Mother Nature Has the Last Laugh

S/v Liberty Clipper and m/v SEALINK out of Nassau have wave protection at the government docks

S/v Liberty Clipper and m/v SEALINK out of Nassau have wave protection at the government docks

The different weather services can and do use different models to create their forecasts. Often two may agree but a third is somewhere out in left field. We always hope that when all the ones we use are in agreement, that they’ve nailed it.. because can they all be wrong???  Isn’t that a leading question? The answer is yes they can!!! And they were and we suffered… but not alone. Thursday was predicted by our two sources to be somewhere around 13-16kts, winds out of the SW, going to west and dropping way down as they clocked around to NW and then north.  Governor’s Harbor is exposed from WNW to NNW so we knew we’d be in for a certain amount of discomfort until the wind and waves moved north and then NE.

The trip began well enough at 8:15 as we began sailing right away in 10-12kts of SW winds. We wanted to sail the entire way before the wind dropped down too much. Oh what a joke. Within the first hour of the 3 ½ hour trip it became clear the forecast was oh so wrong. When the wind hit 20kts we reefed the jib and I began to envision a very unpleasant few minutes when the time came to drop the main. Have I mentioned that this process is not as simple as head into the wind and whoosh the main drops right down into the stack pack? Our speed often exceeded 8kts; great if we’d been racing, but funny, not single other boat departed Rock Sound.

A reasonably good-sized island, Levi Island sits a stone’s throw above the harbor and we briefly considered anchoring there for protection but with SW wind, it wasn’t any better than the harbor. We chose the lesser of the weevils, so we thought, and figured we could tuck in fairly close to shore in the southern corner. Wrong again. Some floating house raft thing with AIS named KhanTiki or something close to that, was anchored exactly where we wanted to be.

Never saw anyone aboard, but they had the best spot in the harbor. This was taken in calm conditions

Never saw anyone aboard, but they had the best spot in the harbor. This was taken in calm conditions

Anchoring with the shore at one’s stern is not desirable and we could have moved to Levi, but the forecast had promised the winds would lessen and so too would the large swells entering the medium-sized harbor. To make things more interesting, the charts indicated “poor holding” unless you could find a sandy spot or get closer to the beach where sand was abundant. Our first attempt was perfect; the anchor grabbed right away, but we found our stern in 4ft and that was not going to work since the swells caused a great deal of pitching which made the rudders touch bottom. We eyeballed a spot that looked sandy further away and dropped the hook. I’m at the bow as usual and if I hadn’t been so focused on doing my job I might have noticed how large the swells had become and how much we were bobbing up and down in them. This was a new one for the log book.

The anchor didn’t grab right away but then it seemed to hold fast and after I attached the bridle and we pulled back again, she didn’t budge. Needless to say, we cursed the weather, watched the chartplotter to be sure we weren’t dragging, set two drag alarms, and waited in vain for the wind to shift to a non-west direction. I was extra bummed because we could see seafood being sold from two fishing cleaning stations over on the shore road that runs along the beach.

View from our stern of the beach and harbor-side buildings at low tide

View from our stern of the beach and harbor-side buildings at low tide

By 5pm the wind had dropped down to 10kts out of the NW but the swells, which take longer to change direction, were hitting us broadside so preparing dinner was fun. Two monohulls had anchored behind Levi and from a distance they appeared to have made the better choice.

I almost believed Russ when he assured me that, “tomorrow will be a better day and we can spend time ashore.” No doubt he still wasn’t giving up on the lunatic forecasters.  Mother Nature had continued to outfox us all; Friday was quite the weather day; it began with pouring rain at 5am, increased wind and distant lightning. Rain on and off all day, moderate NW to NE back to NW winds with a peak at 24kts one time.

This is not my idea of a better day- compare the sea state to that calm one at Rock Sound

This is not my idea of a better day- compare the sea state to that calm one at Rock Sound

During the day a small sailboat about 26ft anchored close to us and one of the two from Levi anchored on our other side a better distance away. Conditions were slightly improved once the wind shifted more north but those boats, especially the smaller one rolled from side to side and pitched in the swells that I was becoming seasick just watching. By 3pm things were looking calmer and a “better day tomorrow” for Saturday was beginning to sound believable. At least all anchors were holding; can’t rely on what the charts say either- for which we were immensely thankful. Note: we talked with the two Levi Island boats on Sat and they said that even Chris Parker was fooled by Mother Nature this time.

South Palmetto -Ten Bay – Rock Sound

Rain approaches as we make our way toward South Palmetto Pt

Rain flattens the waves as we make our way toward South Palmetto Pt

Plan A: sail to Rock Sound, approx. 42nm trip and after spending a few days, work our way up Eleuthera to Spanish Wells

Plan B: sail to South Palmetto Point a 52nm trip and anchor at Pau Pau Bay then backtrack to Rock Sound for provisions, laundry, etc and have protection from the SW winds expected Wed, then head north.

Reality: sailed to Kemps Point and as we turned north toward SPP, the wind died and shifted from SE to South, dropped the main and motored. Poured rain when 4nm out from SPP and the temp dropped from 84 to 71 in 15 mins. Passed at least 6-8 lines of white floats which we guessed might be crab pots.

We made great time, but we got going at 7:15 to be sure and arrived at South Palmetto Pt at 3:30. Russ declared that Pau Pau Bay (small but good holding in sand close to shore) was no good with any kind of south winds. Very close by was Sheep Cay but the bottom was hard and rocky and after 3 tries we gave up. Also tried where the chart book said was the best (and they use that word loosely in Eleuthera) anchoring, off the old town dock, and that too was almost as bad. Next option was to head south about 2nm to Ten Bay which offered protection from NE to South. The chart indicated sand and grass, but we needed to get ourselves anchored before the sun got so low that we couldn’t see the bottom. We found more sand than grass and the Rocna dug in acceptably well.

Noticed another cat, s/v Salty Paws anchored in the northern part of the small bay and they confirmed “crabs” when we saw the one they’d speared the next morning. It looked like a grunge large land crab. Although ESE at 14kts gusting 16 is not a big deal when sailing, or when anchored with protection, it is when the waves and swells head for exposed shoreline.

We wanted to walk around SPP – I mean we did alter Plan A just to check out a new place since Rock Sound would be mostly closed down on a Sunday. The wooden section of the dock was still usable but the concrete part that connected to shore was ruined, so we had to land on the beach.

Using a bow and stern anchor has proven invaluable to anchoring safely and easily".

Using a bow and stern anchor has proven invaluable to anchoring safely and easily”.

Oh that was fun in the swells but our method of turning Bunting into the waves after tossing in the small Fortress works well. I hold the anchor line at the bow, slowly letting more out until the captain says “stop”, then tie the line at the bow tab. Russ gets out at the stern holding the second (folding grapnel) anchor line walks toward shore and pulls the dinghy in so I can climb out into hopefully less than one ft of water. We gather our stuff, let the dinghy out a bit so she’s floating then put the grapnel in sand on the beach. This takes practice and patience and we have now had plenty of both.

Once an enclosed public restroom, now with a water view

Once an enclosed public restroom, now with a water view

We walked the road that lead to the Queen’s Highway and came upon Nate and Jenny’s restaurant- oh bummer they don’t open until 5pm on Sundays- no surprise there. Street signs indicate population and prosperity but plenty of places, including a good-sized market, were no longer in business. The 22nm trip down to Rock Sound was a motor, make water one that we expected to do in low South-ish winds, but ended up being 11-15kts… right on our nose(s).

Crabbers collecting the day's catch from their pots

Crabbers collecting the day’s catch from their pots

Rock Sound Harbor offers most everything a cruiser could want, including 3-sided protection; you only have southern exposure but even that is moderately mitigated by distant shore. The first order of business included a grocery stop and since we’d be near a liquor store and ATM, those were easy too.

The gas jug for the outboard was dangerously low.

Pay the attendant, who pumps vehicles but not gas jugs. Just like years ago.

Pay the attendant, who pumps vehicles but not gas jugs. Just like years ago, he’s got a huge wad of cash.

The Esso station is the same short walk and we declined two ride offers on the way back in order to work those muscles. We each hold the handle and carry the jug between us.

Lunch and a tall cool beverage at Pascal’s was welcome after several trips back and forth. We each ordered a Parrot Punch which was a lovely green thanks to curacao mixed with pineapple and orange juices, not to mention three rums. We caught the end of the entertainment lunch for the cruise ship folk who come by Eleuthera Adventures bus from the Princess cruise ship anchorage down at the tail end of the island.

Cruise ship folk get lunch and a taste of Junkanoo at Pascal's

Cruise ship folk get lunch and a taste of Junkanoo at Pascal’s

By Tuesday we were one of a dozen boats clustered in the “good holding” section near Pascal’s.

Flat, calm anchorage near Pascal's at Rock Sound

Flat, calm anchorage near Pascal’s at Rock Sound- the freight boat is at the govt dock

S/v Time Enough II organized a cruiser happy hour at Pascal’s who offered reduced prices on drinks and appetizers.

We’d gone in for laundry at 3Ts that morning, another clean and reasonably priced Laundromat owned and operated by the friendly and obviously educated Villimae. S/v Side by Side (Manta catamaran) told us of the get together and we were impressed that they knew Ortolan was a Maine Cat.  The ashore happy hour was a great success and we met many new boats, exchanged boat cards, stories and travel plans. Surprisingly, about 40% of the boats were heading south, but then not everyone crossed very early like we did.

Tuesday afternoon we’d planned lunch at Rosie’s Nort’Side but a large dark cloud with water spout kept us aboard instead.  Forget the Chinese calendar, this is the year of waterspouts.

Wednesday morning we walked a ways down the main road to check out the ocean hole and caves. A well-marked entrance was appreciated as was the sign display with birds, etc described.

Entrance to the ocean (boiling hole) . Russ reads up on what we might see

Entrance to the ocean (boiling hole) . Russ reads up on what we might see

A calm ocean hole- no big waves in the harbor means no turbulence in the hole

A calm ocean hole- no big waves in the harbor means no turbulence in the hole

Wednesday afternoon, most of us moved across the harbor to gain protection from the westerly winds and waves that would steadily intensify overnight.

The other side of Rock Sound Harbor. We head in for a low tide beach exploration

The other side of Rock Sound Harbor. We head in for a low tide beach exploration

We copy another cat and set up our folding chairs in the space normally occupied by Bunting

We copy another cat and set up our folding chairs in the space normally occupied by Bunting

Thursday looked good to move up to Governor’s Harbor, the capital of The Bahamas prior to Nassau.