Crewing a Sistership: Bahamas to Grand Cayman
After our inland road trip of Chiapas, Rachel and I were ready to relax at home on Agape and finally finish putting her away for the season. We went to town and bought two weeks worth of groceries and enjoyed the rest of the day lounging on the boat playing Call of Duty on the X-box.
Around 7pm Rachel received a message from a woman named Christine who had been following along on our adventures. She was the owner of S/V Juniper, another Tayana 42 built in the early 90's. She was looking for crew to help move her boat from the Bahamas to Jamaica, with the option of staying on until Grand Cayman if we all got along. The catch... we had to be there by Monday morning and it was Saturday night...
We looked into flights immediately while messaging back and forth with Christine and when we found a flight out the next morning at 6am, we decided to pull the trigger and go for it! We purchased two last-minute, one way tickets to the Bahamas leaving the next morning (glad it wasn't on our credit card!) and went to work repacking our bags for a trip that could last anywhere from four days to three weeks. We only had a few hours to give away all the food that we had just purchased, turn off the fridge and freezer, pack and get some sleep. We'd be saying goodbye to Agape again at 4am!
We find that when we allow flexibility into our schedule and when we don't hold on to our plans too tightly, we are given a chance to live truly in the moment! It's a totally different way of moving through life, where we feel present and often experience freedom and adventure in a whole new way!
With less than four hours of sleep, we boarded our flight with only a small carry-on in hand. Four flights and 28 hours later we were stepping off yet another plane onto the island of Great Inagua. We had made it to the Bahamas!
The first thing that caught my eye was the water! It was the most amazing shades of blue and crystal clear, I couldn't wait to jump in and swim!!! But after making quick introductions to Nicola and Christine we needed to head to the Port Captain, Immigration and the Customs office to check out of the country that we had just arrived in. It was a quick reminder that we were there to move a boat, not to play. Once aboard Juniper we looked the boat over, checking the rigging, life raft, auto pilot, engine and lines. We discussed the boat's systems, routines, protocols for emergencies and how the watch system would work. After a quick swim and only being on the boat for about four hours, we fired up the engine, lifted anchor and began our sail to Jamaica.
Right away I was impressed with how quiet the 75hp Yanmar was compared to our old Perkins, as well as the speed difference. Juniper was making 6.5/7 knots easily, compared to our 5.5.
As we left Man of War Bay and began passing Devil's Point the evening breeze filled in and we unfurled the genoa, killed the engine and enjoyed sailing into the beautiful Caribbean sunset. As we sailed in-between Cuba and Haiti, the wind increased and we found ourselves making some serious speed, and it was great to see how the same boat handled with a larger head sail.
This was also the first time that we had sailed with four people able to stand watch. Our watch system aboard Juniper was set up to be 3 hours on, 9 hours off. We were partnered up for the next few days, Rachel with Nicola, and Christine and I. We'd each stand our own watches but had our partner available if we needed help changing the sails. We loved having the 3 on/9 off schedule compared to our normal 3 on/3 off on Agape, it was great to feel so rested while being underway. The 265nm passage to Jamaica was great (except Rachel being seasick the first few hours) and we sailed all but a few hours of the trip.
We entered into Port Antonio and tied up to the Errol Flynn Marina just before sunset. The Port Captain and Immigration came by shortly after and as soon as we cleared through customs it was time to find some Jamaican jerk chicken!!! If you haven't heard about Jamaican jerk chicken, you have been missing out on something truly delicious. I've had it in the States and cooked it before, but I was excited to try it from the source! We asked the immigration officer where the best place to get some jerk chicken was and he told us about this little place called Piggies just a couple blocks away.
The officer didn't let us down, we each got a half order of jerk chicken and festivals, which ended up being half a chicken and an amazing little treat called a festival, sort of like a dinner roll and a churro had a baby. I was impressed! I'm not sure if it was the fact that we'd been on the boat for the last two days and not really eating a lot while underway, or the excitement of being in Jamaica and the amount of oil and spices they cooked it with, but I swear Piggies has the best Jerk chicken I've ever had.
While in Port Antonio we rented a car to check out more of the island, driving out to Boston Beach, the Blue Lagoon, and Reach Falls. It was a spectacular day of swimming, surfing, floating on ridiculous inflatable rafts and jumping off of waterfalls.
We arrived at Reach Falls at the end of the day, an hour before they closed. The last of the tourists were on their way out and we had the place to ourselves! The lifeguard/guide there asked if we wanted to go above the falls to some natural water slides, we gladly agreed and began our barefoot trek up the river. He eventually led us to a small waterfall that ended in what looked to be a bottomless hole. He explained that this opening had recently formed after a large rain, and that you could now jump into it. We looked at him with wide eyes as he stood at the edge of the waterfall, he turned to us, smiled and dropped in! We couldn't see or hear him, and minutes later he emerged down stream. After making his way back up he asked if we wanted to make the jump. I stepped onto the ledge, water rushing by my feet. Our guide told me to step off, straight down and not to jump out or else I'd hit my head on the rock ledge jutting out. One, two, three, JUMP! When I popped up out of the washing machine like waters I found myself in a small cavern, where I could no longer see or hear the girls. The guide jumped in shortly after and showed me how we were to swim out. Back up top, it was Rachel's turn! My only encouragement to her was, "Trust me it's easy...".
Here is a short video Rachel compiled of our time at Reach Falls that ended up going viral with millions of views on Redit! Song by Ugly - Here's to now.
The next day we decided to make the long and windy drive to Kingston, Jamaica's largest and most notorious city, and home to Port Royal. After years of listening to Bob Marley songs and learning more about the history of the city and all that it's been through, we decided it was a must see while in Jamaica. Kingston was once the largest city in the Caribbean and had been a pirate haven for years, so we expected to see tons of cool stuff. Well we ended up leaving slightly disappointed... There's an old fort that is run down, unmaintained and costs way more than it is worth to see, some over priced and poorly staffed restaurants, a bustling market that we were warned several times not to walk through since we'd likely be robbed, and Port Royal had no resemblance of its pirate glory days. The nicest and most touristy attraction in Kingston is the Devon house. This 127 year old home is famous for being built for Jamaica's first black millionaire, Gorge Stiebel, the son of a German Jew and a Jamaican housekeeper. He was a carpenter, shipper and gun-runner, but found his fortune in Venezuela after investing in a gold mine. The home is now famous for its massive ice-cream cones and it's overpriced tours. This was only our experience though, and I'm sure with more time and local knowledge we could've had a more enjoyable experience of the city.
We left Kingston just before sunset, hoping to make it up over the mountain pass before dark. By this point we were all getting along really well and considered each other friends. We enjoyed sailing and traveling with Nicola and Christine and we all decided that we should stay on for the rest of the trip down the Jamaican coast and over to Grand Cayman.
The next day we reprovisioned for the next leg of our journey, Port Antonio to Montego Bay. After five days in Port Antonio, we began making our way down the coast toward the Montego Bay Yacht Club with short day sails, stopping at Ochos Rios and Discovery Bay.
The Montego Bay Yacht Club is a pretty cool place and although expensive for us cruisers, it's a fun hangout for a few days. The club is also full of amazing photos of the Pinnacle Cup, a sailboat race they've been hosting since 1961, making it one of the oldest ocean races.
From Montego Bay we would sail to Grand Cayman, but not without some excitement along the way! It was predicted to be a roughly 250nm sail with light but steady winds. We figured that we'd likely get to sail most of the way, but we could motor if we slowed down too much since the owner was in a bit of a hurry to decommission the boat. So on July 1st we checked out of Jamaica and by 4pm we were sailing toward our final destination. As predicted, the winds were light and a little after sunset we fired up the engine.
In the morning there was still no wind and we continued to motor over lumpy seas. That was until the engine stuttered a few times, and with a cough it died.... Well poop! This was not our boat, and although I am fairly confident in my wrenching abilities, this would be the first time I'd be working on a newer Yanmar.
I am a huge fan of checking the easiest thing first, so I started with the fuel filter and BINGO!!!! The filter was totally crapped up with big pieces of goop and grime. We swapped out the filter and got another one ready, since in my experience if a filter comes out looking that bad, chances are you have some growth in the tank and until you resolve that issue you are going to be going through a lot of filters.
As a side note, on Agape we have a unit called a Filter Boss, (we did not get it for free or at a discounted rate and we have no affiliation with the company, but I recommend it whenever I can based off its simplicity, ingenious design and the companies great customer service). The unit is basically twin Racor filters that you can switch between by flipping one ball valve. It also has a vacuum gauge that alerts you, via an audible alarm, well before the filter restriction gets so bad that it starves the motor. For older diesels it can be a pain to bleed air out of the lines after changing a fuel filter, but this unit has an electric fuel pump built into the system so you can prime the fuel lines. It also gives you the ability to polish your fuel to make sure you don't end up with sediment or growth in the tanks.
Anyways, after changing the filter and bleeding the engine, we fired it back up and were off again, only to have it die two hours later. This time when I pulled the filter it looked bad, but not so bad that it would kill the engine. We swapped the filter and moved on to the next simplest thing we could think of, checking the level of fuel in the tanks. Sure enough... NO fuel!!! On this version of the V42, there are two 35 gallon fuel tanks (compared to our two 60 gallon tanks) and one was already empty. We checked the other tank only to find that it only had about 10 gallons of diesel left in it. Turns out the captain didn't fill up all the way and we'd be sailing this sailboat the rest of the way into Grand Cayman!
Luckily, by afternoon the wind started to fill in, and with Juniper's larger genoa we were able to cruise along at a nice speed. The rest of that day we had light but consistent wind, and although the sea was still a little confused, it was an enjoyable sail.
As the sun began to set, we could see a large squall starting to form out on the horizon. The large dark clouds grew, drawing closer and lighting up the entire horizon around us with lightning. Rachel is very good about reefing early and being prepared for weather or wind fronts before they hit the boat, so by the time the wind caught us we were reefed down and ready to have some fun! I was down below and just falling asleep when I felt the motion of the boat change, the squall had finally hit us. I could hear the wind blowing through the rig and Rachel and Nicola talking out in the cockpit, so I headed up to make sure they were okay.
When I came up I was so proud to find Rachel smiling, and even though the wind and waves were building and Juniper was now flying along, the ladies were in complete control and comfortable in their abilities. Anyone can take a boat out to sea, but it takes a lot of knowledge, intuition and seamanship to sail that same boat when the weather turns. To see Rachel laughing and having fun with Nicola while sailing the boat in 25+ knots of wind, rain, larger swell, and thunder and lightning surrounding us, made me feel so happy. I was amazed to see how much Rachel had grown as a sailor and partner this year. My wife is salty!
In the morning we were closing in on the island of Grand Cayman, Juniper's final resting place for the hurricane season. Christine had reservations at the Harbor House Marina, located inside the protected waters of the northern sound, and after navigating our way through the narrow channel and the shallow waters around the marina, we were finally tied safely to the dock. Then it was time for the real work to begin!
Although we could have left right then and there as our job of crewing the boat was finished, I have a special kind of love for all boats. Christine had never decommissioned or stored a boat before, and although she was capable of doing most of the jobs required, she lacked the knowledge and confidence to tackle them on her own. Rachel, Nicola and I would work the next three days alongside Christine, cleaning, stripping and preparing Juniper for the next six to twelve months of life on the hard in the tropics. To see what this entails, check out our previous post on decommissioning Agape.
Before saying our goodbyes we planned one last final adventure. While working on Juniper we met a local man named Shawn, who offered to take us out in his boat to a place called Stingray City. Stingrays began gathering here on the sandbar decades ago when fisherman anchored here in the calm waters behind the reef to clean their day's catch. The fish guts and squid were thrown overboard and the stingrays eventually congregated to feast. Soon the stingrays began associating the sound of a boat engine with food, and as this practice turned into a tradition, divers realized that the stingrays could be fed by hand. Now thousands of people flock here to feed the stingrays and take selfies with them (or kiss them). Although it was overcrowded, the animals seemed healthy and they were there of their own free will and not trapped in cages. It was such an awesome experience to swim with these beautiful creatures and we highly recommend going if you're ever in Grand Cayman.
It was time to repack our carry ons and say our goodbyes. Christine would be heading home for the hurricane season and we'd be heading to Central America to backpack through Guatemala and Honduras. Nicola would head to Mexico and work her way down to Guatemala where we planned to meet and continue on our adventure together!