A Grueling Night Prompts a Change of Plans
10 May 2012 | Old Bahama Bay Marina, West End, Grand Bahama
Today was the day we had thought we’d sail to West End, but the forecast had changed and although there was supposed to be 14 to 16 knots of wind from the southwest (good angle) all night Wednesday and all day today, there were also isolated squalls predicted and the intensity of the squalls increased today. So we decided to leave last evening. That also would give us no real deadline for getting the 88 miles up to West End. If we left at sunset and we had a great beam reach we’d arrive about 7 AM. If we went a bit slower, we’d arrive later in the morning. It made sense, so even though I don’t like night sails, I agreed that it was the best plan.
This picture was taken as we were sailing on the first leg away from Great Harbour Cay. We are literally sailing into the sunset. Not long after this our course turned a bit more north and the wind was more behind us and we slowed down. The moon is in its last quarter, so it was not yet up at sunset. There were scattered clouds that covered the stars on the horizon. It was difficult to steer a straight course. We’d set up the wind vane for this trip and before it got dark we tried to get it working, but failed. Just after dark our speed dropped to between 4 and 5 knots. I was discouraged about that, normally at that speed we would just run the engine and motor sail, but Bud said we were in no hurry, we were sailors, we should just enjoy the lovely night and sail. I tried, and the wind was soft and the temperature was perfect and the ride was comfortable. But there were squalls out there that I couldn’t see (except the lightening ahead of us that Bud said was going to pass to the east before we reached it), and there was the worry about power, and the need for radar and AIS to track the freighters and cruise ships all using the Northwest Providence Channel, that we were cutting across.
Bud stayed at the helm and let me go down and try to sleep. I couldn’t sleep, but I did lie down on the berth in the salon and try to rest. I got up every hour or so and checked on Bud. He was still at the helm and still doing fine. At one point I took the helm for a half hour or less to give him a little break. Otherwise, I kept him supplied with food and drinks and in between tried to rest.
Finally the wind picked up, and then it really picked up. We had over 15 knots of wind and the helm was getting hard to handle. We decided to reef the main. Bud turned into the wind and we brought the main down part way, as it came down I pulled in the reefing lines (fore and aft). When I’d gotten the forward lines all pulled in as far as they would go I winched up the halyard and winched in the aft reefing line and it was done. Again, the reefing worked well and it was all done in the cockpit. We now had four-foot waves and at night with any kind of waves we don’t leave the cockpit without a tether. We already had on our life jackets, because we always wear them at night.
With a triple-reefed main and full jib the boat was handling well and we were making over 9 knots with the current. The wind generator was keeping up with the power needs from the sailing instruments and frequent radar use. It was rough, though. I had to clip in and go out and turn the dorades. They were facing forward and waves were coming high enough on deck to send water down them. Poor Fuzzy couldn’t get off the couch in the salon. It was too rough for him to do anything but sit. We finally put a double reef in the jib, too. That slowed us down about three-quarters of a knot, but it also smoothed the ride a bit. Plus, we felt more ready if the squall Bud saw on the radar caught us. I offered to take the helm, but Bud said it was pretty hard to steer with the waves, so he kept on it. By now he’d been at the helm for about 10 hours with almost no break. He did let me give him a break again because he was worried about muscle cramps. I did fine, but it was hard work. Bud came back to the helm after only about a half hour.
We passed the harbor entrance at Freeport just as the sky was starting to get light. There was no real sunrise as by then there were a lot of clouds. I was planning to take the helm at dawn and let Bud sleep for a couple of hours, but just after dawn we started hitting the edges of squalls. I was needed on the sails. We tried furling the jib. For a little while we were sailing at about a knot and a half with just the triple reefed main. The wind had moved towards the front of the boat. There was a huge squall crossing in front of us and we didn’t want to sail into it. It passed and we put the engine on, but we thought that sounded funny (prop vibration?) so we shut the engine off and put the staysail out because the wind was now close to the nose. That didn’t work so we took that in and put the jib back out. We tried a full jib sheeted hard, but then furled it and went back to a triple reefed jib and main both sheeted hard with 22 knots of wind on the nose and 5 foot seas. Finally Bud said we would have to tack out or put the engine on. At this point we were about 2 and a half hours away from our destination and had been sailing for 13 hours. We both agreed to try the engine. So we started the engine and furled the jib again.
It was slow going with wind, waves and current all against us and Bud not willing to run the engine over 2000 RPM, but the vibration was steady, so nothing seemed to be getting worse, and the ride wasn’t bad. Finally at 10:30 AM after a fifteen and a half hour work out we got to the marina. Just before we arrived the squalls cleared out and the sun was shining with less than fifteen knots of wind.
The experience made us realize that trying to do 36 hours with a mechanical autopilot that doesn’t seem to work well without the engine running and an engine we don’t want to run, in winds that are supposed to be around 20 knots and seas that are supposed to reach 8 feet is not something we’re going to choose to do. Bud is going to dive on the prop again tomorrow to see if there’s any change in the amount of play or the condition of the nut, cotter pin and shaft key. After that we’ll figure out our next move. It feels great to be here, though.