The Bimini Road

Monday April 7, 2014

sunrise on the Gulf Stream

As with any late timed departure that we need to make for a passage, we can never seem to wait long enough for the alarm to actually go off before we get to anxious and want to get underway. Usually there is a forced after dinner nap which never actually happens, and instead of waiting for the clock to tick by extra minutes as we lie there awake, we figure it’s better just to get the show on the road. Luckily this has never afforded us a before sunrise approach yet.

Looking at the clock as it dragged to only ten o’clock, three hours before our intended departure time, we figured it was better to get in too early than too late. Even if we could manage the 48 miles from Ft. Lauderdale to Bimini in ten hours, it would still be light enough for us to make our way in the harbor. Raising the anchor as all the boats in the lake were silent and still around us, we navigated out the tricky entrance and into the ICW. Hailing our friendly bridge operator at the 17th St. Causeway, we slid under and were quickly on our way out the Port Everglades inlet with our bow pointed a few degrees south of Bimini to make up for the push of the Gulf Stream. After verifying our course of 120 degrees and sitting with Matt until we were out of range for the late night shipping traffic that was exiting with us, I took my leave to get a few hours of sleep.

17th St. Causeway at night

ICW at night

Since we had both basically been up all night my sleep was cut short after only an hour and a half when Matt’s head starting nodding off too many times and he needed to seek refuge in the comfort of the sette. Harnessing in and taking my spot in the cockpit, I was pointed out the numerous cruise ships that were transporting their hoards of tourist between the Bahamas and the States, but told that everything else looked fine. It wasn’t until Matt was (quickly) snoring below that I noticed that one thing wasn’t quite as I had hoped. We had obviously entered the Gulf Stream, and that 120 degrees we had been holding so perfectly was now faltering to a mere sixty degrees.

We had expected to be pushed a few miles north of where we actually wanted to be, and anticipating this, left ourselves plenty of time to make it there once day broke. This is why we had felt so comfortable leaving at such an early time in the night. Trying to send all the good vibes I could from myself and into the boat, I tried to mentally convince it to point further south. When this didn’t seem to work I took to reasoning with the stream itself, begging for it to end as soon as possible. Once we didn’t have the force against us we could head directly south if we needed to, I just hoped it would be sooner than later. By the time my three hour shift was up, none of my reasoning had done any good against the stubborn boat and the stubborn Gulf Stream. Having the opposite effect that I’d hoped, I actually seemed to infuriate both of them and they conspired to work against me, pushing us off course even more into the fifty degree range. I gave up and hoped the master of sail trim coming up to replace me could work his magic on the situation.

Gulf Stream Sunrise

Serendipity on the Gulf Stream

The next time I was up on deck I had not been greeted with the results I was hoping for. We weren’t doing quite as bad as when I had left, but we still weren’t able to point ourselves toward Bimini. This is the day the stream decided to take up the whole expanse between Florida and the Bahamas. When we had finally reached a point that we were at least in the same longitude of Bimini, we pointed the bow due South, and right into the wind, and motored on with the most pathetic progress I’d ever seen. I’ve become quite used to our downwind travels of at least five to six knots, and the fact that we weren’t even doing close to that was complete torture. And it seemed like no matter how far east we were, we could not escape the clutches of the stream. Even though our heading was pointing us toward the safe haven and peaceful night of slumber that is Bimini harbor, our course was slowly but surely sneaking in a southwest direction. Eventually I had enough and tacked the boat so that we were pointing, both with heading and course, directly into the middle of the island. I’d run us up on the beach if that’s what it took to escape the forces working against us.

This plan seemed to actually do the trick. We crashed through the building wind and waves, but we were finally heading in a direction we actually wanted to go. Normally the last two to three hours of a passage will drive me insane, seeing your destination right in front of you but knowing you’re still a few hours away from actually getting there, but this time I could do nothing but smile that we would actually make it there before dark. Coasting in from thousands of feet to only 40, I waited until we were just a few minutes from the channel entrance before waking Matt from his afternoon nap to have him help me navigate in.

Matching up the multiple sets of charts we have to make sure the buoys were correct and marked what they claimed to, I figured this last bit would be a piece of cake. I was just about to cross in front of the first green buoy and round into the channel when out of nowhere the engine cut out on us. By this point we weren’t actually in the channel yet, but depths had gotten down to fifteen feet and a very swift current was about to send me directly into green buoy number 1. While Matt was having a quick panic attack and a cuss storm a few feet ahead of me, I calculated my options. Try to start the engine again? Roll out the headsail? No, not enough time. Steer into the current to avoid the buoy but then put myself in the channel and possibly the shoals without total control?

Within ten seconds, of which felt like an eternity, the engine was purring again and I was able to narrowly avoid the buoy as I gunned us into the channel under full throttle, afraid to douse it any for fear it might shut off again. Shooting into the channel at seven knots, I was not able to regain my breath until we had gotten through the worst parts and were now passing by the marinas lining the entrance to the harbor. Confident that we could drop the anchor in this part of the channel if absolutely necessary I let myself pull back on the throttle while Matt brought down the main and we continued to cruise in at just over four knots now.

Still trying to avoid marinas since we like to be at anchor whenever possible, we noticed the first marked anchorage just past Bimini Big Game Club was a little too crowded. Resigning ourselves to the only other anchorage, a mile down the channel, I tried not to let myself get upset about the long dinghy ride in my near future to get us checked in, but only focused on the fact that in just a few minutes the anchor would be down and I could spend the rest of my day night fighting the elements. I don’t know if it was just bad luck that we received or if I should have heeded the warnings that it’s better to cross from Miami than Ft. Lauderdale, but I will give this one tip. Don’t ever cross from Ft. Lauderdale. Spend the extra day and get yourself down to No Name Harbor first. You’re likely to have a much better crossing than we did.

dinghy dock in Bimini

Speed, Squalls, Officers & Oculars: Our Crossing From Mexico to Florida

Friday February 14, 2014

2.14.14

If you asked us about this passage within the first 22 hours of leaving, and if it was a good idea to have gone with the forecast we did, I would have patted myself on the back while saying in a singsong voice “I am so smart. This is the best passage, Matt is silly for thinking we could have waited for a better one”. Because really, the first 20 or so hours truly were bliss. After eeking out of the harbor in Isla Mujeres at 4:30 in the afternoon, we rounded a few shoals and rocks on the north side before hoisting the sails and killing the engine. Straight away we were pushing forward at 6.5 knots on a close reach without much rocking under the hull. Matt took his spot under the dodger and I settled in to the leeward side behind the wheel, eyes fixed to the north where all the sport fishing boats were returning with their day’s catch. So far we had been able to start out the passage with neither of us feeling sick immediately upon departure, which I attribute to a well timed scopolamine patch on my neck earlier in the day, and suffering through many weeks in a less than calm harbor which made these small waves feel kind of like being at anchor.

We ate separate dinners of sticky buns and stale Oreos, and the only moment of panic for the day was when I literally jumped out of my seat yelling “Oh my god!!”, which made Matt assume that the boat must be falling apart, but in reality, was only due to the fact that I’d just seen two dolphins surface not more than ten feet off our aft quarter, seemingly out of nowhere. Unfortunately they did not make a repeat appearance. Georgie had taken up a spot on Matt’s lap, the only time now that she’ll willingly try and force herself as close to us as possible. During passage she’s like velcro on one of the two of us, not daring to get out of the protection of our arms, but as soon as that anchor is down, you can be assured that she can’t even remember who we are.

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 Protect me!!

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 Goodbye Isla!

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As night came upon us we fell into the Gulf Stream and began riding that baby to average speeds of 8 knots, all the while feeling the calmness as if we were motoring through a glass calm bay. I’m sure I’m overexagerating a little, but I don’t remember it feeling much worse than our slightly rocky harbor we’d just left.

To add to the smoothness in this first 22 hours, it didn’t even take me 5 minutes to fall asleep when I went below the first time, a feat that normally only takes place 20 minutes before Matt comes to wake me for my turn to go back out on watch. This time I was able to get up somewhat rested and happily occupied my time on shift by flipping through various albums we had finally set up to play through our stereo, and counting all the miles already ticking away behind us. Throughout my whole shift we kept that comfortable 8-8.5 knots, along with just the slightest rocking motion under our hull. Calculating that if we kept this pace up we’d actually get in by Thursday evening, which is a dangerous thing to do, getting one’s hopes up early in a passage that their time will be cut down, since it rarely ever works out that way.

At the time though, it seemed almost foolproof. It was 350 miles through the rhumb line, which due to wind direction, we wouldn’t be able to follow exactly but I assumed we’d only add an extra 20 miles max. 370 miles at 8 knots would put us there in 46.5 hours, add in the extra speed since we were really going closer to 9 knots now, add add a little cushion for when we probably slowed down to 7 at some point. But it sounds completely feasable, right? I mean, we’re riding the Gulf Stream, one of the most powerful currents in the world! Getting up for my second watch at 6 am I did the numbers again and found out that we’d already covered just under 100 miles in 13 hours. We were well on our way there.

I woke up to a light drizzle that went away just as quickly as it came, and left the sky with puffy clouds that lit up in bright pinks and oranges and even a partial rainbow between two of the clouds. What I didn’t quite catch on to at the time is that this was a red sky in morning; sailors take warning. And I should have. But the sky soon cleared into a brilliant blue and all I had to do was sit back and relax while enjoying my breakfast of 16 oz of Mexican Danone yogurt (best $1 purchase ever, by the way).

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Even though we were starting out with a passage that was much more comfortable than 80% of the ones that we’re normally on, we quickly fell back into the routine of sleep or waiting for sleep. I always think that on a calm passage I might start doing something like scrubbing the floors out of boredom, but apparently I was not quite that bored yet. Sneaking in one quick nap when Matt got up for breakfast, I settled into the cockpit with a book to read, something I hadn’t been able to do on many previous passages so I still consider that progress, while Matt went back to bed. Which at this time in the afternoon could probably be considered a nap. I wasn’t kidding when I said all we do is sleep or wait for the next opportunity to sleep.

This is where the pleasurable 20 hours of our passage ends. While getting into my book once more I noticed the skies were growing dark but didn’t pay it too much mind since we’d had the light drizzle in the morning and I expected more of the same this afternoon. Off in the distance there were some very dark clouds, and out of the distance a few rumbles of thunder were reaching me, but since all of this was downwind of us I still continued not to pay it much mind. At least it wasn’t heading at us. Or so I thought. The further I got into my book the closer the rumbles came, and as I scanned the horizon I only saw clear skies ahead, all of the nasty stuff supposedly passing behind us according to the current wind direction. I burried my nose back in my book, not ready to wake Matt just yet since that would mean a reef in the headsail and a reduction in speed. I still had my sights set on a Thursday evening arrival in Key West.

As the thunder, and now lightning, started closing in on us, I knew it was time to finally take action. I woke Matt up to let him know we were surrounded by thunderstorms while similtaniously taking our small electronics and sticking them inside the microwave and oven to protect them against a lightning strike should one happen. Our handheld GPS, sat phone, and e-readers were placed in the microwave; computers, wrapped in padding, were slid into the oven. Watching the wind speed jump up from the high teens to the mid to high 20’s, we kept going back and forth on if we should roll in the headsail. These speeds it could definitely handle, but should they get worse… Finally when we saw rain on the horizon we decided to roll it in ‘Just until this blows over’. Throwing the bow into the wind I tried with all my might to pull in the line while Matt controlled the jib line from smacking around. My arms were no match for this wind and we ended up switching places and getting it rolled in just before the blinding sheets of rain hit us.

Taking cover under the dodger we watched the rain pelt us from what seemed like every direction, and then out of nowhere, a huge gust of wind came along and almost knocked us on our side but did not seem to be letting up. Scrambling into the companionway with Matt, we watched the wind speed jump into the 40’s and keep rising. 48..53..62. Yes, we topped out at winds of over 60 knots, by far the highest we’ve ever seen on a passage. We were getting pounded by a squall, but the funny part was, there was no sense of urgency for our safety. We’d had a double reefed main up ever since we left Isla, we usually do if we’re ever on an overnight passage, and the waves were only 1-3 feet, so we were by no means getting tossed around in high seas. If fact, the wind was so strong that it was basically blowing the caps of the waves into their troughs, almost smoothing out the seas. Serendipity was handling this like a champ, and the only issue we had was when the wind caught the piece of fabric that connects our dodger to our bimini and began ripping it apart at the zipper. We were able to catch one end and hang on to it before it could completely come apart and blow away.

The 50-60 knot winds only lasted about 30 seconds before subsiding back down into the 30’s. During this ‘lull’ I jumped back into the cockpit to secure lines that hadn’t been properly tied off, and finished unzipping the fabric connector so we could quickly stow it away. We had to wait out a few more somewhat strong blows into the 40’s along with driving sheets of rain….and then it was gone. Just like in the movies, the clouds disappeared, the sun came out, and all wind seemed to have left with the storm. We were literally left there scratching our heads as we watched the windex spin in circles, clueless of which direction to now point our bow. It was a good 20 minutes before we had any semblance of wind come our way again, in which time we watched the boom slide from one side of the boat to the other, trying to catch the wind each time it clocked around the boat.

Our speed had regrettably cut down to just over five knots and I had to set my sights for a Friday morning arrival now. Tracking our progress, I marked our position at 24 hours from our departure and found that we’d still managed to make about180 miles in one day. Had we kept the same speed we were getting before the storm there would have been no question on if we’d hit the 200 mile mark, something Matt’s been aiming for ever since we started cruising and will keep striving for until the day he dies. That may require a different boat… We’d still put ourselves in a good position for one day out though, and I have a feeling that Serendipity will be hard pressed to get to those numbers again. The remaining hours of the day and into the wee morning hours of the next were spent dodging the thunderstorms that still had us boxed in, never coming closer, but always visible on the horizon.

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Marking our progress once more at the 48 hour mark I’d found out that we’d done just about 120 miles, having kept true to the 5 knots, and sometimes under, that we had slowed down to the previous afternoon. When the sun had gone down and the full moon lit a trail behind us, it was quite visible that not only had we fallen out of the Gulf Stream, but we were probably now trying to fight it’s counter current. 3.5 knots was a struggle to keep, and when even three knots wasn’t happening any more, I begged and pleaded with Matt to let us put the engine on and motor until we were out of the counter current…if that ever happened. Remember those numbers I kept running through my head? Anything under 3-3.5 knots would mean certain nighttime arrival, which neither of us wanted, and I’ll be damned if I was about to spend another night out at sea if we could avoid it with a solution as simple as turning on the engine. Matt decided to go with the ‘wait and see’ option, but an hour later while I was snuggling into bed, I heard the engine roar to life and smiled as I fell asleep.

The last day of our crossing today, we were struggling to keep those 3.5 knots under power. During the last hour of my morning sleep shift I could hear Matt on the radio, and then shortly later, rustling through cabinets for paperwork. I tried to ignore him the best I could until 10 minutes later he came shaking my shoulder, telling me to get up because the Coast Guard had just radioed him and they were sending a launch to come board us. The boat was a mess and we probably stunk to high hell, but at this point we were so tired and worn out that we didn’t even care. They wanted to board us during a passage, this is what they were going to get. Another 15 minutes later, after we had both found clean clothes to put on along with a healthy dose of deodorant, we were watching the well outfitted tender pull alongside our boat while depositing two officers on it.

Having already been through this procedure while traveling down the ICW we already knew everything they were going to ask for and better yet, this time I actually knew where all of it was. While Matt kept one of the officers busy while filling out paperwork, I took the other one below where I produced life vests, flares, access to the bilge (no Cubans hiding in there, I promise!), and even the sticker about trash that we had been written up for the last time. There was only a slight snafu when Matt refused to give out his SSN, not finding necessary after showing both a drivers license and a passport and was about to ‘take it up with the captain’ when the second officer told the paperwork guy to let it go. The only thing we did have an issue with was that our boat documentation was now two weeks expired, it’s replacement supposedly waiting for us in Key West along with all of our other goodies. Getting let off with a written warning, I think they wanted us to show the new one when we did arrive at our destination (to whom, I have no idea), and then they were gone just as quickly as they had come.

A few hours after they left we realized we probably should try and clean ourselves up a little, lest any new officials in Key West have to put up with our stench. The only problem was, it was freezing out! I’m not kidding, somewhere along the way we picked up some cold water under our hull, and the breeze running across it was enough to have kept us in our foulies for half the trip just to stay warm. So taking a cockpit shower in that? I wanted to search for alternative methods. Matt braved the cold and forced himself under the hose for 90 seconds while he quickly lathered and rinsed. I was not so brave. Or maybe I was just smarter. I decided for a sink shower instead. Sticking my head under the faucet I was able to give my hair the three washes it now needed after not having cleaned it since Isla, all without soaking my body or having chilly winds blow over me. The rest of the body was done with a washcloth and soon I was back under my layers, feeling warm and clean and glad that I didn’t have to suffer through the brutal cold outside. That was until my left eye started getting a little blurry.

It’s not uncommon to get a Georgie hair stuck in there or have one of my contacts be placed inside out and irritate my eye. But wait a second…I wasn’t wearing my contacts. After 15 minutes of not being able to figure out what was in my eye, I finally went down to a mirror to inspect. If you had looked at me at this point it must have appeared that I was licking toads or on some other kind of drug because my pupil was dialated to full size. And immediately I knew exactly what had happened. While sticking my head under the faucet, the water had run over my scopolamine patch and brought the medication right into my eye. Having experienced a case similar to this once before in Manhattan where I had touched the patch and then touched my eye, I knew I was in for 24 hours of blindness in that eye and an adversity to bright lights. Oh joy, they perfect way to end what started out as the best passage ever. I will now be singing to myself “I am not so smart, this passage kind of sucks, I’m glad it’s almost over”.

scopolamine in eye

Ice cold winds continued to blow across the water as we slowly puttered in to the southernmost point in the United States, and back in to the land of plenty with only two hours of daylight left. The ride was a little rougher on us than we expected, but if I had to look back on it I’d say it’s not even necessarily due to boxed in thunderstorms or squalls along the way, but the snails pace we had to suffer through after they were all finished. I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure that nothing kills a sailor’s mood more than cutting his pace in half. From envisioned Thursday evening arrivals, pushed back to a Friday morning arrival, now coming in late Friday afternoon, this 72 hours was a very necessary passage for us, but I’m so happy to be back in the land of day hopping.

Key West Harbor

cruise ship in Key West

lats 2

 

Always a Crisis at Midnight

Sunday March 17, 2013

imageSetting the alarm this morning to go off 30 minutes before the sun rose, we poked our heads out of the companionway, and everything still appeared to be calm.  Our crossing through the Gulf Stream and into the Bahamas was still on.  Just like the day of our original departure from Michigan, I expected to be overly excited and have my stomach full of butterflies, but for some reason it felt like any other morning.  Raising the anchor we joined with the ICW once more and followed it the few miles south and around Peanut Island until we were faced with the inlet.  Nothing like the last one we experienced, this one was wide and deep and full of commercial traffic.  Although we had the sun rising right in our eyes making it hard to make out a few of the ships passing through (all pleasure vessels at the moment), there was no apprehension about continuing outside and into the Atlantic.  It didn’t hold the dark skies with foamy white caps that I was so used to from our previous journeys on her, but was flat and calm with a bright blue sky looming overhead.  Not knowing exactly how far the stream was to begin offshore, we knew it came the closest to Florida in this particular area, I turned our instruments to water temperature, hoping the sudden rise once we hit the stream would give me any kind of clue.

Since all of our fishing attempts before had failed us, and from what we heard, a lot of it had to do with being in cooler waters, we thought we’d try our luck once more since we were in an area much more likely to produce something on our line.  After all, with the dozens of fishing boats that had buzzed out of the inlet with us, there had to be fish around here somewhere.  Combing through our suitcase/tackle box, Matt browsed for the perfect lure and finally chose one that looked like a shrunken head.  Maybe the fish like that?  Feeding our reel a few hundred feet of spool and then attaching the lure to the end, we dropped the hook in the water.  Finished with that distraction for the moment, I checked back on the water temperature to see what it was doing.  The water had been hovering around 72 degrees right at the inlet, and was now climbing up to 75.  Did that mean we were in the stream, or just getting closer?  It was hard to tell since there was no change at all to the water that we could tell.  Setting the course a few degrees further south than we were aiming for, we sat back to enjoy this perfect morning.  This is the kind of cruising I had been waiting for for months.

Just when I had settled back into watching the coastline disappear behind us, the fishing line jumped to life with a loud buzz.  Matt and I looked at each other full of excitement and I exclaimed, “What do you need me to do?!, What do you need me to do?!”.  I didn’t know if I should get a bucket of water ready or a shot of vodka to stun the fish while trying to get it on board, but first I was just told to lower the engine speed.  Bringing us down to just over idle I looked over to Matt who had untied our reel from the pole it had been hugging (we lost our original rod holder during some high winds on Lake Huron), and he began to slowly reel in the line.  Still excited, I stopped to think for a moment.  Wait, hadn’t we just passed through a huge patch of seaweed?  Was that our big ‘catch’ of the day?  Matt had the same thoughts as well, and described how there was no kind fight on the end of the line.  Reeling it the rest of the way in, we both stuck our heads down by the combing of the stern to look under where the dinghy was hanging and into the open water behind us.  Sure enough, skipping across the top of the water was a little patch of seaweed, tricking us into thinking it was our dinner for the night.  Clearing it off we threw the line back in the water and hoped for better luck.

The rest of the day was mostly uneventful.  The sun was bright and the breeze was low, so I finally had a chance to pull out one of my bikinis after six months of sitting at the bottom of my clothing bag, and work on my tan so I wouldn’t be ‘that pasty white person’ once we arrived in the Bahamas.  Conditions were calm enough that Georgie was even allowed to roam the deck, although I did join her a few times when small ripples would send us rocking back and forth a little bit.  Once more my Nook came out, and while Matt napped below, I kept a watch on deck while starting a new book.  Although the water temperature had risen to 79 degrees, later in the afternoon it began to drop just a little bit, and our coordinates showing that we were beginning to make progress south as opposed to just east, confirmed that we were on our way out of the Gulf Stream.  We couldn’t have asked for a better day for a crossing, and besides the fact that we motored across the entire thing instead of sailed since the 5-10 winds that were forecast (still don’t have the anemometer fixed yet) were on our nose the whole time, it was a perfect day on the water.  We watched the sun set while enjoying some leftover General Tso’s chicken, and shortly after I got myself ready for my 9:00 sleep shift.  With the early wake up and sun beating on me all day though, I could have gone to bed much earlier.

Getting woken up at midnight for my first watch, I rolled off the settee and slid on the harness that Matt had just taken off.  Getting my bearings, I found out that all the cruise ships and tankers that had been on our radar when I went to bed were now long gone, but we had new cruise ships headed in the same direction we were, a few miles off our starboard side.  Since we had been motoring for 16 hours straight now, Matt asked me to turn the engine off for just a moment while he checked a few things on it.  Obliging, I sat at the stern while our forward moment carried us along under autopilot.  In the few minutes he spent working down there, our forward motion could no longer carry us forward and the autopilot lost it course, furiously beeping at me until I turned it off.  Thinking that our belt was getting pretty worn down, he wanted to take a quick minute to change it.  Needing me to hold the step up so he could gain access to the engine, he worked around the scalding hot parts with an oven mitt, trying to get the belt replaced.   When he finished and confirmed that everything looked good I was told to turn the engine back on.  Bending down behind the wheel I turned the key and pushed the starter….but nothing happened.  Thinking that I was getting things mixed up because it was dark and I was tired, I tried again with the same results of nothing.

Having Matt come up and try as well, we realized it was more serious than not hitting the right buttons.  He left for the engine area again, and with a few grunts and curses he climbed into the aft cabin to find it was an issue with grounding for the spade connector to the starter, and within a few minutes he had it fixed and we were up and running again.  I put us back on course and sat back for a moment to relax while Matt cleaned up his tools below.  We weren’t even going for two minutes when I heard shouts of “Turn it off, turn it off!!”.  Shutting the engine down once more I scrambled down the companionway while he pulled back out the tools out of drawers and shelves. The new belt we had just put on snapped and yet another one needed to be put on immediately.   While Matt feverishly worked, now having to remove the bushing and put it back on, I was constantly trying to crane my neck for a view out of the port light to make sure those cruise ships were not coming any closer while we were sitting adrift out there.  What felt like forever but was probably one five minutes, everything was fixed, we were back on course and out of the way of cruise ships, and I just had to keep up hope that the engine would not die during my shift.

Today came with a lot fewer surprises, at least during the daylight hours.  When I woke up for my 6-9 watch, we were half way through the Northwest Providence Channel.  I had been thinking that we’d already be passing the Berry Islands by this point, but those headwinds were really slowing us down.  Still moving solely under motor power, we were averaging about 3.5 knots.  The winds were also picking up, which would be great sailing if they were closer to our beam, but being directly on our nose the only power they had was to keep us at a snails pace.  Once more without much to do for the afternoon we sat around reading and then took a bucket bath up on deck while trying out our new bug sprayer for the fresh water rinse.  We can each get ourselves fully clean with it’s one gallon capacity (1 @ each), so it looks like it was a good purchase.  While bathing (sans suits, cause…who’s around?) we passed by a cruise ship that was a few miles off our port side and didn’t seem to be moving.  Yet another cruise ship failure out on the open waters?  We just hoped the guests on deck weren’t bored enough to whip out a set of binoculars and aim them at us.  Or better yet, come out with their high zoom video cameras.  I can see it on CNN now.  “Cruisers stuck on a Carnival ship were treated to an interesting site while bobbing around in Bahamian waters.  A sailboat passing by was giving quite a show with two nude bathers on deck.  Are they hippies or have the faucets on their boat just stopped producing water?  We’ll have the story for you tonight at 11:00.”.

After our possible peep show, Matt was below deck working on getting the water maker attached (we took it apart for workers to get the engine and transmission in and out) when the engine stopped on us once more.  A little puzzled since everything for the most part appeared to be working fine, after a few minutes we realized that our fuel had run out.  Still having the 10 gallons in our jerrycans, Matt put about 8 in and left the remaining two in case we were to run out a second time.  The last thing we wanted was to come into Nassau Harbor under sail.  While he went below again to continue working I started charting our course more and found out that there were about 75 miles still left between us and Nassau.  Assuming we had put 8 gallons in, that would give us about 16 hours of motoring.  Moving at the speed we were, which was now down to only 3 knots, we weren’t even going to make it 50 miles on what we had.  Decisions needed to be made, and while we still had time to make them.  My two suggestions were that we check into the Berry Islands instead, now 13 miles away, or turn off the engine and tack our way across the channel until we had made up enough miles to put the engine back on.  While my vote was for the Berry Islands, it was only two hours until sunset and there was no way we’d be able to make it there without having to wait in the channel for the sun to come up anyway.  So after talking it over we let out the sails and turned on the motor, having to fall off the wind so far that we were barely able to make any progress on our course.  Nassau here we come….even slower.

What bothered me even more about having to fall so far off our course while we tacked across the channel, was now avoiding cruise ships and tankers without the ease of changing our course to whatever direction we needed to go to get out of their way.  And there were boats everywhere.  We couldn’t look at our AIS without seeing at least five or six within a few miles of us.  I was hoping that once it got dark out and we began to take our shift alone that the engine would go back on, but Matt assured that we’d be fine and we could tack out of the way of any oncoming traffic if we needed to.  Having switched shifts with him since he was feeling a little ill after spending a bumpy afternoon stuffed into the aft cabin, I was on first watch from nine to midnight.  We tacked just before Matt went to bed, and by the time we’d need to tack again after running into what would hopefully be the lower part of the Berry Islands, it would be time for him to wake up.  The first half of my shift was uneventful, although when the winds had died down and left us still moving forward at a pace of two knots, although now heading pretty much west when we wanted to be aiming south, part of me was hoping that the slow pace would continue so that it would actually take us until morning to reach the Berry Islands where we could then check in and fill up on diesel.  But as soon as I started wishing, the winds picked back up and now had me hurtling towards my target at close to six knots.

Our course over ground kept shifting all the time, so I had no clue if we were going to end up at the north or middle Berry Islands before it was time to tack again.  While I crossed over I kept an eye on the AIS, and watched the screen as blinking arrows passed miles away from our stern and bow, and then scanning the dark to make sure I could match up the navigation lights on the water that belonged to them.  There was one point about 45 minutes before my shift ended that I showed three arrows on the AIS headed at my beam, and I kept praying that they’d pass in front of me before we came up on one another.  Sitting there I contemplated on which direction I’d even be able to go to miss them.  The only thing I could think would be to tack and turn back in the direction I had just come from, but that would mean losing lots of miles and even more time.  I decided to wait a little longer until we got closer to each other.  Scanning the dark horizon I tried to place each vessel (two cruise ships and one tanker), so I could try to estimate if/when we’d run into each other.  Watching them all get closer and closer I started wringing my hands with what to do.  Should I wake Matt to tell him we need to tack?  Should I wait until they get a little bit closer?

Keeping a close eye on both the chart plotter and water, it looked like we might fall into an opening between the three.  The cruise ship closest to us looked like he was slightly veering off where he would pass by our stern, leaving a gap while we sat in an open space while the other two vessels passed by our bow.  Still not feeling comfortable leaving it up to chance, I hailed the cruise ship that looked like it was veering, just so he knew we were out there.  Although all these vessels are supposed to have someone constantly monitoring their radar, they don’t always follow these rules and sometimes little sailboats like us get missed.  Getting a hold of someone on the radio, I gave him our location and made him confirm that he had a visual on us.  He confirmed that he could see us passing in front of his bow, two miles out and to continue on course.  Feeling safe and satisfied, I called down to Matt to wake him up for his shift.  Crisis averted, and now I’d be able to get a few hours of shut eye.  When Matt came up a few minutes later I informed him of the situation, but he still wasn’t feeling comfortable with the other two vessels to pass in front of our bow.  He suggested we turn the motor on for a few hours so that dodging ships while in the dark wouldn’t be so hard.  Ummmm….didn’t I suggest that before?

Getting behind the wheel I turned on the engine while Matt went about furling in the headsail.  I hadn’t given a ton of thought to the cruised ship I had just hailed, but looking to my side once more, he didn’t look like he was going to go as far off our stern as I originally thought.  In fact, he looked like he was going to run us over.  Earlier I must have assumed that he was much further away because all of the cruise ships we had seen up to this point were lit up like a Christmas tree and impossible to miss the entire shape of the vessel.  This one however was much more stealthy, so it wasn’t until he was right on top us us that I could see how close he was.  You know those photos you see on DVD covers where it looks like you’re looking up at the bow of a naval ship and standing 10 feet away from it?  I could have taken that shot.  Without the zoom.  Punching up our RPMs we hightailed it out of there as fast as possible, angling ourselves so that we’d come up on it’s starboard side.  While I’m sure we weren’t in any real danger since we were able to clearly get out of it’s way by the time it passed, it was still very unnerving.  Still awing though, as we both stood there with mouths open at the sheer size of this vessel.  I’m really hoping we make landfall tomorrow afternoon, because I really don’t think I could take another crisis at midnight.