The End of the Great 2019 Bahamian Adventure

I believe I left you about a month ago in the Abacos on a lowering tide without a paddle? My apologies. At that time, we were making plans to store Echoes for the season and I was making calls to realtors to sell my parents’ condo in Marco when things spun wildly out of control. To make a long story short, we rushed to Fort Pierce, Florida, put Echoes on the hard, bee lined to Marco and sold the condo.

But I can’t end the adventure with mundane land lubbers details. I want to tell you about the end of the voyage.

We hopped, skipped, jumped, sailed and back tracked through some familiar Abaco islands and discovered some new treasures along the way.

We gunkholed in an estuary off of Treasure Cay with hundreds of juvenile sea turtles. There is quite a bit of mystery and research about where sea turtles go after they hatch and run for their lives down the beach and into the sea. Well, I’d say a good number of them hide in this estuary of warm water, delicious sea grass and plenty of mangroves to hide in with only a few sharks to contend with.

Hershel Turtle popped his head out and quoted, “Behold the turtle. He makes progress only when he sticks his neck out.” James Bryant Conant 

Many of our best Bahamian friends made a special visit to bid us farewell. They wished us luck, told us to hurry back and quoted from the best. For instance, these Cormorants quoted Vince Lazzara: “God only gives you so many days but the ones you spend at sea don’t count against you”

And holding that thought, perhaps Dominic Dolphin said it best when he quoted Sir Francis Chichester: “Any damn fool can navigate the world sober. It takes a really good sailor to do it drunk.”

Or the pod in the following video who took turns speaking the words of John F. Kennedy: “All of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea – whether it is to sail or to watch it – we are going back from whence we came.” Return to us! cried the dolphins as the darted away.

At last, we ended up in the northern Abacos at the uninhabited Double Breasted Cay to prepare for our voyage home.

We decided that rather than making several overnight stops to notoriously crappy anchorages with bumpy water that we would ride those bumpy waters while making way. In other words, we decided to sail twenty-one hours straight from Double Breasted Cay to Fort Pierce, Florida, crossing the gulf stream. We would take four hour sleeping shifts throughout the night. We spent a quiet night in Double Breasted, gunkholed and enjoyed the cays the following morning and left for Fort Pierce at about two in the afternoon as we wanted to come to Fort Pierce’s inlet at slack tide in the mid morning. The sky that night threw us the very best going away party we could have asked for.

There are three stories I want to tell you about the crossing. The first is that it was so calm that we had to engine almost the entire way. This is just fine. We were hoping for and planning on calm seas. But, it was so calm, that for our first time while underway, we grilled and made wonderful pork roast dinner along the way. It was plain fun.

The second story is from my shift from ten pm to two am. I spent the first hour dodging enormous cargo ships. It must have been a busy cross section of sea at rush hour. I changed courses several times just to be careful. It wasn’t scary exactly, but it was engaging. Then they were all gone and I got bored sitting in my princess push pit seat watching the sky. The flag directly behind me began annoying me with its flapping and whipping me. And then it dawned on me, it was windy. Now, you know that I am just a daydreaming sea princess pretending to be a sailor and that Captain Capableandincommand is the brains behind the operation. And he is always sharing “teaching moments”….”Now you see the vector radius of the dominant sail has a collateral load due to obtuse wind velocity”…but secretly I’m not listening. I’m imagining musical formulas coming out of his mouth like cranky classical music and blowing away in the wind. What I’m trying to say is, Captain Engineeringlyverboseperfectionist teaches me more by having me watch and listen than do. So come back to me at midnight, alone at sea, bored and the wind has picked up. Say, I thought to myself, maybe I could sail. I have never raised a sail on my own, trimmed one on my own or sailed on my own. A angel in a jaunty sailor’s hat and a demon with a krakens body, life vest and snorkel stood on each of my shoulders. “Don’t pick the middle of the ocean, close to the gulf stream, in the middle of the night, to make your first solo attempt at sailing!” argued the angel.” “Do it,” whispered the kraken. I very carefully let out a little sail, trimmed it and watched. Then, I let out more and more and more until the full sail was out. I turned off the engine for a while but was not making enough way to reach our goal at arriving at slack tide. So I motored sailed the rest of my shift adjusting the sail as I went. Captain Sleepyhead popped his head up at two am to relieve my shift and said, “Look at that flag, I bet we can sail.” “Look!” I said pointing to the bow with a full jib bellowing. His head spun three hundred sixty degrees with his eyes bulging. The gesture was quite satisfactory.

Story number three is John’s story from his shift between two to six am. About three am Captain Observantandcurious was watching the radar. A very fast boat sped at unimaginable knots from one distant boat to another, many miles away. He could not make sense of it. Then, he watched with much trepidation as the crazy fast boat zoomed straight for us. They reached Echoes at lightning speed, stopped about a hundred yards off to our stern and shut off their lights. It did not give Captain Ohshit a good feeling at all. There are pirates in the waters and Captain Hairstandinguponhisneck hailed the boat on the VHF. “Boat one hundred yards away with your lights off, this is the sailing vessel Echoes, state your intentions!” There was a long delay of silence and then the boat turned on its lights and sped off without a word. Days later we met a merchant marine and a treasure hunter who lived on their boats at Harbortown marina. They said that, unquestionably, it was the coast guard making their rounds on territorial seas to see who was coming and going late at night. They want to stay incognito. But they scare the shit out of you. These guys suggested that the next time it happens we we call a Sécurité, which is a maritime emergency call. They said call a Sécurité to all maritime vessels and give our exact coordinates and state that a boat with erratic behavior was following us. That, they said, will get rid of them in a hurry.

I have run out of adventure and am (you won’t believe me) running out of words. Echoes is securely held in a hurricane cradle at Harbortown Marina in Fort Pierce. It was hard to say goodbye to her. She feels like an extension of ourselves. We are slowly adapting back to the crazy pace and commercialism of the United States. However, we giggle endlessly as we pour scoops full of ice into our glasses filled with fresh, unsmelly water. We spend a tremendous amount of time on our large and comfortable toilets and standing under long, long, long hot showers. We are gaining whatever little weight we lost. I stand in the wine, produce and meat sections at the grocery store as if standing in front of a line of desperate, wanting men looking at me lustily… Cap’n Jack Sparrow, a younger Paul Newman, Jeff Bridges, Lenny Kravitz, Milo Ventimiglia, Brian Urlacher… and of course my Captain whom I always choose… but my point is that the abundant delicious choices available to us on a daily basis are staggering and mind boggling. I am not used to such bounty and convenience. I am reminded that we are blessed for it.

Captain Hasmyheartandmyback and I thank you for following along on our fumbling adventures. We are already dreaming up new plans for the Bahamas next year. Maybe it will be a little more comfortable? Maybe we will stay a little longer? We give you our gratitude for your enthusiasm, support and following. Until next year, may you find yourselves in fair winds and following seas.

Bimini, Well We’re Waiting Here Near Alice Town

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…

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