Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda
January 18, 2019
As yet another new front was on its way, with expected sustained winds in the high 20s and gusts in the 30s, sigh, we decided we needed to boogie down the Exumas and get somewhere that a) would be less affected by the constant weather shenanigans, b) had plenty of hidey holes for shifting winds, and 3) would have some social life. Georgetown here we come!
The original plan was to sail first to Staniel Cay to swim with the pigs and to dive the Grotto, then bop over to Black Point for an out-island experience, and then have a longer sail to Georgetown.
But like most sail plans, they are subject to the weather. And like sailing in general, don’t count on your plans going your way. The only thing you can count on is that water is wet.
The sail from Cambridge to Staniel Cay was super easy and quite pleasant. We sailed easily with 8 kts under gib, and arrived around lunch time. We quickly dove the anchor to make sure it was buried in sand, and then took off to swim with some piggies!
I gotta tell you, I don’t recommend visiting the pigs. Especially if you fail to bring vegetables for these swines. As we inched the dinghy up to the beach (by the way, our tender needs a name – any suggestions? Treble? Small scale? Ukelele??), the one named Big Bertha came charging at us. I jumped into the water thinking that she wouldn’t follow me, but she did. Erik meanwhile was greeted by this little piggie and when Big Bertha realized I didn’t come bearing fruits, she turned her attention to Erik.
You guys – I really suck – not only did I NOT turn the Go Pro on, I also didn’t have any cameras in hand. And what would happen next would have been social media gold!
Bertha comes charging at this little piggie and both of them wound themselves behind Erik’s legs, tripping him and sending him ass-over-tea-kettle into the sand. Thankfully, the only thing that was damaged was his ego.
Most of the pigs must have been napping, because there were only a few out on the beach. Then again, by the time we got there, it was around 3p, so maybe they were tired from all the tour boats. Interestingly, there are roosters and chickens who make Pig Beach their home as well. Tourists are advised to bring vegetables and fruits, and even bread, but no table scraps. I like that – just wish I hadn’t been such an idiot and not thinking about that before we left. Overall though, this was not a highlight for us.
We’ve heard that several other beaches, including No Name, have better behaved pigs, prettier beaches, and are generally less crowded. As we head north this Spring, we may have another go at swimming with the pigs.
We left Pig Beach and headed to Cruiser’s Beach, which is a popular spot for sundowners – although not a fun place to be just before sundown. We were there just before sunset and the beach was empty, except for the no-seeums. Those were out in droves. As we got back in the dinghy and started up the motor, we looked at each other. The motor was making an odd noise. The last time we heard that noise was at Great Harbor, where it died and we had to be towed. Remember that? The guy who towed us was quite drunk, fell off his dinghy into the shark-infested waters, and jumped back in his boat like a superhero? Well, just as that reminder flitted across my mind, the motor died and we rowed (correction, I sat there like a princess and Erik rowed) us back to the beach.
Over and over and over again, Erik tried to restart the motor, to no avail, and as the no-seeums ate my flesh with the hunger of piranha’s, I took matters into my own hand and hailed down a nearby cruiser in a powerful tender. He agreed to tow us the 3 miles back to our boat, and even offered us a fresh caught fish. I am telling you – the cruising community is the best!
Thankfully, we have two other small dinghy motors and early the next morning, we swapped in a 4-stroke motor that powers through the water like a one-armed, one-legged swimmer with lung disease. We are constantly reminded that we swapped out our Mercedes for this mode of transportation – this was a CHOICE.
After getting Little Treble/Small Scale/Ukelele (dinghy) outfitted with snail paced motor, we took off for Thunderball Grotto to see some amazement.
Thunderball is awesome! While we still preferred the solitude of the caves at Cambridge, the water here was fantastic; we were surrounded by schools of brightly colored tropical fish, sun-dappled coral, and tons of people. Sigh. Aint nothing fun about being kicked by a tourist’s flipper!
But remember, we were still trying to get to safe harbors before the next blow, so onward we must go! We left Staniel Cay just before lunch heading to Black Point. Another good and easy sailing day! We anchored, checked the line, and headed into town to meet some locals.
Black Point settlement is near the northern end of Great Guana Cay and is considered by many cruisers to be a must-stop in the Exumas. Known for their exceptional customer service to boaters, there are a number of businesses setup to cater to the cruising community. My favorite is Lorraine’s and hands down, her mom does make the best bread.
Best part, free wifi!! We downloaded some show off Netflix and Prime, ate some conch, and drank a lot. Hashtag #priorities Feeling a bit drunk from our 3-hour bar-venture, we called it an early night!
Unfortunately for us, we didn’t have the luxury of time to explore Black Point more – we still needed to get to a well-protected harbor. The coming storm would bring with it what we call clocking winds. These are winds that will prevail literally (yes, this is the proper way to use that word) around the dial of a clock. N, NE, SE, S, SW, W, NW. Given much of the hidey holes in the Bahamas do not provide protection from westerlies, we’d need to keep skedaddling south.
We left Black Point mid-morning and had a decent sail to Little Farmers. Here is where things started getting dicey for us. The anchorage we wanted to sneak into already had a couple of vessels so we ended up anchoring just off Farmer’s Cut.
For those who aren’t familiar with the Bahamas, a ‘cut’ is what you might think it is – it’s an inlet/outlet between the Bank (leeward) and Sound (windward) between islands. Usually fairly narrow, they typically carry strong currents and chop. One wrong move, and you could wind up on the rocks, calling MayDay and pissing your pants.
With our anchor set, and anchor alarm on, we took off for some exploring and shopping. At the government dock, we were greeted by friendly locals who talked us into some fresh conch salad. The chef literally (again, appropriate use of the work) pulled the conch out from the protected waters of the bay, and made our salad right there. How cool is that?
While we were waiting, a local fisherman came into the bay and the guys told us he’d have fresh catch and we should feel free to go barter. Erik took off and scored us two HUGE lobsters. I still think these are a bit too expensive, but since we are having zero, zilch, nada luck catching anything more than a ration of shit from other fisherman for our bad luck and/or skills, I guess $30 is a small price to pay for 4 pounds of lobster.
It’s currently Thursday and the storm is expected to hit early Saturday, so we knew Friday would be the final push to Great Exuma island. What we hadn’t expected was the storm’s winds arriving early. But Friday morning, winds were from the NE at 15-20 and at 7a, we could see nearby sailboats leaving the cut for the Sound, which was about an hour after low tide. According to NOAA, we could expect a sea state with 3-5’ waves. We hailed the sailboat departing the cut at 8a. The captain told us it was “bouncy” but that after clearing the cut and heading north to deeper water around a mile out, we should expect to see calmer waters. But the captain did warn us that this cut is best attempted closer to slack tide. Every minute we delayed departure meant a tougher and riskier exit.
We quickly prepped the boat and lifted the hook. I have to state something important here. Erik did NOT want to do this. He would have had us wait til high slack tide. I insisted we go. My reasoning was solid, but in hindsight, we would never do this again.
We kept our headsets on because we had strong winds on the nose and do not have any wind protection on the fly bridge. Erik apologized to M&L, but he assured her we wouldn’t push her to the limits often. We approached the cut at 7kts under power alone. The first of the rollers had our hulls dipping into the waves, splashing water onto the trampolines. So far, so good, until the rollers started getting bigger and bigger and with shorter intervals.
We’d take a wave by dipping so far into the waves that we actually had water spray us on the fly bridge. And it was repeated over and over again. As we’d climb up a wave, only to have the last of the wave push us down, we lost speed. And when you lose speed, you lose control over navigation.
We saw the speed reduce from 7kts to 6kts, to 4kts, and finally 2.8kts. By this time, the rollers were turning us to port (left) and I’m screaming “Oh my god, Oh my god!”
I am pretty sure I said something really smart and helpful, totally constructive and equally obvious like “turn to starboard (right), Erik, turn!” I had visions of surfing sideways down a wave and into the rocky shoreline.
Erik kept repeating, “we’re ok, we’re ok.” And I’d repeat back “ok, ok.” Erik dropped the starboard engine into reverse and cranked the wheel with all his might to starboard and very slowly, M&L turned into the waves. At this point, the waves were easily 8 feet with a one second intervals. THIS IS NOT BULLSHIT EXAGGERATING.
We didn’t talk during the 30 or so minutes it took to clear the cut, and after catching our breath, we both admitted how incredibly frightening this was.
Do I think if we had a less skillful captain we would have crashed? Yes, I do. Do I think we would have died, no I don’t. But it would have been catastrophic and I am always so impressed with how well Erik deals with the stress and works through the problem in a fraction of a second in order to keep us, our home, and our lives safe.
About 2 miles offshore, we began turning to starboard to parallel the islands as we made our way south with wind and a sea state easily showing us 4-6 foot rollers on the beam (but with a more reasonable interval of about 3 seconds). But we wouldn’t be heading to Georgetown. We decided right then, we would hide out safely tied to a dock at Emerald Bay Marina, at the north end of Great Exuma. Which was the right decision.
Just one more cut to clear as we entered what we’d later learn was also a treacherous inlet. And we’d have to do this under limited power, because with all the churning, bouncing, and bobbing we did for the 5+ hour sail, once again, we lost use of our drive generator – and would have to clear the entrance to the marina under low power from just our house generator.
But I’ll save that for another time.
Next: Our week in Emerald Bay