Backtracking Through The Exumas

Fowl Cay
Fowl Cay

May 11 – 23, 2018

    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). 

From Lee Stocking Island to Great Guana Cay

     Yet, for the most part, we utilized mostly the same destination anchorages along the way… Fowl Cay, Shroud Cay, Highborne Cay.

Fowl Cay foul weather
Fowl Cay foul weather
Better company on Shroud Cay this time

     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.

Wing & wing to Great Guana
Wing and wing running dead downwind

     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…

Rose Island
Back to Rose Island

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