Monday, April 27, 2015

Safe In Hatchet Bay

We had a great time in Rock Sound, met some people, had some fun.  Life was easy there.  But time and weather march on and when the rain and wind finally let up a bit we were undecided.  We considered the options.  The problem was the west wind.  There aren’t many places on the west side of Eleuthera that offer any protection from the raucous swell that rolls in when there is any kind of westerly component.  

By mid morning we were still anchored in Rock Sound and it looked like we would be there for another few days.  I had all but given up on being able to get the boat to Marsh Harbour by the 8th of May when our friends from home would be arriving.  It is what it is…  Suddenly I got a wild hair.  I called French Leave Marina in Governors Harbour.  They are a relatively new place and I heard they had mooring balls.  Why would we want to pay for a mooring ball when we can anchor for free?

Governors Harbour (N25°11.850, W076°14.911) is notorious for it’s poor holding.  The bottom is reportedly scoured and is mostly rock.  I’ve heard this from friends who have been there.  There is some sand near the shore but with a west wind, anchoring close to shore would be impossible with our draft. If the weather forecast called for east winds, or better yet, NO wind… we could go there no sweat.  Or… if we could grab a nice mooring ball and not have to worry about our anchor dragging at all!  

Jezabelle now rides in the cockpit
So at about noon, I called French Leave Marina and secured a mooring for the night and maybe two.  Bruce was a little surprised when I told him I wanted to leave NOW.  But he fell right in with it and we got the boat ready in record time.  We said goodbye to the other boats hunkered down in the wind and intermittent rain and we motored out of the sound.  

The winds were blowing 12-15 knots allowing us to sail along at over six knots for most of the way.  The ride was comfortable, Jezabelle stayed in the cockpit the whole way and we were congratulating ourselves on our decision.  Our hope was that when the winds died off in the late afternoon, it wouldn’t be too bad.  

We arrived at our destination at almost 5 pm.  We searched the shoreline for familiar landmarks and tried to match our memories of our last visit here in 2011 aboard the Liberty Clipper with what we were seeing.  The place looked a little bit run down but we were able recognize the places we had been.  

We picked out one of about six moorings and I began the approach with Bruce on the bow.  I don’t know what we were thinking.  The waves were lifting the bow up and plunging it down violently.  Even if we could get the ball with the hook, there wasn’t a pennant on it and there would be no way Bruce could get a line on the small ring on top of the ball.  

We made three passes, the third of which ended with Bruce being dragged along the lifeline leaving a bleeding gash across his chest.  The sun was setting and our options were narrowing.  We decided to try and lasso the ball with a line and then splash the dinghy so we could go out and string our mooring lines.  It didn’t take long for that plan to succeed and we stood on the leaping bow wondering why we hadn’t thought of that in the first place…  We were finally moored and settling in for a sundowner about an hour and a half after we arrived.  

The winds did moderate and the waves began to calm down apologetically and we ended up having quite a peaceful night’s sleep…  Until about 3:30 in the morning.  The wind piped up again and the waves reawakened in a frenzy and that had everyone in our household cringing with every yawning roll.  By daylight, we decided enough was enough… we’re getting OUT of here!  

As soon as we could see, we prepared the boat to leave.  We didn’t even have COFFEE!  That’s how miserable it was.  There was a catamaran on the next ball over preparing to leave as well.  I looked over and my jaw dropped in horror as I realized that beneath the leaping catamaran was the head and shoulders of a man carrying a boathook.  He must have fallen in and a woman was frantically trying to throw him a life jacket.  There was nothing we could do since the dinghy was already on the davits and the motor wasn’t on it.  We just stared as the huge cat backed away from the man and swung on the ball.  He was somehow able to swim to the stern in the huge waves and board the boat.  They then dropped their mooring lines and powered out… with us just moments behind them.  

We were barely making way against the wind and big waves until we got far enough out to fall off and set our course.  We rolled out reefed sails and settled in for a bumpy ride.  It wasn’t as nice as yesterday, but it was better out here than it was in that anchorage for sure.  We picked our way through hundreds of crab traps, their small white balls blending in with the whitecaps, making relaxation impossible.  

Pretty big waves
Normally I prepare for each passage and familiarize myself with the approach.  Our crash take off left me scrambling to review all of our resources.  I even contacted our friends on Kelley Nicole, whom we knew had been in Hatchet Bay for the past week.  After a quick rundown on the keyhole entrance, I figured we could do it.  At least, that’s what I tried desperately to convince myself.  

I know it's here somewhere...
The winds began to moderate as we neared the entrance.  Unfortunately they also turned more to the north which took us far inshore and off our course.  It was that or roll in the sails and take our chances with the waves… we decided the steadying influence of the sails was preferable to holding to the rhumb line this early in the day, and if we could piddle around out here and give the winds time to settle even more, it would be a good thing.  

Finally we began to close in on the island and had to drop sails.  We motored about the last five miles or so, again dodging crab pots.  We motored along a rocky cliff which I thought must be close to our destination.  I couldn’t see anything that looked like a cut.  Suddenly, there it was.  

The entrance to Hatchet Bay is literally cut through the rocky cliff and leading to a calm inner harbor.  I was nervous about the warnings I had read of following seas causing the boat to wallow and possibly… to drift to the bank.  But as we lined it up, I realized that we had more of a crosswind, to which I adapted easily.  Bruce was on the bow again to direct me to the deeper water and I powered it up and blasted our way in.  

There were a few moments during which the boat felt like she was dancing light on her feet… and then we settled down to a calm and serene pace.  The narrow banks fell away leaving a wide open lake.  It was such a contradiction to the wildness outside I could hardly believe it.  We could ride out a hurricane in here and never feel it.  The basin is surrounded by modest tree covered hills.  The sound of roosters crowing added to the lazy feel of the place.  And as an added bonus, we found an empty mooring ball.  Af FREE mooring ball.  
Totally calm inside
In no time we were moored once again.  The two moorings could not be more different.  We marveled once again how we never know how our day will end.  The weather forecast for the next week calls for several days of very high winds and rain with some squalls.  We realized that we would be staying here for some time.  No use in grousing about it, we’re lucky to have found such a safe and FREE harbor.  

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