I left Calabash Bay at 7:00 am and headed North around Cape St. Mary on my way to Rum Cay for another short run. The day was beautiful with sunshine and again, light winds coming slightly against me so I motored.I accomplished a couple of goals during the journey to Rum Cay. One was to bake some bread underway – granted, the dough had already been made, it was only a matter o pulling loaf from freezer and letting proof for a few hours then baking – but still it was awesome to have the aroma of fresh bread coming up from the cabin while sailing. The second accomplishment is that I was able to run the water maker for a good long run. I started about 8:30am and kept going until 2pm. With the sunny weather, the solar power was doing all the work and I probably got 30+ gallons into the tank.
One other note is that halfway between St Maries Point and Rum Cay, I hooked a fish for the first time in the Bahamas. I went to go start pulling it in and there was no pull on the line but in the distance, I see this beautiful fish, long, thin, bullet shaped with silvery body and vertical stripes doing the game fish tail walk. Since I found out shortly afterwards that my lure and leader had parted from the main line, I am sure that it was trying to shake it out of its mouth as it tail danced off into the distance, even though it was no longer attached to my gear. It probably made 8-10 jumps before disappearing with one of the lure I know now works. I wasn’t sure what it was but since then I think it was likely a Wahoo. I have vowed to get more lures and update my tackle for better success when I do hook a good one.
I unfortunately, did not make as good a progress with the wind against me as I had hoped, but was still making 4.5knots and got to Rum Cay around 3:30pm. This was a little later than I wanted as I like to arrive early to see the bottom really well and I started to get concerned as I approached that the harbor was not going to provide the protection I wanted. The cove is protected well from the North and somewhat from the East, but the winds were currently in the East and likely to clock around to SE or S and even though predicted to be light, it was a concern.
This moment was the beginning of a series of anchorages that I rejected due to lack of protection in the current wind situation (more on that to come). I decided that I was in great spirits and I would go ahead and sail through the night and go on to my next destination directly; Samana Cay. This was going to be another 12-14 hours of sailing but I was up for it and made the bold decision to go for it. Yay me!
So now I am officially going to be on the longest, single hand passage I have made. Samana Cay is on the eastern edge of the Bahamas and is really, pretty much in the Atlantic. The leg of my journey from Rum Cay to Samana Cay is about 68 nm on top of the 35 I have already made during the day (I just realized as I write this, this is my first 100+ mile passage!!). I’m off and sailing through the night. It was pretty calm for the ocean. Waves were minimal and swells were probably 2-4 feet with long cycle, so it was really comfortable sailing. It was a long night though. The weather while very light wind wise, was starting to get some later evening thunderhead development. By Twilight, there were numerous anvil clouds in the vicinity, mostly to my north. I got treated to a light show with all the lightning and storm activity. Probably the second best way to see where you are going at night, after a full moon. I was a little nervous and you will find some bread residue on my laptop as I put it, along with my cellphones and handheld vhf in the over for faraday cage protection. Through the night, I kept myself awake, made some ramen noodles and started getting close to Samana around 5:30 am. Now here is the downside… I need to have pretty good lighting to enter the cay so that I can see that numerous coral heads to get in. This means I need to wait until at least 9 am to have good light so I end up slowing down and attempting my first lying ahull to get some catnaps while I meander the long way to the harbor entrance. Lying ahull is basically just taking sails down, shutting off engines and letting the wind and current take the boat as it will. It can be uncomfortable as the boat bounces with the waves and swell and usually gets pretty rolly as the natural way the boat seems to want to ride is beam to the seas. As long as you don’t have any land or reefs or traffic, and when seas are light it is a viable option. I set myself far off from the cay and go down for a couple of 20 minutes naps with alarm set. This works the first time but the second time, I either didn’t set my alarm correctly or I sleep snoozed it. I woke after 30 minutes instead of 20. As anxious as I was, I didn’t really sleep much but the down time of not manning the helm helped.
The cloud cover has really come in overnight and now even though it is 9 am, there is no light for visibility and none on the horizon. I re-read the passage on what to expect going into Propeller Cove and it is pretty clear that this is a very narrow passage recommended only for the risk takers and highly experienced in good conditions. Most of the guides can be a little over bearing but with the bad light and a bit of wind coming up, I again, decide to pass on this and start heading South to my next harbor, Plana Cays.
It is now officially, Thursday morning and I am giving up on Samana as an anchorage and moving on.
My next potentials include Atwood Harbor and Plana Cays. I consider just going straight to Mayguana but it is 12 hours and I would arrive after dark. Plana Cays were my first choice so I start that way. My next little adventure begins ashortly after I start heading South. This whole time, I have been towing the dinghy behind the boat. My options are to do this, pull the motor off and put it and the dinghy on the deck (major crossings), put the dinghy on the davits with or without the motor. The problem with the davits is that I have yet to find a good way to get the dinghty to ride without swaying and causing all sorts of chafing problems. This is without the weight of the outboard so with the outboard, I really can’t leave it there for any but flat seas. Taking the motor off and putting it back on is a pain so I decided to tow it behind since the weather was forecast to be so calm. I could pull it on deck at the next calm anchorage if forecast changed.
Well, I had a painter tied to my dinghy on the bow handle. This is a rubber type material that is integral to the dinghy and was where I had put the painter originally for other reasons and left it there. I remember at one point prior to this trip that I should reposition the painter to the bow eye bolt instead, thinking mainly that it would ride better. Not 10 minutes after I decide to start heading away from Samana Bay, I turn back and see the dinghy is not there. Oh Shit!! I look on the horizon and I see that it is only about 200 meters behind me and riding well. The line had broken the handle on the bow of the dinghy. I guess this is another one of those bad news / good news situations that I keep having, On one hand, I had my dinghy come loose and broke the bow handle while having to deal with recapturing it,… on the other hand, how many times have I gone for 10, 20, 30 minutes without even glancing over my shoulder and this is the time I turn around and see it while I can. I think this is providence.
It took me an hour to recapture the dinghy. I had removed all the extra lines so I had to approach it and then deploy the swim ladder so I could reach down to attach a new line to a strong point. Of course, this is when the sky opens up and it starts raining cats and dogs. I persist and after a few tries, waist deep off the side of the boat on the ladder, I am able to capture one errant dinghy. I thing she was just as glad to be back as I was to have her. She looked pretty darn lonely out there drifting. It was also a challenge to manage the boat hook, two lines, pfd and harness, steering the boat and getting all of these to come together but I keep finding that necessity is a fierce motivator. I move on.
After and hour or so, I notice how much closer Atwood Harbor is so angle my path a bit to the West to head there instead. I am really looking forward to getting some sleep now so closer is better. About this point, I notice that the problem with air in the fuel lines is starting to get worse. It had been once every 4-6 hours that I would have an issue but it is getting to be I can’t make two hours without having to bleed the lines. As I get within 6-7 miles of the harbor, I am seeing more and more SW and Westerly swells coming in and the wind is starting to clock even more to the North. Atwood is protected well from 3 sides, but the NW is wide open. I was kind of worried about this but then I heard another cruiser on the vhf say that the entrance was untenable, there were breaking waves so this was now a no-go.
My next option is possible shelter off Plana Cays. Plana Cays are a couple of uninhabited cays that can offer shelter in an easterly. I was hoping that the wind would continue to clock around as predicted and that in a few hours when I got there, they would offer some protection and at this point, a badly needed rest. The wind was finally in my favor, still light, but I could sail downwind most of the way to the Planas as the afternoon wore on with pleasant sunshine.
Well, once again, the best laid plans are often fruitless. As I got down to the anchorage on the West side of Plana, the weather was still coming from the NW and there was good swell to go along with the wind waves. Damn, moving on to another anchorage but at least I had a plan. Once I got around the south side of the Planas, I would have tons of searoom and the prevailing winds now coming from the north, I would be able to try heaving to. As I got down to the southern tip of Plana, I did see a few boats anchored and got excited for a few minutes. As I went closer, they were fighting the swell a lot and I did not want to risk without two anchors.
Besides lying ahull, an even better option for taking a break on open water is to heave to. This is a method in which you backwind the jib, luff the main and turn the rudder against the jib so that you are basically standing still except for some downwind drift. I had never practiced this before in a large boat so this was a great opportunity. In addition, the wind was on the lighter side (10-12 knots) and predicted to subside overnight. All I can say is that it was a success. I found a good area on the leg to Mayaguana and spent about 2 hours in one spot and another hour a bit closer where I was able to set this up. I pulled cushions up on deck and slept for 20-30 minutes at a time with two alarms. It was not a peaceful way to sleep, but it helped a lot.
At this point, I was heading for my fifth different anchoring option since leaving Calabash almost two days prior with almost 100% at the helm, hand steering. Many boats have auto pilot. Mine does but as I found out after buying it, it doesn’t work properly. This I now a top priority for me to install. As I again wait for the sun to rise so I have good visibility into a reef strewn harbor, an old problem starts getting worse. The air in the fuel system is now starting to manifest at almost an hourly interval, sometimes as little as 45 minutes. As I start heading towards the harbor entrance, the NE winds start cranking and it looks more and more sketchy. This anchorage is about 5 miles long by 2 miles wide with lots of places to anchor but you need good light and I was really nervous about the engine at this point. My next option was about 15 miles away at Southeast point off the SE end of the island. This is a great jumping off place for heading to T&C. The wind direction was perfect for this as protection so AGAIN, I chicken shit my way out of an anchorage in front of me to go to something better down the road. All I can say is that I got there and when I did, I found great holding in clear sand and 17 feet of water. It was where I needed to go anyway to get to T&C, just sooner than I would have wished. As a side note, in good weather, the reefs and coral in this area are probably teeming with fish & lobster, I just was too tired to do anything but sleep. I was the only boat here until about 7pm when a lone straggler came in from the SE and anchored out a bit further.
I anchored from about 3pm until midnight when I left for T&C