Wednesday April 24, 2013
I hadn’t even been able to pull out all the ingredients for dinner once we got back to Serendipity after visiting Nila Girl last night before Ren was calling out to us on the VHF. Instead of leaving for our 180 mile journey at dawn as planned, ‘Let’s go right now’ he suggested. The sun had just gone down, we were all a little buzzed on rum, and sitting between us and the Exuma Sound was a very narrow and shallow channel. ‘Sure, why not? Sounds like a good plan to me’, we replied. In the moonlight we all hoisted our sails and started our engines, ready to follow our paths drawn on our chartplotters to get back out. Serendipity took the lead with Rode Trip right behind and Nila Girl and EZ following in back. I sent Matt up to the foredeck to ‘keep watch’, like he could see much of anything anyway, while I had my eyes glued to the chartplotter which was zoomed in as far as it could go. All I had to do was trace another black line exactly on top of the one by following it from where we came in. Doesn’t sound too hard, right? Turn the wheel a little to the right, I’m way off course. Correct it by turning a little to the left, now way off course on the other side. My eyes kept darting to the depth sounder that would hastily fluctuate from 10 feet down to 5 and then back up. All I could think about between short and sharp breaths was if we had another St. Augustine size grounding out in the middle of nowhere and in the dark no less.
We came out of it just fine, but I couldn’t let myself relax until the depth was reading a constant 17 feet or more. (Why that odd number? I have no idea, it just sounded safe at the time) As soon as we were clear I called out on the radio that we had passed the waypoint. One by one, the rest of our rally called that they had also made it out safely. Later talking to Stephanie I found out that Brian had been surprisingly calm behind the wheel on their way out which he attributes to rum drinks aboard Nila Girl just before we left, they helped settle his nerves. I guess I just didn’t have enough to drink before driving because that was literally the most nervous I’ve ever been behind the wheel. It wasn’t enough to keep me from promptly falling asleep though since we were now on passage schedule and I needed to get a few hours in before coming back on shift at midnight. It was our first overnight with other boats around us and we seized the opportunity to keep constant tabs on the VHF. There was some general talk and jokes as we first took off, but after that we pledged to radio in every two hours with our coordinates. Not just so we could make sure everyone was still afloat, we were in a race! A few hours earlier, Brian had mentioned he had a large paper chart of the area and since we had a large(ish) group going, it would be fun to mark our positions on the chart as we went.
I’ll never claim that Serendipity is a ‘fast’ boat, but she was kicking some butt that night. Every two hours we’d call in and find out that we were in the lead. Sometimes a little chatter would follow the call-in and Matt and I soon found out that we were the only ones on a three hour sleep schedule, with all of our friends doing longer 4-6 shifts. It left us talking to different people almost every time we checked in and kept it refreshing since there was always a new combination of people talking. Once the sun came up the topic de jour became what side of the Mira Por Vos Cays everyone was passing on. These are a group of small uninhabited islands just west of the Acklins that caused a lot of anguish to the original Spanish explorers of the Caribbean. Their name literally translates to ‘Lookout for us’, and were meant as a warning for other exploring boats to steer very clear of the area. According to our guidebook, the town of St. Augustine was actually founded so that ships coming up from the Caribbean could ride the Old Bahama Channel up to the Gulf Stream to stay as far away from these little islands as possible. That seems a little excessive to me, but guidebooks never lie, right?
Sometime in the late morning while all members of all boats were finally awake, we were just coming up on the islands when Ren started joking about cabin fever and that he was ready to do a little diving, sure that he could catch some lobster in the 40 foot depths inside the cays. Sure that he was actually joking, I chimed in that he should definitely go diving for lobster and that we’d all enjoy a nice dinner aboard Nila Girl. It turns out, he was not joking. He wanted to go diving, and now all those little islands that the Spanish conquistadors tried so feverishly to avoid, we were now heading right into. Deciding on an anchorage listed in our charts, we all altered course for our new heading. Serendipity was the first one in, watching the depths quickly jump from thousands of feet to 400 feet to 40. Catching up to us under engine power was EZ and we both dropped anchor as close as we could get to shore, finally entering waters under 30 feet.
When the whole crew was together we all suited up and got in the water. For an uninhabited island without many fishers, there sure wasn’t much going on under the surface. There were very few fish and you’d have to be able to dive to about forty feet to get to them. What started out as a hunt for Matt quickly turned into just a swim as it would have been a lot of work for him to catch anything and then a lot of work for me to prepare it. Neither of us felt like going through that and were fine to just throw the pork fried rice in the microwave as planned. It was a nice halfway point break for everyone though, and we enjoyed the sun and water and even got showers in. Too soon evening was back upon us and we were back in our boats, ready to start the race up again. It was here we found out that the herd was splitting and that Nila Girl and EZ could not take the deserts of the Bahamas anymore and wanted to make a straight run to Jamaica. We were just as eager to get out of the Bahamas but didn’t want to chance those heavy conditions in the Windward Passage and also couldn’t leave our buddy boat behind. On we carried to Great Inagua, our rally now cut in half.
All photos courtesy of Rode Trip.