Friday, December 18, 2015

Wily Dos Libras

We were in no rush to leave Goodmans Bay this morning.  We piddled around performing our normal morning routine, gathering trash, brushing teeth, cleaning up a bit, making breakfast.  Low tide was early this morning so we wanted to wait for it to rise a bit before departure.  I did some plotting and found a place to top up our fuel tanks in Nassau.  

We weren’t worried about running out of diesel.  We had only used about half of what we carried since leaving Miami.  Pretty good.  But we did feel the pull of topping off the gasoline we use to run our small Yamaha generator.  Once we leave the Nassau area, it may be hit-and-miss finding gas.  I remember last season, we were in Black point and the whole island, as well as nearby Staniel Cay were completely out of gasoline.  The supply boat had broken down just out of Nassau headed this way, and the whole area was shut down waiting for the supply boat to be back up and running again.  Keeping this in the back of my mind, we needed to fuel up when we could.  

We took off at about 10 am when we could read the water well.  We would leave the Bay by way of a narrow gap between Long Cay on starboard and a reef to our port side.  I realized I was holding my breath a little when I found the waters to be a bit deeper than charted, even with us being at only about a foot above MLW the depths were ample.  Bruce was on the bow watching for the stray coral heads but once we were through the gap, we realized that there had been no need.  I could see them from the helm as well as need be.  

We turned up toward the entrance to Nassau Harbor and waived to a passing patrol boat.  They waived us down and came up alongside.  There were five uniformed persons aboard, one holding a scary looking gun pointed down but at-the-ready should we decide to flee.  

They asked permission to come aboard and inspect our papers and boat.  We welcomed them warmly.  In my mind I was trying to remember all that I had previously read about what to do when boarded.  I guess it’s different depending upon which country you’re in. So the Bossman started speaking to Bruce while another younger guy completed a form.  I went below to gather our documents and brought them up to the girl.  

She seemed surprised to see that it was my name on the paperwork, but recovered quickly and went about asking me questions… that were already answered on our papers…  

The man was asking Bruce questions and Bruce was busily filling him in with all sorts of inaccurate information.  He is really bad at remembering details.  I filtered all of this and decided that none of it needed correction, so I held my tongue.  Bruce was just making chit-chat and the Bossman seemed to be warming to it.  

Paperwork done, Bossman asked to come inspect down below.  He followed Bruce right past Jezabelle, who was lounging without concern in the cockpit.  No, they did not ask to see our pet permit.  What a disappointment….

All done.  Bruce and Bossman appeared back up and the three officers left the boat after obtaining signatures stating that they had indeed been pleasant and polite, and that they had indeed NOT damaged our boat in any way.  We requested to take a few pictures, granted, and they fell away from our boat with smiles and waives.

That was cool…  We got back on course heading for the entrance to Nassau harbor.  We were only about 1 1/3 miles out and it was time to contact Nassau Harbor Control on VHF.  

I hailed them on channel 16 and was instructed to switch to 9.  I told them our name, nationality and documentation number and that we intended to enter the channel from the west and stop at Hurricane Hole Marina’s fuel dock before exiting the harbor to the east.  Permission granted.

We could see not one, but two cruise ships coming our way from the northwest.  I held us to the nearside of the channel but just outside in shallow water and slowed to allow the first ship to enter before us.  They can beat us in any race so we didn’t have to tarry too long.  Once he passed, we dashed over to the green side of the channel and hugged the shallow water on that side.

We motored hard with a favorable current as we brought up the rear… watching in awe at the behemoth moving in such close proximity.  In my mind I wondered what exactly the Harbor Control was supposed to do if not direct exactly this type of traffic…

The huge ship began to do a slow pivot in the turning basin.  We slowed, thinking to give it a wide berth and plenty of turning room.  A pilot boat sped up and urged us on, saying that we needed to skirt past quickly as the ship was going to park on our side instead of the opposite side as I had assumed from looking at the charts…

So we powered up and crossed our fingers that we wouldn’t be blown onto the banks in the prop wash we could see billowing out to starboard on the ship’s stern.  We could see passengers lining the rails watching as the little sailboat fled disaster, hoping to get something viral-video-worthy… but it was not to be.  

We skedaddled on our way and turned our concern to the dual bridges spanning the harbor.  I had done my homework and found a minor discrepancy in regards to the bridge heights.  The published clearance was 21 meters, almost 70 ft.  Plenty of room for our 62.5 to make safe passage.  But there was one note that a 57 ft sailboat had his mast brought down by one of the bridges… hmmm…

I radioed the Harbor Control and inquired… she had no idea how high the bridges were.  Hmmm….

A fellow boater heard my inquiry and hailed us with local knowledge.  He clarified which part to pass through and confirmed that a boater had dismasted recently, but they had used one of the northern sections of the bridges… clearly an error… and hit the span.  I felt better after speaking to another cruiser but we were still (as always) watching in amazement as we passed beneath the bridge.  It just doesn’t look like we’ll clear…. but we do.

Next, I radio the Hurricane Harbor Fuel dock.  I tell them we’re approaching the second span headed west and would like to fuel up.  They tell me quickly that they are BETWEEN the two bridges. I look to my port side and see the wide open fuel dock there.  I abort my approach to the second span and turn sharply to port, realizing I’m being encouraged to continue on by the strong tide… I had to do some fancy maneuvering and decided to dock starboard side instead of port… causing Bruce to scramble as his preparations were already under way for a port side tie…

With wind behind us and current going the other way, I brought us gently alongside the fuel dock as Bruce tossed lines to the awaiting dockhands.  Ahhh.  Disaster postponed if not averted.  Who puts the fuel dock between two bridges where there will be strong currents and brisk boat traffic???

We fueled up both diesel and gasoline while a myriad of commercial boats came and went, causing our boat to bounce and roll against the dock.  My mind reviewed all conditions and searched for the perfect exit strategy.  We paid for our fuel, 37 gallons of diesel and 7 gallons of gasoline.  That’s all we’ve used since fueling up in Miami on December 3rd…

OK, time to put on my Big Sailor Panties and get this baby off the dock.  Docklines tossed, I backed hard against the wind and felt the boat responding favorably.  I watched as the easternmost span loomed… I threw it into forward gear hard but the oncoming tide overpowered the bow making it impossible to bring it around going forward.  I reversed again, taking us stern to the west, causing the bow to fall to the east even against the current… but that’s all I needed.  I shifted to forward gear again and powered it for all it’s worth to gain purchase on the wind and water.  

I felt relief as the boat responded to my direction enough so that I could now decrease throttle and guide us through the appropriate section of bridge… just when a couple of small speed boats and one commercial tour boat were heading for it.  I dashed to the starboard side and turned down to the bridge as the oncoming traffic passed us port to port.  Nobody seemed the least bit concerned.  We passed beneath the bridge and I felt my legs begin to shake.  I did it, but I didn’t like it.  

I relaxed and turned the helm over to Bruce to make our exit from Nassau Harbor… the rest of which was uneventful except for the building waves on the nose.  We still made good time as we slid past the beautiful homes with private docks for their toys.  We gazed back at Nassau and remembered our time here some years ago for a Liberty Clipper charter.  We smiled as we remembered good times with friends, never knowing if we would REALLY ever make it back here on our own boat.  Check that one off the bucket list…

We struggled against the oncoming waves and made it down around Porgey rocks then made our turn to port.  Just under 2.5 miles to go until we rest.  The waves rolled us side to side for a while, then we made our final downwind course adjustment and headed for the barn.  

Time to check the anchor...
Our destination:  Rose Island.  The island is a long and skinny strip of land running east to west.  This creates an effective (we hope) barrier from the predicted strong north winds due in sometime near morning.  There is a small pocket inside a reef that creates a sort of horseshoe shaped protected area from east and south winds as well.  It’s not total protection, more of a buffer for the strong southerly winds and waves we had today ahead of the front… but it seemed like our most likely choice.  

We rocked and rolled our way inside and sounded out the anchorage.  I chose my spot a little further from the lee shore than I would like for the north winds, but with the current winds strong out of the south, it was as close as we dared.  We would move in the morning after the wind shifted.  

We set the anchor and Bruce swam out to see if it was buried.  It was.  The conditions were a little rolly but it was mostly head on so not too much of a concern, and nothing compared to how bad it was outside the protection of the small scrap of reef…  We were happy with our choice.  We were also glad to be able to stop moving for a few days.


I plotted our anchorage choices between here and georgetown and found that we were about eight stops away.  Add in lay days for fun and weather restricted days, that puts us there sometime in early January.  I consulted with friends who had expressed interest in visiting and found that they weren’t available until February or March, so… That opened up our calendar almost indefinitely.  We could slow down.  We could enjoy.  We made it!  

With the sun dropping and winds moderating, we enjoyed our sundowners and reviewed the events of the day.  As I’ve said many times, no two days are ever the same out here and you really just never know what each one will hold.  Today I felt that I had honed my skills.  We dealt with the unexpected in rapid-fire fashion… thinking  and reacting on the fly.  For some reason it made me think of Wily Coyote.  Remember those Saturday-Morning-Cartoons?  Bugs Bunny and the Coyote eternally at odds… Wily coming up with crazy schemes to do the the Bunny in… and it never goes like he planned it?  This evening, I felt “more wily”  than before.  

It is a good feeling to be empowered by personal success over adversity.  I used to get that feeling when I would win a battle with an insurance company, or come up with a plan to save the Practice money or get us out of a jam… but those things seem less real to me now.  I was fighting a figment.  An unreal foe.  Out here, we’re fighting the elements.  It is very humbling, but also has a “grounding” effect.  When you win, you get no money.  You get to live and return to fight another day.  Just like Wily Coyote!

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