Thursday, February 18, 2016

We Must Fly Through It

Mathewtown Great Inagua as we sailed away
We left.  Notes-From-The-Boat

I spent the morning uploading blog pics and posts.  The posts were pre-written except for the latest one, which ends now…

Was I stalling?  No – not really.  We’ve studied the options and the weather.  We’ve got a Plan A/Plan B/Plan C.  Food is pre-prepared so that we won’t starve on this trip. 

I was just trying to wrap up loose ends and use up some of my pre-paid Bahamian cellular data.  I made contact with friends from home and we set a date for their visit to the Dominican Republic one month away.  Surely we can get there within a month…

The Lighthouse on Great Inagua
I sent out float plans to all of the people on my list.  I updated the travel notice on our credit card… I made phone calls to my daughters and my Mother… All that was left to do was to load the dinghy onto the foredeck and pull up the anchor.

The winds and seas had steadily decreased.  We missed our planned departure time by a couple of hours but what does it matter?  It was after noon when we began moving away from Great Inagua…our last Bahamian Port of Call. 

My mind is unsettled.  I’m ready.  I’m not afraid.  I’m just nervous.  To be sure, getting away from this rolling anchorage with insufficient facilities for landing a dinghy has made it better to go than to stay.  I am disappointed that we were unable to explore the island a bit more.  But the weather window opened and we must fly through it.

Bruce trimmed the sails and we were off!  The reef we had in the main got shaken out instantly.  We were flirting with six knots of speed with the engine OFF!  The swells – some were huge – were gentle and spaced far apart making our ride easy.

Coming from the east, they lifted us from our port side forward of the beam… just a great, gentle rise and fall.  It was nothing like what we’ve endured for these past days at anchor.  Sailing felt good.

But I was still nervous and jittery… I felt “compelled”.  I would love to just let the sails take us there, but we need to be somewhere safe by Thursday evening.  Unkind winds will come and that knowledge makes me want to move faster.  Makes us NEED to move faster…

With the boat moving along nicely, I began (tried) to relax.  We had a bowl of pasta salad and a couple of cookies for lunch.  I settled behind the wheel to read my Kindle book.  It’s a book about pirates.  Seemed appropriate…  Bruce prepared our cedar plug to troll for fish.  Wouldn’t that be nice… to catch a fish?

I adjusted our course a couple of degrees.  We were slowing down.  Bruce trimmed sails and it seemed to help briefly, but soon we had to admit it.  If we were going to get into port before the Norther’, we were going to have to motor sail.  Again. 

We knew that going in.  The light winds that provided the kindly sea state wouldn’t carry this big girl very fast.  It’s OK. 

So… on went the “iron jenny” and we are now on course – fishing – and making a nice comfortable 5.7 knots. 

Getting later and the seas are getting better
Time: 17:25  I got drowsy while reading my Kindle and figured a nap would be good.  Bruce changing the engine RPMs down and up awakened me.  Maybe he’s thinking we can sail again… But no. 

I came back up and found the jib rolled in and the main straining to rip out of the deck with every rolling wave… and there were many!

We needed to drop the main.  I normally hate to go with bare poles because the sail at least provides a bit of stability, even if it isn’t pulling the boat.  But in these waves I had to agree that we were destined for equipment failure if we left the sail up…

See the bobble?  We didn't get far before the winds died
With wind on the nose maybe we can just drop it without reducing speed.  Bruce put on his PFD and went to the mast to begin dropping the sail.  It caught on the lazy jacks because of the side-to-side lurching.

I had to turn the boat 45° off course so that we could climb the waves directly instead of taking them from the side in order to keep the sail centered.  The swells were huge and the boat was lifted and plunged, creating an impressive spray of water from the bow. 

The sail dropped into the sail pack and Bruce climbed up to secure the halyard.  Coming back to the safety of the cockpit afterwards he said, “That was fun!”  I’m not sure if he was kidding or not, but you’ve gotta hand it to the guy… he has cojones when he needs them…

I turned the boat back to our course, approximately 198°.  That would take us down the middle of the Windward Passage between Cuba and Haiti by the more direct route to the Southern Peninsula.  But the boat was lurching wildly in the sloppy seas.  The forecast said 4.5 ft. seas but the one or two huge ones that come every few seconds are brutal. 

We found better conditions in the lee of Haitian shores
Thinking that the seas should flatten out closer to Haiti, I began turning the boat to port in 10° increments.  We settled at about 165° with the ride maybe minimally better, but with the hope of finding flat seas soon.  

You can barely make out the outline of Cuba left of the sunset
Bruce is down for his nap.  As I looked toward the sunset, I realized that I could see Cuba.  CUBA!!!  It’s just a dark smudge on the horizon and I thought, “How easy it could be to just turn the boat and go there…” 

Low dark smudge on the horizon beneath the clouds
Time: 18:13  Bruce came up in time to see Cuba.  I didn’t want to wake him but I didn’t have to.  Somehow seeing it energizes me.  This is happening… It’s real!

The seas have straightened out some… still big but not so sloppy.   Not so lurchy.  That’s a word, right?

Seeing Cuba eclipses the sunset! 

We discussed warming up dinner but I felt disinclined to eat a hot meal.  Pasta salad or cake would be just fine with me.  Maybe we will have a hot lunch tomorrow instead.  I feel like I’m getting a workout from constantly holding myself in place.  It’s going to feel very strange when – if – it ever stops. 

I’m very thankful that none of us have been seasick.  I guess a week of rolling in an anchorage is good training for sloppy seas.

Time: 18:29  The breeze is warm.  The stars are beginning to pop out and there’s a half moon high above us.  It came out early today so I guess it won’t stay long tonight.

We made 50 gallons of water and now we’re done.  I love that we can make water.

Time: 00:33 Wednesday?  I just finished a cup of instant coffee.  Not bad.  I had a pretty good nap and came up on deck just in time for a course change.  We were about 17 miles from the NW tip of the Northern Haitian peninsula. 

There is a north-running current there that we want to avoid.  Seas are settling further and the ride is comfortable with a 40° course change to starboard.

The DeLorme rang.  Bill sent us a satellite text asking how long we want them to stay when they come visit.  It’s nice being able to communicate with people while we’re out here in the middle of nowhere.

The moon continues her course across the sky.  I think we will have darkness before dawn, but it sure is beautiful now.  We are dancing on a moonbeam!

Earlier with the moon overhead- there was such a shadow cast by the boom and mainsail as it bounded from side to side, that I kept thinking someone was moving across the deck.

So Haiti is just a short distance to port.  I really can’t see any light revealing her presence.  Lights out in Haiti tonight. 

We are 17 hours from Anse de Hainault.  I guess we will consult with Chris Parker in the morning about continuing on or stopping there for a night. 

Looking at Pocket Grib, It seems that we could continue on.  The issue becomes whether or not we will have enough fuel.  Light winds for sailing with opposing seas may mean motoring, which means we might need more diesel.  Will discuss when Bruce gets up…  We only have - like… 50 hours to decide…  I would love it if my brain would let this go for now and not obsess… off to take moon pictures!  Are we there yet??? Depends upon where “there” is. 

Time: 1:44 Wednesday Day 2

The moonbeam is weak now.  The moon has a yellowish caste and no longer lights up the sky.  I wish she could stay around a little longer.

It isn’t the darkness I fear.  It’s the running-into-things-hidden-by-the-darkness that scares me.  Why is there any more chance of a thing being there in the dark than there is in the daytime?  That’s just the way it is in the scary movies…

I see Guantanamo Bay on the chart just 75 miles to starboard.  It looks like an awesome place to cruise.  Showing my ignorance here… why is there a US Naval Base on Cuba?  Guess I’ll give Bruce a chance to tell me when he gets up.  He’ll love that. 

I’ve never been interested in it before.  I guess that’s why Boat Kids have such a marvelous opportunity to learn.  Things aren’t just abstract bla bla bla in a book.  They’re real and right over there!

Goodbye moon… see you tonight.

Time: 2:01 The ineffectual moon pulls the low-lying clouds about her face – disappearing gradually in parts.  The stars exercise a newfound boldness in her absence.  They follow her exit with increasing numbers, filling in from sky to horizon more strongly glittering.  Phosphorescence litters the waves.  Now I am sure of it.  Before it might have been the falseness of moon glitter.  I wish the camera could capture this.  Now it is dark.  There’s still no light from Haiti.

Time: 2:27 The woody scent of Haiti makes my nose wrinkle.  The tickle of a sneeze reminds me of Van Zandt’s words.  He said that you would know that you are close to Hispaniola when your allergies light up from the foreign particles in the air descending from the mountains and reaching you on the wind. 

The clouds blot the stars but leave deep windows through which I can see the heavens.  The mast lights weave jazzy circles in connect-the-dots fashion.  I stare into the darkness straining my eyes to see a glimmer... any glimmer.

Sometimes I think I see a falling star – only to realize it is not the star that is falling… it is us. 

Time: 6:10  Rolled out the jib and tacked 210° to 134°.  We are approaching the Northern Peninsula and will continue on to Ile á Vache tomorrow morning.  Maybe we will stay a day and continue to the DR

Time: 7:53 Wednesday Day 2  I had come up from my sleep at about 5:20 am.  It was dark but beginning to show signs of approaching dawn.  My favorite time on an overnight passage is the coming of a new day.  It is an indescribable feeling. 

I eagerly search the horizon for land.  Traveling the shores of a new country in the dark deprives us of seeing the land.  Even if we don’t pass any closer than the 14 miles from shore, if the island is mountainous we should be able to see it… I think…

I was treated to a vague shape of the northern peninsula of Haiti.  It rose lumpy in the space between horizon and cloud studded sky.

BIRDS!!! We must be close to land!!!
We’re between ten and twelve hours from the southern peninsula and should reach it in daylight so we have that to look forward to.

We talked over our plan to get a weather report on SSB.  The engine and refrigeration need to be off for better reception.  Bruce suggested rolling out the jib to keep us from just bobbing like a cork when we shut the engine down.  We also hope to be able to actually sail but we quickly realized that wasn’t happening.

Our speed dropped to less than two knots as I went below to get the weather.  I tried calling in on 8137 but Chris Parker couldn’t hear me.  So I switched to 4045 and he heard me.  I always sweat it until he says our name.  Right now we are sort of in between the two frequencies…

We are continuing on to Ile á Vache.  The question is now do we stay one night and move on or will we wait there to get closer to a weather window for rounding Cabo Beata.  The answer:  Not sure.  It looks like we could have a couple of days there and I’m excited. 

We rolled the jib back in and Bruce made me some coffee before going down for his sleep.  Jezabelle tag teamed us in the bed all night.  She came up to get a nibble between watches and stared out into the darkness… then she joined whoever was in the bed next for a nap. 

But since it’s light she has decided to stay up in the cockpit with me.  She really has been so good throughout all of this.  We’ve had some rolly times since leaving Thompsons Bay… it seems so long ago. 

Ans de Hainault... or Detour
Time 15:38  Wednesday Day 2  We are about 2 ½ hours away from Ans de Hainault.  We are getting pretty tired.  We could hurry and anchor there for the night but Bruce doesn’t want to.  I’m OK with another overnight motoring along the coast of Haiti.  We will have an early arrival to Ile á Vache but I’m concerned about the fishermen. 

Floating lines mark their traps and if we’re motoring there is a good chance of snagging one with our prop.  This could be unpleasant.  We passed a group of boats laying out long nets with larger floats holding them to the surface… this was in two thousand foot depths.  I’m nervous.

You can barely see land in the distance...
The coastline is simply breathtaking.  The little white triangle sails are strung along the neck of the mountains rising from the water like strings of pearls.  The mountains are cloaked in cloud and mist.  The water is a deep electric blue and we see fish flopping everywhere. 

We had a fishing pole out but forgot to set the clicker.  I noticed that there was no line.  I guess a fish took lure and line and we never heard a thing. 

Heading right for us!!!
Earlier this afternoon as we approached near the shores of Haiti, I got the feeling that one of the small boats was sailing directly toward us.  He was coming downwind and quickly closing the gap between us.  We were motoring and just finishing lunch. 

Suddenly we decided to raise our sails to get some speed.  Now whether or not this was due to a perceived wind shift or because that Haitian was rapidly heading our way… I do not know.  That’s a lie. I know.  We were worried that he was coming to get us.  So we pulled away, leaving him to his business, whatever that is…

As we round the point I guided the boat out to deeper water to avoid the fishermen.  One lone boat drifts slowly shoreward across in front of us.  I guess they aren’t trying to get us.

Our yellow Quarantine flag is up finally.  Only about an hour ago I realized that we needed to strike the Bahamian flag and raise the Q.  We have no plans to clear into Haiti but might have to in order to buy fuel.  If only we had some wind to sail!!!  It would be nice if we didn’t have to buy diesel in Haiti.

Time: 16:22  We are amazed at the fact that we are actually here skirting the coast of this mountainous wonder when so shortly ago we were surrounded by the flat islands of the Bahamas.  Pinch me!!  I know for some people this is no big deal.  But if I’ve ever been more out-of-my-comfort-zone than I am right now, I don’t remember when.

How will it be when we interact with these people?  We don’t speak their language and we can’t even begin to understand their lives, no matter how many cruising guides we read. 

The weather is no longer our biggest concern… and while this isn’t like having crossed an ocean… it’s a big deal to us. 

All is calm now as the little boats flutter by.  Maybe they are as apprehensive of us as we are of them…

We motored between the peninsulas all day long. 

Sun is getting lower... still moving along the coast...
Enjoying calm seas and the view of the Southern Peninsula coastline.

These are the notes I made while under way.  Things got busy during the night so the following was done afterward.

We had thought to move down around the coast of the Southern Peninsula, staying about 4-5 miles offshore where we were still in the more shallow – only 75 to 150 foot depths- waters.  The swell was smaller here and we hoped to find a land breeze to sail by.  With only an hour until sundown we realized that we were surrounded by floating bottles with lines leading down to the fish traps on the sea floor.  There was no way we could continue to motor through them after dark and no wind for sailing.  We had to go out to deeper water.

Our unplanned detour  
Briefly we altered course for the anchorage… but we changed our minds and decided to run for deeper water and continue through the night.  I radically changed course and set us out to sea.  There is a huge shallow (75-200 ft.) bank stretching west from the Southern Peninsula towards Navassa Island.  The traps would be all over it… and if they weren’t we would never know it.  We had to go around.  It added time to our route but it didn’t matter. 

Uncharacteristically nice sunset for my mood...
My Zen was horribly upset by this for some reason.  It set the tone for my night.  I felt an irrational annoyance at having to change course and go those extra miles.  I guess maybe it was because I was so tired.  I was sick of being tossed about.  I had long conversations with myself in my head in an effort to convince myself that this was no big deal… just a few more miles.  I have a tendency to be dramatic and thus the end-of-the-world thoughts were flooding into my head.  Luckily I was able to push them down and convince myself that conditions were really very benign and if I couldn’t handle this… I had no business being out here.  Bruce seems un-phased by any of it.

Awesome sunset...
We ran for the shallows and then ran for the deep!
I am thankful for having the AIS.  I could see that there were several ships moving along within 45 miles of our position.  There was one in particular that would be a concern.  As we rounded the western tip of the shallow point and made our turn east to continue along the southern shore, we would be heading directly at the big tanker. 

Both Bruce and I were on deck for this event.  Bruce used the binoculars to identify the navigational lights on the ship as we closed the distance between us… and I was at the helm monitoring the AIS and making course changes.  I wanted to avoid the ship by as wide a margin as I could and so I turned to starboard, which would take us South to deeper water. 

It seemed as if the ship altered course as well and regained a collision course.  WTF???  So maybe he wants the offshore side… so I turned back to port almost 180° and moved toward the shallow shelf… maybe I could get away from him that way.  He changed course again. 

Seriously???  I had to make a decision, run for shallow water and risk snagging a line on the prop, or go back out and run 90° away from our mutual path in hopes that I could get far enough away with the four miles and closing between us.

I began to feel very much in-over-my-head.  Would this be it?  Would this tanker mow us down and sink us to the bottom of the abyss?  Was this deliberate? 

Bruce called out that he could see the red lights indicating that we had moved far enough over to see his port side.  Slowly the lights moved further and further behind us and I heaved a sigh of relief as I began to bring us back to our proper course in 10° increments. 

My legs were shaking and I could feel the blood pumping in my forehead.  That was closer than I liked but it was over and we were back on course with a morning arrival to look forward to.

Miraculously I was able to sleep when my watch was over.  I left Bruce at the helm with reasonably decent seas… long rolling swells but organized and a fair distance apart.  By the time I awoke, it had deteriorated somewhat.

The organization of the waves was completely disrupted and we were bouncing around like crazy.  There was almost no wind.  I took my watch and sat there watching the shadow of each huge swell rise silently in front of my eyes and then lift us up and over the top. 

Again I was talking myself into believing that this wasn’t bad.  It’s only swells.  If it were daylight this would be a delightful ride.  The swells became larger and the bow began to drop off the top to crash into the next wave with an impressive spray. 

I began to worry that we would take blue water over the bow if it got any worse.  The seas had been so benign that we had really forgotten to put on our PFDs.  At this point, I remembered.  I pulled the cabin door shut and tethered myself to the cockpit… and I sat… waiting for that wave. 

The wave never came.  Conditions improved and I realized that it really was very beautiful out there.  I was startled by the splash and sound of a dolphin taking a huge breath about 15 feet away from me.  I continued to watch the water and saw the dolphin surface again and again, leaving a ruffled bunch of phosphorescent creatures scattering.  They were sparkling in the edges of our bow wake and it was magical. 

By the time Bruce came back up on watch I had the sea state calmed down nicely.  You’re welcome!  I had put the moon to bed and now would do so for myself.  I left him in charge with dire warnings should he let the situation deteriorate again before I awoke.

I felt so badly for poor Jezabelle.  She was defending her spot in the bed as if her life depended upon it.  If it even LOOKED like we were going to move her, she hissed and swatted at us.  Her slight frame was no match for the pitching of the boat and watching her moving from the bed to the water dish and the litter box would have been comical had I not felt so guilty about inflicting this upon her. 

All the dawn we got with lots of clouds
Eventually dawn came.  We were close to Ile á Vache.  We should be there by 9 or 10. The mountainous landscape was a delight as we motored along.  We rounded the last point and could see the island.  There were lots of little triangle sails bobbing on the glowing bright waters of the shallow banks.  I felt no fear this time as we passed the small boats and returned the raised hands and smiles. 
Huge swells as we rounded the mainland and approached Ile à Vache
There it is... Ile à Vache

We rode the swells around to the north side of the island and the scene was like something from National Geographic.  The boats were a step back in time.  How can there be such disparity between the world we come from and this one?
Looking across the bay at the mainland

Still avoiding the floating trap lines

Bruce on point watching for obstacles

Approaching the anchorage

The anchorage

One really nice home on the point

Happy to see civilization here!
We could see maybe a dozen or so modern boats anchored in the protective curve of the island harbor.  I pointed our bow there and we continued to just stare around us.  It’s like being in the South Pacific!  Strange rock formations and palm trees… and natives.  

Here they come!
As the guidebook stated, the boat boys began making their way toward us.  We’ve made it… we’re HERE! 

The weather window held open and we did fly through it... arriving safely in a new land.  If only our friends could see us now!  We’ve bested our fears and our doubts and the confidence in our choices has paid off.  Now… we find a spot to anchor and see what life has in store for us next….

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