Kombucha, Baby!

Boulder, Colorado has a reputation of being a crunchy, granola sort of place. But even when I lived there, I never made my own yogurt or kimchi or kombucha. Why would I? There was a Whole Foods supermarket within walking distance, with shelves stocked with organic goodies, and still I had a paycheck to buy them. The weekend Farmers’ Market was amazing. And I could buy kombucha by the case at Costco.

Things are different now in cruising life. Grocery stores are few and far between, and unless you’re content with the basics, like rice and flour and dried beans and sugar, you’ll pay through the nose for imported goodies. So when my friend Cheryl on SV Leef Nu offered me a kombucha scoby, or mother, I said yes. And worried about the details later.

And there certainly were some details to work through. I knew the basics about kombucha: that it is naturally fermented tea, that it contains healthful probiotics, and that is makes for a flavorful, low calorie beverage. But I had no idea how to make it or store it! Cheryl sent me some info from a class she took. And I found a very detailed recipe and process captured on TheKitchn. But my biggest barrier to entry was the fact that I don’t own a container at least a gallon or larger in which to ferment the tea. So after several days of growing increasingly guilty that my kombucha mother was just sitting in a grocery bag under the nav table, I went on the hunt. Luckily, we were in Rock Sound, Eleuthera at the time, and there were several stores available within walking distance. Over a 48-hour period, I pretty much visited every one of them: both grocery stores, the school supply store, the hardware store, and one sort of everything store that contained a few home goods. There, I handed over $30 for a bright orange, insulated, 2-gallon jug. It’s the kind that you see used for drinking water at construction sites. I walked the mile and a half back to the dinghy dock with a backpack full of groceries, a bottle of rum, and a massive orange jug. I got pretty good at the wave to all the passing cars on my way back. I guess I didn’t look pathetic enough for any of them to offer me a ride.

Once back on Sanitas, I pulled out the biggest cooking pot we own (previously only used for making popcorn) and brought 3.5 liters of water to a boil. Once boiling, I added 8 black tea bags, and 1 cup of sugar and turned off the burner, leaving the whole thing on the stove the rest of the day to steep and cool. (The recipe says you can speed up the cooling process by sitting the pan in an ice bath. Yeah right. The author sure doesn’t live on a sailboat) When the mixture was more or less cool, I filled up the big orange jug. Then took the brown, gelatinous scoby out of its ziplock bag for the first time, complete with its vinegar smell and several brown stringy things and slid it in on top of the strong sweet tea. I screwed the lid on tight, then unscrewed it about a half-turn to let some air in, so the poor little scoby could breathe. Then I shoved it under the salon table for about a week or so, and hoped for the best.

Ten days later, the scoby (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast) had fermented away the sugar, leaving a tart and tangy brew. I filled three plastic soda bottles and added mint to one, basil to the second, and left the third plain. Time to get that big old pot out again and make a new batch. Gotta keep the kombucha mother happy by giving her more sugar! After a few days of secondary fermentation in the bottles, I moved them into the refrigerator and started drinking the kombucha as a welcome change from plain water or chemical tasting drink mixes. Success!

I’m now on my third batch, tweaking the proportions a bit this time to try to make four liters at a time instead of three. And my kombucha scoby has grown so much that I had the opportunity to split it, and to share the scope and recipe with another cruiser. I’ve gotta say I’m pretty impressed with myself! Now Capt. Mike and I just need to keep on top of it, drinking enough of the finished kombucha that I can have empty soda bottles ready to fill each time a new batch is done.

(PS: in the past two weeks, I have also made homemade hummus, and almond flour blueberry scones. Who is this person?)

You Can’t Miss the Super Bowl

By the time the 5Fs festival was over, we were desperate for some fresh provisions. Because the one teeny tiny grocery store on teeny tiny Little Farmers Cay sold out of everything by 10:00 am the morning the supply boat arrived. No eggs. No milk. No bread. No produce. We did buy the last three limes, a liter of rum, and a ziplock bag of ice. That and my store of canned goods got us through the festival weekend. Since woman cannot live on rum alone, we backtracked north to Black Point on Sunday afternoon where Adderly’s Friendly Market set us up and we even found eggs at the Laundromat.

Have I told you about the Rocksound Laundry on Black Point? Ida Patton runs an amazing business offering everything a cruiser might want or need. Clean and well-maintained laundry machines, of course. But also hot showers, a place to charge electronics, cold drinks, homemade carrot cake and conch fritters, fishing supplies, and haircuts! I got a trim while enjoying the best view in the islands, and got tons of compliments on the cut.

We had the opportunity to meet fellow Pacific Seacraft owners in the Black Point Harbor. Amy and Roger on Shango spent five years circumnavigating the globe. (Wow!) And Charlie and Nancy on Tracey J split their time between working in a hospital in Seattle and sailing in the Bahamas. Always interesting to learn how other folks are making their sailing dreams a reality.

They invited us ashore to Scorpios for the big Super Bowl party with the enticements of a new big screen tv, chicken dinner special, and 2-4-1 rum punches. I’m not much of a football fan, but how could we turn that down? Elixir’s dinghy was giving them trouble, so little Bug towed them to shore like a prince and a princess.

David at Scorpios really does make the best rum punch I’ve had in the Bahamas, and he has the nicest, friendliest smile to go with it. His picture is a bit blurry because it never stopped moving all night.

The game wasn’t terribly exciting, and the Patriots won, but everyone in the bar was friendly and in the mood to socialize. Even the Maroon 5 half time show sounded amazing when blared at Bahamas high volume. I met another Women Who Sail friend Cindy in person after several earlier Facebook chats, and Trish and I “borrowed” a few of the Junkanoo parade costumes in the pool room when we had had enough of football.

The next morning, we moved Sanitas just around the corner to the beautiful little bay by the Sand Castle House. This beach is also in the running for most beautiful in the Bahamas, and we took our time exploring the rocks and sea creatures, floating in the cool waters, and soaking up the sun on the sand. Several new friends we’d met at the Super Bowl party had moved here too, so we threw an impromptu sunset happy hour on the beach. We made good use of the fire pit and the coconut palm tiki bar in the trees, staying ashore until the bugs drove us off the beach and back to the water.

Well That Was a Shit Show (Pardon my French)

If you’re reading this … and you’re my mom … you might want to skip to the next blog post. I’ll post about beautiful beaches and sunsets again soon, I promise.

Quote from the Explorer Chart Books: “Warderick Cut is wide and deep. This is probably the best cut between Highbourne and Conch Cuts unless you encounter a north wind against an ebb current. The current can be particularly strong here.”

The cuts in the Exumas are gaps in the island chain that divide the deep, rough Exuma Sound from the shallow, protected Bank. When the tides change, massive amounts of water funnel through the cuts driving extremely strong currents. On a good day, you aim right down the middle and let the current carry you through. On a bad day…. you don’t go through at all.

I have a rule, or maybe more of a goal, that I never want to have a good story about passing through a cut in the Bahamas. I always want us to have reviewed the weather reports in advance, researched the tides, planned the time of day, and then simply glide through each cut like we’re floating on a lazy river. Unfortunately, this time I got myself a story.

We left Rock Sound on Eleuthera in a veritable parade of boats. Everyone had weathered the most recent cold front, and decided to use this good weather window to move on before the next one hit. Six boats were traveling the same route as Sanitas; a straight shot of 46.5 nautical miles to Warderick Wells, halfway down the Exuma chain. Weather forecast was for 10 knots, increasing to 15 knots over the course of the day. Totally benign sailing conditions. Until they weren’t.

At about 12:30, we were seeing 20-30 knots directly on the stern, with at least 3 meter swells. Tricky sailing, because the swells really bounced Sanitas around, changing her direction relative to the wind just enough to trigger some accidental jibes – a fast powerful swing of the boom from one side of the boat to the other, ending in a powerful crash. We use a break system to control how far the boom can swing, but the force was still significant.

Jeff, on Elixir, radioed and asked us to double check the tides. When we expected to arrive at 3:00, it was supposed to be mid-tide, when the current is the strongest and fastest. We agreed to monitor conditions, and radio ahead to other boats to ask about the conditions. If it looked too rough, we’d wait.

Then, chaos erupted. While Capt. Mike was trying put a second reef in the mainsail, the starboard lazy jack lines snapped, and suddenly about 75 feet of thin line was whipping around crazily in the wind. On the next accidental jib, the unbalanced sail put pressure on the remaining port lazy jack lines, causing them to snap too. Double the amount of lines whipping in the wind. One failure cascaded into the next. While Capt. Mike went forward to grab handfuls of line and wrap it in duct tape to get it under control, one piece of line snagged on the corner of our dodger canvas and ripped the hardware right off, folding the canvas and our flexible solar panels in half. We used the knife mounted on the steering pedestal to cut that line to relieve the pressure. So much for saving the lazy jacks! Now I had control of the helm while Capt. Mike had to finish corralling the lazy jacks, and also had to dig spare lines out of the cockpit locker to lash our solar panels on before they could sustain more damage. So now, with our mainsail double-reefed and falling out of the destroyed sail bag, and our view from the helm partially blocked by the sail, we arrived at the Cut.

We hailed The Colonel’s Lady on 16 and asked what the conditions were like when they passed through the cut just before us. Their Captain responded, “Are you familiar with the term ‘a rage’? When northeast winds are blowing against the easterly flowing ebb tide right at the strongest mid-tide levels, forming big standing waves? Well it’s raging right now.” Capt. Mike asked, “But it’s doable?” And the Captain answered, “Well …. how heavy is your boat?”

At this point, we didn’t have a lot of options. Winds were over 30 knots, gusting higher. Swells were 3 meters with a very short period between waves. Our buddy boat Elixir reported “falling” down the waves at over 11 knots. You’re not in control of the boat or able to steer at those speeds. When the boat ahead of us entered a wave trough, it disappeared from view until it climbed up the next one. We couldn’t simply do circles out on the Sound and wait for better conditions. And our mainsail was a mess (we were afraid to turn into the wind and finish dropping it without our lazy jacks and sail bag in these conditions), the dodger and solar panels were barely tied on using a spare line, and stuff was thrown all over the cabin. So we went for it.

Capt. Mike was standing at the helm, tethered in and hand steering; trying to simultaneously keep us from going broadsides to the waves, and to keep us off the rocks and shoals. I was sitting close to the companionway, tethered in, holding up the iPad with Navionics so he could see the best route to take between the hazards. He said, “Don’t be surprised if a wave washes over the cockpit.” Yes. Really. He’d spin the wheel all the way to one side, then spin it quickly all the way back, trying to hit the waves head on so that we wouldn’t be knocked down by a sideways wave. He tried to stay on his feet, but Sanitas was bucking so hard, he got knocked back onto his butt on the cockpit bench. When he’d look back over his left shoulder to try to time the next wave, all he saw was frothy white water higher than our heads. The rock bars on either side of the cut looked awfully close, and Warderick Cut didn’t seem so wide anymore. But good steering and running the engine at maximum rpms got us through it. Capt. Mike would have a sore back and shoulders the next day.

Once we had enough sea room, we turned back into the wind and dropped the sail, manually flaking it and lashing it in place with dock lines. We had already passed the entrance to the mooring field, so we pointed Sanitas’ bow back into that wind and aimed for the narrow entrance. A fellow cruiser jumped into his dinghy and zoomed over to help us pick up the mooring ball. Thank goodness. It was still blowing 22+ knots in the protected mooring field when we got there, and we had to make a very tight turn to head upwind to the mooring ball inside a channel only two boat-lengths wide. Once secured, we took a deep breath, gave each other a hug, and radioed the park office that we’d not be coming ashore to check in that night. Did a quick survey of the damage and decided to put that off until tomorrow too. We confirmed that Elixir made it through ok (although they’d actually been spun around 360 degrees in the cut!), and we poured ourselves a whisky and watched the sunset, grateful to have made it to a safe harbor.

Our First Real Taste of Paradise

So far, our Bahamas journey has taken us to the islands of Bimini and Great Harbour Cay. But it wasn’t until we made it to the mid-Berries, anchored between Devil’s Cay and White Cay, that we really felt that we’d made it to an island paradise.

Trish, of SV Elixir, had caught her first yellowfin tuna on the sail over. So we all gathered in the cockpit of Leef Nu for a lesson on cleaning and filleting this beautiful fish. Kevin made it all look very easy, and Trish ended up with four huge loins, and some odd sized pieces. Plenty for sushi and for cooking!

Thanks to travel tips from Todd and Celia on SV Eileen, we had more than enough ideas for things to do within a short dinghy ride of the anchorage. We anchored in a fairly shallow pool of turquoise blue water, surrounded by small uninhabited islands covered in jungle greenery and ringed with white sand beaches (hence the name White Cay). Capt. Mike and I couldn’t stop grinning at each other saying “Now THIS is what they advertised in the travel brochure!”

Our first adventure was a short hike to the Blue Hole on Hoffman’s Cay; an almost perfectly round lake of saltwater in the middle of the island, surrounded by cliffs filled with caved and gnarled greenery. Only Capt. Mike and Jeff had the courage to leap off the cliffs into the super salty water (that of course went straight up their noses) but we all took the opportunity to cool off with a snorkel with a sea turtle.

And then we threw ourselves a beach party worthy of a Corona beer commercial. On teeny tiny Big Gaulding Cay, we found an equally teeny tiny pristine sand beach equipped with a small camp: fire pit, wooden table, and beach chairs. Leef Nu brought a cast iron pan, charcoal, and some fresh snapper, Elixir brought some of that delicious tuna, and the crew of Sanitas, who have yet to catch a fish, contributed brie and crackers and a scrumptious quinoa and black olive salad. Kevin manned the fire, and together we created a veritable feast of seared and fried fish, salads, and the requisite cold beers and rum drinks.

There was even a perfectly placed coconut palm tree grown right through the middle of the table with coconuts just mature enough to provide delicious coconut water. Lo and behold, Kevin had brought along a machete (yes, really!) so we could put da lime in da coconut and drink it all up.

You know, a beach day in the Bahamas really doesn’t get any better than this, and we’re lucky to have found good friends (who can actually catch fish!) to share it with.

Literally in the Middle of Nowhere

When planning a sail to the Bahamas, cruisers put a great deal of effort into planning the Gulf Stream crossing. For good reason, of course. The distance is significant, often requiring an overnight sail, and that river of current sure makes route planning tricky. But no one really tells you that once you’ve successfully reached the Near Bahamas islands, you immediately need to start planning your next passage.

From Bimini, a sailboat can head north to the beautiful Abacos, although the winter storms are more powerful that far north, and you may find yourself stuck waiting out a northerly longer than planned. Or you can head east east across the Great Bahama Bank to the Berry Islands. Since we completely missed the Berrys last season, we decided not to make the same mistake this time! So from South Bimini, we set off east across 90-some miles of shallow sea. And if you do the math, you’ll soon find that at a pace that’s somewhere between a fast walk and a slow jog, you can’t cross those 90 miles during the limited daylight hours available in mid-January.

Since we are in no particular hurry, we set out from Bimini Sands with SV Elixir and SV Leef Nu and aimed for an imaginary point in the middle of all that water near Mackie Shoal. The shoal is exactly what it sounds like – a giant sandbar in the middle of all that water. While you wouldn’t want to encounter the shoal by mistake, skirting the northern edge of it on purpose makes a great rest stop on the way across the Bank. Hours after we’d lost sight of land and lost cell phone coverage, we could see a very small wooden pole that marks the shoal, and we veered a bit south to get off the waypoint to waypoint route. Scanning for shallows, we decided to drop anchor in 14 feet of water surrounded by nothingness in all directions. Even with two buddy boats, our little flotilla seemed like a very small speck in a very large ocean. But the waters were calm, the sunset was spectacular, and my Thai green chili tasted way better than it ever does on land.