15/05/2008/10:30 pm, Fernandina Beach, FL
It was 52 hours from the time we left Foxtown, Little Abaco Island, on Tuesday morning until we hooked a mooring ball in front of Fernandina Harbour Marina on Thursday. Those 52 hours and 327.85 nautical miles were filled with new experiences and old ones, with wind, waves, sunshine and moonlight, with exhilaration and misery.
We listened to Chris Parker, the weather guru on the Caribbean Weather Net, tell a boat planning a similar route that if he didn't mind 8 ft swells from the NE at 11 second intervals, he'd be able to start a crossing that day. The wind was from the N but should be moving to NE by night and then to E and ESE on Wed. Higher winds would be moving into the northeast coast of Florida on Thursday night. We knew the Gulf Stream could be messy with N in the wind, but we figured we could handle it as well as that other boat and we wanted the time to make miles up the coast to Fernandina Beach, right on the Georgia border.
It was easy going across the banks - over the beautiful green water that we kept watching wistfully, knowing as it turned darker and darker that it would be more than a year before we would see it again. We had the mainsail up but because we needed to keep an average of 6 knots, we also ran the engine. We talked on VHF with a few other boats who decided to stay on the banks and wait for the wind to move E before setting out, and it caused us to go over our figures and calculations again. When we heard Tonga Time and Journey say they were out there and continuing, we were comforted. Every skipper has to make his/her own decision, and every boat and crew has different tolerances, meaning that passage making should never be a "monkey see/monkey do" decision, but still, it is nice to know that others have made similar decisions.
As dusk settled, we moved from the 15 ft depths to 2000 ft depths (catching one more barracuda before we quit fishing), put a double reef in the mainsail and adjusted the yankee just so. The wind was nicely off our starboard bow; we turned off the engine that had been running long enough to charge up those sluggish batteries, and settled into sailing.
It was a beautiful beginning. The waves got a little choppier, and the swells built gradually. The sun went down and the moon came up. We settled on our familiar watch routines - roughly 2 hours on and 2 off. Jim always takes a little longer to settle into sleep, and for his first couple of off-watches he merely got horizontal. He followed his usual routine of figuring out everything that could possibly go wrong and what he would do about it. I can usually sleep whenever my head comes near a pillow so I followed my usual routine of letting go of everything when I was "off" so I could handle things when I was "on".
As the waves grew, the noise increased until down in the cabin it was deafening and we wondered aloud how this little fiberglass craft could withstand such pressure of water crashing against it. Every join in the boat creaked and groaned, the dishes started to rattle in the cupboards and the few books that weren't well enough secured flew off the shelves. In the cockpit, the groaning and crashing weren't as loud but the sound of wind through the rigging was more evident. We both grew a new crop of bruises because every time we moved we banged into something.
Back a few years ago, when we made a family trip to Disneyworld and I decided to demonstrate a newfound courage for thrill rides, I can remember being ever so grateful that one roller coaster ride was through the darkness. I forget the name of it, but I will never forget that blessed feeling of not being able to see what I knew would scare me. I just hung on and waited for it to end. This felt something the same - except it went on for a looong time.
It was thrilling to feel Madcap plowing through the waves as she heeled over, climbing the swells, rolling over the tops and down the other sides. Because of the heaviness of the boat, the full keel, and the beautiful design of the bow, she never felt unstable. The water parted and the waves whooshed along the sides and off the stern with an occasional curl of water splashing up into the cockpit. We were in the flow of the Gulf Stream, the wind was blowing 15-20 knots with gusts to 24 and we flew along at 8 and 9 knots - even spotting 10 from time to time.
The trouble was all the motion in different directions - up and down and side to side. For the first time ever, I was seasick. Neither of us can ever stay below in conditions like this unless we are flat on a berth, preferably asleep, but this time it didn't go away even when I was above decks, trying hard to see the faint horizon that kept appearing and disappearing. I can now tell you that hanging over the rail of a sailboat is only marginally more interesting than hovering over a toilet bowl.
From the time my watch started at 1:30, I stayed in the cockpit. Jim came out at 3:30 but I didn't dare go back downstairs so I curled up in a corner, a cold miserable little pile of flesh and bones. We took turns napping there and watching. Fortunately, while Jim was not exactly comfortable he never did get sick, bless his heart!
By morning, we were 25 miles off the coast of Cape Canaveral and debating about whether to call it quits and go in, or whether to keep on going. If we continued, it would save days and days of travel. The wind had shifted and we were out of the large swells into ones more in the 2-4 ft range. The entry through this channel was a little more complicated, with a bascule bridge and a lock to contend with. On the other hand, we were both exhausted, and wondered about our ability to handle another 24 hours.
After half an hour of dillydallying as we moved closer to shore and further north, we made the decision to stick with our plan. It would allow us to try a 2 night passage, a stretch in our experience, and would allow us to test our recovery ability. I managed to keep down a gravol and headed for bed. Jim carried on with amazing stamina.
It was the right decision. We each got some good solid sleep during the day, and while the water was not exactly smooth, the swells stayed down to 2-4 ft. Despite not being in the Gulf Stream any more, (we stayed about 20 miles off the coast) we made reasonable time. The winds finally shifted but too late to do us much good since we did our westerly traveling early and were now heading north. The light and variable winds were mostly behind us meaning the engine was on. We hauled down the Bahamas courtesy flag and ran up our yellow quarantine flag and kept knocking off the miles.
During the second night our reefing line broke and on Thursday morning, the baby forestay with the staysail on it came loose from its footing. It was a reminder that heavy weather sailing puts a lot of stress on a boat, and was also a reminder that good luck was still with us. If either of those had happened during our night of high wind, it would have been a lot harder to deal with.
We were both exhilarated when we came in the St Mary's channel, rounded Fort Clinch and picked up a mooring in the Fernandina Beach harbour. Jim called Customs and made an appointment to check in at 2pm so we had time to have wonderful hot showers to wash away the salt and stiffness from our bodies and perk us up for the visit. It seems that every check in is different. For this one, we were both asked to go to the office - a 10-minute walk from the marina. No one visited the boat and there were no questions asked about anything we had on board. The officer was welcoming and friendly.
Back at the boat, we popped the cork on our champagne, replaced the quarantine flag with the Stars and Stripes, and took a quick nap before heading ashore again to join our friends Steve and Sandra for dinner.
Whew! What a fine feeling of accomplishment! Whew! Did bed ever feel good that night!
12/05/2008/10:19 pm, Foxtown, Little Abaco Island
When we left Allans Pensacola on Friday morning, we were still hoping that we might make a stop for an hour or so at Moraine Cay and then anchor for the night at Double Breasted Cays. These were to have been the last stops on our route out of the Bahamas, and they are reputed to be beautiful cays.
Well, you know what they say about making plans and schedules...
The west wind just wouldn't have been pleasant out there on the outer cays. We can manage an unpleasant period if we know it is going to be temporary but the forecast didn't look that way. One option was to continue on to Grand Cay, but as we took second and third looks at the charts, we made the decision to head into Foxtown on Little Abaco Island. It turned out to be an excellent idea.
The route past Hawksbill Cays and in to the harbour is a bit complicated, but we had no trouble this time. There are 3 possible anchorages marked, and we chose to go to one of the two spots off the town. Interestingly enough, Amapola - the boat beside us last night was already there. We never did get to meet them but we exchanged waves.
The anchor dug in well on the first try and an hour later we dinghied to the Government Wharf. It is a good strong one (rebuilt after the last hurricane) with several ladders available and garbage dumpsters at the end of it. We walked along the road to the Batelco tower and purchased one more $20.00 card for our cell phone. As we passed the gas station at the corner, I tried unsuccessfully to call my dad while Jim went in to get water. Neither of the two pay phones in town worked, but the stop at the store was fortuitous.
Lillian Parker sat in the breeze of the doorway plaiting while her daughter (who went to University of Waterloo back in the 1980's!) and grandson who were visiting from Marsh Harbour kept her company. As often happens, we got into conversation with them and were still there half an hour later.
I wrote all about our Mothers' Day experience in the posting by that name so I'll just fill in around the edges here. Lillian welcomed us to Foxtown and to her family. We went over to the local bar and restaurant for a beer in the afternoon and dinner that night and found friendly folks there too. As we walked down the roads, people called out "Hi!" and "How are you doing?" and "You folks all right?" As we passed some of the kids playing in the water on Monday, one of them waved and said, "Hi boat people!" We laughed as we answered.
This community has been hard hit by hurricanes and it's not on the list of stops that all the cruisers talk about, but in our experience it was definitely worth a visit. The holding was good in the harbour; the protection was good from the S and SW, and not bad from the W because of the shoals, and the scenery of the surrounding cays and rocky outcroppings was lovely. It was also a really good staging spot for heading to Great Sale Cay and onward across the Gulf Stream.
We spent Monday exploring the Hawksbill Cays, stopping in every little cove to swim in the bathtub warm water and prowling the shore for shells. We packed up the boat and prepared to head out on Tuesday for the next stage of our journey - probably to Great Sale Cay.
11/05/2008/10:24 pm, Foxtown, Little Abaco Island
This is another one of those postings that has little to do with sailing, and lots to do with life ... or perhaps that is a misstatement and it has a lot to do with sailing - it is all about where the wind blows us.
I had been feeling a little worried about Mothers' Day this year. My mother died in December and this would be the first Mothers Day without her. I was far away from my three children. I could not see them and perhaps could not even be in touch with them at all.
And so ... we were on our way to Moraine or to Double Breasted Cay - that could have been a neat Mothers' Day stop!! But the wind blew us to Foxtown instead. There we found Lillian Parker and her family and this is where my story really starts.
Jim and I happened into her store to get water and when we asked if Bahamians celebrate Mothers' Day the answer was "Yes." Jim's next question was "Is there a restaurant that will be open on Mothers' Day so I can take my wife out to dinner?" Lillian paused a minute, appraising us and then said, "If you would like to come to church with me on Sunday, you wouldn't have to worry about food."
It seemed pretty clear to me that I was supposed to be with her for Mothers' Day so we accepted her invitation.
Lillian has 11 living children - the youngest just turned 40. One son, Bernie, is the pastor of the Revival Ministries Church of God - a Pentecostal church - or a jumpin' church (so named because they Move). Several daughters and sons have beautiful voices and are musical leaders in the church. Lillian poked me at one point and said, "They're all mine" with great pride in her voice, and indeed, most of those in the church were her children or grands, or related in some way.
It was a Mothers' Day service - start to finish. Lillian took us right along with her and we followed her every move. We moved to the music of the praise service, and oh my, it was a praise service with music that got right into the very cells of our bodies. We reveled in the bright colours of the clothes. Lillian wore an elegant white suit and hat - an outfit that my Mum could have donned anytime. There were orange suits and green and pink and ivory ones. There were red hats and pink ones and white ones. There were city styles and rural styles, and it wasn't only the women who chose their clothes with care. The children were in their Sunday best with ribbons in their hair and some of the men's suits were bright coloured or ornately tailored. These folks dressed for church.
When the pastor prayed for those of us who had mothers not physically present with us in this world, I felt he was talking straight to me. When Daphne sang "That's what Heaven Means to Me" in memory of her mother, I struggled to keep back the tears. When Jim joined all the other males in the congregation as they gathered up front to sing a song for Mamas, I smiled from ear to ear. (Did I mention that ours were the only 2 white faces in church?) When pastor Bernie preached that the responsibility is with the mothers to produce good children, I prayed that I had done a good enough job. I know we have good children but I often think that is as much their own doing as Jim's or mine!
At the end of the service, we were interested to witness a new-to-us practice. The pastor handed out envelopes of monetary gifts to many mothers - oldest - visiting- happiest, and told others to check under their seats for envelopes. Several children (adult ones and young ones) presented their mothers with cheques and cards. Some sang songs to their mothers and spoke loving and appreciative words to them. I was delighted to receive the envelope for the "most happy, joyful mother on that day"! I guess the "Rev" as his brothers and sisters called him, could see my smile.
After the service, we went back to Lillian's house and the family kept arriving with platters of turkey and great dishes of peas'n rice and macaroni and vegetables. A platter of cake and the ginger cookies I had made as our contribution finished off the meal. It was funny to hear someone say, "Want a Canadian cookie?" as she passed the container.
We felt so welcome and so fortunate to be embraced into this family for the day. We laughed as they told stories on each other and remembered escapades of the past. We nodded in understanding as they acknowledged the gifts they had received from their mother - the value of hard work, unconditional love. It was much like a gathering of our own families - with good food and good feelings - but there were lots more of them!
We went back to the boat and toasted our family. We thought yet again how absolutely fabulous this year of cruising has turned out to be. It's about the scenery and the lifestyle. It is about the people we've met. It is perhaps most of all about trusting the winds and the sea and the spirit to take us where we need to be.