Monday, December 30, 2013

Jumpin' and Buckin' Like a Hobby Horse: Crossing the Bank and Tongue of the Ocean

Sunday-Monday, December 29-30, 2013. Journal from our crossing (“passage”) from North Bimini Island--our refuge for six days--to Nassau, a way-point in our journey to the Exumas.

7:00 am.  Sunrise. The first cruisers pull out of Brown’s Marina, North Bimini Island. We batten the hatches, secure loose items, and manually move the boat closer to the end of the slip. Confer with our neighbors on sailboat Pearl; we are heading the same way today and will stay in touch. We will be sailing "buddies" for the crossing. (Pearl on the left, Echo II on the right, at Brown's Marina.)

7:45 am. Echo II is on the move. Wind 15-20 mph, out of the southeast (the direction we are headed, so it’s “on our nose.”)

9:00 am. Round the north end of North Bimini Island and North Rock. Let jib (front sail) partway out, giving the engine extra speed, up to 5.5 knots. Keeping up with sailboat Pearl so far.  Pearl's Captain Bruce snaps our picture on Echo II.
10:00 am. Cloudy day. Heading directly into wind and waves of 2-4 feet. Splashing and pounding. Give up on sailing—too close to the wind. Call Pearl on VHF radio, to say we are unlikely to keep up. Continue motoring only at 4-4.5 knots.

12:15 pm.  Salt water dripping down sides of v-berth from seam of hull and deck, and from edges of closed hatches. However, not streaming in freely as it did during passage from Florida.

1:00 pm.  Sailboat Pearl, a second sailboat, and a trawler disappear over the horizon ahead of us. Pope and Amber lament that this has been our status since leaving Maryland: all the bigger boats pass us and leave us in their wake, alone.

1:30 pm. Violent thrashing in the waves. Echo II creaking and groaning, as if she is wrenching apart. Conditions reminiscent of those we experienced crossing from Miami to Bimini, though the wind and waves are supposedly only about 50% as high. This crossing is twice as far in distance, more than 100 miles. We will be sailing all night.

2:15-2:45 pm. Pope snacks and naps in cabin while Amber takes wheel. He will bear the brunt of the night-time watches.

3:15 pm.  Round Mackie Shoal. Attempt to call Pearl to update our status. Pearl’s crew can hear us (superior antenna); we can’t understand their reply through static. Out of the deep ocean and crossing Great Bahama Bank now, a shallow sea between island chains.

3:45 pm. Continued roly-poly conditions under cloudy sky. Pope refers to an item earlier in my blog: “We're in the washing machine again; slower agitation this time.” Cushions, blankets, charts slipping out of bunks onto floor. Legs and arms bruised and aching from holding on tight and bumping into steel, wood, wire, rope.

4:00 pm. Amber meditating, praying: “Dear weather gods, please let it stop.” Wind shifts to south.  We let out the jib again. Speed increases to 6 knots with combination of engine and sail (“motor-sailing”).

4:30 pm. No letup in wind, despite forecast of dramatically diminishing winds in the afternoon. Fewer large waves splashing over the deck, but just as bouncy as earlier. Amber and Pope agree that, since the weather forecast has been wrong every day for two months, why get our hopes up that that could change? We agree: this will be our last sailing trip; we will sell this boat in Florida upon our return to the U.S.

 4:40 pm.  Hallelujah! A second sailboat appears on the horizon behind us. No longer alone. Will probably catch up and pass us within a couple of hours.

4:45 pm. Crew of Pearl calls on VHF radio; not visible over the horizon in front of us, yet still within hailing distance. They will slow down and rest later while we catch up.

5:00 pm. Amber and Pope agree on night-time safety measure: whoever is on deck/at the wheel must wear lifejacket and “hook in” (attach harness from lifejacket to a line tied to the boat). Standard practice for sailors on watch in the ocean at night. Great Bahama Bank is relatively shallow; however, we don’t want any surprises. (Amber shudders at mental vision of waking up in cabin and not finding Pope in cockpit.)

5:15 pm.  Sun low in the sky, behind clouds. Bouncing getting violent again, just in time for dark. Amber dreading the night-time passage in these conditions. (Or in any conditions, actually.)

5:45 pm. Sailboat behind us passes as the last glimmer of pink and blue fades into cloudy gray. Alone again.
7:30 pm. Dinner: canned beef stew for Pope, quinoa salad, prepared last night, for Amber. Radio traffic and lights to starboard indicate several vessels anchored for the night on the Bank. Try calling Pearl; no response.

8:15 pm. Great Bahama Bank drops off into the Tongue of the Ocean; from 17 feet deep to several thousand. Goddess of the ocean unleashes her fury, sending waves to toss us into the air then shove us down into her maw. Wicked goddess! Even Pope--an experienced blue-water sailor-- is anxious. Amber decides that drowning would not be the worst fate; being adrift in the sea would be worse than death.

10:00 pm. Still riding the hobby horse. Weight on legs, knees loose, sway with the movement. Like riding a horse or a mountain bike. Amber spots red flashing light in distance; on Chubb Cay, 17 miles away. A beacon of safety. Attempt to hail Pearl on the radio; no response. (Pearl's version of events here.)

11:30 pm. Sky clears; stars come out. Flashing red light a promise in the distance. Portable VHF radio stops working, joining my camera (which produced all the beautiful photos for this blog) as another casualty of salt-water spray and humidity.

12:15 am. Decision to abort the all-nighter; too much for us in these rough conditions. We head a few miles north for that flashing red light on Chubb Cay, a spit of rock and scrub where millionaires have erected mansions.

12:30 am. Pope sweating buckets as he guides us into Chubb’s channel in the dark, narrowly avoiding unlit markers. Hallelujah! Boats already at anchor here; one of them gets on radio to tell us where to anchor out of the channel. Three feet of water beneath our keel.

1:00  am. Rocking gently at anchor. Stowing computer for the night.

6:45 am. Sunrise. Lift anchor and leave. This island charges $100 to go ashore.


10:00 am. Dear ocean goddess, please free us from your brutality. Pope acknowledges, and even agrees with, my point of view: that this trip is not about living on a sailboat in an island paradise, like I envisioned.  Instead, it has been mostly hard work in trying, sometimes brutal, conditions, interspersed with rest and clean-up periods. Right now, is it about survival.

11:00 am. Finally:  A CALM DAY. Wind lowers to level predicted, under 10 knots. Seas calm to 1-2 feet. Hallelujah!! Put up the mainsail AND the jib, for the first time in weeks. This is what sailing is supposed to be about (says Pope). We leave lifejackets and harnesses on for good measure, since we are in 9,000 feet of water.
12:15 pm. LAND HO. Tall buildings of Nassau in the distance. We survived!

2:30 pm. Nassau Harbor. The familiar towers of Atlantis resort. We hear a familiar voice on the VHF radio; it is the crew of Pearl, already in a marina, welcoming us to port. They sailed all night. All is well!

No comments:

Post a Comment