Sailing Back to the Bahamas
Sat Jan 21, 2017 - Week 1
On a windless mirror-like morning Mystique, mainsail-raised at 6:00 am - hoisted anchor soon after, departed calm seas on Biscayne Bay, motored passed Florida Straits south of Key Biscayne in the midst of dawning yawning fishermen.
By around 9:30 am with the Miami skyline about 10-12 miles behind us, our starboard engine alarm signaled a malfunction - the main fan belt had worn out and slipped off its wheels causing an overheated engine. Nevertheless, disabled, but not discouraged, we continued eastward with only one port engine and mainsail.
When the southerly wind filled in around us a few minutes later around 10;00 am at about 15 knots, we turned off our remaining engine, unfurled the jib and starting sailing eastward at 7-8 knots towards Bimini 45 miles away.
We entered the Gulf Stream at around 11:30. Wind stayed steady blowing 15-18 knots and the ocean was not yet choppy or white-capped rough so we were sailing easterly rather smartly at between 7-9 knots.
By lunchtime (Clint's chicken and lettuce on sourdough bread), we were flying along at close to 9 knots. No ships insight. Under sunny sky, we had the seas to ourselves! By 4:00 we had entered Bahamian waters a few miles north of Bimini's North Rocks, the waves calmed down as shallower water (from thousands of feet to 26 feet).
Both Clint and I shared how refreshing it felt to have the total burden shed from our shoulders. We knew we were both competent and capable. And we knew we would remain calm in the midst of sea-going challenges. We had, after all, sailed numerous times together during our combined 132 years of life experience, much of it living on, near or with water, boats, sails and seafaring. And a complementary aspect to our friendship was our skill sets overlapping each other. Clint was more mechanical and electrical while I more sailorly. Our combined talents seemed to fit our heads and as we would be reminded - our hands and hearts as well!
Heading still as close to east as possible, Mystique beat against a stiffening southeasterly. Making great time and hoping for the wind to clock around more westerly, I was anticipating the wind angle would soon change and make us really fly while heading for Northwest Channel 70 more eastward miles away. Steering as high as possible into the wind, the breeze had freshened further to 22-25 knots.
I had just taken the helm to begin my two-hour stint at the helm and thought we needed to shorten sails soon when the booms traveler broke on a sudden gust. I rousted Clint from his bunk to address the situation. As Auto (our auto pilot) steered, Clint climbed and crawled the hard top to jury-rig our wounded wing while I moved forward to the mast and reefed the main. Within 30 minutes, Mystique had been restored and resuscitated and back on course with shortened mainsail. A full jib and another challenge faced. It would take another hour before the jib too would have to be reefed to half its size.
Having sailed through the night, and into our second morning, blustery southerly winds with gusts to 25 knots and 4-5 foot waves accompanied us. after 30 hours, we finally entered Nassau harbor at around 1:00 in the afternoon.
As we approached the coast of New Providence, I mentioned to Clint we might encounter an adverse current inside the harbor. I could envision the wind intensity and with only one engine our maneuver ability once we entered Nassau's harbor might be limited. There was also the unknown number of boat traffic and cruise ships we were bound to meet.
As we entered, I radioed the harbor master who instructed us to proceed to the nearest cruise ship docking area, but his instructions did not specify which side so a security patrol boat soon directed us to the other side of the wharf and to Customs and Immigration. We docked near the yellow administrative office building behind a gigantic cruise liner that was boarding a long line of human lemmings.
That checking-in process took close to 30 minutes and $300 for a year's cruising pass with a free renewal of another year if we returned again within those 12 months - a change in policy and a more inviting one than in the past.
We then found our way to an anchoring field. The current was not a factor after all, but I knew with one engine and a strong wind, Mystique was not as agile as she could be so I carefully chose a location. On the third try, we found a good spot 30-40 yards away from and between two motorboats. It was now about 2:30 pm when our anchor was set. And it held nicely for 15 hours until early the next morning.
Mon Jan 24
Muffling within a howling breeze at 5:30 am, an onshore alarm system woke the anchorage. 3 consecutive loud horn blasts breached the pre-dawn waterfront. I was already awake in my bunk, so I scurried up on deck innocently in my birthday suit only to discover that the loud alarm signals were directed at us.
At the time Mystique seemed firmly anchored, but sometime in the wee hours of the morning my cat had drifted downwind 30-40 yards towards the middle of the channel, yet not in any danger to anyone or any other vessel, but nevertheless a security boat flashed a spotlight on Mystique and my naked butt. Over a loudspeaker a voice blared out that we had drifted too close to morning harbor boat traffic pattern. While I could see we had dragged some distance, my initial thought was I had violated some sort of locally strict dress code. After all, my vessel was not in any imminent danger or obstructing any ship's passage, so finding a bathing suit seemed to me to be my first priority. Moving Mystique was my close second.
When Clint came up on deck and realized our situation, he went immediately to the fore deck windlass to raise the anchor. I went to the helm, turned on our port engine so we motored forward a few yards to reset the anchor in deeper water one more time.
If I had not had Clint's electrical expertise on board, I would have certainly turned around for repair. His first diagnosis was the water pump needed replacing. How could this be, I thought, when the engine had recently been serviced last month? But as soon as it cooled down, Clint installed a spare belt. Later that day in calmer water he would assess its condition and then fix it....though the cause would remain a mystery.
Somehow our conversation lead to our boat's welfare and our responsibility to it. We both mentioned how comforting it felt to know our shoulders split most of the load and duties this voyage offered. Both Clint and I had sailed many times and we instinctively knew we could face and rectify most seafaring situations calmly. That was the gift we brought to and bestowed on each other.
Sun Jan 22
I stayed on watch afterwards, but never saw one single vessel large or small pass by, except for the frantic and frenetic harbor patrol. My immediate thought was did they somehow need to justify their existence by waking the neighborhood?
The strong southerly overnight winds and harbor tidal current had not loosened Mystique's underwater muddy grip until almost daylight. Mysterious! The next day would prove otherwise.
Mon Jan 24
The 30-knot gusts had not abated much during the night but the breeze had shifted westerly creating harbor waves and whitecaps by the early dawn.
By mid-morning, we decided to go ashore and find some boom parts. After two-hours walking East Bay Street, we had confirmed our suspicions that little nautical sailing parts would be available on the island. But by noon Clint had at least activated his Bahamian phone, we had purchased a few incidentals and had eaten lunch at a Subway-like shop. Nothing major....just a few parts. The wind was too strong to continue (30 knots yesterday and this morning) and we needed parts. Of course, we were unable to find them after a 2-hour walk yesterday so I am going to order them through West Marine. Leg-tired, we still were joking as we made our way back to the marina's dinghy dock.
As we returned to Mystique, we noticed that the wind and waves had piped up and I noticed an unmanned motor-less inflatable floating across our path. We went to retrieve it, grabbed onto it and towed it against the waves and wind. We soon noticed a man waving his arms frantically at us from an upwind dock. We soon handed him the bowline as he thanked us in a indistinguishable tongue.
We stopped for lunch and free wifi at the Blue Parrot. Mystique had withstood the increased forces of wind, waves and current and stood proudly where we had left her. We had checked the forecast the Blue Parrot shore bar where free wifi enticed us for a beer each - a $13 tab excluding tip!
We knew we had to return the next day to order some boom and traveler parts online from West Marine. Reading time and afternoon naps helped restore our vigor by evening. I served seared pork chops soaked in coconut oil with black beans and salad for dinner satisfied our hunger. And our night would not have any rude interruptions like the previous one.
Tues Jan 25
After we both dinghied ashore, and finished some ordering of a traveler part for the boom and some emails, we decided to take advantage of the smart and steady westerly breeze and a sunny overhead.
So as soon as we returned to Mystique, we ate lunch and weighed anchor heading east to Eleuthera 45 miles away. We raised sails, first the jib in the harbor making nearly 7 knots with a favorable current under two Nassau bridges. I hoisted our main few miles further when we were clear of city and coral heads. With the wind behind us, Mystique flew along the southern undersides of the coral reef that runs most of the way to Eleuthera. This reef calmed the westerly waves so we scouted along at around 8 knots. We knew we would arrive and anchor in darkness in a quiet place called Current Bay. Once situated and in flat and protected seas, I cooked hamburgers, onions and served Clint and me a tasty avocado lettuce and tomato salad. Our appetites made our after-dinner a breeze!
Wed Jan 26
As I woke, I peered out my porthole berth to a calm and pastel eastern sea. The sun was moments away from her display and then her orange sphere slowly ascended my view and lit up my stateroom with yellow golden light.
Thur Jan 27
We made our way to Spanish Wells and walked the whole settlement. Well, we had a ride in a golf cart from 89-year old native Captain Bird.