Beaufort, NC to the Abacos, Bahamas
26 November 2015
We left Beaufort, NC on Sunday, November 15th, 9:00am. We were told it is a three day trip to the Abacos, the northern-most of the Bahama chain. And we were excited! It was a beautiful day and our first significant ocean passage in Uproar.
Preparations consisted of getting the dinghy and motor on deck, filling tanks and taking on an extra 10 gallons of diesel in plastic jugs. Passageweather.com gave uslots of information about the Gulf Stream and expected conditions. Crossing the Gulf Stream is the most difficult part of this passage. The currrent runs in a NE direction and can kick up huge seas. The current can keep you in the stream for a long time if you try to head south. The trick to navigating across the Gulf Stream is to find a weak spot in the current, cross it with your course at 90 degrees to the flow of the stream, then head south for the Abacos. We set a waypoint for a spot where the GS appeared weak and narrow. Wind was supposed to be 10-15 knots from the ENE, building to 15-20 and slowly going ESE over the next three days. Ideal conditions.
Our departure from Beaufort was filled with excitement. We were ready, Uproar was ready and Sophie had been given a “downer.” The sky was clear and we joined the parade of boats heading out to fish and sail. We motored for the first few hours, then hoisted sails when the wind filled in. We anticipated joining the GS late afternoon.
We were sailing along nicely, making just under 6 knots. Talk turned to using the spinnaker as we were on a beam reach in the NE winds. I mentioned, “If this was the Hook Race, we sure would put it up.” We did and Uproar was sailing along merrily. We also put out a fishing pole. Two hours later Lisa said, “I think we have a fish!” She reeled in a 5.5 pound tuna against the 6+ knots we were making with the spinnaker! We were shocked and pleased. I filet it in the cockpit, then cleaned up the bloody mess.
We started feeling some warmer puffs of wind and measured the water temperature. Sure enough, we were entering the GS right where it was supposed to be. Waves weren't that big but when we entered the GS, they appeared like lumpy moguls. There was no rhythm to these waves. I was anxious to have a fresh tuna dinner. Rick Anderson, crew for this passage, and I had a bite of sushi during the butchering.
I cooked rice, veggies and grilled the tuna. In the lumpy slop, that just about killed my appetite. After dinner, I lay down to recover. Wind shifted and we dropped the chute. Now we were motor/sailing across the GS. It was not the rough ride we expected. The problem was that we couldn't discern the exit to the GS. We expected to see water temperature drop but it kept rising. We sailed about 80 miles which was probably further than necessary. All instructions for this passage say, “Get your easting done when you can. It is easy to go SW.”
We finally made the turn from 165 to 205, straight for the Abacos, 400 miles in the distance. Then the wind started to build, so did the seas. We had used about 1/3 of our fuel and felt pretty good about the rest of the passage. Uproar was sailing along quite well. The AIS and radar proved quite useful in tracking other ships. I even called a passing ship to ask the position of the GS. They didn't have any information for us but were quite courteous.
And the wind continued to build. Our wind instruments failed long ago and I frankly don't use them. Still, it is nice to know wind speed. This may sound a bit arrogant but this was the first time I have ever reefed Uproar. We put in a double reef and rolled up the genoa to only about 25% showing. We were sailing along well at around 8 knots, right on course. The autohelm was doing a good job so watches were easy. Wind was around 30 knots right on the beam and seas were over 6 feet. Seas were confused. Twice Rick and I were trading watches and were soaked by a wave that came over the rear quarter. One went right down the companionway! We kept the hatch cover closed after that.
Lisa and I were on watch when a dozen dolphins frolicked around Uproar. They got right next to the hull. There was a momma and baby who also enjoyed the fun. This was the 4th time we had encountered dolphins so far and it is always a gift. The next day we saw two pods of whales. The nearest one was about a mile away but we saw a few breaches and numerous whale blows.
We were well into our second day and heading for the islands. All was going well except for Sophie. She was anxious and Lisa was spending a lot of time holding her. Another dose of doggie downers was in order and Sophie vegged out once again. Everything was going well that is until I noticed water coming in around the starboard wall in the forward cabin. It was coming in exactly like the problem we had on our way to Atlantic City when the anchor locker flooded.
The anchor locker had flooded again! The first time that happened was due to a trash bag in the anchor locker that broke open. Paper clogged the locker drains. I had cleaned the debris out thoroughly so didn't expect this to happen again. I also caulked the holes at the top of the bulkhead where wires went to the anchor windlass. I thought this would solve the problem. We had the problem for 4 hours on the Atlantic City trip, we still had 24 hours to go.
I stuffed socks in the area where water was coming in from the anchor locker. It had little effect. The bilge in the forward cabin was full of water. We bucketed it into the forward head and ran the shower pump. I kept running the main bilge pump but the strainer kept clogging. I was unclogging it every 15 minutes. After several hours it died completely! We were bucketing water into the cockpit!
Nothing is as demoralizing as water in your boat. Rick stood long watches while Lisa and I tackled the flood. We weren't sinking but there sure was a lot of water. It soaked almost all of our paperback books and soaked our bed. We bailed and then lay flat on the cabin sole. Uproar sailed on.
Sophie got another dose of medicine, she didn't like the flooding either. We agonized over the miles to go but Uproar was sailing steadily on at around 8 knots. The autopilot doesn't steer accurately when the boat is overpowered. The trick was to ease the sheets as much as possible. This would minimize the swings in steering as Uproar heeled over. With sheets eased, the sails would flap some when the autohelm veered too high into the wind.
With only 20 miles to go, we were sure we would make it into the Abacos before dark. The last obstacle was Whale Cay Pass. This is notoriously rough in some conditions. We were advised to get a report on conditions and heave to until conditions improved if necessary. Then there was a “Bang!” The genoa blew up! Rick and I rolled up the remains and kept sailing. We decided to motor to be sure we had a shot at Whale Cay Pass before dark. Once again, we were up to 7.5 knots.
Only seven miles to go, 15:00, less than an hour. Then another “Bang!” The engine slowed, Rick pulled it into neutral. We had hit a mass of heavy fishing net and floats. I tried reverse and some of it came loose. That was it for the engine, we are just a sailboat now.
The main was still double reefed. There was plenty of wind for us to maintain 6 to 7 knots. The Abacos were in sight. Sailing in didn't pose a problem as long as Whale Cay was passable. I made a general call to the Abacos on ch 16 asking for a sea state report for Whale Cay. I received just a simple reply, “It's gonna be rough!”. I called again and got Jeff on the sailboat Trust Me. Jeff said conditions would be rough. I asked if the conditions were uncomfortable or impassable. He thought they were impassable. After hearing our story about no engine or genoa, he said, “You need to come in, good luck!” We didn't think we had a choice. Jeff said he would stand by to listen for our calls if needed.
The islands appeared larger, we could see the cut. We were pleasantly surprised, Whale Cay Pass was a lot calmer than our last 400 miles. The winds had shifted just south enough to make the pass smooth. In retrospect, the locals compare the conditions in the pass to the sea of Abaco which is quite calm. Sure, Whale Cay is rougher but not compared to our North Atlantic conditions.
We cautiously kept both reefs in as there were only 2 miles to go. Lisa and Rick kept careful watch on the navigation systems to be sure we stayed well away from the reefs. Uproar was down to 3 knots and going to weather. I kept telling myself to be patient. We were in flatter water and out of danger. One long tack brought us in the lee of Spoil Cay. This is not a calm anchorage but it was somewhat protected. There were 1 foot swells. We would sleep fine. I would dive the next morning and cut the line away from the prop and we would proceed to Marsh Harbor to clear customs.
We were “high fives,” we made it! I was particularly proud of our crew and boat. We came in a bit crippled but made good time. We sailed 525 nautical miles in 3 days and 8 hours. Average speed was over 6.5 knots.
Lisa cooked ham and eggs. We hadn't cooked a hot meal for two days. Nothing could have tasted better than that first meal at anchor in the Bahamas. We went to bed at 19:30. As we lay in bed, the boat was rocking from the waves. Lisa said, “I'm not going to be able to sleep with that water sloshing under our floorboards. I got up and we bailed it out. Then we fell asleep.....for about an hour.
Lisa woke me up, “Russ, there is water over the floor!”
(to be continued)