We're in the Bahamas!
21 January 2011 | West End, Grand Bahama
Well it was and it wasn't just another day sail like Bud said it would be. For one thing, once we got out a few miles the water was pure blue. I went down and looked out the forward port on the low side where the waves were splashing against it and the water was the color little kids make it in their pictures. Not the aquamarine of the tropical shallows, but pure sky blue. Looking out from on deck it looked dark blue. No hint of green or brown, just dark blue.
Other than that it started like a typical day's sail. We left the dock at 6:45. We got hung up a bit waiting for a cruise ship to dock; I put a picture of that in the gallery. I also put in a picture of our last view of Florida, and you can see the blue water.
I was worried about making it across in daylight. I had read how the Gulf Stream would carry you north. Our direction of travel was just four degrees south of due east. But we would have to head much further south to end up where we wanted to be because of the current. I didn't know how much that would add to the 55 nautical mile trip and wasn't sure how fast we could get there. When we started we didn't feel we were going fast enough, so we had the engine on and all three sails (main, genoa and staysail) out. Gradually the wind built until we were doing 8 knots with just the sails.
It was good sailing but not an easy point of sail. The wind was a little uneven and the waves were coming from just aft of the starboard beam, so there was quite a bit of rolling. We tried again with the windvane, but still couldn't get it set. Bud went back to adjust it and left the boat on the mechanical autopilot. He asked me to shut the autopilot off, steer it by hand for the few seconds it took and engage the windvane. I went to do that and suddenly I got an error message on the autopilot. It confused me; Bud thought I was crazy because I told him I needed help. Then he saw and he couldn't get the mechanical autopilot to work either. Now both our steering mechanisms were not working. So the boat had to be hand steered for the rest of the day. Bud did almost all of it, and it was a lot of work. The waves would really roll you, then the wind would pick up and the boat would head up a bit. I probably took the helm for an hour and a half total, and it was a good workout. I'm supposed to do weight bearing exercises and I thought while I was doing it that this was certainly going to help.
Just after 11 AM I went down to make sandwiches. As I started up the companionway, Bud called me. "You better leave the sandwiches. We need to reef the main." Bud calling for a reef! No, actually, we put two reefs in the main. The good news is that the reefing system we installed that could be done from the cockpit worked flawlessly. Let me tell you, I was grateful for that because it was a real challenge to walk around the deck. The boat was more balanced after that but we still couldn't get the windvane to steer.
We were making great time according to the GPS. We never dropped below 7 knots speed over ground even with current against us. Our boat speed was up around 8, and above when we slid down the waves. The wind moved towards the back of the boat and the staysail seemed to block the genoa so we took that in. Now we were using just the genoa and a double reefed main and still we were doing between 7 and 8 knots.
We were less than ten miles from the waypoint in front of the harbor at West End, Grand Bahama and we couldn't see a thing except the ocean. Now I started to worry that we'd missed the island because of some error. I double-checked the waypoint I entered and it was correct according to the chart. Finally, at about 6 miles out I spotted a structure. "Land, ho!" I called. Bud told me it was probably an illusion, but it turned out to be the water tower. I was doubly glad to see it because the front that was dropping down and making this the last weather window for several days seemed to be coming faster than we thought. Either that or several of the isolated thunderstorms that were in the forecast had gotten together and decided to chase us. There were some nasty looking black clouds to the north and west of us. The photo above was taken around then.
Now it became a race. We were still doing about 7 knots but the clouds were getting closer. We started to prepare for a squall. We had the lines ready to reef either the main or genoa or both. Bud put on his rain jacket. Just before we lost the race with the storm we put Fuzzy below. Poor dog hadn't made a peep all day. He got moved from his usual seat on the cockpit cushions to the floor of the cockpit and finally to the floor of the salon right next to the mast where the boat is most stable. Once Fuzzy was set and I had my foul weather jacket on we put a third reef in the main. Then we tried to reef the genoa. I started to pull on the furling line to wind the sail up. I felt it start to move until Bud turned the boat more towards the wind. Then I couldn't budge it. We switched places and I took the helm. Bud couldn't budge it. Then we lost way so Bud had me fall off the wind. As a bit of wind filled the sail Bud was able to start it rolling up. At that point there was wind and rain everywhere and he just rolled it all the way up. Bud took the helm, I secured the one sheet that had been left flying around as we struggled with the sail (a sheet is the line that controls the sail, the genoa has two, one on each side) and started the engine. We were only about 3 miles from West End but the rain was coming down so hard you couldn't see a thing. Bud was considering just going south and then north along the shore. I told him there were no obstructions in front of the harbor entrance, but there were shoals in the open water to the north and I thought it would be safer to just head in. I checked the chart again and saw there was a basin inside that had good depth everywhere (and didn't allow anchoring) so we could just leave the triple reefed main up and turn into the wind to take it down once we were inside. Now I started to see lighting. A huge bolt struck not too far in front of us. We kept heading towards shore hoping to see the entrance to the harbor. There were supposed to be lighted markers on either side. We could see for about a quarter to a half-mile at this point and finally spotted the marks. They weren't lit, but they were there. We came flying in the harbor, as soon as we had room, Bud slowed down and brought the boat into the wind and I let down the rest of the main.
We called the marina (I'm so glad we had decided to stay at the marina and not try to anchor!). I had a bit of trouble understanding the man, so we had an interesting discussion. He asked if we just wanted to wait until the rain stopped. I asked if there was somewhere, not too difficult to get to, to tie off. In the end they gave us a slip that we could come straight in to where the wind would be blowing us away from the dock. The marina guy came out to help and we got it tied up. We did readjust the mount on our nice new grill on the post between the slips. Oh well, it needed to be leveled better anyway.
So, we are here and safe. We did almost 66 nautical miles today, and even with the fooling around with the squall, we were here by 4 PM. We averaged about 7 knots, and that includes the two miles out the channel in Lake Worth. Bud and I were both completely drenched, but now the boat is more or less picked up, we've cleared in through customs, poor Fuzzy finally got off to pee in a new country and I am tired! Bud is already sleeping. This retirement thing is exhausting. Sorry there are no pictures of the Bahamas, yet. It did stop raining, but by the time we got the boat squared away it was dark.