Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Underway again, to the Bahamas

We flew back down to Florida on December 27th and were back on board by early afternoon.  But along the way we learned an unfortunately lesson.  Just because you have a car reservation, and just because you have been a customer for 30 years, and just because you are have been a gold member for 20 years, doesn't mean Hertz will actually have a car for you.  When we arrived at the pickup lot, they had no cars, and about 50 people waiting for cars to magically arrive.  I'm not exactly a fan of Hertz, but over the years they have been less problematic than other companies I've tried, but this was strike three.  As they say in Jersey, they are dead to me now.   Strike one was when a car we rented appeared to have gone missing from the valet garage at our hotel, so I reported it stolen to Hertz.  In the end it turned out the valet has mistakenly given our car to someone else, but Hertz seemed to think the missing car was my fault and refused to rent me another car until the missing one was recovered.  They were happy to leave me high and dry.  Strike two was a month or two ago when, just for kicks, we reserved a convertible.  When we arrived to pick it up, the guy was very apologetic that they didn't have the car, and said that Hertz doesn't reserve to actual inventory.  It wasn't a huge deal, but really calls into question the companies operating policies.  Anyway, let's get back to boating.

Aside from provisioning and a handful of errands, the big task was picking a weather window to make the crossing to the Bahamas.   We've never done it before, and distance-wise it's not a far jump at all, but it involves crossing the Gulf Stream which can be quite nasty under the wrong conditions.  The water flows north at about 4kts which is pretty darn fast for current.  If you have an opposing wind, it creates short, steep waves that will kick the crap out of you.  This phenomenon of current against wind is common in boating, but in this case you are talking about a lot of water moving very fast over a very wide span, and winds that have free reign for a long, long way to build up the seas.

The trick is to get a day where there is no northern component to the wind direction so it's not opposing the current, and winds that are 15 kts or less.  It's also good for any past big winds to have subsided for a day or more to give the ocean time to settle back down.

Our choices looked like Sunday the 29th or Monday the 30th.  Sunday was supposed to be 15kts +/- out of the west to southwest.  15 kts is a bit high, but with a westerly component it would be more to our backs, so not too bad in theory.  Monday was supposed to be calmer in the 10 kt range, but with a northerly component starting to kick back in.  We were leaning towards Sunday, figuring that if the northern wind kicked up on Monday is could get pretty bad.

I then checked with a couple of people, including a professional marine weather routing guy to sanity check our thinking.  Both thought that Sunday sounded OK.  The one comment from the pro was that conditions would be improving throughout the day on Sunday, so whatever we saw in the beginning of the day was as bad as it would get.  So we decided Sunday it would be.  Plus that would give us Monday to cross the open part of the Bahamas bank when conditions we supposed to be OK.

Sunday Morning we were off, and the waves started as we were leaving the Ft Worth inlet, and never gave up until we entered the cut at West End, Bahamas.  It was not a fun trip.  Instead of 15kt winds we had steady 25-30kts.  And instead of 3-5' seas we had steady 6-8' seas.  We figured it should get better as we progressed, but that never happened.  The interesting part is that I couldn't tell you where the Gulf Stream started and where it ended.  The seas were the same the whole way.  But we made it, the boat did great, and it sure was nice to be tucked in a harbor at the end of the day.

Backing up a bit, we need to be in the Marsh Harbor/Elbow Cay area by the following Sunday the 5th because our kids and their significant-others are flying down to join us for a week.  So rather than catch a breather on arrival, we have been feeling a need to press on for fear of getting stuck somewhere by bad weather if we linger.

So off we went on Monday the 30th to cross over the top of the Little Bahama Bank to get ourselves over between Abaco and the outer islands.  The only way into that part of the Abacos is at the top of the island chain, or you need to go outside, off the bank, and all the way around.  First stop was about a 50NM run from West End to Great Sale Cay.  Great Sale is uninhabited, but a great stopping point when winds are out of the north which they were.  It was a very calm and pleasant trip over, and a nice night on the anchor, and although there were only two boats there when we arrived, there were over 12 when we finally went to sleep.

When we went to anchor, we discovered two problems.  First, the anchor wouldn't go down.  The windlass would operate, but go click click click.  I tried releasing the clutch to manually drop the anchor, but it still wouldn't go down.  The Laurie figured it out.  In all our thrashing about on the crossing over, the anchor chain had gotten tangled up.  The chain locker is accessed from the forward stateroom so I dug my way in and sure enough, the chain pile had shifted so the section that should be feeding out was buried under a bunch of chain that had shifted during the pounding.  It took some shoving and digging, but I finally got it moved around and free so we could lower the anchor.

Then we discovered problem two.  There is an anchor control at the helm, and also two foot buttons right up in the bow.  But the foot buttons weren't working.   It's been no problme raising and lowering from the helm, but I'll have to dig into that problem and fix it.  Looking at the wiring diagrams, it's probably just a corroded wire, or maybe something else got knocked around during the crossing.

By Tuesday AM there were forecasts of a Gale coming though on Thursday, so we started thinking that we should get to Marsh Harbor/Elbow Cay before that.   Just before Marsh Harbor is Whale Cay where the only interior passage (staying on the bank) is a narrow, shallow cut that requires mid to high tide for us, and preferably reasonably calm seas.  The other route takes you out through a cut to open ocean, then back in another cut a mile or so away.  Neither sounds very appetizing in rough weather, so we figured we needed to get by there no later than Wednesday.  From that formed our plan.  Tuesday the 31st we would go to Green Turtle Cay, then Wednesday the 1st we would move to Marsh Harbor, passing by Whale Cay, one way or another.

Tuesday the 31st, New Years Eve, we arrived at Green Turtle Cay, settled into a slip, and made reservations for New Years Eve dinner at the local restaurant.  The dinner was great, but we were otherwise reminded why we don't favor marinas in our travels.  If you are a party animal, I suppose it's great, but we are old fuddy duddies and much prefer a peaceful, natural environment without seeing your neighbor's face every time you look out your window.  But it served us well and we are glad everyone had a good time.

Today, New Years Day (Happy New Year!!), we got underway around 8:30 and were approaching Whale Cay around 10:00.  I could see a couple of boats coming through the outside pass and radioed to get a condition report.  They reported it to be bumpy, but no breaking waves and certainly passable, so we decided to take that route.  The inside pass was right into the morning sun making visibility difficult, and we were at a mid and falling tide, so an hour of bumping seemed better than risking running around.

Within about 45 minutes or so we were heading back in Loggerhead cut and the seas were subsiding.  Now on the south side of Whale Cay, it's clear sailing to our ultimate destination at Elbow Cay.  Wanting to anchor out, we picked a spot not too far from March Harbor with good protection from the East, turning to Southerly winds over the next couple of days.  I think we will just stay put here unless the wind swings around further and leaves us exposed, in which case we'll go find another spot.

I have to say I'm looking forward to a couple of down days to just relax and catch up on things.  It was race race race for Christmas, then race race race to get down to Florida and get the boat ready to go, and has been race race race to get positioned so we won't miss our rendezvous with our kids.  Now it's time to relax and enjoy the Bahamas.  And with this view out the back of the boat, wouldn't you?

Matt Lowe Cay


  1. Enjoy Matt Lowe Key your journey has been a little crazy but you are THERE

  2. It was very nice over there, but we moved yesterday afternoon around to the south side of Marsh Harbor. The wind shifted but the boat stayed broadside to the wind and waves. My depth gauge read 7', but the only explanation I could come up with way that there was a low spot that my keel was dragging on. The wind shift was going to be putting us closer to shore, and with N winds predicted for today, we had to move eventually. It's blowing 15-25 now and is supposed to persist all day, but we have a good anchor hold and are clear of other boats out here. People probably think we are nuts not to be in the harbor, but listening to the radio calls about dragging boats and drifting dinghies, I'm glad we are not.


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