Jan 20, 2019
We were finally in the Bahamas! We woke up to a gorgeous anchorage on a calm, sunny morning. The water was clear and we were ready to get sailing. We left to head around the North Rocks, not surprisingly, just north of the Bimini islands. Within the first hour we had half a dozen dolphins surfing the bow wave in front of us and then we started seeing flying fish jumping out of the water. We saw hundreds of them, skipping along the waves as we passed. I was kind of surprised because I thought that flying fish would kind of leap out of the water and glide for a little bit but these suckers were flapping their fins and covering 100-200 yards at a shot. It was pretty amazing for the first time to see them.
Coming up to the banks, I was pretty nervous about coral heads, shoals, rocks, etc. so I had Sam out on the bow keeping a look out. As we came closer, the depth got shallower and shallower, finally settling around 18 feet. I started off by steering around every dark spot or shadow but as we progressed, we noticed that most of the shadows were from weed beds on the bottom. The sandy patches were easy to tell as they were much lighter than any other areas. After the first hour of this, we kept an eye out but we were now old pros at this and much more comfortable.
The banks are pretty barren in general. We sailed for close to eight hours straight and the two key events were when Bimini was no long in sight and when the bank went from 18 feet to 12 feet depth about halfway through the day. We had light winds around 8-10 knots so only made about 4 knots which put us out in the middle of the bank as darkness started approaching. I was hoping to make it to Mackie Shoal for a little shallower anchoring but I didn’t want to sail the banks in the dark so we found searched around and since 25 feet was the shallowest we could find, we anchored for the night. It was very odd to be anchored with no land in sight but the winds were mild and we were hopeful the banks would be kind to us overnight.
Well, the winds came up overnight and by morning it was howling pretty good. We went to weigh anchor and found that Nefertari was well attached and riding some good swells. The wind was probably around 20 knots at this point and since we did not have a motor, we tried using the windlass to pull us up to the anchor. That worked somewhat, but as we got closer, the clutch started slipping and I was seeing the windlass start to buck on the deck. It looked like one good tug and it was going to rip off completely. Then it got more complicated as the anchor chain jumped out of the roller on the bow and was now sawing away at the side of the bowsprit. Alex and I spend the next hour fighting with trying to get the chain back in the roller, all the while having to cut off pieces of the snubber line as they are frayed and blocking the chain from coming on board any further.
The wind has probably picked up to 25 knots by now and the occasional wave is coming over the bow. Trying to use the windlass handle as a lever on the chain is a failure and that goes overboard. Alex is holding on to the windlass to try to keep it on deck and we are all starting to think we are in trouble here. We try to sail up on the anchor but we can’t get close enough to pull it free from the bottom. Finally, we all go back and huddle in the cockpit and start brainstorming solutions. I knew that one option we had not tried was to use heavy dock lines on the primary winches to pull the boat up to the anchor. Between Sam, Alex and I we struggled with a few different arrangements for the lines on the deck but after an hour of inch by inch progress as we swapped llines between the two winches, we finally got the anchor to let loose and got it up on deck.
By this point, we were exhausted but now we were in a pretty good storm and needed to get the boat moving towards our destination. I look back and think that we got the anchor up just in time because at this point, the wind picked up even more and we were close on a gale blowing over the banks at us. The next 3-4 four hours were some exciting sailing as we raced towards the NW Channel and the Berry Island. It rained, a lot, a really lot. We were miserable and soaked to the bone but luckily, the temperature was in the mid-seventies so it wasn’t terrible, we just really needed some sunshine.
As evening approached, we were racing to make it through the passage at the NW Channel before dark. It is a well marked route on the charts, but navigating in the dark around reefs is just not a great option. There was some concern on how treacherous the gap might be but as we neared it, it was pretty easy to navigate through. Now we were heading to Chubb Cay to find a good anchorage for the night. We certainly deserved some rest.
Darkness came quickly and Chubb Cay did not. It was pitch black by the time we got there and no moon was visible. We had two challenges now in trying to anchor. The first was darkness and the ability to find protection from a Westerly wind. All of the anchorages we had scouted were on the south side of the Berry Islands with little protection from west winds. The second problem we had was that coming into a a spot in the dark, we needed to make sure we were over sand and not coral when we dropped anchor. Without knowing for sure, we risked losing our main anchor if it got snagged in a coral head. We passed one potential anchorage after another as they did not have the protection or had too much coral on the charts. We were also a bit challenged as we were reefed pretty well and unable to point. At one point, we could not even tack into the wind and had to jibe to change course.
It was getting very frustrating as we were all tired and really wanted to stop for the night. I attempted to raise the stay sail as an alternative to the reefed jib, to see if we could point any higher, but the sail had not been set up previously and in a stormy sea, I could not get it raised fully and so that idea was scrapped. I told Alex & Sam that as terrible an option as it was, our best bet was to push on another 30 miles and head to Nassau. We did have the option to sail another 10 miles East and hide behind the lee of the Berry Islands, but there were no good anchorages showing on the charts so we would likely be sailing all night in place anyway, just with a little less wind.
We agreed to sail on to Nassau. Oh what a night. The next 12 hours were pretty miserable. We were under just the reefed jib at around 15% and making 7-8 knots. Wind started clocking and was coming out of the NW for most of the night so we had big 8-10 foot, following seas all the way in. The boat’s rolling motion was pretty wild through the trip with 50-60 degrees at times. Everything down below was tossed around and the racket was frightening. Sam was a rock on the helm. He had started as we turned out of Berry Islands and gt into a groove, despite the rough weather. Alex hung in there but the motion was not treating him kindly at all. We took turns trying to catch 30-40 minute catnaps during the trip down and at one point, noticed that we were witnessing a full lunar eclipse. What are the odds?
Finally coming in to Nassau around 8 am, we chatted with the Harbor Control and about the fact we had no Marina but needed permission to enter harbor. The granted it but were a little taken aback when I asked about sea conditions at the West entrance. I was imaging breakers with the NW winds that had been pummeling us all night but the winds had died down to around 10-15 knots and the entrance was fine. There was quite the morning line up of cruise and cargo ships lined up to get into the harbor and we were just able to get in behind one cargo ship before another cargo ship was approaching behind us.
Now we had another issue. The cargo ship in front of us had slowed down due to the delay as the cruise ships were tying up and as we were under sail power alone, we needed to keep going straight in to the harbor. Our lack of engine power and the shoals on either side limited our steering and as much as I tried to slow our approach, we were going to have to do something quickly. I was able to get skipper of the cargo ship, the Carribe Legend, on the radio and explained we wanted to pass on their starboard due to our situation. I expected they would let us slip by but the actually pulled fully to the Port and made a full circle to let us come into the harbor without delay. If I ever meet the crew, I owe them a beer.
Once in the harbor, we started to relax a little and were very happy when the Bahamian Defense force boat offered to tow to us to an anchorage spot as the winds in the harbor had died down and we could not make it past the cruise ship terminal under sail. The first location we were taken to we had no sooner dropped the anchor when we got waved off by anoother anchored boat. They said they also were dealing with engine problems and indicated we were too close in the channel due to current. We got moved up a bit to a different spot anchored. The defense force boarded and reviewed our paperwork and were very professional. There was no charge for the tow. Wow!
No sooner had they left when a French couple on a catamaran next to us started yelling at us, saying they had 70 meters of chain out and we were on their anchor. We had a very hard time communicating with them as they didn’t speak English and we have no French. The caption kept yelling “I am French, I don’t speak English”. I finally pulled up translate on my phone and told him “No pas la moteur”. They understood but were visibly pissed. They ended up pulling up anchor to allow us room where we were stuck, which was good as we needed to let out more rode than our boat distance would have allowed. I offered them a bottle of wine in a gesture of apology but they waved me off. Note to self, in the future if you let someone else tow you, make sure to direct them exactly where you want to go as they may not know what they are doing or be looking out for your interests. This is not a slam on the defense force as they were incredibly helpful and polite and gave us a tow with no charge and the utmost of professionalism, just a note to take responsibility.
We crashed for the next two days before even attempting to go ashore, but we had made it.