The easiest thing to do regarding difficult decisions is to just put off making them.
Procrastination can be a beautiful thing.Only problem is, by definition, it leaves those decisions unresolved.And there comes a time when, instead of being conveniently satisfying, it becomes a nagging thorn that eventually must be dealt with before things begin to fester.
Our hard choices revolved around things that we thought needed to be sorted out with the boat.Prudent (and prideful) boat owners generally need to do a haul out on their boat at least once a year… so we’re told.
This involves having the boat lifted out of the water by means of a massive lift and put on stands in a marina.Though many tasks can be done afloat, there are some things that mandate (or at the least greatly simplify) that the boat be dry.More thorough inspections as well as certain maintenance issues of the underside and/or hull are much more feasible.In addition, annual painting of the underside with an anti-fouling paint is required to help prevent barnacle buildup (every so often this paint needs to be sanded off before more can be put on).
Some very creative, very poor, very brave, or very foolish boat owners will insist that alternative options exist, but a haul out was what we had decided on.
Our underside was still in fair condition; however, it had been nearly a year since we had applied the last coat of anti-fouling (just before we first launched Exit in Deale, MD).
We also had a prop issue that needed immediate resolution.The zinc* which had been attached with our new Maxprop last August (also just before we first launched Exit) had become nearly deteriorated after six months.Thankfully, we had a couple of spares aboard.
*The Readers Digest “A to Zinc” Overview On Prop Corrosion
Dissimilar metals can pose problems for each other. In a nutshell, one type of metal will actually steal electrons from another, causing it to corrode.
There are tables, the result of science well beyond my capacity, indicating the nobility of various metals and alloys.Nobility is basically a pecking order.The more noble a metal is, the less susceptible it is to corrosion and more voraciously it feeds on other less noble metals.
Salt water (an electrical conductor) exasperates this process.
Our prop is made of bronze which has a low nobility.
Our boat is made of aluminum which is almost at the bottom of the nobility list (a potential issue we have to be constantly aware of).
The solution is to attach an even less noble metal, called a sacrificial anode, which is consumed by the process instead.Magnesium (in fresh water) or zinc (in salt water) are the alloys typically utilized for the anodes. The zincs must be checked and replaced periodically to assure the corrosion protection is maintained.
Obviously, having the zincs fall off your boat is not very conducive to the success of the entire corrosion protection process.
Anyway, in March while at anchor in West Bay on New Providence, I had donned scuba gear and switched out the zinc, which was a rather straightforward endeavor.
Unfortunately, when we arrived in the Bahamas, we discovered that the zinc had disappeared…
We came to the conclusion that it actually may have fallen off only three weeks after it had been put on while we motored for six hours from Nassau to Rose Island.Probably the result of bolts not being cinched down tight enough…
We had one more prop zinc in our spares inventory which we installed while in Georgetown.This time I opted to use locking washers and Loktite on the screw threads.
However, we discovered soon after that the zinc immediately began to deteriorate around the screw holes.By the time we had reached Charleston, SC five weeks later, our third prop zinc was gone.
This meant our prop zinc situation was back to critical, and in need of immediate resolution.
We also had ongoing chain issues that needed resolution sooner than later.
Old, tired, and rusty, the decrepit chain left piles of quickly staining rust flakes all over the deck every time the anchor was lowered or raised.It occasionally seized up in the hawse pipe when rusty links stuck together in the chain locker (jeopardizing damage to an expensive electric windlass).It jumped and skipped on the gypsy under any load when let out or brought in (jeopardizing the removal of fingers very dear to me) – either it was the wrong size or just excessively worn.And, there just wasn’t enough of it.We had one hundred thirty feet and really needed twice that.
Yes, the chain could be sorted out without a haul out.But, if we are already out of the water, getting chain off and on the boat while on stands might prove much easier than getting it aboard with Exit in the water.
The only other haul out issue was being able to replace a through-hull whose handle had broken off in a stuck open position.
Yes, again.The through-hull could be dealt with in the water, but it would be a lot less messy if it were dry than just had a towel stuck in the hole.
The handful of other things on the to-do list… a proper inspection of all our rigging… resuscitating the dream of an onboard watermaker… battery bank replacement… all things that could be chipped away at without requiring a haul out of the boat.
Rocky’s boatyard was an option if we wanted to haul out.It was cheap and friendly.Except we weren’t in close proximity to anything.We didn’t have chain lined up.The long anticipated revival of the existing watermaker, the primary task we were hoping Tom could help us out with, looked like it was never going to be possible, after all.
Both the boatyard and Tom had lots of other things going on.The timing was not ideal.
Holding off on the haul out until late summer after sailing farther north to New York or even Maine (especially if we could sort out the prop zinc quickly) had a definite appeal to it.Herrington Harbor North, where Exit had sat on the hard in Deale, MD, was well equipped with on-site resources and no more expensive than St. Marys.
We had all but written off a quick July trip back to our old stomping grounds in Washington state.Already told my folks we just didn’t see it happening.If Exit was on the hard here in Georgia, that was one thing.
But… leaving her at anchor?For over two weeks?
My parents’ sixtieth wedding anniversary, on July 3rd, was the tipping factor.The opportunity to be present for that amazing celebration, see my best friend Shannan for his 52nd birthday, as well as visit with other friends and family, made the decision much easier.
We were at anchor about a thousand feet upriver from Tom’s sailboat, and he agreed to take an occasional peek tomake sure Exit hadn’t floated away… no worries, mate.
Our arrival at Cumberland Island, GA after a three day and nearly four hundred mile open ocean passage from the Bahamas had sparked a multiple day recovery and re-acclimation period.
We spent most of the 16th sleeping, and most of the 17th and 18th cleaning and relaxing.
We were still yet to solidify exactly what our plan was, now that we were back in the States; but we knew anything we were potentially going to get done here required us to head up the North River and get close to Rocky’s boatyard.
After an unsuccessful attempt to get fuel in Fernandina – stressful only up to the point that we learned the fuel dock we were circling in front of would not re-open until 2019 following the completion of long overdue hurricane repairs, we chose to head up the North River, trying to find a good place to drop the hook.
Snaking back and forth, the North River winds its way three and a half mile through of marsh grass and lowlands before reaching the boatyard.In some places, it stretches eight hundred or more feet from shore to shore; in others it is not much more than a hundred feet across.It has severe shoaling around some of its’ turns and we became intimately familiar with its bottom twice a day while tied up to Rocky’s boatyard dock in February.
As we left the wide, deep channel of the St. Marys River and steered into the narrow mouth of the North River, we had to stay far to the left.We remembered the point extending out on the opposite side created a shallow area that extended halfway across the entrance.
Sections of the river are twenty five to forty feet deep, even in some of the narrow spots.But other sections can be eight hundred feet wide with less than one hundred feet of that being deeper than three feet.
Misleading… even tricksy.
It was now low tide.
I remember asking Kris, “Should we get out your iPhone?”It contained a photo we had been given in February that clearly indicated all the shoaling areas along the banks before the boatyard…
I remember her looking at the Navionics program running on our iPad, our exact position shown as a little red boat icon superimposed over the displayed chart.
I remember her saying, “Nah… the shoaling is along the inside banks of the turns.”
I remember Kris asking me if I wanted to take the helm.
I remember responding in a possibly not exceptionally enthusiastic affirmative.
I remember climbing behind the wheel, looking up, and immediately seeing the display on our depth gauge, surprisingly, in the single digits.
I remember saying, “Seems kinda shallow, maybe we should raise the centerboard?”
Plummeting depth gauge… now under six feet…
I remember Kris didn’t even have time to stand up when…
…the unmistakable sound of our aluminum hull sliding on the soft bottom of the North River.
And then… no more sliding.
We’re stuck.No backing… no turning… just stuck.
I immediately cried out “FOUL!”… followed by, “I was behind the wheel less than thirty seconds!” … followed by, “I hate this fucking river!”
The next five minutes was spent sitting in the cockpit, trying in vain to prop up my crushed self-esteem, until the divine forgiveness of a timely rising tide picked us up off the mud, simultaneously freeing both Exit and what little was left of my dignity.
As we retreated back, shadowing the track we had just laid down on our Navionics chart, Kris could be heard laughing continuously in the background of two short videos I made.
During one I lamented how much I hate this fucking river; the other was a message for two Scuba Junkie friends/staff still working in Komodo who were considering buying a sailboat and cruising Australia whereby I expressed a belief that they would be much wiser to invest their money in a van.
Fortunately, this blog site does not currently support videos.
The North River had been victorious on this day.
Admitting temporary defeat, we slinked back into the St. Marys River deciding to anchor next to the town of St. Marys for the night.Tonight we would drown our embarrassment in drinks and hopefully fried cheese Saganaki at the Greek restaurant.
Three hundred fifty nautical miles.Averaging five knots it would take us around three days to complete.
For us, ambitious.
But we’ve found ambition is exactly what it takes.
There were a lotof uncertainties.
Uncertainty regarding weather.Mixed forecasts, depending on who you listened to and what resources you referenced.Winds seemed to be from every direction at one point or another.Could be no wind at all.Could be good sailing.Could be nasty squalls with bursts of high wind and rain.
Uncertainty regarding the course we’d chosen to take.Around the north open ocean side of Abaco with a long straight northwesterly shot to the Georgia border.The alternative route, picking our way through the inside shallows to the edge of the Abacos Sea, followed by a shorter jump west across to Florida, would offer better protection from building seas but force a longer threading of the needle through the rocks and reefs until reaching the drop off.
We preferred the long open ocean passage to Georgia.If the weather held, we could have some brilliant sailing.If the winds died, we’d have a long and relentless grind under motor.If the weather turned ugly, we’d have no where to go…
But, in the end, we had chosen the straight shot across more open ocean.Eighty miles offshore from the nearest Abaco land we would still be eighty miles away from the Florida coast.
We were also hoping to get lucky with the Gulf Stream Current.If we had calculated correctly, we would be approaching it’s apex at just about one hundred fifty miles into our course.
Depending on the strength of the current at any given point and our relative angle, we could hope to gain anywhere from a half knot to more than three knots of speed.Once we found ourselves inside, we figured we could adjust our course to maximize the benefit of the free energy.
Ironically, we noticed that the course we had plotted would take us through the outer northeast corner of the notorious rocket impact area stretching seventy five miles offshore from the Cape Canaveral launch site.It was part of the same block of restricted rocket recovery space, prohibited to boat traffic during launches, that we had been turned away from just prior to the launch of Space X in February.
We figured the chances of another launch being scheduled, once again, at the very moment we were passing through the restricted area to be pretty astronomical.
Although I did consider the fact that I had seen a rocket, being launched at Cape Canaveral, from all the way in the Bahamas one night while I was on deck after midnight. I don’t think that, in the end, we even checked online to confirm there was no launch scheduled.It would be pretty ridiculous if this level of complacency turned out to bite us in the ass…
Eee-ahh… Eee-ahh… Eee-ahh… a sound reminiscent of a London police car.
The near silence in the cockpit has just been shattered by a piercing alarm indicating our autopilot has lost its connection again.
Jeeves, the name we have affectionately given our electronic chauffeur, or autopilot, typically alleviates our need for the sometimes relaxing yet mundane, sometimes arduous and exhausting task of hand steering the boat for hours on end.
We just input a heading in degrees.Jeeves, tied into both navigational electronics and directly connected to the steering system, maintains that course automatically, making adjustments as needed.Great… as long as it works.
Without obvious rhyme or reason,Jeeves occasionally throws a fit.He loses his connection link with the navigation equipment, can’t tell where he is, and simply disengages from the steering.The wheel, no longer being controlled, begins drifting aimlessly… not ideal.
The London Police car sounding alarm is Jeeves belligerently announcing, “Somebody had better get to the wheel pretty damn quickly because I’ve just stopped steering and we’re drifting!”
A probable corroded connection somewhere between the multiple units all communicating with one another has been plaguing us intermittently for months.Having checked every connection possible, I am left with only connections behind water sealed panels that are constantly exposed to the elements.So far, the fear of causing other problems by opening these panels has outweighed the annoyance of Jeeves’ periodic outbursts.
Back to the reality of constant challenges that come part and parcel with cruising aboard a sailboat.
After switching the autopilot breaker off and back on again to reset the system, Jeeves seemed content to carry on, at least for the time being.When we are lucky, he’s good to go again for an always indeterminate amount of time.When we’re not, he throws this annoying tantrum repeatedly until eventually either he gives up or we do, and resort to hand steering for a while.
This passage turned out to be a roller coaster ride, both mentally and physically.
Some of the best sailing we’ve ever done.Some of the most frustrating mandatory motoring stretches we’ve ever done. Some pretty freaky moments of what have we gotten ourselves into?
Only seven hours into very mild sailing conditions, vicious looking storm clouds quickly materialized and stacked up across the horizon.Sitting on less than three knot winds, we had already dropped the main, furled in the genoa, and fired up the engine.By the time the clouds, growing more and more ominous looking, were on top of us, we were already prepared.
In the blink of an eye, winds had catapulted from less than three knots to thirty knots.We were glad we had already dowsed the sails.This would not be the only storm encountered during this passage.
We had plenty of opportunity during this passage to experiment more with the subtleties of downwind sailing.Different configurations, adjustments and setups which had confused us when we were primarily sailing upwind now came more into play.
Now, sailing almost entirely with the wind aft of our beam, we experienced the slow paced evolution of better understanding:6.7 knots of speed before in 8 knots of wind when the gulf stream gave us better than a knot of current and the sail trim was clicking… now less than 3 knots of speed in 15 knots of wind when six foot waves were tossing us around and the sail trim obviously wasn’t clicking.
Erratic weather and conflicting information became a bit of a theme during this passage. Looking opposite directions often provided opposite perspectives and reversed your decisions…
Ups and downs… as reflected in periodic ship’s log entries:
June 13: 7:50am – Anchor up under sail; making for St. Marys Entrance (350nm/3 days); forecast S-SE winds at 10-15 knots
9:20 – Outside cut; mild chop with 3-5ft swell well spaced; overcast but no threatening clouds in the sky
13:00 – Wind ❤ knots, Engine on and sails in
14:00 – Squall approaching; winds have shifted 180 degrees to WNW at 15-25 knots; seas building to 6-8ft
15:00 – Sailing a little, then siting a little, then motoring a little, then pooing a little… Squall came from NW… holy crap! Seas calming from 6-8ft; storm clouds still near but perfect sailing right now
20:00 – One reef in the main for the night; currently S at 10-12 knots
June 14: 00:00 – Engine on with main up, wind ❤ knots again. Florida coast and ship traffic lights on horizon…ick!
12:00 – Tired of 12 hours of engine noise; motor-sailing straight towards gulf stream for free ride hopefully
12:45 – Good choice.Making 5 knots in 5.8 knots of wind… yes!
13:30 – Pod of ten or more dolphins came to play at the bow for a few minutes!
15:00 – Making 6.7 knots of speed in just over 8 knots of wind (1.3 knots from Gulf Stream current)… sweet!
16:20 – Making 5.7 knots of speed in 5.5 knots of wind (2 knots from current)… sweeter!
16:45 – Another bow riding pod of dolphins hung around even longer.Just entered Cape Canaveral rocket impact area – no rockets in sight, no Coast Guard hails… think we’re ok.
21:00 – Minimal chop but lots of lightning in front of us;One reef in main & full genoa; Winds SSW at 8 knots but getting 4 knot boost from the GS current – making 8 knots of speed
22:00 – Winds W up to 14 knots with 10.5knots of boat speed!Seas kicking up fast
23:00 – Wind speed indicator freaking out again (reading 25-50 knots of wind on display).Amazing bioluminescent light show happening all around us.
Not a single light from shore is visible.
Not a single light from another boat to be seen.
It is a feeling of complete isolation.Fifty miles offshore in the North Atlantic Ocean, the only thing we’ve seen since last night have been pods of curious dolphins.
Unable to locate a single outside reference point, my eyes strain to identify anything in the utter blackness outside the cockpit.
Beyond Exit’s decks, there is only dark.Clouds have completely smothered any ambient light offered by the stars and moon.
Sudden streaks of lightning flash all around us, bursting intermittently and without warning, providingmomentary glimpses of a feisty, building sea all around us.
And yet, in what could be a computer generated Hollywood movie effect, the water surrounding Exit literally is aglow.It looks magical, in stark contrast to the impenetrable black curtain of rest of the night.
Both hauntingly dim and distinctly present, churning eddies of sparkles and streaks briefly light up alongside the boat with every wave and swell that breaks against our hull.
Exit’s bow appears to cut through a wave of light, as the surge of water displaced to either side by our bow wake glows eerily, the result of bioluminescent organisms in the water.
It is truly surreal… hypnotic.
Plus we have apparently found a sweet spot in the Gulf Stream current.Our GPS indicates that we are currently picking up an amazing four extra knots of speed riding the current.
As the wind began to pick up, hovering between thirteen and fourteen knots, and the seas continued to build up, Poseidon smiled briefly down upon us in the dark.Our boat speed steadily rose, the display in the cockpit now drifting between six and eight knots.
But a quick glimpse at our GPS revealed, with the favorable four knot Gulf Stream current accounted for, that on this night we were actually learning to fly.We spent three hours streaking along consistently at between an amazing ten to eleven knots of speed.
At one point, I clocked us making 11.8 knots of speed in 14.5 knots of wind… Yikes!
Certainly not being a racer, at times barely being a sailor… it’s times like this that the inexperienced are wisely prompted by that naggingfeeling of uncertainty to perform an introspective reality check on their comfort level.
In this instance, it was the absolute darkness in every direction that was so disorienting.Dramatic bursts of lightning across the horizon and hypnotic bioluminescence glowing alongside the hull all added to the surreal environment.The faster we went, the brighter the glow appeared to become.
There is a sense of being on the edge of control.We thought our sail decision was sound – a single reef in the main (a reefed main was quickly becoming our overnight standard procedure) and our 130% genoa partially furled.
Yet, even with reduced sails, we found ourselves still flying along at 10.5 knots of speed in thirteen knots of wind.Any feelings of anxiousness came, not from our present situation.Rather, it was the uncertainty of Poseidon’s full intent tonight… had we seen the brunt of the storm or was it still building?
If the winds reached a sustained fifteen to twenty knots, I wasn’t sure if I’d maintain my smile…
Continuation of ship’s log entries:
June 15: 3:00am – Eeek!Crazy times!Still amazing bioluminescence all around us while we learn to fly at 11.8 knots of speed in 14.5 knots of wind with 4 knots of current.
8:00 – Wind clocking north, NW at 8-10 knots; confused seas with 2-3ft chop; losing benefit of GS current quickly
9:01 – 273.2 nautical miles this passage makes a total of 3000 nautical miles traveled aboard Exit!!! Woohoo!
12:00 – Wind dying. NW at <5 knots; engine on
13:00 – Wind shifting. W at <5 knots
14:00 – Wind still shifting; now SW at <5 knots but seas calming.Still 40nm from St. Marys inlet… not gonna make it by dark… shit.
16:00 – Have decided against night entry into St. Marys inlet; will have to circle until morning once we get close
17:00 – Winds W at 5-10 knots; seas calm but there are BIG storm clouds building to the south
17:30 – Weather warnings issuing on VHF to south; nasty clouds continue to stack; steering east – can’t outrun storm but can try to head for its’ edge
17:35 – Engine on and all sails in; gonna make a run in the opposite direction under engine power.
17:45 – All Hell breaking loose!Wind W at 20-30 knots, seas 3-4ft
18:00 – Wind dropping to 15-20 knots but seas building 4-6ft
21:00 – Wind holding at 16 knots with sloppy and confused seas, raising double reefed main to try to avoid running engine all night
22:00 – Trying to sail through the night, awaiting first light to navigate inlet
Freakishly ominous cloud #2…
…in 24 hours
Throughout the night, the messy seas that had been kicked up by the evening storm slowly began to settle back down. The only casualty we found was a flying fish that had become trapped on deck during the rough seas… technically my first catch from the deck of Exit.
Fortunately, the worst looking clouds had passed just south of us, and we had been relatively near the outside edge of the whole thing.It could have been far, far worse.
As can often be the case, the visual intimidation of really scary looking storm clouds approaching, as well as the ongoing uncertainty of whether you’re currently experiencing the worst of what’s in store or just a preview, makes for higher drama at the beginning of a storm than at the end.
In this case, the storm was undoubtably a whopper that just tagged us with its’ edge.
The wind and minimal rainfall just over us had lost most of its ferocity in less than half an hour.Still, the big ocean swells and confused waves that had been generated further to the south tossed us around for the rest of the night as they passed by.
Now, as the sun began to rise the morning of June 16, the seas had finally settled back down, and we were on our final approach towards the St. Marys inlet in our own sailboat… arriving back in the States… surreal.
By 9:00am, we were at the mouth of the St. Marys River.
At 10:00am, seventy four hours and three hundred eighty five nautical miles after raising our anchor in the Abacos, Bahamas, we dropped anchor just off Cumberland Island in Georgia, USA.
Oddly enough, we were within a few hundred feet of the exact same spot we had anchored at in February, just prior to leaving for the Bahamas.
The same spot… full circle.
Only five months… and one thousand six hundred twenty seven nautical miles… plus at least that number of stories later.
Nearly four months after arriving in Bimini, we are finally departing the Bahamas.
Our insurance policy requires that we be north of Jacksonville, FL before July 15, to avoid hurricane season within the Bahamas, Caribbean, and the Gulf of Mexico area.We have learned that hard deadlines need to be approached with a great deal of buffer factored in, just in case of weather issues, potential mechanical difficulties and other unforeseen concerns that could cause serious delays.
While the Bahamas hasn’t achieved that most highly regarded and coveted status of “magical” (reserved for places like Borneo, French Polynesia, Micronesia for example), we have had some amazing experiences.
Some of the standout highlights would have to include:
Reaching the milestone of two thousand nautical miles traveled aboard Exit (and we will reach three thousand nautical miles during the passage back to the States).
Taking in the unbelievable colors of Bahamian waters (certainly the widest spectrum of color we have seen in one area) as well as the magical Bahamian sunsets
Learning to safely and successfully navigate through all those different colors of water.
Anchoring overnight in the open ocean in fifteen feet of water, all alone, thirty miles from the nearest land on the Great Bahama Banks.
Experiencing our first local regatta in George Town (the Family Islands Regatta with its traditional sailboats had to have been much cooler than the Cruisers Regatta the month before).
Having our lifelong friends Shannan and Vicki come to visit us aboard Exit.
Dinghy excursions from the mothership which included seeing juvenile turtles and sharks in the mangroves, scuba diving with dolphins, and snorkeling with turtles and nurse sharks, as well as our first encounters with bonnethead and Caribbean reef sharks.
Celebrating my 52nd birthday aboard Exit with Kris.
Tasting lionfish ceviche as well as snapper caught by my own hand spearfishing for the first time.
Adding sailing onto and off anchor, without assistance from the engine, to our repertoire of sailing skills.
Befriending people like Ray Cunningham (proving once again that every place we visit has a local saint) as well as Jay and Tami (proving once again that there are likeminded cruisers to be found among the sea of assholes and idiots).
Watching pods of dolphins bow-ride Exit while under sail as well as scuba diving with them.
Not to mention, of course… sailing, sailing, sailing… and all the adventure that incurs.
Ultimately, the fact that this has been our first real shakedown cruise aboard our own sailboat was truly the most magical aspect of this journey.
Do we see ourselves returning to the Bahamas?I could certainly see that happening.But it would more likely be in transit to somewhere else.The opportunity to return as even more experienced and confident sailors, plus the ability to circumvent Florida entirely, definitely has an appealing sound to it… but that would be an entirely different chapter.
Our departure from Marsh Harbour signaled a ready to launch status.We were re-provisioned, full of fuel and water, and prepped to go off-shore as soon as the call was made.
From Marsh Harbour, the plan was to press northwest.
The bigger decision was yet to be made….
Do we:1) push all the way to the northwestern edge of the inner banks at depths of ten to twenty five feet until we reached the tip of Middle Shoal nearly one hundred thirty miles away and jump over to the Florida coast?
Or do we:2) find a spot somewhere in the next fifty miles, before Little Abaco Island disintegrates into an endless stretch of reefs, that we can jump outside to instant depths of one hundred to five thousand feet, and set a trajectory directly for St. Marys, on the Georgia-Florida border?
On the day of my birthday, while having cocktails in the cockpit, we had felt a great deal of sympathy towards our neighbor, a young man single-handing a thirty-some foot traditional sloop I couldn’t identify, who was hoisting himself up the mast in a Bosun’s chair.
Every time a power boat came by at a speed excessive enough to create a substantial wake (which seemed to be every thirty seconds), this poor bastard would pitch back and forth at the top of his mast like a fly sitting atop an old-school tick-tock style metronome, all the while yelling out to the passing boat, Slow the fuck down, asshole!This is a no wake zone!
The following day, I couldn’t help but to think of him as we sailed clear of the Marsh Harbour Channel markers and the VHF crackled to life one last time.
The final words we heard coming from the speaker were anonymous.Proper radio etiquette had been abandoned… no specific vessel being hailed… the person doing the hailing not identifying their own vessel…
Just a frustrated captain issuing the angry statement across the airwaves: Rules of the road mean nothing if you’re an idiot!
It was the last thing we heard leaving Marsh Harbor and it seemed rather poetic, in a salty way.
From Marsh Harbour, our intended destination, not quite thirty miles to the northwest, was Crab Cay, just south of Manjack Cay.
This meant we had to pass through Whale Cay Cut, a short stretch that exposed us to the open ocean conditions.The cut carried a brutal reputation for its’ ability to throw an unrelenting stink at unsuspecting boaters.We saw nothing that concerned us.
Then, as we tacked around, positioning ourselves through the cut relative to two catamarans that were approaching the cut from the opposite direction, a fast moving squall passed through.
Winds jumped up to an excess of twenty five knots. We furled in the genoa and fired up the engine to make certain we had adequate control through the narrow cut.
As lightning detonated all around us and we passed through Whale Cay Cut, things suddenly seemed to take a Twilight Zone twist.
There was a moment of panic as we watched the wind speed indicator, which had risen steadily from ten knots to twenty five over the past fifteen minutes, now begin to climb higher and higher… It rose from twenty five to thirty…
Then from thirty to thirty five….
Then from thirty five to forty…
Then to forty five…
This didn’t seem possible.Yes, it was blowing like a son of a bitch out there.But, the wind hadn’t jumped twenty knots in the past sixty seconds.
And then the number on the wind indicator kept climbing…
Fifty… seventy five… one hundred plus… we took a photo with the display showing in the 130’s… then almost 210… it topped out around 220 knots. What the fuck?!
We were later told that this was probably the result of electrical interference from the nearby lightning storm.
At the time, passing through the cut as the storm unleashed itself and the wind indicator went mental, it all seemed like another Bermuda Triangle moment.
Fortunately, as the storm passed, so too did the drama.We were able to let the genoa back out and kill the engine.
But, before long we were rolling our eyes as winds that had died down to less than five knots challenged whether we could continue much further without firing the engine back up.
We were thankful when Crab Cay appeared.Shortly after we were safely at anchor.
Uncertainty of promising skies…
…interspersed with ominous signs
Prepping for an offshore passage is quite a process. Properly getting everything physically ready also seems to help get us mentally ready. Stowing and/or securing everything above and below deck; getting meals ready; monitoring weather; engine checks; course plotting; preparing for potential sail changes; it goes on and on… and different weather expectations initiate different Def-con status levels.
In addition, different decisions equate to different risk levels, expectations of conditions, and costs/benefit analysis. For example, we have a number of options with our dinghy… Option#1 – Tow the dinghy behind us; easy but high risk of loss or capsize. Option#2 – Hang the dinghy from the davit; ok for good weather but a breaking wave could take out our entire arch. Option#3 – Deflate dinghy and secure on deck; probably the safest option but a huge pain in the butt and really clutters the deck. Option#4 – Cinch the dinghy up against the arch to prevent breaking waves from swamping the dinghy and help protect the cockpit.
After an extra day of getting things ready aboard Exit while still anchored at Crab Cay, we made one final push of another eleven miles to Powell Cay, setting us up to depart through the nearby inlet the following morning.
We had finally decided on Option Two – jump north through the reefs from the last of the Abaco cays and make a run for the Georgia border.
This would give us nearly a straight shot to the St. Marys entrance.Cumberland Island was about three hundred fifty miles northwest of our current position at Powell Cay.Over a hundred miles further than our longest passage so far, which had ironically been after our last our last departure from Cumberland Island in February, when we ended up stuck in Cape Canaveral with fuel tank issues.
The distance was not really a concern.Our biggest trepidation came from the uncertainty of possible sudden thunderstorms and squalls, something we had gained a healthy respect for over the past few months.
We’d be in much more exposed open seas, well farther from any land mass.Any thunderstorms or squalls that materialized right on top of us would just have to be dealt with.There would be no bay or harbor to duck into, providing us a safe haven to await the passing of any nasty weather.
With a conservative approach, keeping a vigilant watch in the cockpit, checking our radar often, and reefing our sail immediately if something looked like it could be developing, we felt confident our decision was sound.
One of the things you don’t like hearing aboard a sailboat while you are relaxing in the cockpit, or any time for that matter, are the words I smell propane…
Kris has a superhuman sense of smell.Oftentimes, this is a source of great annoyance for me.Occasionally, it saves my life.
Four days ago we dropped anchor at this spot, having found a suitable space amongst all the boats in Marsh Harbour, Great Abacos Island.It was just eighteen miles north of Sandy Cay, where we had finally gone for our first boat-based fun diving excursion, on a boat that was actually our own.
Our time in Marsh Harbour had been largely uneventful.A good opportunity for re-provisioning, laundry, even a drama-free fuel and water top up at the dock of the Marsh Harbour Marina.
Marsh Harbour on the charts
My 52nd birthday, on June 9, was quiet by choice. Kris was kind enough to disregard her general vegetarian disgust for raw pig flesh and cooked up bacon… yes BACON… for my breakfast… an odoriferous treat that must have had the occupants of every boat in the area salivating.
For lunch was lionfish.Yes, I finally got to taste lionfish.Tami had gone spearfishing, a couple of days after taking me out, and speared a number of lionfish, which she then gave to me as a birthday gift to try. I would have to admit that, for a fish sandwich, something a bit more solid and flakey would be preferable. However, prepared raw in a ceviche, the lionfish was delicious.
The rest of the day was quietly spent drinking with Kris in the cockpit… a not-at-all unpleasant afternoon by even the highest standards.
The day before we planned on picking up anchor, while we were in the cockpit, Kris asked me if I smelled propane.I sniffed and, as I often do when asked by Kris if I smell something, shook my head, shrugged my shoulders, and replied Nope… I don’t smell anything.
The second time, she was adamant that there was no doubt she smelled propane, but concluded that it must be from one of the other boats anchored nearby.
The third time, Kris was done fucking around.She stood up and, obviously having decided this was a mystery she was going to get to the bottom of immediately, walked straight up to the bow.
She opened one of the two bow lockers on deck, where our two propane tanks (used for the propane stove) are securely stored, looked back with wide eyes and firmly announced… It’s definitely coming from here… and it’s hissing!
Shit… Visions of a mushroom cloud forming above the just detonated forty six foot long aluminum cased propane bomb…
Step one… turn off the damn propane.
Step two… apparently never test for propane leaks with a lit flame.Hmmm… not sure about the necessity of that warning.Kind of seems to me right up there with “don’t test to see if a lake is frozen by walking on it” or “don’t hold a gun to your head and pull the trigger to verify it’s not loaded”.
I guess it’s extra protection offered for the benefit of people you’d find on a long list entitled Darwin’s Survival of the Fittest – Top Evolutionary Longshots.
Step three… after heeding step two and not blowing yourself up, get a squirt bottle filled with a liberal amount of dish soap and water. Squirt the soapy water on every fitting, hose and connection and watch closely.Any leak in the propane line will begin to bubble up, immediately revealing it’s location.
Surprisingly, there were two separate leaks.One was a hose…leaking at the factory seam where the metal fitting joins the rubber hose.The other was a threaded brass fitting that was leaking at the connection.
The hose was toast.No spares aboard.But the fitting could be readily repaired.
Unfortunately, I lacked both a supply of propane fitting tape as well as the self-confidence needed to assess, undertake, and safely resolve propane repair issues, a potentially lethal outcome of which I was fully aware.
Fortunately, S/V Avigna was anchored only two boats away.Of course,Jay had both the proper materials and self-confidence to show me what needed to be done.
In the end, after the fitting had been repaired, everything tested, and the belowdecks rooms fully aired out, our propane system was back in action.Without a spare, the leaking hose could only be disconnected, leaving one hookup that could be switched between the two tanks as necessary… sweet.
Jay also expressed confidence that: Exit was probably not in any real danger of becoming a bomb…
Sure… any instance during which movement of a hose or fitting causes propane to hiss out needs instant attention.
However, Exit’s aluminum bulkhead behind the propane tanks provides substantial protection, and the bow locker in which the tanks are stored is integrated as part of the aluminum hull, isolated, and well vented.
In Jay’s humble opinion, the worst that could happen is you blow the aluminum locker hatches clean off the deck.
…Reassuring… I think.
At that very moment, it was not lost upon me that I am occasionally reminded of the misunderstanding which occurred when I was in the fourth grade resulting in my parents being summoned to the principal’s office amid reports of their son being involved in the attempted building of a bomb on school grounds… exaggerations and misrepresentations… Fake News, if you will… certainly outside the scope of this blog…
With a couple of great dives, and four now nearly empty tanks, we had succeeded in temporarily satiating our ever-increasing need for a scuba fix.
We had met back up with Jay and Tami, aboard their catamaran S/V Avighna, just outside Little Harbor.Giving each other lots of space at anchor, but moving from anchorage to anchorage at a similar pace, we had gotten to spend quite a bit more time together.
Though fishing from the Mothership or dinghy had, so far, remained relegated to the list of things still yet to try, I was determined to change that.
When we purchased Exit, among the extensive inventory of equipment already aboard, were two fishing poles, quite an inventory of fishing gear, and even two spearguns.
I had never been spearfishing.Frankly, as a scuba diver I had always considered it rather a rather unsporting way to catch fish, and never really been sold on it’s appeal.
However, Tami loves to spearfish.And when she offered to take me along, I couldn’t resist.
And, I must admit, after joining her for an afternoon, though not a complete convert, I do have a more enlightened and enthusiastic perspective.
One of the factors which had made me very leery of fishing from the transom of Exit with a pole or hand line, was the inability to control what potentially bit on the hook.I would be absolutely mortified to realize I had inadvertently hooked a shark, swordfish, or ray… not to mention a turtle… or dolphin (which I have been told are far too smart for that).
Even the possibly over-optimistic prospect of catching a fish I would be happy to eat but was fifty pounds more than I could consume before it spoiled lingered in the back of my mind.
As a conservationist, I have no problem with the idea of consuming certain fish I have caught myself.It reality, it is probably a more sustainable method than a limited consumption of fish caught exclusively by commercial fisheries.
Yet, the idea of simply fishing for sport, catching fish species already struggling on the brink of extinction, or catching a fish large enough that the majority of it would go to waste, were all possibilities I had no interest in pursuing.
Spearfishing turned out to be much more challenging than I had ever imagined.Without the benefit of scuba gear (illegal in many places including the Bahamas), the challenge of breath-hold freediving in tandem with beinglimited to the use of what is called a Hawaiian Sling (similar to a large slingshot, but lacking the lock and trigger mechanism of a standard speargun which is also illegal in the Bahamas), increased the odds for the fish exponentially.
Fish are obviously far smarter than they appear.As I quickly learned, they have a uncanny ability to sit in seeming obliviousness while you snorkel nearby.But as you approach, with the intent of making them your dinner, they suddenly seem to become much more aware of your presence and movements.Staying just outside the range of the Hawaiian Sling’s spear, which is no more than a couple of meters, they seem to mock air breathers repeated feeble attempts to hunt in their environment.
Tami’s prime target were lionfish.Beautifully adorned with streaming fins, each containing a venomous needle at the end, we had seen thousands of these scuba diving in SE Asia, and had never seen them on a restaurant’s menu.We didn’t know they were edible, and would have been appalled to see them being served.
However, in the Bahamas, lionfish are an invasive species which, at some point in history, human meddling introduced to the area.With no natural predators to control their numbers, the ravenous and aggressive lionfish quickly began to overpopulate and threaten the health of other local species.
Eventually, the Bahamian government recognized the problem and put lionfish on a hit list, to be culled whenever found, if at all possible.
The fact that lionfish are not only edible, but tasty, makes for a unique opportunity.Good, and free, mealsthat directly and immediately aid in Bahamian conservation efforts… gotta like that.
As it turned out, we didn’t see a single lionfish during the entire day Tami took me out spearfishing.On one hand, not seeing the lionfish was a bit disappointing.On the other, I guess it was a positive sign that their numbers were finally being brought into check in some places.
By the end of the day, I had two snappers of very modest size to show for all my efforts.Just enough for some fresh-as-you-can-ask-for ceviche to go along with sundowners, as well as one filet to fry the following evening.
Utilizing nature’s resources… rewarding and free!
At some point, I still intend to get out the fishing poles and try my luck.However,obtaining a Hawaiian Sling may prove to be a much more workable strategy.
The ability to actually pick and choose what you are fishing for has obvious merits.
The foresight of knowing exactly the type and size of a fish before committing to killing it would appear to be a much more responsible and sustainable approach to fishing.
Tami was a legend to let me accompany her on her spearfishing expedition.I have a newfound respect for the skills required and an appreciation for the advantages of the method.
My own technique as a spearfisherman, as Tami can testify, is suspect at best.With a substantial amount of practice, I may someday have the ability to rely on the sea to provide dinner… but for now it’s far more likely to come from the grocery store.