindful that this is the season of many and strong frontal systems and so there is a desire to just jump through the next window and head south to Eleuthera. We will just have to see ...

Until next time ... The Singing Frogs!
Singing Frogs in the Bahamas photo album:

Bahamas 2015/16