A LONG NIGHT, SMASHING ARRIVAL, AND END OF THE BAHAMAS
POSITION 25:44.87N 79:17.36W - N BIMINI ISLAND, BAHAMAS
27 APRIL - 6 MAY 2013
NASSAU TO CHUBB CAY – BACK ON THE OCEAN SINGLEHANDED
It should have been easy, a nice day run to the NW across the Tongue of the Ocean, that deep water area so aptly named, but it didn’t quite work out as planned, surprise surprise. With a beam wind and sea, it started well enough, but as the day wore on the wind increased to a steady Force 5 and by the time the almost invisible low lying Chubb Cay hove into view it was more like a 6, we were triple reefed and looking forward to some sheltered water. This anchorage – recommended by Kevin the Kanadian - was just outside the Chubb Cay Marina with has a marked channel leading in, on which you were not allowed to anchor.
There was no one at anchor. Strange. Motoring carefully between the red and green posts, eyes glued to the depth finder, I found just off to the right of the channel it was 2metres. 1.8. 1.6. Wow.. backed out of there and tried further up the channel on the left this time. It was worse. Now I knew why I was the only one. Looking at the chart there was anchorage marked in the lee of the nearby Bird Island which I’d sailed past on the way here, so now motored back against wind and sea to try it. But it was hopeless trying to ‘read’ the water depths in this wind which was now blowing strongly from the NE. To anchor here I would have to be right out in the open in half a gale.
I had seen another boat slowly making its way from Bird Island across to Frazer Hog Cay earlier, so figuring it had formed the same opinion, followed suit and found two boats parked up in the lee of a small promontory of rock, one Swedish which I had seen earlier, and one Australian. The neat little Swedish boat was clearly having problems anchoring, as I was about to find too, and finally left for a better spot, whereas the Ozzies were doing better. It was rocky, that was the trouble, and rocks don’t hold anchors very well. I put mine out with loads of chain, but for the next two hours or more I would hear the rumbling of steel against rock every now and again, and looking at the chartplotter I could see we were slowly but surely dragging downwind. The other boat – HERA, with Joel and Dianne aboard, dinghied across to say hello again having met in West Bay briefly. There were lovely. But they had jammed their anchor in between rocks. I could only hope mine would too, as the options were a bit limited now with the sun going down and the wind howling. It did hold in the end, but it took several hours of ‘grumbling’. If you put your foot on the chain you can feel it. Nevertheless, I didn’t sleep that well that night, and got up frequently to check the anchor.
ACROSS THE BANK TO THE BIMINIS
This was a run of 100nm and therefore couldn’t be accomplished in a day run. I recalled what Kevin the Kanadian had said about it: ‘we anchored overnight on the Mackie Shoal. It was magic.’ Ok, that’ll do for me too I thought and planned on doing just that. The whole trip was over the shallow Great Bahamian Bank and with my smart new ringbound Bahamas Chartbook felt reasonably confident about getting across it without mishap. The chartbook recommends various routes and I went for the deeper one giving about 4 metres to North Bimini via the edge of the Mackie Shoal – an area of shifting sand and shallow seas, and my planned night stop. Ha! On arrival there after a delightful day with the downwind foresails up, it was blowing a good Force 5-6 and anchoring was not an option. ‘Magical’ I think not.. But what to do now? Trouble was I had left nice and early so that I could spend the night here and arrive the next day in good daylight in North Bimini. If I now kept going – the only option in this wind – I would arrive in the Biminis in the middle of the night! And there were few if any anchorages advertised in North Bimini, so I’d have to sail up and down waiting for daylight..
So, we needed to slow down. A lot. Ok, lets try a hove to. I set the main midships, backwinded a fully reefed genoa and locked the wheel into wind, and we slowly forereached at 90 degrees to the wind (and planned track) at about 1 kt. Hmmm… What I really wanted to do was sail slowly downwind along the track not across it. So I dropped the main to see how that affected it, and we were now sailing slowly at 120 degrees to the wind – but still going off track to the south. After a few hours of this it occurred to me that as most of these waters were uncharted this was not a terribly good idea in the middle of the night, and we could be heading into shoal waters or worse. We need to get back on track, and right now! End of hove to, and sailed under genoa only to intercept our track again, big sigh of relief on arrival. Plan B was to sail under a tiny bit of genoa along the track, hoping the windvane steering would cope ok – I couldn’t see why not. And it did. But, we were doing an amazing 3.5 knots with just a handkerchief out front! This was still too fast…. So final solution was to drop all canvas and sail under bare poles, now doing an impressive 2.3 knots still and the self steering coping well. Amazing! And so was spent another night at sea, snatching sleep briefly leaving PW to steer itself under a bright midnight moon. Life at sea is always so much better with a moon..
And so we (Pinball and I) arrived just as dawn was yawning and stretching, a bit ragged but alive and kicking, and had a look at North Bimini. I happened to notice on the chartplotter that there was an anchorage marked on the west coast which, in these east winds, might prove just the job. And so it did, with good holding in sand just a couple of hundred metres off the beach…perfect for a good sleep.
Much refreshed, brains switched back to ON, at 5pm I was startled out of my self congratulatory stupor by two things happening: a swell coming in from the wrong direction – west; and the rumble of thunder from the same direction – Florida. Wow! Thunderstorms! In minutes the engine was started, anchor raised and we were heading towards the narrow shallow entrance leading to all the marinas on the east side of the island, and I was talking to Browns’ Marina on the VHF. If a TS hit here, I could be caught on a lee shore in a nasty sea with nowhere to go.
‘Yeah man, outer dock. I’ll see you there man’. I checked the tide on the chartplotter. Low tide…bugger. Oh well. The entrance across the reef was marked by red and green buoys, I had the chartplotter with a route on it, and a whizzy little motorboat came roaring in ahead of me and showed me the way. We made it with two feet under the keel which was ok.
The next bit didn’t go so well. I could see the outer pontoon ahead and sure enough our man was standing there waiting for his nibs, together with a portly American who likes helping arriving boats tie up. I had carefully prepared PW with fenders both sides and two bow lines, two stern lines and a short line midships, carefully coiled ready for instant use, and began a nice gentle approach port side to at about 30 degrees using the wind from starboard to push us on. What could go wrong?
It all started with being invited, by big circular hand signals, to come in on the other side of the outer pontoon, ie inside it. Bugger! That I didn’t want. I’d have to turn around and come in down tide, which was still running out quite strong, with the wind now blowing us off towards the small yacht nextdoor. I did my best but it wasn’t half good enough. Trying to steer the boat in against the crosswind, and having to throw lines from up the other end all at the same time doesn’t work and my mistake was to leave the wheel briefly to throw a line when we still had some forward way on.
The sound of PW’s brutal 20kg bow-mounted Rocna anchor impacting what I was soon to find out was a big white triangular trash bin bolted right on the edge of the pontoon, was impressive, and sufficient to rouse the entire population of cruisers to come and have a look.
But the trash bin having stopped all forward movement nicely was one thing, the wind had by now blown the stern off and into the boat next door, which is one way of meeting its occupants. A most attractive Afro Caribbean, she didn’t seem to mind so I guess it wasn’t her boat.
I spent the next week mulling over what happened and trying to come up with the ‘right way’ of coping with this situation for the future, as you can bet your grandmother it will happen again. The only conclusions I reached were either don’t do it, or have crew on board, as anything else just doesn’t work. This is the great weakness of singlehanded cruising, the sailing you can cope with, day and night, but marinas?
A few days later the manager handed me an estimate for the repair. $550 for a new bin, plus shipping, plus 45% customs duty. Total $1065. Old Humphrey, the manager’s man, would come out daily to commiserate in his oversized shades, always optimistic and encouraging, and agreeing with my complaint that the bin didn’t need to be replaced, just fixed. His conversation would carry on going over and over the same ground for ever given the opportunity, but he was such a lovely old chap that you didn’t mind in the least, and his friendliness was a delight. ‘You need to talk to the manager’ he would say in his soft rolly way ‘and persuade him to have the bin fixed up, and he can talk to head office in Miami’. It was Miami who had given the estimate, and ruled the roost, Humphrey informed me. At first he had encouraged me to ring Miami myself on his phone, and I did in fact do this later on the managers phone. I spoke first to the lady who had sent the estimate.
‘Oh hello’, she said, ‘how are you today?’ I resisted the temptation to tell her, put my case, to which she replied that it had to be replaced as it was not repairable.
‘On the contrary’, I protested, ‘fibreglass is one of the easiest materials to repair’. I pointed out that there were shedloads of fibreglass boats here in the Biminis, and there must be people on the island who can repair them. Finding this all too difficult, I was put through to Big Boss, who was polite and I suspect slightly annoyed that he was having to deal with a trash bin. I put my case again, expecting a ‘well I’m sorry Mr North..’ But he said the words I wanted to hear.
‘Ok, I’m happy for it to be repaired if we can get that to happen’.
On leaving this land of fast flowing tides and great fish that leap out of the water, we agreed on $320, cash in hand. I wonder if it will ever be fixed?
It seems wherever I go in the Bahamas, its $300+
But enough of that. The Bahamas are America's playground and recuperation area for the overstressed, and for the adventurous, destinations for that expensive boat he bought. The trip wouldn't be too demanding, with just the crossing of the Florida straights and Tongue of the Ocean being proper sea conditions, the rest shallow waters mainly protected from swell, and of stunning beauty. North Bimini, being nearest to mainland Florida, is totally geared to support Americans in their passion for fishing, and with just cause. The fish here are so numerous, and so big you don't even have to go out in a boat. They leap out of the water in front of you, you can stand on a pontoon between boats and fish - as many do with great success. I watched one lady fighting a large fish, could have been Barracuda, in the marina for some time, the contest ending when the fish leapt six feet out of the water spinning end over end at great speed, snapping the line and escaping with its life. I was on the fish's side! And all this in aqua-blue water as clear a glass. You can see your own anchor 25m away. Lucky Americans! Poor old Brits have to travel a long way to get anything like it..
NEXT: ON TO FLORIDA