22:19N 73:02W Can't be worse than South Caicos?

Madeleine and Martin
Thu 11 Apr 2013 00:11
It doesn’t seem to matter that we’ve been sailing for nigh on 40 years – it is still all too easy to effect poor decisions, take on false assumptions or make school boy errors. The trouble is one or more of these can easily turn into poor seamanship for which there are no excuses and sometimes serious consequences.
South Caicos harbour has a narrowish entry between two rocky outcrops and a reef; the harbour itself is shallow and we were anchored in 3.5 metres of water. On Monday, it was too rough to go ashore in the dinghy but by the time we realised this it was also too late to set off for Leeward Going Through on Provo, about 75 miles away. It is essential to arrive there in daylight and there is no safe intermediate anchorage. In effect this means setting off at dawn which was the plan for the following day. So we sat out Monday in modest discomfort but overnight the wind increased and veered driving the swell of about 2.5 metres straight into the harbour. September tossed and turned all night pulling hard on the anchor chain after the nylon snubber rode had been sawn through by the movement. “Sleepless in September” is a motion picture you would want to avoid!
Pre-dawn on Tuesday 2nd April appeared to show all four members of the crew bustling about in readiness for the planned 0600 start. We were anxious to get through the harbour entrance before the weather deteriorated further. Anchor up, we headed for the bottleneck pushing into a roughish shallow sea. But appearances had been deceptive on more than one count. The “swell” in the entrance was now running at about 4 metres with a wave every five seconds or so. As the stern rose on the first wave, the bow raced down and buried itself in the next and a wall of water cascaded down the deck. At that critical moment Nikki scrambled out of the forward heads! She had not been ready at all. We thought she had elected to stay below as we knew the exit would be rough, though not that rough. But we had not checked and double checked that everything and everybody was ready. A simple assumption that turned into poor seamanship. Of course September is a fine craft and made light work of the heavy wave action and we were soon in open water sailing on our way to Leeward. However, some members of the crew were understandably less happy!
So this is my public apology to my dear sister. I did see her smile later that day as we entered the calm turquoise waters of the Leeward cut – but it was probably just relief. And departing from the airport 36 hours later she had the good grace to say that she had enjoyed almost all of the holiday!
What should we have done differently? Well, apart from all the obvious corrective actions that Tuesday morning, really we should have left on Monday, notwithstanding a late start,  and sailed overnight to Leeward to avoid the early start and the difficult exit. But that would have meant a major change of plan and Monday was April Fools Day......
So, onward and northward. We left the delights of the Turks and Caicos Islands on Sunday and sailed 60 miles to the reef bound anchorage at Abrahams Bay, Mayaguana Island, for us the most southerly part of the Bahamas. A stiffish Easterly meant that the overnight anchorage would be safe but uncomfortable. As we headed for the cut through the reef Madeleine was heard to mutter – “can’t be worse than South Caicos”. So lexicons are made and reputations are lost!