It has felt like recent posts have gotten a bit artsy fartsy so we decided to go out and cause a doozey of a ruckus to provide you with more exciting material.
The crossing of the Gulf Stream went well. We waited for desirable weather. We left Angel Creek Cut out of Key Largo to travel to South Bimini, Bahamas. It’s a great trajectory to take because the current in the Gulf Stream pushes us north as we head east. We set our destination just south of our desired landing and with the Gulf’s help we ended up landing spot on. It was fifty-eight miles and took over ten hours. We motored, motor sailed and had a couple hours of beautiful eight-knot sailing.
We chose an anchorage just south of South Bimini that does not get good reviews. There is a surge, swells, the holding is not ideal and protection can be poor from certain winds. However, the weather looked good for the night and we planned to sail on the next morning early to West End, Grand Bahamas, weather permitting. The weather did not cooperate so plan B was implemented to move two miles north and get a slip at Brown’s Marina in Alice Town, North Bimini.
We have had a few high drama dockages in our history that you may have read about. The most damaging was a small but somewhat expensive ding in the gel coat from the very dock that we were heading to. The current that runs through the waterway in Alice Town is fierce and temperamental, i.e., Kraken country. We chose to approach the dock at slack tide. This is the in-between time when the tides are changing from coming in to going out or vice versa. This is when the current is at its tamest. It was a well thought out, sailorly plan.
We hauled up B.P. and headed the two miles to the cut to get into the waterway and the marina. My gut was already churning due to our past experience. The cruising guide clearly states to never attempt the cut in west winds as the seas get unsettled and unruly in the narrow and sharp turns. Thankfully, the winds were from the east. Did I mention the sharks? I saw them in this very cut on my way in last year. There is a research center on South Bimini studying nurse, bull, hammerhead and lemon sharks. This is shark city. Here is a photo I took last year off a dock not a quarter mile away from the cut.
And here is a photo I took from my phone yesterday.
We rounded towards the approach with perfect timing for slack tide. But, what we saw were a lot of rolling waves and unsettled water. There are shoals all around the cut and so it made sense in these winds to see waves like these on the shallows. We had much discussion about what to do next. We really wanted to keep with our timing for docking. We slowed down and watched a small fishing boat navigate the cut with relative ease. We double checked the depth on our charts in the narrows and it was ten to fifteen feet. Our keel is just short of five feet so there was plenty of sea. We agreed to move forward with our plan.
We passed the first navigational marker and proceeded toward the second. A large swell lifted Echoes up, surfed her for a while and then dropped her, hard, on the seafloor. Guess who was there baring his teeth? A mighty and enormous Kraken had three of his arms around our keel and was wrestling Echoes with a powerful hunger. He was not smiling. He was not howling with laughter. He was fighting with all of his might to smash Echoes onto the rocks and eat us up. The sounds I heard were an agony I hope never to hear again in my life.
Hold on tight! Captain Clearhead yelled, I’m going to give it hell on the next swell and we are getting back to the sea with everything she’s got.
We waited for the next swell and the engine roared its battle cry but the wave just pushed us sideways as the Kraken threw another strangling arm around us.
I have no steerage! I have no steerage!
Our steering broke on the grounding. The Kraken had the steering cable in his teeth as he shook his ugly head. The helm spun and spun with no connection to the rudder.
There is an emergency tiller in the lazarette (storage area) by the helm. Captain WonderfullyanalItakebackevrythingI’veeversaidagainstit had just checked, lubed and played with it before we left Marco. Every time and I do mean every, I put dock lines and fenders away in this lazarette, he says, Stay clear of the emergency tiller. Do not block the tiller. The tiller was not blocked. I have never seen a person move faster. I stood watch at the helm calling out upcoming swells, their size, and direction. I noticed people gathering on the distant beach to watch the drama. I was glad of it because I wasn’t sure that we wouldn’t be swimming towards them and wanted their eyes on us. I thought of that hungry Kraken and his shark gang.
There is a plate on the decking that unscrews just behind the helm. Once that plate is off, you screw in a pipe. There is another pipe that screws on to the first pipe perpendicularly to make it a T. This is the emergency tiller that you manually rotate left and right to turn the rudder and steer with. It is only about three feet tall so Captain Soakingwetfromwaves was on his knees so he could muscle as much strength as he had in every turn. It required the kind of strength that only adrenaline can provide. He yelled his orders out to me over the terrible winds and waves as I needed to be the eyes and work the throttle. I yelled back the timing and angle of the approaching wave and he would tell me when to give it hell. I would rev the piss out the engine on his command and pull it back when appropriate. We fought that Kraken with everything we had in us. Finally, finally, finally, we rode a swell up, powered through it and back out to sea.
The first thing we did when we were safely offshore was to check the bilge. This would be a ready sign if we were taking on water from the damage of cracks or holes. The bilge was gleefully quiet and empty. Then we ran around checking things visually. So far, so good. Captain Stillcalmashell checked and auto helm still worked. He patted me on the back. My bottom lip trembled.
Don’t lose it on me now. We still have work to do to get to safety.
Aye aye, Capn.
We decided the best bet would be to return to the anchorage we came from by using the tiller and the autohelm to get us there. It is awkward steering at best. We slowly approached our anchorage. I dropped B.P. and at last, we were safe.
The very first thing Captain Extremelyfocused did was to feverishly take everything out of the lazarette and tear apart the steering system. I asked for five minutes. I went into the cabin and sat down, soaking wet, (totally against my rules) and played two games of Wordscapes on my phone. Aren’t I nuts? It was the best way I knew how to stop the screaming in my head. Words are my refuge. After two quick games, I changed clothes and started cleaning. The cabin was wet with seawater that had dripped off of us. Cabinets opened and barfed out their contents. Tomatoes and pears had launched from a basket above the sink in the galley onto various walls and burst to smithereens. Man, do tomatoes have a lot of little seeds. We both worked diligently and quietly on our projects.
Captain Mechanicalgenius deduced a pulley plate had snapped, had disassembled it and was on the phone ordering a new one within a couple of hours. He has the owner of Edson International’s personal cell number and was told he could call it twenty-four seven for assistance. However, John was warned that Will was from Massachusetts and on super bowl Sunday he might be a bit inebriated. Next, Captain Notrunningoutofsteamyet snorkeled Echoes in the cold, wavy sea diving under her, again and again, inspecting every inch. Shockingly to me, everything looked good. There is a saying that sailboats are much tougher than the sailors who sail them. Well, amen to that. After the snorkel, we attempted to take the dingy in to grab a taxi to the airport to clear customs as is protocol. But hurricane Irma took out the landing we had read about in the cruising guide and we did not see other options. So, we decided we had enough for one day.
That night, I had several glasses of wine and a very satisfying cry. Captain Reflective and I discussed our misjudgment and shared a very large piece of hard to digest humble pie. We will now have another mantra to add to our growing list. Never approach a cut in any kind of unsettled sea state.
Since then, we have engaged the help of our friends on Soul Divers who are patiently waiting for us on Green Turtle Key. They have researched, advised and provided encouragement and good humor. We had a lengthy check in to customs and immigration as we had to explain our delay. Where are you anchored? The immigration man asked. Man, that’s a shitty anchorage, was his reply. It is a roly-poly, keep you up at night, don’t leave anything on the counter anchorage. But we were grateful for it none the less. We scuba dove Echoes and thoroughly checked every inch of her rough and tough bottom, keel, rudder, propeller, through hulls and girly parts. She has a beautiful, big bottom.
Fear is an interesting animal. I don’t know what it is about my Captain Wasn’tthatexciting and our two sons. They certainly don’t process fear like I do. But put Captain Whitefacedandsweatypalmed on a plane or rollercoaster and then I’m the brave one. Show any three of my men a needle and they will sweat profusely and likely pass out. The doctor and dentist are their Kraken. Yet one son is becoming a small aircraft pilot for the fun of it and has taught mountain climbing, river rafting, and backcountry snowboarding. The other son is in the Army National Guard and dances through gas chambers, tosses live hand grenades like water balloons, likes to drive fast and furious and shoot that backcountry snowboarding with his brother. Fear is a fickle and baffling thing. In this story, I was scared shitless. Oh no, foul-mouthed just settled into my shoebox.
We have been at the same roly-poly anchorage for seven nights now. The part that Captain Expiditeimmediatelyatanycost ordered last Thursday is still floating around the Bahamas. We spend every day trying to move it along. Welcome to the Bahamas. It is the laid back nature of the islands that we love the most until we are waiting on a very crucial part to be delivered to a disabled vessel on an anchorage with no address. Without exaggeration, we have made over twenty lengthy calls to Fed Ex and customs trying to help make it happen. We make a call and then wait an hour for processing and then call back to push it through to the next contact and start all over again. Right now, the part has cleared customs in Nassau and awaits someone to apply our payment of a VAT tax to help pay for all of this wonderful help we’re getting. No one knows what happens after that as to how to get the part from Nassau to Bimini. That will be tomorrow’s mystery.
We have plenty of everything we need and we are safe. Captain Can’twaittodigin assures me the installation shouldn’t be a big problem. I have picked out a five-star marina to head to when we are able where I will polish my princess crown, feast on fine dining, do laundry and clean heads.
I hope for my sake and not yours, that all of my following posts will be artsy fartsy and filled with cloud and fairy tales, lucid dreams and mediocre poetry. The adventure continues…
(Find your way to the home page and sign up for email notifications if you would like to be emailed when there is a new post. I promise not to give your email address to the Kraken.)