Thursday, June 18, 2009

Tiki 30 "Abaco" Delivered to Nassau

I had a great experience last weekend taking the Tiki 30 Abaco over to the Bahamas for David Halladay, the builder and owner. The adventure began Thursday, with a long delay in the Houston airport that kept me from reaching the boat until almost dark that evening. There was no time to relax, as we had to quickly get stores and fuel on board and get underway as soon as possible. At around 11:00 pm, David Crawford and I untied the lines and motored out of Lake Worth Inlet on a course slightly south of east, heading for the Gulf Stream crossing and the islands beyond.

The wind was on the nose, coming right out of the east-southeast, but was light and in the right direction to not kick up the seas in the Gulf Stream. Predictably, the mightiest ocean current in the world swept us inexorably to the north, but the reliable little 8-hp Yamaha that is Abaco's auxiliary allowed us to make up for the set as we angled our way across on a course that looked like a big curving arch. By mid-morning Friday, we were out of the main current and some 10-15 miles west of the tip of Grand Bahama Island. We corrected our course to aim for the north end of the Berry Islands, and slowly passed the long westernmost arm of Grand Bahama without ever seeing land.

Ship traffic in the Gulf Stream had been fairly constant through the previous night, requiring a careful watch at all times. Sightings of other vessels became fewer and father between once we had passed Grand Bahama Island and laid a course through the Northwest Providence Channel for Little Stirrup Cay, in the Berries.

The headwind against us increased in strength through Friday afternoon and evening, slowing our motoring progress from 5.5 - 6 knots to about 4.5 at times. But there was nothing we could do but press on under power. There was no time to fall off on a course we could sail and beat to windward, as our goal was to reach Nassau by mid-day Sunday, allowing plenty of time to make the boat shipshape for her next crew.

We reached the lee of Little Stirrup Cay by 10:00 pm and by 11:00 we were anchored just outside the cut that leads into Bullock's Harbor on Great Harbor Cay. At daybreak, we picked up the anchor and motored into the harbor, where we waited to clear customs and immigration at Great Harbor Cay Marina. The marina was laid back and quiet, with few other boats and lots of empty slips. The Bahamian officials did not even bother walking down the dock to look at the boat before granting us our clearance and cruising permit. With our Bahamian courtesy flag now flying from the starboard shrouds, we moved around to the fuel dock near the entrance to the harbor and replenished the gasoline we had burned in the crossing.

Leaving Great Harbor Marina, we were able to sail for a few miles as we rounded to the north of Little Stirrup and Great Stirrup Cays. Once back on course to the southeast on the east side of the Berries, the motor was once again needed to assist as we tacked back and forth along the chain, staying as close inshore as possible to avoid the chop that so quickly slows down the boat when beating to weather. Our long tacks took us in and out over the clear, reef-strewn waters off islands such as Market Fish Cays and Hoffman's Cay, in the photo below.

We reached Little Harbor Cay by mid-afternoon, and since we had some time to kill and not enough time to get to Nassau in the daylight that day, we ducked inside between Little Harbor and Frozen Cay, and then entered the well-protected anchorage between Frozen and Alder Cays. This was a place I had long wanted to revisit, having spent several days there cruising with the Olsen family on the schooner Whisper, while on my Caribbean kayak trip 21 years ago. I remembered it as an isolated and idyllic tropical island anchorage, but it has changed since I was last there. The beaches lined with coconut palms are still there, and the water is still air clear, but several modern houses and docks have been built on both Frozen and Alder Cays. Below is a view of the approach to the anchorage, a house and dock visible to the right on Alder Cay. The water here is impossibly clear. Depths under the boat in this photo are 16-20 feet.

When I was here around New Year's of 1989, both of the islands were completely uninhabited and undeveloped, all the beaches looking like these in the photos below:

I remember spending days here exploring the nearby islands in my kayak, snorkeling and spearfishing, and gathering green drinking nuts from the dense groves of coconut palms.

Someone has gone to great expense to build large, modern houses on tiny islands accessible only by boat. The constant sound of a generator running prompted us to leave the harbor between the cays and move around to anchor in a quieter spot off the southern tip of Alder Cay.

The next day we left Frozen Cay and the rest of the Berry Islands astern at daybreak and set out once again to motor into the wind on the final 33-nautical mile leg to Nassau Harbor. We got there just ahead of this summer thunderstorm that blew up out of nowhere just as we entered protected water.

Below, Abaco is safely docked at Nassau Yacht Haven Marina. We spent Sunday afternoon sorting her out, cleaning up, and preparing to hand her over to yacht photographer Onne van der Wahl for his trip to the Exumas.

Onne arrived with his two sons late Monday afternoon, just before David and I had to head off to the airport to catch our flight back to Florida.

Although David gave him a brief orientation on the boat, it was obvious after a few minutes of talking to him that Onne knows his way around a boat, and that he would have no trouble handling Abaco. He and his boys are bound to have a blast cruising the northern end of the Exumas in a boat so perfect for exploring these islands.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Tiki 30 Delivery to the Bahamas

After too much boatbuilding and other work, I'm finally going to get to go sailing, if only for a few days. I'm leaving tomorrow morning to fly to West Palm Beach, where I'll meet with David Halladay and his friend and Boatsmith employee, David Crawford. Halladay's Tiki 30, Abaco, has to be in Nassau, Bahamas by Monday morning. He is loaning it to noted yacht photographer Onne Vanderwahl, who will take it to the Exumas for a couple of weeks and get lots of publicity shots.

David Halladay has too many projects going to leave his business this weekend, so he asked me to accompany David Crawford on the delivery. Crawford has more time than anyone one Abaco, having delivered her to the St. Petersburg Boat Show, the Miami Boat Show, and the Wharram Rendezvous in Islamorada.

Our plan is to cross the Gulf Stream from Lake Worth Inlet on Thursday night, then work our way southeast to Nassau over the next couple of days. The wind forecast is not particularly favorable for sailing in that direction, being generally out of the east and southeast, but at least it's not going to be strong, so we won't be bashing too much, hopefully.

I'll report back on the trip with photos after I return next week.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

New Life for an Old Town Canoe

A recent project that I've spent way too much time on is the restoration of a badly-damaged and well-worn Old Town Canadienne canoe. Here is the finished result:

This canoe belongs to my long-time canoeing partner, Ernest Herndon, who has paddled it many hundreds of miles on rivers and lakes of the region, frequently using it on his research trips in the course of writing such books as Canoeing Louisiana and Canoeing Mississippi. When we paddled the Pascagoula River System from the headwaters to the Gulf in order to co-author the book, Paddling the Pascagoula, Ernest chose his trusty Old Town, while I paddled a hand-built wooden sea kayak.

The Old Town Canadienne is a classic north woods canoe with recurved stems, tumblehome sides, and a large load-carrying capacity. It's ideal for long trips on big rivers and lakes, and can easily carry two men and all their gear and supplies for trips of two weeks or more.

Below, Ernest Herndon getting ready to shove off in the morning after breaking camp on a river sandbar. Here, you can see that the canoe is well-loaded with dry bags, duffel bags and all the other assorted gear needed for a river trip.

Ernest bought this canoe at a local Mississippi salvage store. The Old Town, along with many others in a shipment, came into the salvage store's inventory after suffering some significant damage in transit somewhere. When he first brought it to me back in about 1993, to see if I could fix it up, it looked like it had fallen off a truck at highway speeds. There were several major cracks in the hull, broken all the way through in places, and the aluminum gunwales were bent and even broken in one place.

At that time my boat repair skills were minimal. I patched the fiberglass, reinforced the broken gunwale with a strip of aluminum riveted in place, touched up the red paint with a spray can, and called it good enough. He used it like that for all these years, finally bringing it to me for a complete refit earlier this year. The canoe had lost much of its shape due to the bent and broken aluminum gunwales. The fiberglass patches were finally peeling off, and the floatation bulkheads in each end had broken loose from the hull. Below is a photo of it right before I began the work. It's hard to see all the problems in the photo. It looked much worse in person.

The only cure for the gunwale problem was to get rid of the aluminum rails and rebuild the boat with inwales and outwales made of ash. I started with the inwales, scarfing them to length, then gluing on spacer blocks to the inner sides so they would have, in effect, scuppers all along their mid-length to allow easy dumping of water by turning the canoe on its side.

I first cut away the aluminum rails at the ends and glued in triangular blocks of solid mahogany to serve as a termination point for the inwales, as the extreme ends of the fiberglass hull were too irregular and rounded to carry the inwales all the way. I then removed one aluminum gunwale first, leaving the other one in place to maintain the shape, while the first wood inwale was clamped and glued in place.

After both inwales were fitted and glued in, the outwales came next, in two separate steps. You can see the scuppered inwales in the photo below.

The new ash gunwales imparted much rigidity to the tired old hull, bringing out its true shape and fairing the wobbly sheer that had been so distorted by the fatigued aluminum. I have no doubt that the boat will have an entirely different and better feel to it once it's in the water again.

Below you can see the detail at the stern, which is identical to the bow. The hull sides are sandwiched between the inwales and outwales of ash, and the mahogany end blocks finish out the bow and stern. Note that Ernest wanted me to replace the Canadienne graphic with the more appropriate for him, Mississippian.

A big part of the job I did not photograph step-by-step was the repair of the fiberglass damage and the filling and fairing of the hull. It was, as you would expect, a time-consuming and labor-intensive process, but in the end proved worth it. The hull exterior was then painted with four coats of Interlux Brightside in "Fire Red".

Four coats of spar varnish on all the ash and then the application of new vinyl graphics for the Mississippian name and the Old Town logo completed the job. Tomorrow, I'm meeting Ernest at the nearby Pearl River, where we'll break-in the new refit by paddling the canoe from Hopewell to Georgetown, a river trip of about 10 miles.

"A boat is freedom, not just a way to reach a goal."
Bernard Moitessier - A Sea Vagabond's World


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