Saturday, February 21, 2015

This Ain't Yo Mamma's Bahamas

No, this is for real.  Gone are the nice orderly waters of the ICW, the well marked channels, the protected waters of home.  This is the big league!  What in the world are we doing here all by ourselves???

My Spidey
Suddenly our Dream-Come-True magic has dissipated and we find ourselves out here trying to figure it all out on the fly.  We got lucky for a few days, figured yeah… we got this…  But then we set out across the Northwest Channel bound for New Providence.

The sail, and it was all sail… down to the last mile, was a rollicking flight across waters thousands of feet deep.  I hardly had time to think about that with all the sail trim and navigating going on.  The winds built to the 17-20 range and the seas were a choppy 3 to 5 feet, but the boat was doing fine.  The winds were too far forward but the current was helping make up for that.  And I’m really beginning to appreciate all this weight we carry around.  We started out with a reef in the main, shook it out to get speed, then when we were flying along steadily in the low 7 knot range, we put the reef back. 

The Blue Water
Now remember, we’ve had this boat for over two years, but our chances to actually sail her and practice things like reefing, un-reefing and sailing wing-on-wing have been few and they’re rusty to say the least.  But we’re having a fine time getting our systems worked out and each getting our part down.  Sailing out here with just the two of us on the BiG Water is kind of speeding up our process for getting our act into gear.  The learning curve is steep and ferocious… as we are soon to find out.

So we’re heading for West Bay, New Providence so that we can have friends fly in for a visit.  The worst thing Cruisers can have is a schedule… I know, I know.  But we thought we could dodge that rule since our friends can fly at the drop of a hat.  We would get settled in at West Bay and they would hop on a plane.  Unfortunately for all of us, we failed to factor in the weather.  

But the weather didn’t forget.  It was just waiting for us to zero in on a plan to zap us.  And it did.  The forecast for the days our friends could come were for rain, wind and temperatures in the 60s and low 70s.  The wind directions forecast would leave us with little chance of recreational sailing and our spot in West Bay has little in the way of entertainment for guests… oh, and no water to fill our tanks… and we’re running low... so no showers.

So with heavy hearts we said goodbye to that plan and settled in here.  After picking our anchor spot near the south end of the Bay in anticipation of high southerly winds… we thought we had it all figured out.  We had made it into the anchorage unscathed, dropped our hook in ten feet of water and enjoyed the sunset, mindless of the slight swell rocking us from side to side now and then.

But after dark, that swell became intolerable for sleeping and all four of us… kitties included, spent a frustrating and near sleepless night tossing back and forth.  I’ve never been so happy to see the dawn in my life!

Sunrise from our new spot
Before the sun came up we were out of bed and moving the boat to (what we thought would be) a better spot.  We motored around the Bay checking depths and marking possible spots.  We anchored and then pulled it again not satisfied. 

We expected winds from all points during our stay and had no problem moving the boat every day if that’s what it would take to avoid another night like last night.  

This time we rigged or roll preventer
We finally chose our spot and set the hook.  One plus for this Bay is that the holding is fast and good.  We’ve had no trouble getting our anchor to set solidly on the first try… every time.  Just to be sure, we took the lookey bucket and visually verified that the anchor was set, then we went back to bed.

By early afternoon we became restless, so we took our trash bag and headed for Jaws Beach and the shore.  Clifton Heritage National Park encompasses Jaws Beach.  It is one of the less crowded beaches on the island which suited us just fine.  

We took a walk around the crescent beach with the rocky shelf exposed by low tide.  We hiked along the rocks hopping over the tide pools seeing very little life.  

All we found were a few little fishes trapped in the rocky pools
When we reached the point we turned back and met a young man and his lady following our footsteps only they had a better eye for tide pool exploration than we do...  Just look at all he has found!  

The little white puffy sand dollars we are used to seeing everywhere are black while they're alive.  He had several in his hand.  I guess you have to know where to look!

Suddenly our eyes found all kinds of living things in the waters we had just walked past... Starfish!  Live ones!  

I can't believe we had just walked through here and had seen none of these things!  Now our eyes are programed to find them, they're everywhere!  

This little guy was totally surrounded by dry land but he was on the move.  I watched, fascinated as he slowly crept along.

Urchins were tucked into holes

We returned to the boat feeling very happy for ourselves for having averted another sleepless night by using our snubber to angle the bow into the waves.  Even though the winds were coming from the SSW our bow pointed west and the boat rode the waves nicely allowing for a good night's sleep. 

The next day we had no plans.  There is a plentiful array of open wi-fi signal here so I got caught up on some blogging.  The forecast called for rain all day and that's exactly what we got.

As soon as it began to cloud up and rumble, I put on a swimsuit and dashed up the companionway to start getting the bimini panels rolled up to collect the rain.  
I rolled them outward to create rain gutters

The first drops had already begun to fall, washing off the top layer of salt and dirt.  The whole boat was going to get a much needed freshwater rinse after that sail across the Channel... 

I was going to catch some free-water-from-the-sky to use for a thorough house cleaning session. 

I let the rain gutters do their work but they were too slow.  There was a deluge of water spurting out of the scupper drains on the deck.  Bruce and I got buckets and held them beneath the spout to catch the water at super speed! 
We had four 5 gal. jugs and our two buckets full within minutes and I was sad that we had no more containers to fill.  The fun was over and it was back inside to while away the rest of the afternoon with a good book.

The weather forecast for the next day was for the wind to clock around to the west and then north.  They were to be BIG winds sometime in the night and we wanted to be prepared, so once again, we moved the boat up into the NW corner of the anchorage as far as we could get and still have enough depth when the tide fell.

The wind picked up in the evening and it was already kind of uncomfortable for sleep.  But sleep really ended at around midnight when I was awakened from a doze by a sound.  I thought it was a crunching sound but didn't want to believe it.  Maybe it's a boat pulling alongside ours so that someone could rob us or steal our dinghy... yeah, that's it.  I woke Bruce and we listened for a few minutes.  We were almost ready to call it a dream, when we heard it again.  We were scraping a rock with our keel!!!  

All sorts of horrible scenarios sparked through my mind.  What do we do!?  Bruce went topside to check the depths on the instruments while I got on the internet to frantically search for the tide times.  I found that the low tide in Nassau, on the other side of the island, was at 1:20.  It was 12:09 am.  Not yet low tide and we're touching rocks!  We've got to move the boat.

My mind searched for possible other options and found none.  I threw on some clothes and we went into high gear.  The problem was this.  Our rudder has the exact same depth as our keel.  We could bring in chain and hopefully get us off the rock, but we would have to bring in enough to get the rudder past the rock.  I was petrified but had no choice but participate in this horrible tableau.  I couldn't believe it was our first week in the Bahamas and we're already destroying our home! 

I put the boat gently into forward gear while Bruce brought in chain.  Suddenly I could feel the rock on the wheel.  It was touching the rudder forcing it to swing to one side.  I switched to reverse gear gently and no good.  I could still feel the rock on the rudder.  SHIT!  We're stuck.  

I yelled for Bruce to bring in chain when the next wave came and lifted us while I put it back into forward gear and suddenly we were moving and the rudder was free.  The depths began to increase and we hightailed it out of there to deeper water.  

I had some tracks from the prior trip around the Bay and knew where the good depths were.  We dropped the hook and thankfully it set immediately. It is no easy task to bring up your anchor, grope around in the dark and set it again... in the dark, with the boat heaving up and down with enormous swells while the wind tries to behead you.  I'm so glad that this Bay has such good holding.

The northerly winds hit us at about the time all of this was going on and they were howling. The rest of the night we lie awake listening to boat sounds. Out guts and jaws clenched.  Our minds darted and snapped with every thought of the horror that could be our fate.  Every 15 seconds there would be a new sound that we hadn't heard before.  We would try to figure out what it was.  Sometimes we had to get up and go in search of the culprit.  The worst of the sounds was our poor dinghy thrashing wildly up and down, side to side as it was tied behind the boat.

I checked on it many times fearful that it would be gone.  How can it withstand this torment?  How long can our boat continue to hold together with the pounding it was taking?  The worst sound was one that my mind could only surmise was our rudder digging sand as our stern would plunge deep down with each enormous wave.

At times I would giggle hysterically.  Then I would feel tears threaten but what was the use in crying.  There was no Mamma to come and make the bad winds go away.  I was losing it.  How long could this wind BLOW!? I have to say that I am thankful for Bruce.  During all of this while I was consoling the kitties under the covers, trying not to break any bones... he was up in the cockpit watching the depths, checking our swing,  and chasing banging noises.  He is so brave and daring and selfless in these situations that I don't know what I would have done without him.  I won't say that I was truly afraid... but more worried and just plain TIRED of it!  I wanted to be able to stamp my little foot and will it gone and done.

Camera does not do the waves justice.  Or maybe we were just tired...
But as we discovered with the dawn... it wasn't finished yet.  The relief that the previous dawn brought was not felt with this one.  All. Day. Long. The winds howled to gale force.  The waves continued to toss us until we decided once again to move.  There would be another super low tide coming and we weren't comfortable with our spot.  We were concerned that one big wave would dash us into the sand so... we pulled the anchor again.  This time in daylight, so there's that... We motored out more into the middle of the Bay where the water was deeper, and somewhat more to the north side in hopes of avoiding at least a small portion of the winds. Winds that were forecast to continue all that day and into the night before they would moderate.

There was a slight lessening of the waves and wind in our new spot and we were willing to take what we could get.  I spent the rest of the day trying to read in the cockpit as going below was miserable.  I don't want to abuse the word "miserable", but by this time, in my mind... that's what it was.  Nothing to do but persevere and wait until the wind gods finally set us free from their grip.  We had leftover beans and cornbread and went to bed at sundown.

The winds finally did moderate sometime in the night.  We were able to get some sleep, out of sheer exhaustion I suspect.  Things looked better in the morning as we got-the-hell-outta-dodge!  Our choice was to move today to find shelter from the secondary cold front coming tomorrow... or plan to waste another day of our lives in limbo.  We've moving!

We secured the dinghy on the davits to give it some peace.  We waited until high tide and motored out of the pass then joined the big blue waves rolling southward around the tip of the island.  Our hope was that New Providence would provide enough of a wind block that would keep the big waves from building.  This time our hope was answered.

Industrial area to the south that blew a fine layer of soot onto the boat
Once we rounded the southwest point, the seas flattened out considerably, the winds came down to a manageable 17-23 knots and life looked good.  My nerves were frazzled but we were through the worst of it.

Bruce on the bow spotting coral heads
We found our fears of shallows and invisible coral heads (the skies were cloudy) were for naught and we navigated easily to the entrance of our chosen marina.  We would spend a couple of days in Palm Cay where we would be safe from the last norther' for a while and reprovision for our push into the Exumas.

Tricky entrance channel to Palm Cay Marina
It's amazing how soon the mind forgets the bad stuff and dreams of white sand beaches return.  We marvel that we made it through what was really not that big a deal in the grand scheme of things.  But a less experienced person could get into big trouble easily out here.  We still don't know how novice sailors do it, those people who just one day decide to buy a boat, get on it and sail away... Those of you who are thinking of doing the same... know this.  It's not all wonderful out here.  Sometimes it's scary and sometimes it just sucks.  The life is hard but the rewards are exceptional, but this AIN'T your Mamma's Bahamas.
Safe at last in calm waters


  1. Tammy I love reading your blog. My husband and I leave late June to start our trip on the ICW. Not as brave as you folks are (at least not yet). We hope to complete the Loop (no set schedule). I was glad to hear that you made it through this part of your journey unscathed. It's good to see folks tell about the harrowing parts and not just the cocktails at sunset. It's amazing how many "non boaters" think oh your life must be amazing living on a boat. But like you and I both know included with the sunsets and sandy beaches are also the harrowing days of "what the heck are we doing days". Thanks for keeping it real.

    Jana Kent M/V Lady J (

    1. Thanks for your comment Jana, it's such a kick hearing form new readers out there. You'll love Cruising and the ICW is really so easy. All the comforts of home on your back but you get to see new places and things every day. It's awesome! It's completely different out here as we are learning. In retrospect, I'm sure it wasn't REALLY that bad... we were just so tired after days of wind. But it COULD have gone terribly wrong had we not done something fast.
      I read so much before we tossed the lines and you're right, lots of it was the good stuff. I'm not afraid to admit when we are wrong or tell it like it is if it could help someone avoid our mistakes in the future. I write for myself, but for you out there as well. Anyway, thanks again for your comments and I'm so glad to have you along. I'll try to put your blog on our list.

  2. I truly enjoyed your photos and your post. My husband and I are lake sailors. The only times we have been in big waters was on charters. Although, once in gale winds on Puget Sound our charter captain gave the control over to my Steve. He was in heaven and ready to sell our home and buy a big boat, with dreams of sailing into the sunset. I am always so delighted when I see people living the dream:) Our biggest boat was a Catalina 25 and now we have a smaller 22 foot wooden day sailor. It must be so exciting . . . living the adventure and exploring the islands. Here's wishing you both smooth sailing and safe waters.
    Connie :)

    1. Thank you Connie for your kind words. My husband was a lake sailor before he moved down to Corpus Christi with me. We've been out in the Gulf of Mexico, which can be nasty for sure... but this is different.

      It's very exciting and the new arrival days are the best. But there are so many things that we must learn as we go that it can be exhausting. It's so nice when things go right... we DESERVE those fruity-drink-on-white-sand days. I'm glad you're enjoying our journey.

  3. White Pepper has never used West Bay and after reading your post, which was very well done, probably we won't go there. White Pepper grounded her rudder in Little Farmer's as you did and make a hole in the bottom of the rudder. Check this out during the next haul out and if there is a defect have it repaired. Long term damage can ensue if left unaddressed for years.

    1. Karl the anchorage in West Bay is a delight in light winds and nothing from the West. It's worth a stop in settled weather to avoid the dangers of Nassau we've been warned about. I would have liked to do the hiking trails in the park as I've read that there is a cave to explore there. Maybe on our way back to the US we will stop there again.

      Bruce was quick to dive in and check out the rudder and keel thoroughly once we were in settled waters again. It all looks good, but we will be sure to check again when we haul out next. We were lucky and acted quickly to get out of there.

  4. The bay's are so different depending on the weather. We never pick an anchorage without knowing the weather forecast in advance. We spent one night in West Bay before heading over the banks to Norman's Cay. Fortunately our stay was uneventful. Hope your weather gets better soon so you can enjoy the Exumas.
    Ed and Cheryl

    1. For sure we knew the forecast and it was pretty accurate. What we didn't know was that the Bay would not protect us from wrapping swell. We've since then been in other anchorages that could have been the same but weren't. Perhaps the small size of West Bay or proximity to deep water made it as rolly as it was. In the end, there are no promises. It all would have been so much less uncomfortable had it not been for the duration of the high winds. We will be more careful in the future but with that forecast, it didn't look like anyplace within sailing distance would have been a better choice.