Wednesday, June 15, 2011

High-Seas Excitement! Adventures in Returning Stateside.

So we were anchored at Chub Cay, right?  The wind had been blowing pretty much out of the east.  Then Friday afternoon, the wind shifted.  It started howling out of the north.  We weren't very well protected from the north, so it got a bit bumpy in the anchorage.  Fortunately, the water to the north is pretty shallow, so the waves didn't have a chance to build up too much.  But it was still a little exciting.  Then the sailboat anchored behind us started to drag, Isle Escape.  And the little broken-down sailboat that had 3 anchors out, remember them?  With the wind shift, they were now behind the boat that was dragging.  Luckily, there was no collision.  But Isle Escape's anchor did catch one of the 3 that the little boat had down.  Anchor tangle! No good!  They managed to get untangled, but then started dragging again.  Oh no, there's a catamaran in the way!  But they started their engine, hauled up anchor, and moved to a new spot.  A couple of times, they dropped anchor but then started dragging.  So eventually, they gave up on that anchoring business and went into the marina.  We were all relieved.

At some point in the night, the wind shifted the opposite way.  South winds, what the what?  And yep, they were howling.  It made us uncomfortable to have a 180-degree wind shift.  Would the anchor hold?  If it were deep sand under us, we would have no worries.  But it was grassy sand.  Not such good holding.  Fortunately, our totally awesome Delta anchor held through it all!  Best investment ever!  Neither of us slept very well that night.  It was uncomfortably wavy, and we worried about the anchor.

The next morning, the wind was still out of the south.  We were up at the crack of dawn, sipping coffee and waiting for Chris Parker to come on the radio and tell us about the day's weather.  Around 7:00, we headed out right behind Amata Marie.  We would have 13 miles of deep, open water before we hit the banks.  Would this south wind make it horrible?  Nope!  It was actually pretty nice.  There was a big roll that rocked us back and forth, but not as bad as when we left the Exumas, or when we left West Bay.  Alright, this banks crossing is looking good!  Once we made it through the northwest channel onto the Great Bahama Banks, the waves calmed considerably.  And the wind shifted again.  West.  Right in our faces.  Rats!  We managed to use the main sail for a little while, but eventually we were going straight into the wind.  So it was pure motoring.  Slow and noisy.  But we were making progress.

It's 70 miles or so from Chub Cay to Bimini.  With a good wind we could make it in a day.  We did not have a good wind.  It was apparent by mid-day that we were not going to make it by sundown.  We could either go through the night and get to land while it was dark, or we could anchor on the banks.  We opted for the latter.  It's exciting to anchor 25 miles from the nearest land.  We caught up with Amata Marie just before sunset and dropped anchor in 15 feet of water.  Did I mention the wind shifted again?  Northwest this time.  It managed to chop up the water a little more.  So we were not comfortable, the boat rocked and rolled all night.  We weren't worried about the boat or anything.  The deep sand made for excellent anchor-holding.  And even if the anchor did drag, where were we going to go?  We were in the middle of nowhere!  So it was discomfort, not stress, that made it the second restless night in a row.

And then the sun came up on Sunday.  We had about 5 minutes of amazing sunrise, and then the clouds obscured our sun.
Sunrise on the banks
We had coffee and breakfast and headed west.  We made it into South Bimini mid-afternoon.  Hello, Bimini Sands Marina!  This was our first time in a marina in 2 months.  It was so weird to pull the boat into a dock!  But we managed and got tied up and fendered.  Then we helped Amata Marie in.  Holy crap, it's hard to dock a 44-foot, 20-ton sailboat!  I thought mine was tricky.  Makes me happy for little bitty Earendil.  It didn't take us long to don our swimsuits and take advantage of the swimming pool.  Our first time in fresh water since who knows when.  It was nice to get out and not feel the desperate need for a shower.  But it was also weird to sink in the water and not float on top.  Changes!  We all went out to dinner down at Bimini Beach Club.  Our last dinner in the Bahamas.

And then came our last sunset in the Bahamas.  I'll admit, it was a little sad.  We've had some amazing sunsets, even a green flash once.  And this would be the last time for a long time that we'll get a sunset over the water.
Our last sunset in the Bahamas
After showers and laundry, we enjoyed our last night of hanging out with Jim, Nancy, and Tim on Amata Marie.  We've been traveling with them a long time, and we're going to miss them terribly.  Our little Bahamas family is finally broken up.

Monday morning, we were up at 5:00 getting the boat (and ourselves) ready for a 6 am departure.  We managed to get out pretty much on time.  The seas were calm, the wind was light.  It was shaping up to be an amazing Gulf Stream crossing!  We had a slight west wind in our faces for several hours.  It wasn't enough to slow us down, just enough to keep it from getting unbearably hot under the sun.  So we motored.
Sunrise over Bimini

Reflection of the clouds in the calm, glassy water
In the afternoon, the wind died completely.  And it was hot out there!  I mean, really hot!  We were terribly tempted to turn off the engine and jump in for a swim.  But out in the middle of the Gulf Stream is probably not the safest place to swim.  So we sweltered.  I went inside and had a nap.  When I came back up, the wind had picked up out of the south.  Just enough to cool things off, not yet enough to put up a sail.  It gradually picked up.  Trevor suggested raising the main sail.  Good idea!  So we hoisted the main and gained a half knot.  Then a whole knot.  Yeah, buddy!  Cruising on.

We had "land ho" around 1:00, but we were still far from our destination.  Once we saw the Palm Beach skyline, we knew we were only a few hours away.  And the wind continued to build out of the south.
And they kept building.  And the waves grew with the wind.
It was a following sea, so it just pushed our back end around a little bit.  But it wasn't scary.  Yet.

When we were about 10 miles out of the Lake Worth inlet, the clouds started building up, too.  Hmm.  We had the full main sail up, and I knew if the wind picked up too much, we would have to reduce sail.  But we also needed the sail up to keep our speed up.  The sooner we get into land, the better.  It also gave us much-needed stability in a 5-to-6-foot chop.  So we left it up.

When we were a mile from shore, we knew we wouldn't make it in before the storm hit. I decided life jackets were in order.  When the wind hit about 20 knots, it was past time to take the sail down.  I noticed the sail already had a little tear up at the top.  This is when things got exciting.  The wind picked up fast.  Trevor was up on deck taking the sail down, and the wind kept getting stronger.  He managed to get it lashed down to the boom when a big wave came at us from the side.  "Hold on!"  I didn't see it, but Trevor said our gunwale went underwater.  Yikes.

We were 1/2 mile from shore, just getting into the channel to take us inland.

And then all hell broke loose.  The wind roared out of the south, bringing a couple of waves at least 10 feet high.  Fortunately, they were swells, not chop, so we just rode up and down them.  Whoa!  Then came the rain.  Heavy, blinding rain blowing straight into our eyes.  We couldn't see more than 10 feet in any direction.  The wind howled like I've never seen before.  I guessed it had to be 50 knots.  Holy shit!  Thank goodness we took the sail down.  It would have been completely shredded in those winds.  We had to put on sunglasses just to keep the rain out of our eyes.  I don't know if you've ever had rain blown into your eyes at 50 knots, but it hurts.  The wind howled, the boat rocked, and we held on!

We had the SeaClear navigation software pulled up on the computer, so I had Trevor keep an eye on it to make sure we stayed in the channel.  With the wind and rain, we couldn't see where we were.  Every once in a while, I could pick out the blinking lights on the channel markers.  With that poor little 8-horsepower motor fighting against the wind and waves, we weren't going much of anywhere.  My only goal was to keep us upright and out of the shallows.  There was nothing to do but keep going as long as we could.  If the worst happened, we were wearing life jackets and would swim to shore once the storm let up.  But we just had to keep going.  And it's a good boat.

I have no idea how long the storm lasted.  20 minutes?  30?  It seemed like forever.  I just drove and hoped for the storm to go away.  It started to slack just enough for us to see shore.  We had made maybe 50 yards progress while the storm blew at its fiercest.  Trevor said something about us making it in to the shelter of the channel soon.  I told him the storm would blow over by the time we made it to shore.  And I was right.  As we motored past the jetty into the inlet, the wind eased off and the rain slowed to a drizzle.  Thank goodness!

As we made our way inland, a Coast Guard boat zoomed out past us to go save someone.  We heard on the radio that a catamaran with 4 people on it had capsized in the storm.  We were passed by two towboats bringing people in.  I thought those guys were going to be busy for a while.  I remembered a little fishing boat going out past us as we were trying to beat the storm in, thinking they were idiots for going out in that mess.  I'd say we were idiots for getting caught out in it.  But we did all that we could.  That little sailboat only goes so fast, and we tried so hard to get in.

But we survived the storm!  With no damage except a small tear in the sail, we came out better than we could have hoped.  It was, by far, the worst weather I've ever been in.  That estimation of 50-knot winds?  I was right on.  Reports came in later of 55-mph winds on land.  And we made it through!  All thanks to an excellent first mate, a solid little boat, and an awesome captain (screw modesty, I kicked ass that day)!

Two and a half months in the Bahamas.  75 miles across from Bimini.  And a half mile from being back stateside, we get pummeled by a wicked thunderstorm.  Thanks for the warm welcome, Florida! 

After the storm was over, we made our way into the ICW.  On our way in, we were awarded with a double rainbow (not full-on all the way across the sky, but double rainbow nonetheless).  We earned that rainbow, I say.  Then we anchored, put on dry clothes, called families, and enjoyed some nerve-calming sangria.  What a day.

Tons of boats and big, tall buildings. Welcome back to Florida and the ICW.

Yesterday, we moved to a marina.  Docked like a couple of pros.  In the afternoon, my cousins came and picked us up.  Now we're hanging out with Dee, Jim-Bob, and Jon.  Sleeping in a big, king-sized bed that doesn't rock.  Enjoying a noontime Bloody Mary.  Yep, life has gotten pretty sweet.  We're enjoying a little bit of down time.

1 comment:

  1. Quite a homecoming storm you had, but I'm proud of the way you and your tough little boat handled it. You guys have come a long way from being lake sailors! Love -- Dad