Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Rerouted by a Storm

June 2016

We departed West Bay with the intention of bringing our Bahamian adventure to a close with our course set for Florida.  We were headed towards the southern tip of the Bimini chain, a location far enough south to make the Palm Beach Inlet without the gulf stream sweeping us too far north. We had not decided if we were going to stop there or continue overnight towards Florida.

The sky was bright, and the sea was a vibrant glassy sapphire blue.

Sailing past high altitude rainfall.

We were happily sailing along at approximately 25 knots in calm waters towards clear blue sunny skies when I casually looked behind me. The sky was turning black as rapidly moving dark clouds coalesced on the horizon. Waterspouts began dropping to the sea.  "AJ!" I yelled pointing towards the stern. Then promptly went below to get the off shore life vests while AJ started reefing.

When I came back up a wall of darkness was devouring the light. As it encroached on both sides, we found ourselves pointed towards an ever-narrowing window of blue sky.

The wind kicked up, we put in another reef and decided to hightail it to the nearest island, Chub key.

We made it to Chub in time to anchor before sunset. It was a long windy bouncy night in the unprotected anchorage of a sport fishing club resort island. Unbeknownst to us, it was the first of many stormy nights to come, and our Bahamian adventure was far from over. 

Friday, January 6, 2017

Stormy Weather and a Broken Prop

June 2016

We dropped anchor in Nassau Harbor, and while backing down to set it in the bottom, I allowed my rudder to overturn and strike the prop.  (I knew I should have installed turn stops)  The whole drivetrain started shaking and vibrating, so I dropped into neutral.  Our little Yanmar diesel still idled and revved smoothly in neutral, so at least I didn't bend a con rod or crankshaft, but a quick dive overboard revealed that our four-month-old two-bladed prop was a, still youthful, but much less useful, single blade prop.

Immediately I thought about all the hassle trying to get a spare radio into the country a couple months earlier, and I knew we would have to source a prop locally.  Luckily, a local prop shop on the island had a spare used three blade prop that could be modified to fit.  "Island cheap" at just under $500, but they still wanted another $450 for an in-water dive installation and wouldn't be able to do the install for two weeks.  I ordered the prop to be modified and they said we could pick it up in a couple days.

Nassau Harbor is a long East-West straight of water between the main island, New Providence, and the barrier island, Paradise Island/Atlantis Resort.  This means that during tidal shifts, the current rips through at about 3-4 knots in a different direction every 6 hours and lays slack between times.  Anchoring in a situation like this can be hairy because your boat drifts over the anchor and starts pulling hard 180 degrees opposite every six hours, so if your anchor doesn't properly roll over and re-set in the sand, then you will go adrift...  FAST... through a tight harbor packed with multi-million dollar boats.

The nice part about storms and heavy wind in the harbor is that you only swing on your anchor in one direction if the wind is strong enough to beat the ripping current.  Of course, then your keel is sideways to the current, and the boat starts sailing up on the anchor before reaching the end of the rode, stalling and falling back to do it again.
Geologically speaking, Nassau is a terrible place to anchor.
Geographically speaking, is is a pretty nice place to break down.

Obviously, I was nervous hanging on anchor in Nassau harbor for a couple days without push-button propulsion.  With storms on the forecast, I was more than just nervous.  But, in situations like this you've got to figure out something.  So I manually deployed another anchor, dove to the bottom to dig the anchors into the sandy/muddy bottom by hand, and scoured the area for anchor-clogging debris.
(With the anchor we pulled up a total of four pairs of jeans, a heavy weather jacket, and a concrete cinder block wrapped in flannel shirts during this trip.)

The storms rolled in from the north over Atlantis Resort.

Everybody in the anchorage hunkers down for the blow and 90 degree shift in position.  

As expected, the prop was being fixed on island time, so we spent another week sitting in harbor without power. Every storm was nerve wracking.  Watching the GPS drag alarm, sitting in foul weather gear, just waiting to spring on deck and fire up the dinghy (instead of the big boat's diesel) if trouble arose.

With a week of fast moving storm fronts and killer oscillating currents, the anchors had to come loose at some point, and sure enough when returning from a grocery trip to town, we found our boat had drug out into the shipping port turning basin, immediately in front of Nassau Harbor Control.  We meekly dinghied back to the boat, and Nassau Harbor Patrol was on us within minutes, demanding that we move.  I agreed, apologized for the disruption, and promptly failed to notify them that I lacked power and lacked a dinghy with the power to move my boat in the current.

One thing the Army instilled in me: Many problems that seem insurmountable can actually be overcome with rigorous output of brutal manual labor.  With this in mind, I realized "just" had to hand-over-hand haul our 9 ton boat about 150 feet to the first anchor, hand pull the anchor and chain out of the mud, drive it out into the current about 200 feet, and reset it before the current pulled the boat over into the commercial docks.  Then I could do the exact same thing with the other anchor. And if I did that four times in a row, then I could "walk" my boat out, anchor-by-anchor, a couple hundred yards into a safe spot in just a couple hours. So I did that, and I only had to dive 25 feet to dig the anchor out of the harbor's underwater anti-drag cables twice along the way.

Two days later and a week late, we got the prop from the shop.  I wasn't about to spend $450 on a diver for a half hour, so I gathered up my hammer, pliers, wrenches, prop puller and all my gumption and did it myself. Six breath-hold dives (plus a couple for go-pro selfies) to do the job from start to finish and POOF, one blade becomes three.

More storms were coming so within an hour or so of installing the prop, we were under sail en route to West Bay at the western tip of New Providence island to catch the first good passage westward.

Exiting the western Harbor entrance.
Physically and mentally, this was hell week, but there is nothing like taking some hell to make you feel like a superhero.  And West Bay turned out to be a great little natural day spa to scrub it all away. We watched the sun set from the deserted secluded beach while having ourselves a sand scrub ocean bath.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

24 Hour Sail to New Providence

June 2016

With weather getting less predictable so late in the season, we decided to make rapid progress home with a direct sail back to Nassau. From Arthur's Town we would sail west, keeping north and skirt the southern coast of Eleuthra, cross the Exuma Sound, sail right through a passage near the northern tip of the Exhumas, and then jig northwest to sail right into the eastern entrance to Nassau Harbor.  

Experience led us to longer and longer (aka: more accurate) calculations for average distance to destination, so we figured on a conservative a 20 hour sail.  We left Arthur's Town, Cat Island at 3:45 PM for the overnight sail. We predicted a sunrise arrival in the  Exumas and a near-noon arrival in Nassau, with plenty of sunlight left for error.  And if we sailed faster than expected, and finished the leg to the Exumas before sunrise we would be able to turn north up the Exumas until sunrise and pick the next best crossing, then sail a shortened northwest leg through the morning.

Wind was coming steady at nearly 20 knots directly from the east, so I used my spare Garhauer 4:1 snap shackle blocks to rig a boom preventer so we could safely sail wing-and-wing dead down wind out of the anchorage in Arthur's town at 7 knots.  Engines are for the nervous.  I even found that the Aries windvane actually really likes sailing wing and wing downwind, provided you set your sails correctly for helm.

In our usual routine, after setting the windvane I droppped three heavy 6" plastic squid lures in the water to troll, set out on two hand fishing spools with massive 150lb. test clear monofilament line.  I had taken to sending two lures out on one of the spools, spaced at about 15 feet, so maybe it "looked" like a small school of squid were following our boat.  (Do squid school?  Do they follow boats?  Fish don't give a shit, so neither do I.)

Shortly out of sight of Arthur's town we landed three Jacks on all three lures at the same time.  During the "fight" (I throw on leather gloves, grab the line by hand, and mostly just yank them aboard) we lost the second lure on one of the lines, but still ended up with two Jacks alongside.   I wasn't really able to ID them (Jack Crevalle?), but I know their shape is both edible and tasty.

When I gutted the first jack, it had some strange yellow grub-like things in pockets around the gut sac, but when I began cutting the filet at the head, I saw they were big yellow worms and they had eaten pockets throughout its flesh...  We tossed it back and I began filleting the second one.  Same issue.  I thought back on every piece of raw fish I had devoured.  Still within range of BaTelCo's Cat Island Cell Towers, Sarah looked up wild fish parasites on Google and confirmed our findings, while I dumped bucket after bucket of seawater into the cockpit to wash away the blood and guts.

I steered west into the sunset; I couldn't be taken by its splendor.  Covered in the red spatterings of missed fish guts, I gazed downward into the endless ocean and mourned the death of my love: Sushi.

But the ocean heard my call and shortly after sunset, as we crossed into the deep of  the Exuma Sound and landed our first Yellowfin Tuna, two at the same time.  A raw fish eater's delight.   We couldn't take on that much meat, so I tossed one back to filet the other.  No worms, just that famous firm beef-red tuna flesh.

The eyes looked up at me.  "Eat me," it called out. "I am safe." I hesitated.  Then I saw that beautiful raw tuna flesh for myself.  I couldn't not eat it.  So, I didn't not eat it.

Jacked Jack by day, Tasty Tuna by night.

After filling up on tuna, we watched a movie to start the overnight passage on the west leg to the Exhumas.  We were following a rarely-travelled path through the islands with no shipping lanes until morning, so we relaxed below for much of the night on a "mutual watch," allowing our AIS/GPS warning beacons and regular on-deck checks to prevent mishaps in the dark.  The boom preventer proved very useful as I was able to fine tune the rig to allow the boat to ghost downwind as slow as 2.5 knots with about the same in apparent wind across the deck while Alfred, our Aries windvane, self-steered.

Yes, you read that right.  Don't give up on your windvane!

I believe you can balance almost any self-steering device with sail trim.  Just play with your boom vang, Cunningham, outhaul, preventer (if downwind), etc., and especially sacrifice your sheeting in order to find the sailtrim to balance the boat in a way that your windvane likes.  Optimal performance trim does not result in optimal cruising/self-steering trim, and the half knot you lose in speed is made up for by perfect directional steering that responds properly to swells and waves over the course of hours and never stalls.  A well-set windvane is as good as 90% of helmsmen, and even a better helmsman would require constant concentration to beat it over a long course.  We will eventually get an electric autopilot for motoring, but the windvane is an amazing tool that is far more useful than most people give it credit for.

Sunrise after a full night of ghosting downwind in still water, and Alfred the windvane finally gybed at 2 knots boat speed with zero wind across the deck.  I was half-awake eyeing the sun anyway, so I stepped on deck and looked around at the glassy sea.  We let the sails hang and the boat bob in the middle of endless deep blue, 10 miles east off the Exhumas sea shelf, while we made coffee and breakfast and prepared for a day of motoring.

The next day went smoothly.  We motored up to the eastern shore of Highbourne Cay, where we had first entered the Exhumas a month and a half earlier on the west side.  It was an easy inlet just north of the island, and by the time we were crossing on the shelf, the wind was back and we were able to quiet the blazing iron beast again and sail for most of the northwest leg.

As afternoon wore on, we caught a couple very large barracuda that also took the last two squid lures with them when trying to de-hook.  The wind turned northwest, and we had to motor into Nassau for the last hour.  And at 3:45 PM the next day, after a slow, relaxing, exactly-24-hour sail, we dropped anchor.

While backing down on the anchor, I released the tiller long enough for the rudder to overturn, and BAM!, make contact with the prop.  The boat started violently shaking, and I shut down the engine immediately.  A jump overboard to inspect for damage revealed that my two bladed bronze prop was now a one bladed bronze prop.  Luckily Cheoy Lee uses a 1 1/2" diameter solid steel driveshaft that is only 16" long for the boat, so that was still straight...  and at least the anchor was set deep.

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