A Successful Crossing
28 April 2011 | Tilloo Cay, Abacos, Bahamas
We made it to the Abacos. A lot of people who cruise the Bahamas refer to crossing as coming from the US to the Bahamas or going back. However, the trip we did today, from the northern end of Eleuthera to the Abacos was almost as far as from Lake Worth to West End. And if you look at a map of the Bahamas, you’ll see that to the east of us there was nothing but the Atlantic. This is really the most open crossing we have done.
There were a couple of things to discourage us. First, a small squall came through in the early morning hours. It’s never encouraging to start a big day with a rainsquall. However, it was gone before dawn, so we kept on with our plans. We managed to lift the anchor (main up) at 6:35 AM. I went below to listen to the weather while Bud motor sailed across to the gap between Egg Island and Little Egg Island where we would enter the eastern edge of the Northeast Providence Channel. We listen to Chris Parker’s weather every morning. After he gives the general forecasts for the areas of the Bahamas, he gives specific weather advice to boats that are subscribers to his service. We usually listen to the whole thing. It is Scott Free’s request for weather for a three-day trip from Rock Sound to the Abacos that made us decide to use this weather window. Today I turned the radio off after the general forecasts to go back on deck and help get everything squared away before we left the protected water. It was somewhat disconcerting to then here Scott Free on the radio with another boat telling them that they had decided not to make the crossing to the Abacos because of the squall and the revised forecast of the sea state between Eleuthera and the Abacos.
We were pretty much committed to go at that point. Besides, as we approached the gap we saw another boat crossing in front of us on the other side of the gap and headed our way. A third boat was coming up from the side and they were headed for the gap also. So it seemed like we weren’t the only ones to choose to go. When we were able to turn to the course for Little Harbor, which is where we intended to go, the wind was enough off the stern to put out the jib. We were sailing with no engine and we were making good time. Soon we heard Passages talking to someone else about the trip. They said they had just started across. I got on the radio to see if it was Ed and Karin that we’d met at Emerald Bay and it was. Turns out, they were the boat in front of us.
Not too far into the trip we passed north of the eastern end of Eleuthera. Now there was nothing between us and the open ocean. The swells got larger, much larger. We were expecting 4 foot swells. These were 6 to 8 feet and only about 7 seconds apart. Still, they were coming off the stern quarter and we were sailing quite nicely, so it wasn’t bad. We had the main and jib out and spent all day sailing between 7 and 9 knots. The only problem was we had so much sail up that the wind vane wasn’t working and we didn’t want to take any sails in, as that would increase the effect of the waves and make the trip more uncomfortable. So Bud elected to hand steer.
A fourth boat came up and the four of us crossed within sight of each other. That was nice. Passages was making for the North Bar cut, intending to anchor at Tilloo Cay. We told them we were intending to go in at Little Harbour cut and anchor in the lee of Lynyard Cay, because we wanted to make sure we got Fuzzy ashore by dark. As the day went on, getting somewhere by dark became less of an issue with the speed we were making. What we started to worry about was crossing a cut with 6 to 8 foot seas. We asked Ed and Karin on Passages about that, and they said they were going to evaluate it as they got closer to land, but that the cut at North Bar was more straight forward and they thought perhaps the wind and waves would be fairly directly off the stern and that would be better. I went down and looked at the charts. The North Bar cut was twice as deep and twice as wide as the one at Little Harbour, and the route was a straight shot through the center of the gap. At Little Harbour you had to angle through the cut, and there were reefs on either side. I entered all the waypoints to go through the North Bar cut and to the anchorage at Tilloo Cay into our chart plotter.
There are no anchorages or harbors on the southeastern shore of Great Abaco Island. Our route took us along that shore but angled in until we would finally turn at either Little Harbor or North Bar. When we first started to see the shore of Great Abaco I really got nervous. We were probably 5 miles out and I could see huge breakers crashing against the shore. They must have been two stories high. Passages called to say they were definitely going in at North Bar and we let them know that we were going to follow them in. There’s no way we’d try the trickier entry on a day like this. The other two boats were about a mile behind us but still coming our way.
We talked to Passages again as they neared the cut. They said they were going to pull their jib in (they’d used their jib and engine all day) and motor in under bare poles. Another boat hailed them after our conversation to let us know they’d just gone through the cut and though it looked pretty bad on the approach, it went well and even the 90 degree turn you have to make once inside was very doable. We both thanked them very much for the reassuring information. Turns out this was the trawler, Cheers, whom we’d all met at Emerald Bay (doing laundry, what else!). Bud and I decided to take in the jib and put a triple reef in the main and use that and the engine going in. As we were getting ready for this, a trawler came up on our stern. I hailed him on the radio to tell him that we’d be turning into the wind to reef the main and then turning back for the gap. He said that was no problem and asked if we’d like him to go ahead of us then as he’d done this gap before and could follow his old track in, then we could follow him. We agreed, told him we were also with Passages (now already in the gap) and we all agreed to stay on channel 18 on the radio.
Bud and I had no problem getting the jib in and the main reefed. However, as we started up the channel, the main, which I’d tired to ease way out to catch the following wind, was being tossed from side to side by the waves. I couldn’t hook the preventer on, which holds it to one side, because once through the gap we had to make that 90 degree turn and the main would need to go to the other side. So I ended up pulling it in tight, it was less effective that way, but at least it wasn’t swinging wildly. I tried to get a picture of the breakers off to the sides of us as we came through. I got one chance and got this photo. Then a sport fishing boat came roaring up on our starboard side, the chartplotter started beeping and suddenly the screen went blank. Bud was on the radio with the trawler and told him our chart had just gone blank. He assured us we were in the center of the channel. The only problem was, we weren’t sure just how far to come through before we made that turn. All this was happening as we rode some really big waves in. The chart plotter came back up, I was able to get the route displaying properly again, and suddenly we were through. But I didn’t have a chance to try to get a better picture. Believe me, it was all much more dramatic than it looks in this photo.
Not long after we were in we saw both the other boats that crossed with us come in safely, too. We followed Passages in and anchored near them. We were anchored at just after 4 PM and we’d come about 65 nm. After we got everything set, fed Fuzzy and took him ashore, we had Ed and Karin over for drinks and an after sail decompression. It feels really good to be here. We’ve made it to the Abacos, yeah!