We Sail with Some Circles
15 April 2011 | New Bight, Cat Island, Bahams
We left Emerald Bay today and sailed to Cat Island. We were surprised when we left the marina at how strong the wind was (over 14 knots, it was supposed to be around 10) and at how big the waves were (4 to 5 feet). Before we even put any sails up we had to take the time to put in the windows in the dodger. We were also surprised at the wind direction, we were expecting the wind to be on the beam, instead it was quite forward of that, it was going to be a tight sail. We set the main with two reefs in it and the jib with a little over a reef in that. Even so, we were doing over 7 knots.
We wanted Sven, our Monitor wind vane, to steer the boat again, so we knew we couldn't have too much sail up. The apparent wind (what the wind feels like on the boat) was over 18 knots, so we decided to put a third reef in the main. That's when we sailed in our first circle. Bud turned to put the bow into the wind so I could reef the main. To add a reef I have to drop the main down below the reefing point, pull the forward reefing line taut, raise the main back up tight against that reef point, and then pull the aft reef point taut. While I was doing that, Bud got the boat a little too far over and the wind caught on the back sides of the sails. Since we had lost all our forward momentum Bud had me turn the engine on and he drove the boat in a circle until we were back pointing the right direction again. By then the main was reefed and we shut the engine down and continued to sail. We did get Sven set up and he took the helm for several hours.
Unfortunately, the wind began to drop and when it did, it moved more to the north. Bud decided to hand steer because he was trying to keep the boat as close to the wind as he could. He also decided we needed more mainsail to help sail closer to the direction of the wind. We went from three reefs, to one reef to the full main. On one of those switches we managed the sailing in a circle thing again. This time we didn't use the engine though.
We put out the staysail, too. That helps us sail closer to the wind. For a while we still had the jib with a reef in it. The boat was sailing about 34 degrees off the apparent wind and making about 6.5 knots. That's impressive. The wind dropped some more and we pulled the reef out of the jib, so we had all the sails out full. That's the way we were when we reached the big bay we're anchored in at Cat Island. We had to turn further east, which would put us closer into the wind, but happily, when we reached the bay the wind finally moved a bit south, so we were able to make the 10 degree turn and keep sailing. We had 10 miles to sail across the bay to where we wanted to anchor.
Not too much later the wind veered back, but Bud decided to keep sailing. A first he was going to sail as far as he could just off the course and then turn towards the wind and drop the headsails. But we tightened the sails as much as we could and he was managing to sail at 25 degrees off the wind, so he thought we should try to tack and sail in further. Before that he figured he'd better bring his trolling line in, so I took the helm. I was keeping the boat just as close to the wind as it would go. Suddenly I saw some coral heads in front of us and off to port. I told Bud there were coral heads in front of us and I didn't know how deep they were. "Well steer around them" he said."I can't", said I, "I can't come any closer to the wind." "Well go below them." But that was to port where there were more. So Bud laid down his fishing pole and started the engine and reminded me to put it in gear and I steered the boat above them. Bud took back the helm, but the wind caught the back sides of the sails again. Rather than go in a circle that time, we tacked (brought the headsails to the other side) and sailed in a new direction. It was sooner than Bud intended to tack, but we would just have to tack back to head in when we got far enough in this direction. We actually managed to sail right up to the anchorage with one more tack.
But we weren't quite done with circles for the day. Once the sails were down I went up on the bow to drop the anchor. As we approached the place we were going to drop I tried to get the anchor loose and it wouldn't come. Luckily we had replaced the batteries in the communicators and they were working great so I told Bud what was happening and he kept the boat moving slowly forward while I raced below and checked the chain in the anchor locker. The chain had toppled over so the chain going up to the anchor was buried a bit. I tugged it loose and raced up on deck, but I still couldn't get it loose at the windlass (the device that pulls the anchor up - ours only powers up, some power up and down). I ended up pulling some chain from the locker up on deck so I could take the chain off the windlass (it fits into little openings around the base of the windlass, sort of like a gear). I think the anchor was just pulled in too tight, because once I got a it off the windlass and pulled a bit out I was able to fit it back around the windlass and it was free and worked fine. All this only took a minute. When I freed it, the anchor started to drop, so I stood on the chain. Now the anchor was dangling off the bow roller, and I was holding it from dropping with my foot.
We were working our way towards shore and were ready to drop when we came up on some little coral heads. We didn't know how deep they were, and we didn't want to be dragging our anchor chain over them, so Bud turned back. He ended up making two more circles before we found a spot that was as close to shore as we could get and not around any little coral heads.
It's a lovely spot, the anchor is set, we used all our sails in about every configuration, so all in all it was a good day, even if we did sail in circles here and there.