05/08/2011, Marsh Harbor, Bahamas (Bahamas)
Total Distance: 74 Miles Under Sail: 24
Average Speed: 8.79 kts
Conditions: Clear, 75-80 F, Wind Northeast at 0-5 kts, Seas 4-6 ft
Spanish Wells to Marsh Harbor
Wind light and variable, Seas 5' swells, temp 78, 75NM 18 hours sail
When I last left you I had just returned to the boat after a nice visit in the town of Spanish Wells. I prepared Rhapsody in Blue for another long voyage; put the dinghy on deck and secured the cabin. I needed to top off the fuel tank in anticipation of another motorsail to Marsh Harbor. After clearing the mooring field, I headed over to the Shell station. After a perfect solo docking, I found out they were closed and I had to head over to the other gas station further up the harbor. So another undocking and docking took place with perfection. I took on 15 gals of diesel fuel and headed out the North Channel of Spanish Wells at 1500.
The north cut out in the Atlantic Ocean is real, real tricky, both in the narrowest of it and depth. It is a narrow snake path with shallow water, reefs and coral heads to navigate. The cruiser's guide recommends a boat captain from town to help guide one's boat through this passage. Once again it is daylight, Visual Piloting Required (VPR) maneuver. I had both my chart plotter and Explorer paper charts as guides to help me out. But first I need to say a few words on my Raymarine chart plotter. I have been told by many of cruisers that the Raymarine Charts are not good in the Bahamas. I knew from my previous trip to Bimini that they were inaccurate. I update the chart plotter about a year ago after my last Bimini trip. What I found throughout the whole month was the chart plotter was very accurate and in some cases more accurate than the highly rate Explorer Charts. This turned out to be a blessing and a relief for my sometimes faint heart. It took a lot of pressure off me as I got more comfortable with the Raymarine charts. But I always use VPR to guide the boat in tight places. Reading the waters in the Bahamas is easy once you know what to look for. Rhapsody made it through the cut and into the Atlantic Ocean with the greatest of ease. With Rhapsody in Blue in the true Atlantic Ocean for the first time, the ocean decided to great us with 5' swells. Nice of Mother Ocean to have such a fine greeting, NOT! I have seen the real ocean from a few cruise ship cruises and the Pacific Ocean on a sailboat. But this is way different from your own boat only 4 feet off the ocean surface. I had some light winds on a broad reach, so I set sails for a slow sail north. Because I had to leave Spanish Wells during high tide and in the day, I left 4 hours earlier than I needed to. Why you ask? So that I would arrive at the Man of War cut into the Abaco Sea during daylight hours. If you haven't figured it out yet, a prudent sailor never enters an unknown cut or harbor at night. I did some quick math and at normal speed I would get to Man of War at 4am with sunrise at 630am. So with this dilemma a choice had to be made of either lying up outside the cut or slow the boat speed down. Now let's talk about ocean swells/waves for a few moments.
Ideally I believe one wants the waves/swells at around 45 degrees off either the bow or stern. This makes the ride more comfortable where the boat isn't being tossed about. Seas off the beam are OK as long as they are not big waves. Off the nose is a beating like I had in the Tongue of the Ocean. We call this beating because you get beat to death both you and the boat. Waves/swells dead on the stern makes for a really rocky boat, tossing everything from one side to the other. Some boats handle seas better than others based on their hull and keel designs. My boat with a wing keel, light displacement and wide stern makes for a not so ocean going boat in big seas. The trick to a comfortable ride with any big seas is to get the bow pointed in the sweet 45 degree corridor and boat speed to match the wave pattern as best as you can. Fast boats have more latitude in speed adjustments than slower boats.
So now that this discussion is done, I had a decision to make as to how I was going to sail to Marsh Harbor. The swells were around 60 degrees off the starboard side, 7-9 seconds apart. If I was in the Gulf Stream with 5' waves/swells 3 seconds apart, it would have been a nightmare. So even though the swells were 5 feet plus it was a nice comfortable ride. I have to admit when I first saw the swells I was real nervous. Ok a little scared. Ok a lot scared. Rhapsody in Blue handled the Atlantic Ocean with ease, saying she would take good care of me this trip. We were cruising along at 6.2kts having the time of our lives while I was trying to make up my mind on the course of action. Lying up at night in front the cut, solo and tired was not in the cards for me. So I did some quick high math skills and came up with 3.75 knots to get to Man of War Cut at sunrise. So at 1700 hrs, the wind Gods were reading my mind and turned off the wind for the night sail up. The iron jenny (motor) was turned on, set the RPM's to cruise at 3.75kts for the next 12 hours or so.
Northwest Passage Channel- 1700 hrs. Major shipping channel for the Bahamas. At 1710, a cruise ship was barring straight down at me. Not a pleasant sight for the feint hearted! On channel 16 hailed the ship to make sure they saw the small sailboat, me! It took several calls to the ship for them to answer me back. They came back with my exact coordinates. I double check my GPS coordinates to make sure they had me. Amazing how accurate their radar was. It was Royal Caribbean's Sovereign of Seas. We chatted a few minutes on how we were going to pass each other; they to my stern. This is the best way for any ‽BAB" (Big Ass Boat) to pass a sailboat. No wake to worry about. Now these BAB can travel very fast, usually around 20-25 knots. However, the cruise ship was in no particular hurry it seemed. Making I guess, around 10 knots at best. No particular hurry heading straight for me. No turn ever so slightly. Now my feint heart didn't know whether to beat in a panic adrenaline heart race or just quit beating altogether and just die right there. This was a very slow motion dance that lasted about 30 minutes. In the end Sovereign of Seas turned and passed close enough to my stern I could read the dinner menu. Speaking of which, when they did just pass, I called them to ask them if it was Lobster Night. They came back it was tomorrow. Dinner was off the night's menu. I asked if the chef can make a dinner for me and pass it down. This girl was hungry. We all had a laugh. After chatting with other cruisers about this incident, we all came to the conclusion they head straight for us cruising boats rather than just turn to pass on our stern to entertain their guest. Cheap thrill if you ask me. So instead of a nice dinner from the cruise ship it was another Chinese chicken noodle soup, crackers and soda. Not quite the same. After this incident, 3 other BAB passed by me without my heart skipping a beat.
1941 hours - Official Sunset- Holly Molly!!!! What a display of God's artwork. I have seen sunsets but this sunset on the high seas beats all sunsets put together times 100. The sun literally just melted into the ocean. Like a candle melting its wax on the watery table of the Atlantic Ocean. Breathtaking!! Seas dropped to 2 feet, no wind 42.77 NM to Man of War cut.
2230 -Course correction. When I first set up the course after leaving Spanish Wells the course was straight shot to Man of War cut. The lighthouses of Abaco started to be seen. I was headed straight for them. The little birdie in the back of my head said, ‽Hey stupid, check your course!" One must always listen to that little birdie. At least I do most of the time and when I don't bad things seem to happen. So I checked my position and sure enough I was headed straight for the reefs off of Little Harbor. The island of Abaco sort of bulges out at the southern end and that I didn't account for earlier. So a small course correction was put in the heading making the world right. Most important the little birdie went back to sleep. Wish I could go to sleep. Now, a word about lighthouses.
Lighthouses are a sailor's savior. They can be seen usually for 20 miles or more on a clear night. This sailorette has never seen a lighthouse before in the open sea. At 20 miles or more they look any other lighted buoy out there. So I see the first lighthouse at Little Harbor and think it is a lighted buoy. Light buoys one can see for at best only a few miles. So I say to myself, ‽Holy shit I am a lot closer to shore than I think I am"! I am supposed to be 25 miles from shore and one cannot see the shore that far unless large skyscrapers are on land. The Abaco's have no skyscrapers. So mass panic, 7 alarm bells go off in my head. The charts show a buoy near shore. I turn on all 3 GPS on the boat to recalculate my position. I was where I was supposed to be. Hmmm. Did someone drop a weather buoy out here in the middle of ocean and forgot to tell me about it? I was confused and left it at that for awhile. Turned more NE to avoid the whole mess out in the middle of ocean, in other words, headed more out to sea.
0145am hours - Wind came up to 300/8kts. Raised sails and turned off engine. Speed 3.9 kts. Another damn buoy light can be seen. Now I have two of these dang things that I cannot figure out what they are doing out in the middle of the freaking ocean. I triangulate the lights to the charts. For you non-nautical persons, that means taking a heading from the light you see to the boat. Draw that heading on a map. Plot these headings on the map with lines. Where they intersect gives you the position of the boat. I was confused before about the first light I saw, now I was dumbfounded. Not very often is this sailing girl dumbfounded. The position on the map that I plotted match up to the GPS coordinates within a ¼ of mile. Good enough out in the middle of the freaking ocean in the middle of the freaking night. Normally, after an hour or two lighted buoys cannot be seen. I saw these bloody things all night. I am going to get the bottom of this one way or another if kills me - which it might. So I turned the heading on the autopilot to the East. Europe here I come. Hmmm. I have enough food for a 30 day crossing. Water tank is full, passport in hand. Dang crew will kill me if I don� t meet them in a few days. Foiled again! Drat.
0349am- Wind died again, motor started, ghosting along at 2.5kts. Current is on the nose about 2kts. I started to get tired again at my usual hour of 2-4am. Pot of coffee was made. It was while I was making coffee trying to get those damm lights out of my head that I realized I have TV and TV shows recorded on my satellite DVR. I have a few weeks of shows to catch up on. Eureka! I fired up the inverter, turn on the TV and caught up on my NCIS and NCIS LA shows. Between commercials I poked my head out the companionway like a gofer looking for his shadow to see if any BAB's where heading my way. It turned out to be a great night with those 2 lights blinking at me.
0630 - Sunrise - 2NM from North Man of War cut. Like the sunset the previous night, God wasn't done with his magic light bulb. Sunrise was just as glorious as the sunset as it came up to light another day. My timing here was perfect. There are some big reefs out here. While the cut is big, one still needs to see where the reefs are.
0700 - Entered Abaco Sea. This reminds me of home on Key Biscayne Bay. It is shallow and full of islands all around. Only this water is a pretty color of blue and one can see the bottom very easily. My heart is full of joy as I make for Marsh Harbor 9NM away.
0830am- Dock the boat at Marsh Harbor Marina. I could not raise the dock master on either Channel 16 or 68. Since I had a reservation, I just docked the boat on the finger pier and will sort it all out later. When I went to the office, it was closed. One of the patrons said they don't open on Sunday until 11 or so. OK, I can handle island time. Welcome the Bahamas, Ms Melissa.
75NM 18 hours sail. Life is grand and another night sail is complete for the crazy woman boat driver!! Good night everyone.
05/07/2011, Spanish Wells, Bahamas (Bahamas)
Total Distance: 51 Miles Under Sail: 48
Average Speed: 6.38 kts
Conditions: Clear, 75-80 F, Wind Southeast at 5-10 kts, Seas 1-2 ft
Nassau to Spanish Wells
Weather, skies clear, wind 110/10, seas 2' , temp 78, 51 miles
When sailing in the Bahamas, one has to pay attention to the tides for most places to get into and out of anchorages. So route planning for the most part is based on when low and high tide is. This at times can make getting underway either early in the morning or later in the afternoon. Of course getting into an anchorage during the daylight is also the most important. Like all sailing, weather plays important part. Getting weather in the Bahamas can get tricky if one doesn't have SSB radio.
I do not have SSB on the Rhapsody in Blue. I have been told that a small receive only receiver can be had for around $120. Next time I go, I will buy one of these. This will become especially important if one travels the Exumas. In Nassau I had access to Wi-Fi as well as throughout the Abaco's. Also in the Abacos there is a cruisers net that gives out the daily weather. More on that later.
It was a perfect day to sail almost Nirvana. I left Nassau on a rising high tide at 0730. The plan was to go through Porgee Rocks where depth can be a problem at low tide. Sailing down the Nassau harbor is interesting because of all the traffic. One has to check out with the Harbor Master on channel 9 for clearance to leave the island. Information was passed to my next destination, Spanish Wells. A left turn to Porgee Rocks pass turn into an non-event with good depth all the way through it. At 0810 I was through that on my way to Meeks. With the wind on the beam, Rhapsody was doing 6.2 kts. 1310 hours I was at Current Rock the entrance to Eleuthera Island on the west side. The marker/bouy on the rock was knock down. This bay is shallow with average depth around 10'. There are some interesting harbors on the way to Spanish Wells that will need checking out on a later sail when I return in the future; Lobster Cay, Royal Island. The Pole of Death came up goose eggs, Zero.
Entrance into Spanish Wells is Daylight only, Visual Piloting Required. It is a very small entrance no more than 100' wide. For most sailboats high tide would be required. A tug pushing a barge was racing me to the entrance. He was moving real fast. Since he knew the way, I eased up and let him go first to show me the route. I figure when he got to the entrance he would slow down to make the sharp left turn.. Man he took that turn full throttle and skidded the barge through the markers. Impressive but stupid in my opinion. But he did show me the way in with a stirred up dirt trail from his spinning propeller. I hailed Bandit to see if they had a mooring ball, for there is no anchoring in the tight harbor. I got the last ball available. There is only 6 mooring balls here I believe. Picking up a mooring ball in a tight area with only 50' from shore and shallow water is tricky at best. I snagged it the first time. I got the line around the cleat and started to set up the bridal line. As I feed the line through the loop I had to take it off the cleat to do that. If anyone has followed my blog knows I can do stupid things once in awhile. I lost the mooring line over the side due to the engine was still engaged in forward idle. I could not hold the boat before I could get the bridal attached. So in a very tight area I was in a major panic with the shore close by and 2 other boats on mooring balls. Current and winds didn't help either. I did manage to control the boat barely missing one of the mooring yachts by a few feet. Of course said yacht personnel was coming back from shore in their dinghy to witness this cluster I was in. They offered help but in the end it wasn't need as I snagged the line again this time without the engine engaged.
After settling in, one of the neighbors came knocking on the hull and introduced himself. Bob was a solo sailor, living in the Bahamas full time on a S2 yacht. He gave me the full rundown on Spanish Wells, a map of the town and introduced me to his cute little dog he was traveling with. I think he was the suedo ambassador to Spanish Wells. In the morning Bob knock on the hull again to give me a pair of coral earring he made. Found out later he did this all the cruisers gals that visited Spanish Wells.
Spanish Wells is the most prosperous town in all of the Bahamas. 50% of the fishing is done in this small town. Since lobster season was over, most of the fleet was in port. I was told most of the residents are quite wealthy. However, they still live a modest life compare to us in the US. Nice change for once. Being British descent they have to have nice gardens though at their homes. I launched the dinghy to explore the town. After tying up at the town's concrete wall I found that the Little League was playing. The whole town was there complete with hot dog and hamburger vendor cooking up a storm. I watch the game Spanish Wells vs Nassau team I believe. Spanish Wells is an all white community where I was told blacks are not very welcomed except to do domestic work. The Nassau team was a black team and they made a sharp contract to the rest of the population. They kicked the Spanish Wells team butt, 10-0. I got to talking to some of the mom's there. Complete with British accents of sorts. All the kids looked the same with blond hair and pug noses. As one travels the Bahamas their history is very interesting. Seems that white population is mostly British Loyalist from the American Revolutionary War. They came over to the Bahamas after the war to remain in British control. They settled in the Abacos and northern islands for the most part. Certain families occupied each island and outsiders are not welcomed. Certain last names are dominant on each island. After a few hundred years it is truly evident that all the folks there look alike. This was true throughout the Abacos as well. After the game I walked around the island some to get a feel for the community.
I went back to the boat to get ready to sail to Marsh Harbor. I had to leave at high tide that evening to make it through the northern cut.
05/05/2011, Nassau, Bahamas (United States)
Total Distance: 50 Miles Under Sail: 0
Average Speed: 5.88 kts
Conditions: Clear, 75-80 F, Wind East at 15-20 kts, Seas 4-6 ft
Long Haul - Key Biscayne to Nassau
It took five days for the weather gods to be kind for the Gulf Stream crossing. Patience' s was the order of the days as I waited, waited and waited for the Gulf Stream to lay down from 6-9 foot short wave patterns to 2-3 foot wave patterns. With the weather gods not being kind, I lost my crew, alternate crew, alternate alternate crew and reserve back-up crew for the trip to the Abaco' s. So a solo trip to Marsh Harbor was the unfortunate result.
I must digress for a moment to get into the planning of this month long trip to the Abaco' s in the Bahamas. It was extensive to say the least. It took me about 2 months to plan and execute; boat maintenance, provisioning and route planning. Provisioning gave me restless sleep. I had to provision the boat for 3-4 people for 30 days. Not an easy task when one has ever done it before.
I read many websites, talked to cruisers and have a few books on provisioning a boat for extended cruising. First, was what all to buy. What I found was to make a menu for the entire month. Then break it down into ingredients. Anne, first mate, and I than made a shopping list that was 6 pages long. The biggest problem than was where to store it all on the boat. This required a total reorganization of all storage lockers on the boat. The 10 boxes of beer I found to be the easiest, they fit under the floorboards on this boat. In fact all the liquor fit either under the floorboards or the bilge. I put socks on all the wine bottles (6) and none broke. With a shopping list made, I wrote on the list what storage unit they were located in. All in all, I was amazed on how much storage, Rhapsody in Blue can hold. I still had room for more food stuff. The next biggest problem was refrigeration/freezer or lack of it. I ended up buying a small Dometic refrigeration/freezer that now lives under the nav station. For most of the meat I went with Omaha steaks package. I love the meats and each meat comes individually shrunk wrap. This makes storing them compact and easy.
Maintenance was the standard fare what anyone would do before any cruise. Engine was totally ready with all filters, oil and fluids changed. The valves were adjusted which was a good thing because they were off quite a bit. The raw water pump was rebuilt and all belts replaced. The boat was hauled out with a new bottom, cutlass bearing and speed prop applied. The mast was tuned and boom-vang sheet ran back to the cockpit. This was huge, and I do mean huge. I have had the mast tuned twice before however, this time after talking over with the rigger, I bent the mast back another foot from what Sheldon recommended. This resulted in a whole new sailing boat. Rhapsody has never sailed so well. No more weather helm during gusting winds, constant speed I have never seen before 6.5-7.5 depending on the sailing angle. She acted like a thoroughbred horse. With the boom-vang now adjusting back at the cockpit, I was able to finally get the top 1/3 of the sail to fly.
The route plan would normally be straight forward but going to the Abaco's one has 2 or 3 routes to get there. I had 3 plans. Plan A, north over the top of Freeport, Memory Rock, Great Shale, Green Turtle, Marsh Harbor. Plan B, Bimini, Chub Cay, Little Harbor, Marsh Harbor. Plan C, Bimini, Nassau, Spanish Wells, Marsh Harbor. Each had its advantages and disadvantages. It all depended on the Gulf stream conditions, wind , crew, and weather. Since I didn't have crew my thoughts were I need a way to call it quits and safe harbor to go too if for any reason I needed too. So I choice Plan C.
I launch out of the slip at 0130 in the morning. I couldn't sleep so why not. I went out of Governors Cut with one reef in the main and the motor on. Winds were 100 degrees (on the nose of course) at 12kts. The ride was very rough out the cut due to the current and tide going in opposite directions. Once out into the ocean heading was 140 degrees, speed 5.8kts. The following is from the log book.
0405 hrs - heading 110, 5.2 kts, - dodge cruise ship and freighter, wind 090/10-12kts, seas 2'
0900 - heading 106, 6.3kts, wind 090/12kts seas 2' . Bimini sighted, 17nm out
1100 - North Rock, wind 090/12, seas 2', 6.1 kts
1140, 1216, 1300, 1420hrs, Caught Barracuda,
1410 - All sails out, wind 080/08kts, 5.5kts, Bahamas Bank
1510 - wind 060/10-13, speed 5.1kts, heading 105
1730 - Maxie Shoals, 080/08 speed 4.7kts
1735- Caught Red Mutton Snapper- 8lbs.
2215 NW Shoals, wind 095/15, speed 5 kts. Heading 110. Reefed main and rolled in jib. Autopilot having problems tacking course. Found heading mode worked best.
2230- Barge hailed me to work out conflict. Hard to tell who was who out there. Very dark, had 3 boats out there. Asked if I wanted to pass 2 lights or one. I didn't know what that meant. Said he was trailing a barge 100 yards behind him. I was so confused. Found out there was another large sailboat who was not running the correct lights. It was a heart stopping moment. Radar would have been nice.
2310 - Tongue of the Ocean - wind 090/15-20, seas 5', motorsail, getting clobbered, Not a fun ride. I am very tired and getting a beating. Head for Chubb Cay.
0230 - Chubb Cay. Looking at the harbor,, Little voice in the back on my head is screaming not to enter a strange harbor at night. I so want to quit sailing, I am tired and beat up from the sea conditions. But I listen to my voice and turn south for Nassau. Wind 100/15kts, seas 3-5' but on the 45 degrees off the port bow. Ride is better. Shut down motor and set sails. Start 20 min naps, I am cold.
0830- Arrive at Nassau. Nassau Yacht New Haven Marina. 163 miles, 32 hours, 20 hours motorsail. Cleared customs on the boat, bribe for one year cruising pass, Poppycock snack. Slept for 6 hours.
1500- cleaned up boat, bought charts for Spanish Wells.
My thoughts on this crossing. I am nuts and I know it. It was my first marathon sail, my first true night crossing x2, and I was solo. However, I did it and I did it safely. I was strapped in the boat at all times either to a padeye or the jackline. I didn't eat much which was a surprise. The only hot thing I ate was Chinese noodle soup. Sandwiches, coffee, water, snacks is what I ate mostly. The 2-4 o'clock in the morning was the toughest part to stay awake. Night sailing with big boats around is freighting without radar.