Despite all the hype, The Devil’s Backbone (or possibly we were far enough west that it was more A Minor Demon’s Hipbone) provided no drama, though we did decide to motor through it (sorry Dena and James).
By 2:00pm, we were sailing in the North Atlantic with an incomprehensible fifteen thousand feet of ocean beneath our hull. The water color is an indescribable shade of blue. We had raised our sails and killed the engine as soon as we cleared Ridley Head Cut, and didn’t need it again until we were approaching Little Harbor, Abaco fifty nautical miles later.
Ten to fifteen knot winds from nearly behind us, a slowly building swell, and lots of sunshine made for a great day of sailing.We didn’t see another soul on the water the entire day.
Little Harbor was settled in 1951 by Randolph Johnston, an renowned artist/sculptor who had detached from society by sailing away aboard a schooner with his wife and three sons.After sailing into the harbor,they decided it was the perfect place to stop.They lived in a nearby cave while they built a thatched home and eventually set up what is still the Bahamas only bronze foundry so Randolph could continue his sculpting.
His sons still reside in the compound and continue the sculpting tradition.Pete’s Pub, a laid back outdoor beach bar, and The Gallery, which displays/sells bronze sculptures cast in the local foundry, were both built by son Pete Johnston.
As we entered Little Harbor Inlet the surrounding water quickly lost its inky electric blue color, reflecting the depth change from five thousand feet to five hundred…
… to fifty…
… to five.
We chose to anchor outside Little Harbor in the much larger bay it faced into.This turned out to be a good decision as Little Harbor, limited in space to begin with (as the name suggests), was already pretty full to the gills with occupied mooring balls and a scattering of rather sad looking sailboats.
After a couple of days we moved four miles north to Spencer Bight and anchored just outside a small nature reserve.
Chillin’ on deck
For the first time, we managed to raise the anchor, move to a new anchorage, and get the anchor set, all without ever having to fire up the engine.Typically, running the engine to charge the batteries while using the power hungry windlass while picking up anchor, and using the engine when anchoring, backing down to properly set the anchor is the norm.But, as an exercise, it was rewarding to know we could do it if necessary.
In addition, it finally looked as though a dive excursion was in the cards for us.
About two miles away from where we were at anchor, the park had set up mooring balls for dinghies and small boats to tie up to while snorkeling.
We did a preliminary dinghy reconnaissance mission to Sandy Cay, around which nearly a dozen mooring balls are stationed.
After tying off, we hopped in the water with fins, mask and snorkel.The conditions were good and the visibility was probably between ten and twenty meters.
For the first time since arriving in the Bahamas, were blown away by what we saw underwater.
Lining the edge of a vast sandy channel, about ten meters down, was an remarkably healthy reef system.The population of hard and soft coral, as well as fans and sponges, was extensive and diverse.Also present was a wider variety and abundance of fish than we had seen during the past three months combined.
In thirty minutes of snorkeling, we managed to see a large nurse shark cruising through, a bonnethead hammerhead shark foraging at the edge of the sandy channel (the first time we had ever seen this species), what we suspected was a Caribbean reef shark passing by, as well a meandering green turtle.
We were exhilarated at the prospect of finally doing some exploratory scuba diving.We had long anticipated diving as being an activity we could undertake regularly while living aboard Exit, but alas, it had not yet happened outside the occasional use of tanks to facilitate work on the boat below the waterline.
This provided a perfect scenario to beta test our as-of-yet untried mobile dive possibilities.
While the potential to scuba dive while living aboard a sailboat is certainly appealing, the actual logistics involved in scuba diving from your own boat are much more complicated than it might initially seem.
Without having a dive shop to provide a dedicated and spacious dive boat as well as captain that remains aboard, either the Mothership has to be able to be properly secured at the site, or everything has to be fit into a dinghy less than ten feet long which still needs to be able to be secured at the site.It would be hard to imagine a more sickening feeling than surfacing from a spectacular dive only to realize that your dinghy or, even worse, your sailboat had drifted away.
The existing mooring balls at the site were not set up for boats larger than about twenty feet, which meant we’d be diving from the dinghy.
The distance from Exit to the mooring balls was about two miles.I don’t think the old 8hp Yamamama, running on only one of two cylinders, ever would have made it with two people and all the dive gear aboard, even limping along with no chop on the surface.
Y’mama, on theother hand, with all fifteen of her horses available, was up to the task.Two miles each way… not a problem.We even managed to get up on a full plane loaded with two people and the dive gear in choppy water.
The new outboard, a bit of a luxury in just getting short distances to and from shore, turned out to be an absolute necessity for diving.
Once we had reached the mooring balls and tied off securely, we geared up and returned to the world of fun diving.
After hundreds of unaccompanied dives in SE Asia, we felt completely comfortable on our own without a guide.Now it was even more rewarding to be doing it from our own boat.
Just over a hundred minutes later we surfaced back at the dinghy, air still in our tanks.It was good to see we still had it.
While the bonnethead shark didn’t made another appearance, we were graced with the presence of a two meter nurse shark, a juvenile grey reef shark, a green turtle, and a number of very large spotted eagle rays that passed gracefully back and forth over the sandy channel repeatedly, right next to us.
Furthermore, a pod of dolphins, numbering between a dozen and twenty, approached us from further out in the channel and passed by.One of the more curious dolphins briefly broke ranks with the others to come check us out and show off with a short display of underwater acrobatics… amazing!!!
Overall, the dive was excellent.Certainly not as much weird macro stuff that we had become spoiled on in SE Asia, but well worth the effort involved.Good enough that we went back the next day for another dive.
Tank fills are a logistical challenge yet to be sorted out.Until we figure out a way to convert our unused washing machine into a dive compressor, we will have to get tanks filled at dive shops as the opportunities arise.
Nevertheless, we felt reenergized and somewhat redeemed to know that diving had, once again, made it’s way back into our itinerary of current activities.
Before arriving at Spanish Wells, located on St. George’s Cay in the northernmost area of the Eleutheras, we had thoroughly enjoyed four relaxing nights at anchor just off the beach of tiny Egg Island, the only boat there for almost the entire time.
At the far eastern edge of an impressive fifteen mile long reef system wrapping around the northern tip off the Eleutheras, Egg Island is nothing more than a pinpoint on the charts.Only a mile long and less than half a mile wide, it is roughly a five hundred foot ribbon of inhospitable rocky and overgrown land encircling a salt water pond and marsh.
But along the southwest edge is a small bay, it’s final five hundred feet stretching at depths of less than ten feet, which funnels onto a sandy beach.At night, an army of mosquitos patrol it, but during daylight hours it provides a perfect setting for afternoons on the beach.
As long as the southeast winds held, we had good protection, and could tuck ourselves far enough in to minimize the swell felt farther out.
Largely alone, aside from the occasional passing charter fishing or snorkeling boat, anchored just off an isolated island, we savored both the isolation and the view.
During one excursion to the island, Kris discovered a fascinating small bird scurrying about on the beach. Every time Kris would move in one direction the bird commenced with a very pronounced show, feigning injury to try to distract Kris and hold her attention. It appeared to be acting as a live decoy, we could only surmise it was trying to keep us away from its nest and probably young… amazing.
But as the winds began to shift, we quickly felt the change in surge.It became evident that a forecasted increase in winds needed to be heeded as fair warning to relocate.
In fact, the last night we spent at anchor at Egg Island, both a catamaran and a squall passed through that gave us our first real feel for just how quickly thunderstorms can build and how intense they can be.The ominous clouds materialized and stacked up within minutes, giving very little warning.Then, within seconds of feeling a cool breeze pick up, Mother Nature unleashed a maelstrom of wind and rain upon our location.The wind speed increased from single digits to thirty knots in less than a minute, and the torrent of rain dumping down reduced our visibility to less than one hundred feet.
Caught out with full sails up, the result could be catastrophic.Fortunately, we were already at anchor.Our anchor chain and snubber line, pulled as taut as if we were backing down on it with our engine revved to 2500rpms, groaned and creaked.
Yet still, Exit held fast.
Fifteen minutes later there was an eerie, dead calm all around us.But the message was loud and clear… don’t get caught out here when the weather conditions shift.
Five miles to the east, not quite halfway between Egg Island and Spanish Wells, Royal Harbor was the easy choice.It was not as picturesque as our surroundings at Egg Island but the half-mile by thousand foot harbor, accessed through a small inlet, offered three hundred sixty degree protection with land reaching up nearly fifty feetall the way around it.
We had dropped anchor in Royal Harbor for a night before heading to Egg Island, so we returned and waited out the overnight winds with a small handful of other boats.
However, aside from the appeal of isolation, we found very little that grabbed our attention.
360 degree protection inside
The inlet to get out
It also didn’t help that it had taken us so long to get favorable enough winds to jump over from the Exumas. Upon our arrival, we were already at the northern most point of Eleuthera running out of land that we could point our bow towards.
We hoped to do some diving.But a wreck just to the south of Egg Island we had considered had been all but pulverizedby hurricanes, and the reef system we were next to had proven quite challenging to suss out by dinghy.The diving would still have to wait.
For us, Spanish Wells seemed to be the catalyst for our decision that the Abacos offered more appeal.
Our cruising friends Tami and Jay had already been exploring Eleuthera before we arrived, having made the leap across the Sound nearly directly from Georgetown.And exchanging texts with them regularly, we found that their perspective was that Eleuthera had largely been a disappointment.They had already concluded that, unfortunately, Eleuthera seemed to be much more like Florida than the Bahamas and they were ready to move on as well.
From Spanish Wells, we had two options.
The first was to take a slightly longer route, which involved returning to Egg Island for a night and then leaving early the following morning.This route would afford us the ability to circumvent the extensive and reputedly treacherous reef system which stretched across the northern side of Royal Island.
From where we were at anchor, just outside Spanish Wells, the Abacos lie just over fifty miles away.With an early start, we could sail there by nightfall.But we would have to pass through the shallow reef system fringing the north side of St George’s Cay before reaching the relative safety of the deep water just beyond.
An ominous sounding section of that reef reputed to have claimed many boats had been given the name The Devil’s Backbone.
We had read numerous warnings that navigating this area without a hired local pilot was to give fate the finger, and even the most capable captain unfamiliar with the navigable channels was begging to run aground or sink their boat.
We were quite dubious about the idea of ignoring the emphatic warnings of mariners.
Yet Ridley Head Cut, the small section of reef we needed to get through, was just at the outside edge of the Devil’s Backbone;everything we saw on both paper charts and our Navionics software seemed to indicate that there was nothing that warranted any particular concern.
The channel, though unmarked and narrow, was straightforward enough.At it’s narrowest point, it bottlenecked briefly to a width of about seventy five feet wide between the coral heads…Wouldn’t want to try it using exclusively a line of sight and paper charts; but our Navionics gives us pretty spot-on live reference of exactly where we are, relative to the charts.Also wouldn’t be foolish enough to try in poor conditions or poor visibility.
But, on the morning of our departure, the sun was shining and the surface of the water was absolutely smooth.
Passing Ridley Head
Through Ridley Head Cut
Kris keeping an eye on Navionics
Clear of the Devil’s Backbone
Possibly a momentary lapse of reason in which we succumbed to the dangerously slippery slope of cocky complacence; or possible evidence of a moment of evolutionary advancement having occurred in our sailing self-confidence…
As I stood lookout from the bow, Kris stood at the helm, carefully adjusting the wheel as she compared what she saw on the iPad in front of her running Navionics to what she saw in front of and around us.
A couple of minor turns here and there… the dark coral heads seemed far below…
Fifteen minutes later we were through the cut with depths below us quickly progressing from a hundred to beyond a thousand feet.Inside the cut, our depth had never registered shallower than twenty feet.
By avoiding the other route… a day saved.
Under the right conditions, trusting your instincts can be better than listening to the herd.
I’m sure the Spanish Wells pilots are a knowledgable and experienced lot, and I’d not sail inside the Devil’s Backbone without their assistance.But I would have felt pretty damn stupid coughing up one or two hundred bucks to have gotten piloted through there.
But when you’re standing atop a forty six foot sailboat that is being pushed along completely sidewise by a thirteen knot wind in a channel of water not more than one hundred feet wide, it seems far, far too fast.
We had already taken the dinghy ashore the day before in order to take a look around and pick up some much needed provisions.
Spanish Wells was picturesque.A small community with immaculately tended yards and gardens, well kept houses which all appeared recently painted with bright and cheery colors and planter boxes in the window, it had a very sleepy but approachable feel to it.
Our five days at remote Little Egg Island had been spectacular, but incoming squalls and shifting winds had eventually forced us to move to Royal Island, which offered better protection in exchange for uninspiring scenery. It made sense to head for Spanish Wells as the weather settled.
We also needed to suss out the marina situation, as we were almost out of fresh water (our rain catch efforts had proven all but fruitless since leaving Georgetown) and we also wanted to top off our diesel tank.
From where we were at anchor, the approach to town required us to navigate inside of a very narrow channel, not more than one hundred feet wide and approximately half a mile long.Depths of only a couple of feet awaited anyone who strayed outside of either side of the channel.
Once at the island, the narrow channel continued, with the town hugging the water’s edge on the right.Eventually, as the town dwindled away on the right, the channel began to grow more narrow and shallow, eventually offering access to only small power boats.
The dock that we could fuel up at didn’t have water and the marina that had water didn’t have fuel which meant two separate stops… not ideal.
We have learned again and again that our highest stress levels and and greatest risk are achieved docking Exit.
The mindset of many boaters is that docks are the safest place to be.Any problem… get me to a dock and all is well again.A sanctuary that offers protection and connection with the world.
For us this couldn’t be farther from the truth.
In fact, in our opinion, docking is nothing more than a conscious and intended (though controlled) collision with something hard… something we try to avoid, as a rule, if at all possible.If there’s any way we can accomplish a task without putting Exit in direct contact with a solid object, well then, that sounds like the preferred method for us… every time.
Water and fuel are the two necessities that sometimes require us to forgo this train of thought.Lugging five to six gallon jerry cans (plastic jugs) by hand via the dinghy is sometimes an option, but simply is not very practical if we need 200 gallons of diesel and/or 200 gallons of water.
The threshold at which tying up at a dock to accomplish this outweighs the effort involved in small quantity transfers utilizing multiple trips is obviously not absolute.However, I can say without any hesitation, that threshold seems to increase after almost every docking experience… even the smooth ones seem to age me rapidly!
Our situation at Spanish Wells was such that we needed almost 200 gallons of water and the dinghy ride was nearly two miles each way.
We like to think that we are constantly evolving into wiser and more savvy sailors/cruisers with every passing day we live aboard Exit.We had purchased two six gallon water jugs while at Georgetown so we could fill up every time we docked at the public dock (which also had what seemed to be the Bahamas only free of charge potable water spigot on the dock).
However, now, with only two six gallon containers aboard, the math indicated it would take us fifteen trips to fill up our fresh water tanks… a total of thirty miles in the dinghy… not very realistic.And putting just a bit of water in the tanks didn’t make sense as water sources here can be far and few in between (with the next one possibly being even more difficult than the last).
Which left us one option… a controlled collision with a solid object… docking.Poop.
Our approach to Spanish Wells in the Mothership, the half mile long hundred foot wide channel, should have been interpreted as the litmus test towards whether we should proceed or abort.
As we entered the channel, a massive ferry appeared from the opposite direction.Thankfully, it stopped just before committing at the other side, allowing us to pass by.
We continued with the intention of stopping at the fuel dock.It should have been a pretty straightforward docking except for the thirteen knot winds coming from our port side.The narrow stretch of land covered with trees to our left helped to buffer the wind; however, the sailboat that pulled up to the fuel dock moments before we arrived left no alternative.
With the limited space to maneuver and winds to contend with, there was no way we could hold position until they pulled away so we continued on, at least temporarily aborting the less critical fuel fill.
With Kris stoically at the helm, we pushed on until we neared the marina dock that had the water we had really come for.
As we approached, we hailed them on the VHF radio.They verified where we needed to tie up and confirmed that someone would meet us on the dock to help with the lines.As the dock grew nearer and nearer, we could see where we needed to go, but there was no sign of the dock master.This would be an unassisted effort.
Both fenders and dock lines were already in place, something we learned early.However, the exact placement of fenders on the boat is always something that can be a bit tricky to determine, based largely on the layout and construction of the dock.
This dock was not very boat-friendly.And dock construction is a make or break prospect… literally.
It amazes me how many docks seem to be constructed with very little regard for the boats for which they are intended.
Well thought out docks (obviously by people with boats, or at least knowledge of them) utilize materials and construction designs which are forgiving to boat hulls and minimize risk of damage.
Some of the best are floating docks, which raise and lower with the tides, offering a consistent height.A dock platform sitting higher than a boat’s decks negates the effectiveness of using fenders, which should really be attached at the hull of of the boat.Boat owners that tie off their fenders to the stantions or lifelines are simply begging to have their stantions torn off if the fenders get snagged.
This risk of fenders getting hung up on something is greatly increased when the outside edge of the dock is not in a straight line, usually due to a dock designed with it’s support posts extending beyond the dock platform.
As a boat reaches the dock, any remaining forward momentum allow the posts grab the fender as it passes.If you’re lucky, the fenders squeeze around the posts.If you’re unlucky, the ropes tying the fenders to the boat snap.If you’re really unlucky, the fenders stop short and the ropes hold; but the stantion or lifeline you were foolish enough to secure the fender to get ripped right off the boat.
Oftentimes the posts are a bigger diameter than the fenders, which means the fender really is of very little benefit.It either catches on the posts, or, between posts, dangles ineffectively a few inches away from the dock edge while the boat’s hull scrapes alongside the posts.
In addition, some sort of bumper system or padding installed on the dock’s edge indicates that the marina taking your money is somewhat concerned about your boat’s well-being.
At the very minimum, rope wrapped around the exposed posts provide some protection.Rubber bumpers are a real blessing, though some curse the black streaks they can leave on the boat’s hull.I’ll take the streaks any day.
In this case, there was nothing.
With an aluminum hull, we generally fair much better than a boat made of fiberglass when it comes to damage caused by docks.
However, the sure sign that a dock was constructed by an idiot is when the dock supports extend beyond the platform, AND the big bolts which hold everything together aren’t even countersunk into the wood of the support posts.
This sadistic approach results in diabolically exposed domed stainless steel bolt heads lurking on the side of the post facing the boat.
Despite the wind and absence of anyone to assist at the dock, Kris cooly performed a textbook docking maneuver, and we glided slowly up alongside the dock.
Unfortunately, the dock was built by an idiot.
As I tried to get a line secured around one of the posts, and push off so we didn’t end up with our bow (and anchor extending just forward of the bow’s edge) pushed into the exposed support posts by the wind, a sickening scraping sound emitted from twenty feet behind me as the midship section of our hull slid alongside one of the posts farther back.
It was the unmistakable sound of metal on metal… the head of a bolt grinding along the side of our hull…
We had just been tattooed by, the ironically named, Yacht Haven Marina with a vicious, and permanent scar to remind us of the day. (Sidenote: Lashing wooden 2x4s to use as rub rails between our fenders would alleviate a lot of the problems with problem docks… however, that system is only beneficial to the boat that already has them set up prior to needing them…).
Shortly thereafter, the dock master sauntered up.A nice guy, and certainly not involved in the marina’s dock design; so we decided to refrain from a commentary and chose to just get our water and get the hell out of there.
Fifteen minutes later, with water tanks once again holding their two hundred gallon capacity, at a cost of fifty cents per gallon, we were ready to head out.
The wind was going to make things challenging.But, we felt, with the assistance of a push off from the dock master, we could edge over to the other side of the channel utilizing the small opening to a stream.
As long as we didn’t go too far and run aground, we concluded that there should be room to back up and turn around in a dicey three-point turn, getting us going back in the other direction, as the channel ahead narrowed and shallowed, which eliminated the option of simply continuing forward much further.
That was the plan.
What we didn’t count on was the thirteen knot wind, buffered by the island and tree cover still to our left, would be funneling straight down through the opening created by the stream to our left.So, while we able to successfully get off of the dock, as soon as we approached the mouth of the stream the wind immediately began to intensify.
Kris managed to get Exit perfectly positioned at the mouth of the stream without touching bottom.But as soon as we stopped, as she started to back us around, the wind caught our bow and began pushing us around much more quickly than we could react.
She couldn’t power forward, as we were still too close to the bank opposite the marina dock, and the wind was shoving us sideways until we were almost broadside in the channel.
Without bow thrusters (to push the boat from side to side), forward momentum was the only thing that would give us steering.And with the channel only one hundred feet wide, we were going to run straight into the dock we had just left before gaining that momentum.
As Kris struggled to bring us about, the wind continued to push our bow around until, before we knew it, we were broadside in the channel, entirely at the mercy of the wind.
One knot of speed may not seem that fast…
But when you’re standing atop a forty six foot sailboat that is being pushed along completely sidewise by a thirteen knot wind in a channel of water not more than one hundred feet wide, it seems far, far too fast.
“Shit…shit…shit…” emerging from Kris’ mouth in the cockpit.
“Fuck…fuck…fuck…” emerging from my mouth on deck.
The dock master, helplessly watching from the dock, trying to yell out and signal suggestions.
As we begin drifting, a man on a power trawler tied up in a slip on the next dock down, pokes his head out and, peering at us, asks “Are you trying to dock here?”
To which I respond, “No, we’re trying to turn around.”
All he can say is “Oh.”
With everything unfolding both in slow motion and high speed simultaneously, I can only stand on the deck and watch.
In a moment of sheer determination and brilliance, Kris manages, with a combination of wheel turns as well as forward and backward gunning of the engine, to regain control of Exit, bringing us fully around so we are finally facing the correct direction.
I realize I have stopped breathing, instantly aged a number of years, and quite possibly just shit myself.
As our heart rates slowly began to drop, and the color in our faces began to return, we looked at each other, fully realizing just how close we had come to disaster. Just the day before there had been a multi-million dollar mega-yacht tied up along the outside edge of the next dock down, which we had just nearly missed.
Still shaken by the dock departing fiasco, we continued down the channel until we, once again, found ourselves at the fueling dock.
We looked at each other and, without any need for discussion, both mutually declared that there would be no more docking attempts that day.
Screw the fuel.
Without slowing, we passed by the fuel dock and pressed on, wanting only to get back to our anchorage.
But Spanish Wells was not finished with us yet.
As we reached the edge of town and prepared to enter the narrow entrance channel, a mahoosive mega-yacht pulled into the channel at the opposite end and started steaming down the center towards us.
Undoubtably, there was no room for us to squeeze by.
We immediately slowed.We were at a spot that opened up much wider with mooring balls and a couple of boats to the right of us, just before the the channel bottlenecked back down, so we tried to tuck ourselves to the side, allowing room for the Mega-yacht to pass.
But we were now clear of the stretch of land and tree cover opposite the town.With no further protection from the winds, now coming from our right, as we came to a stop Exit’s bow once again began to immediately drift to the left pushing us sideways.
We momentarily contemplated trying to grab a mooring ball to hold our position, but we really weren’t prepared or well positioned for that, so Kris said to hell with it and just let the wind carry us fully around until we had come about one hundred eighty degrees, facing the town again.
Exasperated, we powered up the engine and found ourselves once more heading into town, past the fuel dock for a third time.
Fortunately, there is a second channel to and from town on the left, located between the fuel dock and the marina we had gotten water at, so we ducked out of there opting to take a longer route back to our anchorage.
As we departed, we unleashed a string of expletives directed at the Mega-twat, which it turned out, took the exact same course.It turned out they had cut through town only to avoid navigating this longer route around.
Eventually we were back at anchor with two cold therapeutic beers in hand.
Our final assessment of Spanish Wells… beautiful in appearance but rather dark beneath it’s surface.
We subsequently learned that Spanish Wells used to prohibit black Bahamians from being on the island after dark.I don’t believe this is still the case but am unsure when the practice was discontinued.Apparently, the white population of Spanish Wells is comprised of five family names and three hundred years of inbreeding hasn’t helped.
Speaking with the white locals, at first we couldn’t place what initially seemed like a very strange “cajun sounding” accent.Eventually, it dawned on us that the accent we were hearing sounded incredibly South African.
Further research uncovered numerous references to Spanish Wells racism (both historical and prevailing).
The one conclusion we drew with absolute certainty… those visiting Spanish Wells via a boat not equipped with bow thrusters are vehemently advised to do so by dinghy.
And if you take the Mothership in, be exceptionally wary of the dreaded Yacht Haven tattoo.
As for us, an increase in our inventory of fresh water jerry cans is in the very, very near future!
It’s hard to fully process that it’s been a full year since we first stepped aboard Exit in 2017.
At that time, we had resigned ourselves to the assumption that Exit was not in the cards for us.Though we had been drooling over her for over a year every time we looked at the listing online, she always seemed just out of reach of our budget.Not to mention the fact that an offer had already been made by other potential buyers.
We boarded her only with the intention of further educating ourselves regarding options we needed to consider as we continued hunting.
This was the opportunity, once and for all, to get past her.As had been the case with every other boat we had looked at, we fully expected to realize that she was not nearly as magical and majestic in reality as she looked on paper.
Get aboard, see for ourselves, and then keep looking (a process we were growing both frustrated with, based upon our seeming lack of progress, as well as fearful of, based upon the prospect that we simply couldn’t find the right boat despite the fact that we really didn’t know what we were looking for).
We couldn’t have been more wrong.
And once you know something beyond a doubt, there’s no going back.
In this case we both knew, without any doubt, she was the boat for us.
Then, stunned at this realization, from the moment we called Pete at Swiftsure Yachts (and were told that, despite an offer already being in place, we had the option of putting in our own offer since nothing was set in stone yet) the crazy whirlwind began to materialize.
The perfect view…
Flying over the Navy goalposts
A whirlwind that eventually carried us to this point.
A million things could have turned out differently.
Not being religious or superstitious, fate does not get the credit here.However, I firmly believe in circumstances sometimes providing rare opportunities.And if capitalized upon, those opportunities can cash in on results that, in hindsight, make things seem as though they were simply meant to be.
Had we not hopped on a train to the East Coast to look at other boats…
Had we not decided, since we were already in the area, we might as well see Exit in person…
Had the previous offer already been accepted…
Had we started playing our own negotiation game with the current owner and ended up with a rejected offer ourselves…
So many paths that could have led us away…
And yet, here we are…
Sometimes the world sucks.Sometimes it fucking rocks!
The process of backtracking made things much more simple than our initial exploration of the Exumas had been.
Not having to thoroughly research every day’s course in advance, uncertain of how far we could get and what would find when we arrived, made for substantially less anxiety.We were already familiar with the logistics and could pick and choose with much greater certainty.
We had the opportunity to stop at a few places we had missed our first time through, like Lee Stocking Island and White Point at Great Guana Cay (which had been rudely occupied by a mega-yacht last time).
Yet, for the most part, we utilized mostly the same destination anchorages along the way… Fowl Cay, Shroud Cay, Highborne Cay.
Fowl Cay all to ourselves
Getting to know the locals
Got any food?
Twilight snubber check
Our intention of crossing over to the Sound side and jumping over to Eleuthera didn’t materialize as quickly as we had hoped.Fairly strong winds shifted direction, allowing the only option for making Eleuthera from farther south to be under engine power… something we didn’t want to do.
However, while it previously took us nearly a month to get from New Providence to George Town, reversing our direction we found ourselves back at Rose Island in less than two weeks time.Instead of short jumps of ten to fifteen miles, with days and days spent at anchor once we had reached a new location, the priority was to keep moving until the wind became more favorable to make the jump over to the Eleutheras.
One of the biggest sailing challenges we now faced was that of downwind sailing.Our experience for the past nine months had largely been heading into the wind.
Exit loves a breeze coming directly on her beam.She flies along comfortably and the sails are relatively easy to trim.
As we head into the wind, she takes the extra forces upon her hull and rigging well.She’s heavy enough that we can pound into some pretty sloppy seas (she can certainly handle them better than we can), but the big genoa really starts struggling to stay filled once we get much inside of sixty degrees of true wind angle.She does well on a close reach but extended close hauls into waves can be an exhausting prospect.
Sailing downwind has its’ own science to consider.When sailing into the wind, air passes across a properly trimmed sail and creates lift, which helps to propel the boat forward (exactly the same principal utilized in aircraft wings).However, as the wind comes from further and further astern, the sail begins to be pushed by the wind more than it is pulled along by it.
Properly setting sail trim while broad reaching or running dead downwind has become our new challenge. To anyone reading this who considers this basic stuff, I apologize in advance if my ignorance becomes painful to bear at times.
For the experienced sailor, one of the pleasures of sailing Exit is utilizing the exhaustive combinations of trim adjustments that can be made with all of the onboard gear.
For the learning sailor, one of the frustrating, bewildering, and vexing realties of sailing Exit is utilizing the exhaustive combinations of trim adjustments that can be made with all of the onboard gear.
With time, hopefully we’ll actually be able to utilize some of the extra downwind gear we have aboard, like whisker poles, spinnakers, and reaching poles, as well as rigging up a proper gybe preventer, all designed to make downwind sailing easier and less prone to disaster.
But, for now, it’s about trying to maximize our sailing efficiency without the further complication of too much additional equipment.
We find that, as our true wind angle starts to move farther aft than 140-150 degrees (approaching the stern), the genoa simply can’t get enough wind to stop luffing and flapping around.It’s a combination of just too much sail, wind angle, and the main sail creating a severe wind shadow that the genoa sits in.
There comes a point where the genoa has to be partially furled in to reduce the area of sail we’re trying to fill, or the main has to be reefed or repositioned (reducing it’s effectiveness) to get out of the way of the genoa.Bringing in one or the other entirely may be the most effective approach.We found sometimes just running the genoa at full power was more effective than two sails working inefficiently.
Running dead downwind (with the wind directly behind you), seems like it would be the easiest sailing of all.In fact, it appears to me to be rather complicated, and the profound risk of a dreaded accidental gybe is always nerve-racking.
When the wind moves from one side of the boat to the other, the very large and heavy boom located under the main sail and attached to the mast, has to change sides.
If the wind is passing across the bow (a tack), this boom movement tends to be rather controlled as the boom is usually already positioned much closer to its’ center point.
If the boat has been on a beam or broad reach (wind perpendicular or aft), the main sail is sheeted much farther out to the side.
Before the wind is allowed to come around the stern (a gybe), the boom must first be sheeted in to minimize its’ movement.If it is sheeted in prior to gybing, when the wind catches the other side of the main sail, the boom will swing across to the other side of the boat in a controlled manner.
On the other hand, if the crew doesn’t first sheet in the main, as the wind crosses to the other side of the mainsail, the boom, sitting far off-center, is hurled across to the opposite side of the boat with a tremendously deafening and bone jarring crash… an uncontrolled gybe.
Even worse is an accidental gybe.For an unprepared crew, the swinging boom can be lethal.If it doesn’t break equipment or bones, it certainly clears the deck of anyone…
Obviously, sailing dead-downwind creates the highest risk of having the wind inadvertently shift from one side of the stern to the other.But, with the sail sheeted out, nearly perpendicular to the hull, it takes a serious change of angle for the wind to get behind the sail.
Experimenting with different sail configurations dead downwind became the norm… main only… genoa only… wing and wing (with main and genoa fully out on opposite sides) – challenging without a pole and risky without a preventer.
We quickly found with the boom sheeted out that far, it was not the wind that caused as many problems as did swell and waves.It seemed ridiculously dangerous and equipment jarring when, every time a swell would roll the boat from side to side, the mainsail momentarily relaxed and then reloaded causing a violent jolt in the boom.
We temporarily rigged up a primitive preventer, a line secured to the back of the boom that we ran forward to a cleat, to prevent the boom from swinging back every time we rolled in the swell.It wasn’t adjustable from the cockpit, but it did the job and saved a lot of wear and tear on the equipment.
Our last jump in the Exumas, less than forty miles from Highborne Cay to Rose Island, started as a beautiful day of sailing downwind at six to eight knots of speed, with everything seeming to click. By the end of the day, we were taking eight to ten foot swells on the beam as we angled towards Rose Island’s bay… Yowsa!
Always a learning process and an ongoing experiment in progress…
We made the poor decision to head in with ominous dark clouds looming just above us.
Within moments of pushing off from Exit in our dinghy, the clouds began to unleash a torrent of rain upon us.We pushed ahead, and managed to get ashore for some provisions but ended up absolutely soaked in exchange.
Furthermore, on the way back to the Mothership, as we were fighting against a rather stout breeze coming right at us, we were mortified when a loud clunk came form the outboard motor and it promptly died on us.No amount of pulling on the starting cord could get it going again.
As we began rowing in vain against the wind, making no forward progress at all, we noticed a guy on a catamaran anchored near us approaching us in his dinghy.
“Have Kris hand me your line; I’ll tow you back to your boat,” he said to me as he arrived. Perplexed, we realized he knew who we were, but it took a moment longer for us to recognize who had come to our rescue.It was Jay, who we had met with his wife Tami at Loraine’s all-you-can-eat buffet at Black Point, just days before… what a stroke of good luck and timing.
We spent a substantial amount of time hanging out with Jay and Tami during our stay at George Town, becoming quite close friends with them.They continued to provide vast amounts of insight and advice to us, regarding both the Bahamas and cruising in general.
Later, after struggling to once again resuscitate our Yamaha outboard, we discovered that our poor Yamamama was, and, as far as we could determine, always had been running on only one of it’s two cylinders since we had first revived it in Annapolis eight months earlier.This led us to the sad conclusion that it was finally time to cough up the money for a new outboard.
We had seen this as eventually inevitable.Though our current 8hp engine had served to get us slowly to and from shore, we knew that to carry dive gear to and from more distant locations we would need something bigger.And, ultimately, having a reliable outboard was as paramount to us as having a reliable car was to a dirt dweller.
In addition, being in the Bahamas provided the opportunity to acquire a two-stroke engine, something no longer available in the States.Though not as environmentally friendly as a four-stroke, a 15hp two-stroke would give us the extra power needed to get up on a plane while carrying heavy dive gear, yet still be small enough to lift by hand and fit in the stern locker.It was also cheaper.So, we gave the George Town economy a $2300 boost and found ourselves the proud owners of a new Yamaha 15hp two-stroke outboard motor which we dubbed Y’mama.For now, the Yamamama went into storage with an as yet undetermined future.
The Family Island Regatta was a blast.Watching the traditional local sailboats compete for three days was most entertaining, and we spent hours on the water amongst a virtual armada of onlookers following the racers around in dinghies.On land, dozens of small fish shacks and bars were set up making it a very festive atmosphere.
Demonstration of traditional Bahamian boat building
Demonstration of Tami aboard S/V Avighna cooking Absinthe
George Town sunset
Fantastic BBQ ribs, freshly made conch salads, and plenty of Bahamian Kalik (pronounced Click) and Sands beers were to be had.Kris was even given a straw hat by a very kind, if not slightly strange and intoxicated, Bahamian who proudly claimed he had been an extra playing the role of one of the pirates on the set of Pirates of the Caribbean alongside Johnny Depp.We had trouble confirming this, but can confirm that he was definitely one of the people passed out, asleep on a stool at one of the bars, later that day.
Then, within a couple of days of the Family Islands Regatta concluding, the harbor just outside Georgetown began to empty in a mass exodus.
For the majority of boaters, it was time to head back to the good ol’ U.S. of A.
Hurricane season loomed in the not to distant future, enticing many to vacate while the getting was good.Many had merely reached the end of their boating season and were headed back to the reality of their dirt dweller existence.
For us, our insurance didn’t dictate we be out of the Bahamas until July 15 (at which point they said if you stay, you aren’t covered in the event of a hurricane and we reserve the right to drop your insurance cause you’re obviously not an exceptionally smart policy holder).
This gave us the opportunity to spend some time at anchor in a nearby area known as Red Shanks (completely uninhabited and empty except for a couple of other boats) as well as go for a more extensive land exploration in a rental car with Jay, Tami, and their good friend Ashley who had come to visit them.
Red Shanks sunset
Breaking out the lifeboat rations
Our longer-term intention was soon to continue south to Long Island while we still had time.
Unfortunately, the prevailing winds would not cooperate.After waiting and waiting without any shift in wind direction forecasted in the foreseeable future, we bagged the idea of continuing southeast.
We could have done it motoring the whole way.However, we had become more and more adamant about sailing more and motoring less, which required a shift in perspective, a willingness to rethink strategies, and oftentimes a serious dose of patience.
As sailors, we were beginning to realize that sometimes destinations should be sought out not because that’s where you wanted to go, but rather because that’s where the wind would let you sail.
An evolution, of sorts, for us…
If the wind continues to come from the southeast, don’t get pissed off and certainly don’t resort to relying on engine power to buck the wind.It’s much easier, and oftentimes much more productive and rewarding, to readjustyour thinking and simply head west… or north… or southwest… or northeast…
This sounds obvious but takes a bit of internal adjusting to fully begin to appreciate.
We met someone who told us bluntly, if they couldn’t make 6 knots sailing they fired up their engine… period.Their boating endeavors probably lasted no more than a few months each year.
To us, this seemed unfathomable.We aspire to be sailors, not motorers.And wind is free, diesel is not.
Longterm cruising on a very limited and finite budget requires that we reign in our spending constantly.Expenses must remain as low as realistically possible (safety and maintenance are the two priorities that we don’t shortchange).
And we have quickly learned that one of the easiest ways for a cruiser to reduce expenses is to not turn the ignition key unless absolutely necessary.
And so, we readjusted our thinking and decided that, given the persistent wind direction, maybe Long Island wasn’t currently the best choice for us.
Further discussion brought us to the conclusion that it made much more sense to backtrack northwest through the Exumas until we could jump off and head towards Eleuthera.