Sunday, August 13, 2017

How to get to Andros the Hard Way

June 2016

Our long sail from New Providence Island back to Florida was cut way short when we had to stop at Chub Cay in the Berries to wait out the storms.  Weather at this time of year is spotty, and at this location on earth: doubly so.

The stretch of water between Chub Cay and Nassau is a few thousand feet deep, and then, in the stretch of a few hundred yards, climbs to the Bahama banks at about 10-12 feet deep, stretching about 70-100 miles west from the Berries and Andros to the next multi-thousand foot deep trench: the Gulf stream.



During slack tide, water sits on the shallow shelf and heat up in the sun while other waters hide in the deep in the trench, getting quite cold.  When the tide changes, either warm water "spills" off the shelf into the cold deep, or cold water is forced out of the deep and vertically up the wall to the warm shallows where it creates rapid thunderheads.

Chub Cay lies on the edge of the shelf where all this watery madness happens and about 12 miles west of the Northwest Channel, the only place on the shelf edge that is deep enough (about 12 feet) for a ship to traverse.

The day after being rerouted to Chub Cay by storms, we made our second attempt at the Northwest passage. It was lovely, mostly sunny day with a very favorable 15 knot south wind that had us on a gentle reach under full sail to the channel, no need to run the little diesel.  It was so nice that with an hour left to the channel, I popped down below to fix some lunch.  While Sarah and I were eating, Robin suddenly lurched hard on ear, almost putting a rail in the water while turning nearly 90 degrees from east to north.  I jumped on deck to see what had happened expecting we had snagged a crabpot or one of my sheets or steering lines had frayed, but instead we were in the middle of 50 knots of wind from the west, and a small black spot cloud had formed in the otherwise sunny sky.  Our Aries self-steering windvane steers according to the wind direction, so when Mother Nature decided to change 90 degrees almost instantly, the Aries did too.

But now we were on a fast reach at full heel under full sail in 50 knots headed due north towards the rocky breakers about a mile away (about 8 minutes at this speed).  I called Sarah on deck while I started the engine.

This is the moment for jiffy reefing.  If you don't have jiffy reefs rigged, then my advice is: don't go out sailing until you do.  I have each reef on single line that cinches both tack and clew to pull the whole slab reef out of the mainsail at once.  It runs to a cleat and winch set up on my coachroof in the cockpit.  Under 50 knots of wind and without changing point of sail, I was able to reef the mainsail, with one line, from the cockpit, by myself, while the self-steering windvane kept course.  I pulled the foresail in completely and had the mainsail all the way down to the third reef in about a minute.  Then I took the helm and turned 180 degrees, directly south to get away from the rocky breakers,  But even with a tiny triangle of sail on the mast, our Yanmar diesel was struggling to maintain any headway against the building swells.  The wind built the waves from a slow one foot swell to 6 footers pounding over the deck within about 10 minutes.  The engine overheated almost immediately.  I throttled it down and waited/hoped for the overheat to stop, because I wasn't about to shut it off.  But with no underwater propulsion, we were forced to do what the wind told us.  At that point, the only answer was downwind, fast.  

I was proud of my jiffy reefs, but I would have given anything for a downhaul at that moment.  With just that little triangle of sail, we were still making over 10 knots downwind  I wanted to douse the main entirely and continue sailing under bare poles, but the wind wouldn't allow us to take down the last bit of main.

Luckily "downwind fast" was directly back to Chub Cay.  Unluckily, we still had some sail in the air, the wind and waves were still building, the engine buzzer was screaming and flashing overheat, and we still had an hour and a half back to Chub.
The next ???? minutes are kind of a blur of me gripping the tiller as hard as I could while we surfed 10 foot waves that were so steep we were beginning to plow the bow of the boat into the trough while we were surfing the crests.  Even with that tiny triangle of sail, we were making over 10 knots dead downwind, and I thought we were close to pitchpoling.  Our windspeed indicator pegs out at 65 knots, and it was pegged for long periods.  Moving 10 knots downwind plus 65+ knots indicated apparent wind speed = 75+ knots actual windspeed.  The stitches on the end of our flag and the top and bottom buttons of my shirt got ripped out by the wind.  I could barely hear Sarah unless her yelling was directly in my ear.  It wasn't raining yet, but the wind was whipping up so much seawater that it stung when it hit you, which was somehow everywhere on your body at once.  I have no idea how long this lasted, probably less than 5 minutes, but it was enough time to give Sarah a warning that we may be living our final moments, and that I loved her very much.  She was pretty okay with that being the end of it.  I was impressed.

About ???? minutes later, the worst of it had passed, we could start to see a clear sky ahead of us again, and while we were still in 6 foot waves, the period had slowed down significantly, and the wind had "eased" back to a steady-ish 45 knots like when it all started.  Clouds were now dumping fresh water rather than wind blowing seawater.  A more seasoned seaman would consider this a great day to make some distance.


We anchored back at Chub in the late afternoon about 20 yards from where we had left that morning, though it was afternoon, it looked like dusk, and we waited for the insta-storm to pass while holding through the 6 foot swells.  It was almost worse than sailing.


A day later, we decided that if storms were going to keep us from making it through the northwest passage, then we might as well wait for our time at Andros rather than Chub.  Andros is the largest and one of the least visited islands in the Bahamas.  It has large stretches of forest and fields and more rural settlements.

The sail to Andros went well enough.  It was pleasant day that turned a bit sour near the end with a light squall, but nothing dangerous. The holding isn't great in North Andros, and the best of it, on the eastern side of he bay was taken up by four other boats with similar plans.  So we took the less-preferable western side. The sand is very shallow on the rock bottom there, so I had to dive and dig both our anchors into the best sand pockets I could find on the seafloor, and we rode out another night of deep swells. 


It took another day for the storms to finally clear enough for us to take a trip ashore, but the in the mean time, the stormy weather made for spectacular sunsets.



1 comment:

  1. Wondering if you worked out why the Yanmar was overheating? Talk about added stress!

    ReplyDelete

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