Weather or not ..................

Phil & Nikki Hoskins
Sun 24 May 2015 23:00
28:37.47N, 080:48.32W
We’ve been back in Titusville for nearly a week now. Time is ebbing away fast and there are still so many jobs to do before the boat is once again lifted out of the water. It feels like we’ve only just put it all back together and now we’re pulling it apart again. This is the first time in the eleven years we have owned ‘Ajaya’ that we have left her for longer than six weeks. The boat has been our home for nearly seven of those years.  It is quite common for owners who cruise the Bahamas and beyond in the winter months to leave their boats ashore in the USA for the summer.  But it is a new experience for us and there is so much to ‘put to bed’.  We don’t want to have any nasty surprises on our return in the autumn – especially mold and mildew, bilges full of stagnant water and above all unwanted critters big or small.
Our final weeks in the Abacos were spent looking for the elusive ‘weather window’ to get back to Florida.  Yes – we do ‘bang-on’ about the weather but it is a very important part of things! A very comprehensive weather forecast for cruisers goes out on the SSB radio at 06:30 every morning (except Sunday!). No sleepy lay-ins for us! Weather is why we were in Green Turtle Cay tucked in Black Sound waiting for a system to go through. We were promised three beautiful days – in fact the forecaster said it three times so it must have looked good – then. Whilst ‘Skip’ did a bit of engine maintenance and bought a couple of jerry cans of diesel ‘just in case’ the ‘Admiral’ went for a stroll to the beach for a final look this season.
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Beautiful Green Turtle Cay Atlantic side beach – there wasn’t a soul there!
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A flotsam collection of colourful ‘hard-hats’ and an interesting ‘perspex’ dinghy, well made and nicely varnished (where there was any wood!)
The next morning we headed out with a gaggle of other boats anxious to get north and east.  There was a veritable armada headed our way but it was in to wind which is pretty horrible in an old catamaran.  Some of the modern large monohulls were managing to sail - just -and the trawlers bounced and ploughed into the waves.  We headed across to the main island to get some protection from the considerable chop and to see if we could get a better angle on the wind. No. So, after a quick committee meeting we turned round and had a lovely sail downwind back to ......Green Turtle Cay! This time we anchored in the opposite Sound called White Sound.
At 06:30 we were assured the wind would be in our favour so off we went again and actually had a good sail some 25 miles to Allans-Pensacola Cay. Another uninhabited Cay we had not visited before. It was in fact two separate Cays at one time but a hurricane had other ideas and re-modeled it into one.  Hence the double-barreled name. About 3 miles long it is a popular rest stop for cruisers transiting the area. Well, we anchored and settled for the evening. The sky was beginning to darken a bit but we carried on reading in the cockpit. Suddenly there was the most almighty flash and earth shattering bang you could imagine – no warning, no gentle rumble from afar, nothing.  The ‘Admiral’ screamed, the wind changed and increased alarmingly, it started to pelt down with rain.  As the storm raged through the anchorage (this was one of the 40 to 50 knot squalls the 06:30 forecaster was talking about) there was another ‘bang’ from the front of the boat and we slewed violently to one side. Then we started to drag anchor.  On closer inspection the sudden violent gust had caused our anchor bridle to snap.  The bridle is attached to the anchor chain via a large hook attached to a continuous rope line made off to each hull and takes the snatch loading off the anchor windlass. Just as well – it did its job.  Lightening was still about so we started the engines and held station until it was safe to go forward. At the same time we noticed a massive water spout behind us over the Cay. Dragging wasn’t in the script but it was still light and we successfully re-located in the rain.  It was all over in a matter of half an hour or so. A fellow cruiser in another anchorage to the west of us radioed to ask if we were OK.  From where he was it looked as though it had gone straight through our anchorage. 
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Water spout retreating just right of centre of pic (didn’t take one at the time – too dodgy!)  ................................................After the storm
06:30 – no wind today so we stayed and explored the area. First by dinghy through to the Atlantic side where it was still a bit rolly then back to the Bank side spotting turtles and a nurse shark in the shallows. Cruisers over the years had built and decorated a ‘hut’ from flotsam where a path lead over to the other side of the Cay where there were several naming trees.  These are where cruisers leave their boat names carved or written on flotsam of various sorts – where they found so many loo seats from we’ll never know! The path eventually leads to the ruins of a one time US missile tracking station (perhaps they found them there!). But we never made it – the mosquitos were vicious! The ‘Admiral’ nearly broke into a run trying to get back to the dinghy.  We were sorely tempted to stay another day and take up the offer of a fishing expedition with some friends from Titusville who were also in the anchorage. However, the weather man predicted good winds so off we went the following morning.
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The dilapidated dinghy dock, Allans Cay (Flotsam) Hilton and the naming tree – ‘Skip’ is dodging under one of the branches to the right!  
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A little cormorant rock, didn’t like having their photo taken so off they went – very smelly!
It turned out to be a good call as we sailed away and watched a large black cloud dump its contents on the anchorage. Not so good as far as the huge Sports Fishing boats go but ‘skip’ has already had a rant about that.  Although mainly uninhabited this ‘corridor’ on the Little Bahama Bank between the northern end of the main Abaco island and the outer Cays carries a lot of floating traffic to and from Florida and the East Coast USA. On this route we encountered areas of ‘fish-melt’. No not sandwiches. Patches of milky blue water that give the impression of being extremely shallow but are exactly the same depth as the surrounding darker bits. Apparently it has something to do with a certain species of fish churning up the white sandy bottom during their reproductive antics. It does send you running to the chart book to check your position though!
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Sailing through ‘fish-melt’ and one of the many large super yachts towing (yes, towing) a centre console sports fishing boat about the same length as Ajaya – he’s also approaching ‘fish-melt’
Thirty five miles later we arrived at Great Sale Cay, another staging post. There were thirteen other boats anchored all waiting to make the scurry across the Banks and off into the gulf stream. Due to the lack of freshly caught fish this season ‘Skip’ took a desperate last minute gamble and trail lines all the way.  Normally on the Banks this will bring in nothing but Barracuda, which it did - once,  then dinner arrived. Nothing too big but absolutely delicious.  As we were planning to cross the next day we just had to eat them both in one sitting.
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Dinner at last – a Spanish mackerel is joined later by a yellow tailed snapper – gutted & ready for the BBQ
06:30 – we didn’t like the sound of yet more squalls to 40 or 50 knots so decided to stay put.   It is physcologically un-nerving to watch the majority of the boats leave and to be one of only three remaining. Judging by the VHF traffic between some of the boats, who travel together in groups and come and go by ‘committee’, it had not been too good a decision.  We could hear the thunder and their hurried calls to alter course. Talking of which – we did leave the next morning in bright sunshine sailing well until the skies blackened.  We’d just passed the last staging post before the 53 miles of Bank ahead of us when the squalls started right on our track.  Handbrake turn, furl sails and motor back to a little tiny Cay called Mangrove.  We did wonder why there were eight boats there when we flew by earlier.
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Squalls in the South, sunny in the North and .............about turn!
The anchorage was not particularly comfortable with that many boats and had a residual swell so we decided to carry on after the squalls cleared.  It did look clear until dark. Both our night watches were miserable affairs, not only did we end up motor sailing but had to play ‘dodge the bullets’ under the black clouds trying to avoid the thunder and lightening. Still we made it back to Fort Pierce where we entered the USA last year.  Flying our yellow Q flag we anchored off until the next day (foreigners have 24 hours to clear in).  We made contact with some good friends that we first met in Massachusetts and hadn't see since we left the Bahamas to head to Panama three years ago.  They suggested lunch and kindly offered to drive us to the airport to clear in.  We visited their boat at a nearby marina and as a bonus had a run to the supermarket.  Thank you Mary & David.
The next day we headed up the ICW.  Managed to only spend one night in Vero Beach.  Anchored off Coco the next and arrived in Titusville the next.  Most of this with squalls behind us.  How we never got rained on we’ll never know.
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We allowed this guy to go through the bridge before us – he was sailing – the ‘Admiral’ won’t allow ‘Skip’ to sail through the bridges!           How many Pelicans and an imposter pretending to be one?
06:30 – just kidding! We’ve stopped listening to the early morning weather broadcasts. The SSB is now unplugged to prevent damage from lightening.  We’ve also got good wifi and TV.  But like many of the cruisers joining the yearly migration South these transmissions are the only sure way of getting accurate weather. The broadcasters very hard work is silently appreciated by many of us. In the end, to quote a line from the morning cruisers net in the Abacos, the choice to go is yours and yours alone.