Turtles and the Whale
10 January 2016 | Marsh Harbour, Great Abaco
We did see whales on the Atlantic passage to the Abacos but this is about a different whale. The turtles are the kind one would expect in the Bahamas, especially near Green Turtle Cay where this beautiful one visited right next to Uproar. We saw a lot or turtles dinghying through the mangroves in shallow water. We even saw one in the crowded anchorage in Marsh Harbour.
These turtles are quite curious. We know they are looking at us. If we are still, they come right up to the boat. So glad they are no longer hunted for food.
Our Northern Abacos trip was cut a bit short by cold fronts. These cold fronts are generated over Florida and visit the Abacos about every week. When they come they bring rain and strong winds that clock around all directions. Unfortunately, most of the anchorages are protected from NE through SE winds. Fronts bring winds from the west. We have been in a few exposed anchorages during cold fronts and thought it wise to go for more shelter for the triple that was predicted to hit.
My first thought was to hid behind the beautiful beach on Treasure Cay's north side. This is far from a harbor but in west winds, it is well protected. We thought we would go there for the day and when the wind shifted, go back to Manjack or Green Turtle Cay. Treasure would have been great except for one feature, it was open to swells from Whale Cay pass.
Whale Cay passage is a cut out to the Atlantic that allows sailboats to go from the Northern Abacos to the Southern Abacos. It is a narrow, 25 feet deep gap in the reefs that is easy to find. The problem is that when swells from the Atlantic build up there, they intensify and become very large. During rough conditions, known as the Abaco Rage, these waves can be so large that boats hit bottom in the trough of the waves and break up! We were told if the area looks like meringue on a pie, don't go!
We saw this as we were headed for Treasure and decided to change our plans. There were breaking waves in the Whale but we saw a boat go through, we also saw a large boat turn back. We talked with a boat who had gone through on VHF radio. Te Amore, a 45 foot Bruce Roberts Ketch said, “Waves are large but we didn't take any breakers, your boat is much lighter and we wouldn't advise it.” We watched another large ketch go through and he seemed to be alright. We studied the pass and saw no breaking waves in the actual pass. We decided to go for it and sail to the protection of Marsh Harbour.
Wind was dead aft at about 15 knots. We had good steerage with just the main up. I watched carefully for the jibe. I sailed a bit by the lee so when I went through the pass, I wouldn't be dead down wind. Soaking it down like that is something we do often in racing. About 200 yards from the gap the waves started getting larger. They were perfectly smooth, it was just a bit tense wondering if Uproar would rise above the crests or if they would break over the deck. Turns out they did not break on the deck and the ride was actually quite fun. The large breaking waves were about 50 yards on either side. After about a dozen of these large waves we were through into the normal Atlantic swells. We turned to starboard, unrolled the genoa and had a beautiful sail through Loggerhead Channel, by Great Guana Cay, Scotland Cay and into Marsh Harbor.
It reminded us how much we enjoyed a perfect sail and how well Uproar sails in these conditions. A large catamaran exited the Whale just after us. They unfurled their jib and fell steadily behind us. Then they furled their jib and unfurled their Screecher, combination genoa/spinnaker. It took them 15 miles to catch us from only about 200 yards aft. We were dragging our dinghy and theirs was hanging from davits. We were also dragging a fishing lure but no takers.
I bet he cleans his bottom in the next port!