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The Bight of the Batteries

Posted by on April 18, 2012

We arrived back in Georgetown on Saturday the 14th  for re-provisioning after an exhilarating night sail. Before we get to that story, let’s re-cap how we’ve spent our last couple weeks.

When last we posted, the sailing vessel Joint Venture was very excited about going to Conception Island to do some scuba diving. As with most sailing plans, that didn’t happen…

We departed Georgetown on Monday, April 2nd in light winds.  As we motored east, we fished four ballyhoo off our rigs. Mahi tore through the rig in the early afternoon and took three of the four without ever hooking up. The only thing we landed that day was a solitary barracuda- it was very disappointing.

We were tired of motoring, and the sea was flat calm, so we pulled into Calabash Bay to enjoy the beautiful water, nice beach, and Cape Santa Maria Resort.  We got the Monday special at the bar which was a Yellow Bird and it came with a complimentary order of conch fritters. We headed back to the boat before dark to check on our battery level.  One of the reasons we had decided to motor that day was to fully charge our batteries, a noble cause that proved fruitless.  When we returned to the boat, even after the full day of motoring with the alternator and the solar panels charging the batteries, our freezer wasn’t running and the batteries were about half dead.

For several days prior our freezer had been gradually thawing. It seemed that the low voltage protection on the freezer was kicking in and turning off the compressor. After troubleshooting numerous  items, I realized that it seemed the 4D size AGM batteries weren’t holding a charge in the top end of their range (12.8 to 12.4, about 100%-75%.) I called back to the States to talk with Joint Venture Support Camp for advice (thanks again for the help Jay!) and heard that this is a common problem. The AGM dealer said that to fix the issue, a complicated charging scheme was required that would overcharge the batteries to 15.5 volts or so. Unfortunately, we’d have to be plugged into shore power to reach this voltage level. Our alternator can only produce 14.7 volts, and it’s not that sunny down here to make that power with the solar panels. The nearest shore power was a day away at either Emerald Bay or Stella Maris.  I made some calls to a few marine stores on the islands to see what a battery would cost.  Sabrina and I discussed our alternatives, weighing that marinas are expensive, diesel is expensive, these batteries are only 7 months old, and batteries are very expensive here in the Bahamas.

We decided to try to help the freezer limp along till after we had eaten the remaining frozen meat which was maybe 10-14 days of food.  We would be able to freeze the plates during the day when the solar was providing power, and at night we would just keep everything closed to try to keep everything cold. Once the meat was out of the freezer, we’d turn it off and *gulp* do without refrigeration until we returned to the States! This was a tough alternative, but we’ve met many cruisers that do it, and I hoped that when we got back, the original batteries I purchased would be covered by warranty thereby saving us money. This wasn’t our first choice, but that which does not kill you will make you stronger.  We only needed to make it through eating a bunch of somewhat questionable meat that had been in the freezer since December J.  We developed strategies for food, cooling of the food, and leftovers.  This was a big decision.

At the same time, I wanted to try something with the batteries, I reasoned that if the upper range of the batteries was “dead” maybe if I used the lower range it would cause something to happen.  We didn’t have the available means to overcharge the batteries, but I could surely discharge the batteries, and maybe that would wake them up and make them work? That first night in Calabash I set about discharging the batteries to a lower level than normal.  Do you know how hard it is to use electricity on a boat when the freezer has already cut out and you have only LED lights?  I turned on every light we have and our amp meter was reading that 1.8 amps were being used!  The freezer had already cut out due to low voltage, but our blower was a big help, it pulls about 8 amps and we were able to discharge the batteries.

On Tuesday our solar panels charged the batteries and the freezer worked, but as soon as a cloud came over our batteries dipped and the freezer stopped.  It was still dead calm, and the only way I could get a good charge on the batteries would be to use the engine.  I had no desire to run the engine during daylight, the solar panels would work then, so we decided to sail south after dark.  We left Calabash at 6:00 in the evening, rounded the north end of Long Island, and headed southeast for the Long Cay/Crooked Island/Acklins Island group.  The nearly full moon and light winds made for a fantastic night sail. We’d sail for two hours, and run the engine for one.  By dawn our freezer was making ice and approaching frozen status, this would buy us the 10-14 days we needed before the meat fully thawed.

As we sailed down Long Island, I noticed that Little Harbor, Long Island would coincide with about an 8:00 a.m. arrival.  We could pull in, sleep for the day, and then move on to Acklins Island the next night, running the engine if necessary in the light winds.  We did just that, anchoring in the north end of Little Harbor, Long Island, and then moving south when the swells built later that day.  We spent the rest of Wednesday on the boat, resting and getting ready to move farther south.

On Thursday, April 5th, we awoke to see the tiny inlet into Little Harbor raging with breaking waves across the entire opening. The calm period was over and the wind and waves were rapidly building and pummeling this entrance that was fully exposed to the northeast swell of the Atlantic.  Essentially we were trapped.  Safe. But trapped. I tried to receive wave height information over our sat phone, but it’s a much larger file than the wind information and I couldn’t get it to download.  Frantically I called Joint Venture Support Camp, DC Headquarters (thanks again Steve, you saved us from doing something stupid!) after explaining the problem, I waited a tense half hour to call back on the next sat phone window. Good news! The waves would die the next morning, we’d only be trapped for one day.  Hearing that news put our minds at ease and we got the dinghy in the water to explore.

Little Harbor is very rugged, but we climbed up onto the barrier land to watch the waves crash on the Atlantic coast.  This photographer got soaked standing in the path of the exploding spray (see photos below) and we searched the tidal pools for sea glass.  After that we searched for coconuts, finding a couple, but unfortunately they weren’t any good when we cracked them open.

Imagine our surprise when that night we watched another boat join us in Little Harbor! We spoke with the gentleman, who is singlehanding with his dog, the next day.  He said the inlet was “interesting” which I interpreted as “incredibly dangerous” and that he thought the third wave that hit him was going to broach the boat before he popped into the harbor.  He was lucky, and I hope that luck doesn’t give him more confidence, in those conditions, if he broached and hit the reef his boat would be lost in seconds.

As predicted, Friday morning the swells subsided and we exited Little Harbor without issue.  The wind was right for our run to Long Cay near Crooked Island and we started the morning sailing at over 6 knots but it subsided over the day.  We anchored off of Long Cay that evening at dusk, and I saw a glimpse of flamingos in the distance before the light failed.  The bright orange moon rose on a dead calm bight while the area clouded up.  Later that evening we were treated to an impressive lighting storm as the squalls preceding a slow moving front finally hit us. We were happy to be out of Little Harbor and happy to be in the Bight of Acklins on this Good Friday.

On Saturday we had to abandon the flamingos so that we could sail on to a more protected anchorage bight before the true front arrived.  I promised Sabrina that we would return to approach the bright pink birds and see Albert Town. We sailed wing and wing dead downwind across the Bight of Acklins towards Camel Point.  The water varied from 9 to 11 feet over beautiful sand as we watched birds circling and a lone dolphin play off our bow.  By this time I had given up on the freezer, and we tried to motor as little as possible, so we raised anchor under sail power only.

When people talk of the Bight of Acklins the words “remote,” “lonely,” and “deserted,” typically come up.  Imagine our surprise when upon setting our hook we saw another boat motoring to our anchorage? We recognized it as a Dutch boat named “Mauyva” which is very distinctive because it is aluminum. We had seen them a few times before in Georgetown and Calabash Bay. As we launched our dinghy and Sabrina prepared to head to town, they dinghied over exclaiming, “The third time we see your boat we have to come over and say Hello!”  We all laughed and decided that this is a good rule to cruise by….

Stay tuned, more to follow in a future installment when Sabrina picks up the narrative!

Battery Update: While the batteries are still not operating at full capacity, either my discharge trick worked or the solar is keeping up. (Merrill, I know you’re laughing at me right now, because it seems they fixed themselves!) The important thing is that our engine starting battery is working well, and the house batteries are working well enough that we were able to run the autopilot all last night in the rough weather.  The other good news is that our freezer is now working again, our food is frozen, and in fact I just emptied the ice tray! We’ll have cold drinks as we relax here in Georgetown for a few days.

2 Responses to The Bight of the Batteries

  1. Melissa

    Marin and I looked at the latest photos. She said your titty-tat is orange. She likes the coconut tree – her favorite book right now is Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. If you’re not familiar – the alphabet tried to hang out at the top of the coconut tree.

    • Brad

      Cool, tell Marin that the pictures of the flamingos will be coming soon in a post from Aunt Sabrina. I haven’t read that book, is it available for Kindle?

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