Terror in Paradise

almost on the rocksOne minute we are anchored peacefully and the next we awaken to find ourselves 20 ft from rocks. Saving us from crashing up on the rock ledge was our 15lb dinghy anchor! And it was out only because Weather Channel app told us Light and Variable at night… which turned out to be darn wrong.

Otherwise, Richmond Island was lovely and fun to explore.

 

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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.

Jumpin’ Jumentos! : Perils at Water Cay

Heading west with Hog Cay off to the right

Heading west with Hog Cay off to the right

“Be Prepared”. The wise Boy Scout motto applies also to cruisers, travelers, and just about everyone alive I guess. When cruising outside the U.S. or Canada which for us means, “in the Bahamas”, one must think two steps ahead of today’s needs and desires. Chances are the ONE time you don’t plan ahead will be the one time you end up SOL, or close enough for a stinky whiff.

This little ditty is about our intrepid cruisers, Russ and Lori, aboard s/v Ortolan, accompanied by water taxi m/v Bunting, as they take a chance and make it happen further south than they’ve ever ventured before.

Sunday and the 8:30am cruisers’ Net compliments of Mike, not only with weather and local events but always ends on a happy note with a great joke or funny story. After the weather checking ritual is complete and with at least four days of favorable winds and NO cold front predicted, the captain proposes a short trip down to the northern Jumentos. Time enough to stop at Water Cay and Flamingo Cay… and we know there be lobsters in those waters just waiting to jump in your dinghy.

So, you didn’t get those extra food items at the market yesterday, no cell service to get updated weather and the propane is dangerously low, but hey we can motor-sail and make water on the way. Me thinks that with half the boats having already departed for “somewhere” perhaps the captain felt a tad competitive …. I’m just saying. At 9:40 the 44nm trip to Water Cay commences. The first 15nm is heading back west toward the back side of White Cay and Hog Cay (not the Hog Cay on Long Island) which sit at the tip of the Exuma chain. At the Comer West way point hang a left to head SW toward the Jumentos Cays. The forecast was sun and clouds with rain showers likely. True enough, although more rain was seen off in the distance than rinsed the boat.

The Explorer Chart book has this to say about the Jumentos Cays and Ragged Islands: “Self-reliance is essential… go with plenty of food, water, fuel, medicines and weather-reporting equipment…there are no marinas, no BASRA help, little fresh water and few supplies…ocean swells come around the cays.. the only settlement is tiny Duncan Town with a population around 100.”

If that’s not enough to alarm even experienced cruisers then what would? So why come here? Pristine remoteness, abundant coral reefs, great shelling and well, lobsters. A bit of adventure just to prove you are not simply another chicken in the harbor.

Water Cay is the first place suitable to anchor and when we arrived at 4:20 two cats were anchored with just enough room for us. Virtually no ocean swell and the following day was odd as the wind was low and variable.??????????????????

The next morning the exploration began in earnest. First, we headed toward Little Water Cay which sits just above Water Cay with approx 1/10 mile of water separating the two. Low tide prevented a beach landing and a large swell kept us off a sandy spot further up. ????????????????????????????????

So we turned south to check out the cut through the island and low tide proved to be a blessing for landing the dinghy.????????????????????????????

The distinctive cry of osprey caught our attention; sure enough two osprey ruled their territory and became very unhappy that we’d invaded their space?????????????????????????????????

I took this photo as the angry osprey was intent on forcing us away from his home. They both flew over us, at times quite close. We read the message loud and clear; good thing the shells were on the beach further away from the nest.?????????????????????

??????????????????????????????

So much for a favorable forecast.  Silly us to believe that “sun” meant “no rain” and certainly no waterspouts!! Shortly after lunch we saw this one about 5nm to our east, moving north.?????????????????????

Two minutes later it had diminished and we all breathed a huge sigh of relief. Right as we spotted the spout (the most fully formed one we’d ever seen) another cat was heading into the area from the south. “Catamarans at Water Cay, water-spout warning” boomed the Scottish voice from s/v Sam the Skull (isn’t that a great name?)  We acknowledged and assured them the spout was heading north (not west toward us).

A short time later, the sky not making any promises, we jumped in our water taxi to check out further south along Water Cay. Not much to see, just an old fishing trawler wrecked up against the rocks, not even in enough water to make a good fish haven. As we turned back, guess what was visible between the island’s small hills? Wouldn’t you know it- another spout- this one closer and way more menacing. Zooming as fast as our puny 8HP outboard (with duo fins assist) could go, we covered the mile+ quickly stopping to warn Sam the Skull who was lobster hunting and had no way to see the spout. As fast as we moved, he beat us to his boat and raised his dinghy.

Oh boy, at this point I’m wondering do we raise anchor and move?  If our Scottish friend does, do we?  If a hard-core cruiser is worried, then I am too. Because of our nearness to shore, the spout was too close to see but we checked the radar to confirm it was indeed less than two miles away, heading north. I guess spouts travel in a straight line pretty much, plus we had land between the anchored boats and the spout. Positive thinking anyway.

Oct 31: Tricks and Treats

Ortolan rests easy at Barefoot Marina on the ICW at N. Myrtle Beach

Ortolan rests easy at Barefoot Marina on the ICW at N. Myrtle Beach

Back on Oct 25 in Manteo we’d decided to move along based on a cold front forecast to arrive around today- give or take. At one point winds were to be 20-25kts and measurable rain would be dumped upon us. Between Southport and our next safe haven marina, Barefoot Marina in N. Myrtle Beach lay two badly shoaled sections at inlets Lockwoods Folly and Shallote and the very skinny three-mile long Rockpile section.  Windy wasn’t so much a problem as rain that would mess up visibility. Our greatest wind concern was the predicted clocking around that seems to occur mostly at night and then the anchor as to re-set… or not!

The plan on Thursday was to leave Southport mid-morning and transit across the inlets on a rising tide, two hours or more past low. Anchor in Calabash Creek (a short day) then Friday would be the Rockpile, ending up a couple of miles later at the marina. When Thursday arrived with a revised Friday forecast not to our liking, we opted to leave early, transit the inlet sections before low tide and arrive at Barefoot Marina shoeless, I mean by 2pm. This would allow us a chance to walk across to Barefoot Landing, a complex of shops, restaurants and attractions before the rain arrived.

Most times we have no help leaving a dock so Russ removes the spring line and loops the bow and stern back to the boat so I can simply pull them through at his signal. I don’t try to flick them off the cleat because the one time I tried, I managed to get the line looped extra around one end of the cleat- so forget that. The wind was light and blowing us gently off the dock. I pulled the bow line and went to the stern. As I pulled the line I could see a knot forming at the bitter end of the line. Nooooooooo- it would get stuck between the cleat and the dock- yep sure enough, so I release the line from the boat cleat and toss it back toward the dock. I make my mad face and Russ says we’ll retrieve it. Just then a guy walks by, I ask him to gather our line and toss it as we get back closer to the dock. Ok, this is the second time we almost lost a line; this keeps up Russ won’t ever want to dock again. Note to selves; be sure line is not twisted or ready to knot itself.

A boater has many resources available to help navigate and provide current intel about waterways, bridges, marinas and the like. We use ActiveCaptain which can be almost real-time if you update it frequently. This trip we also began checking the Salty SE Cruisers’ Net online.(cruisersnet.net) The most current info can be obtained from hearing what others relate on the VHF as they pass by and through difficult sections or under bridges.

Today’s terrors have been dredged, the floating buoys moved frequently and still they become a regular problem at mid-tide and lower. Quite a few boats were ahead of us, monohulls and trawlers so we’d knew the early warning system would be in place. We lowered the daggerboards to be one foot below the rudders/props; now we’d draw nearly four and a half feet.  Our depth sounder is near the bottom of our starboard hull.  Our port daggerboard never moved up and down smoothly; now it does. We’ve never gone aground in mid-channel; now we have- twice. Once with both hulls.  Fortunately it was only sand and raising the boards got us off. The second time was the worst; I ran up to check depths with the boat hook and found less than one foot next to the starboard hull at the bow.  We’ve heard that barges come through and dislodge the sand in an ever-changing depth configuration that makes transit at any time lower than mid-tide, a huge problem.

The first time, the board made this strange scraping sound; Russ didn’t know what it was at first. Which way to go? We sat between the red and the green. Oh wait, the starboard (red side) hull isn’t stuck, it’s the port hull where we don’t know the depth.  Ah, so we discover an ugly downside to two hulls sitting 20ft apart. The Rockpile section was a cake walk after this poor catamaran behavior.  But if you were counting, you’d know that all would be well, right?  After the third “trick” (the line and two groundings) the rule of threes was satisfied. Darn good thing; my poor frayed nerves.

Where Does IT Happen? Cap’n Ron knows.

With each passing day we pinched ourselves to be sure that everything was really
going our way. We bid farewell to Port Washington along with three other sails,
motoring down the East River through New York harbor, the current sweeping us
along. No noticeable pleasure boat traffic and minimal commercial traffic- a
nice change from last year’s Saturday trip.

New York City skyline, Tower One in center and Brooklyn Bridge to left

New York City skyline, Tower One in center and Brooklyn Bridge to left

Don’t look now but we are starting to show our experience, or maybe we could call it confidence. 🙂  The paper charts remained MIA- oh those silly things that consume 75% of the table space; oh I did pull them out eventually for the trip down the lonnggg NJ coast. Gives me something to look at, plus I find the charts provide a better “big picture” than the chart plotter. We raised the main in the harbor; a walk in the park event today, a terrifying moment if this had been Year One.

West winds allowed for fine sailing through the lower bay, around Sandy Hook and along the New Jersey coast. Seas could not have been more than a foot (and I’m being generous here) thanks to low winds for the past couple of days. The Pride of Baltimore was sailing just ahead of us and made for a lovely view and of course the requisite photos.

The Pride of Baltimore apprx 3/4 mi to our port side and 1/4 mile ahead

The Pride of Baltimore apprx 3/4 mi to our port side and 1/4 mile ahead after rounding Sandy Hook

After a short time I noticed our apparent wind was hanging around 60 degrees with 8 to 13 kts true and some higher gusts. About 3 seconds later Russ predictably states that we should use the screecher, “the wind is gonna stay low.”  I agreed. A day earlier “gusts to 20kts” were in the forecast, but had been removed as of the morning. In went the jib, out came the screecher; our speed increased and we were closing in on The Pride.(you can bet she was motor-sailing)

No, no NOAA, when will we ever learn not to trust you, you miserable substitute for a forecasting entity. Sigh. This time we can’t blame NOAA entirely; we failed to pound that proverbial nail into the horse’s shoe and blew out our flip-flop. About an hour and a-half later we heard a loud POP sound and I raced out to see what I could see, but my wondering eyes proved useless as I looked up at the screecher from both sides. We could hear a flap-flap sound, reminiscent of the awful sound the sail made last November when we got caught in BIG wind that tore the sun protection material. Russ figures it out and we try to roll in the darn thing, which is not easy to do well as it doesn’t wind on a pole but on a halyard line. As soon as it was mostly wrapped we released the halyard and dropped the whole thing into the ocean.  In my dreams perhaps, but in reality we dropped it on deck, tied off the halyard and tied up the very bulky mass with a few dock lines. Naturally the wind was gusting during this time, but overall we were lucky that conditions were calm and Otto was doing his usual good job.  The Pride pulled farther ahead since we don’t go as fast with the jib and we were left wondering where she’d be in the morning.

Screecher down, jib out, The Pride pulls further ahead.

Screecher down, jib out, The Pride pulls further ahead.

The night was uneventful and we both got some sleep, motor-sailing with only the main in 8-12kts that had moved to SSW. Warm too; the low for the night was only 67. Ah, now I can relax a bit; how great to be done with my least favorite overnight so quickly- not that I like any of them mind you.

Sunrise off Cape May, NJ

Sunrise off Cape May, NJ

Crossed the Delaware with ease; the big ships not awake to terrorize us yet. By 8:30 Thursday morning, 24 hrs later, we were anchored in Breakwater Harbor at Cape Henlopen near Lewes, DE.  After a short nap we’d deal with that white pile on the tramps.

Stunning sunset at Breakwater Harbor

Stunning sunset at Breakwater Harbor

A change of view

Physically and mentally, so it seems.  I’ve looked around and do not see him or her, but that’s so typical of the angel watching over you to remain just past the edge of your peripheral vision.

The weekend before last started out pleasantly enough with warm, sunny weather and a much anticipated visit from Martin and Laurie Bradburn, Lily’s parents. They arrived Saturday afternoon for a taste of catamaran life. We made sure to give them the (almost) full treatment, complete with a dinghy ride from the dock to the mooring. In lieu of sailing we simply sped down river, aided by a 3kt current, complements of recent rainfall.  Hamburg Cove was passed by in favor of a swing past the Essex Yacht Clubs and CT River Museum, ending up anchored off Nott Island with a view of Essex harbor. Muscle memory proved itself alive as we executed all operations without a hitch. I always worry about my role at the bow when we anchor. Russ tried to tell me that anchor raising was my job too, but I knew better and shoved him outside to deal with that and push a few branches out of the way too.  An entire forest has come down river over the past couple of weeks.

Martin enjoys our spacious bow

Martin enjoys our spacious bow

The return trip was much slower as we battled the current that hasn’t seen “incoming” in many days. We stopped at the fuel dock to allow our guests, who possess excellent taste in wine and music, an easy disembarkation (yes, it is a word), plus this would help complete their experience. Oh and we only hit one log on the way home.  By this time I had no interest in dealing with the mooring pickup in the dark, so we spent the night at the dock.  Sunday was Father’s Day and Russ wanted to spend time in Hamburg Cove which meant we’d be off the dock before anyone would be needing it. A bit of dock time meant a chance to plug in for a battery fill-up and to top off the water tanks.

Once again we sped south and after a successful first snag of a mooring – see? the muscle memory keeps workin’ – I fixed pancakes for breakfast- healthy ones- Multi-grain Buttermilk Chocolate Chip Pancakes. – Oh the chips are just the mini ones. Russ took the kayak for a spin while I held down the fort with silent prayers that the mooring’s owner did not arrive to kick us off. Too late we’d noticed the name on the ball read, “Dock 6”, meaning we’d increased the risk of meeting an owner.  The boats poured in but our luck held and we stayed ‘til about 3pm when the clouds began to roll in. Wow, two outings in two days and the first ones (not counting trips to the fuel dock) since we arrived back on May 1.  The physical change of scenery was long overdue, but not quite yet complete- as we were to discover.

How do I describe the white-knuckle, breath-holding event that topped off our Sunday- during cocktail hour no less??  A short video is called for- sorry don’t have one. A few photos might help- no don’t have those either. Some who read this will know the feeling, others will get a sense, and some I’m sure will wonder what all the fuss was about.

Ever wonder if a particular decision was a good one, especially if it involves choosing between two options with pros and cons; neither one right nor wrong. Our mooring has two pennants so that we can be attached at both bow cleats. After the marina attached the second pennant (early May) Russ went out and added seizing wire around the shackles for insurance.

So, we arrived back to our floating ball, congratulating ourselves on a fun and successful weekend.  Happy Hour arrives but about 10 minutes into it we aren’t feeling all that happy. Russ happens (Captain’s sixth sense?) to look out toward the stern, then says, “I think something’s wrong.” I jump up and by golly if we aren’t about a foot away from the mooring/dock behind us. Not much wind at the moment, the current is going out but not as swiftly as recently and I KNOW that the mooring/dock thing behind us is NOT moving toward us. Guess that leaves one possibility; we are moving toward it!  I start the port engine, send Russ to the bow to see if we are still attached (but we know we are) and we are. I start the starboard engine as it’s become clear we need to move outta here and Russ takes the helm to bring us forward and toward the channel. I release the pennant eyes from the bow cleats, and watch as the ball, pennants, floats with whips all gather for a festival between the hulls. Not wanting to get any lines tangled in the props, the engines remain in neutral while we float away from them with some remaining forward momentum. I give the all-clear and we leave the mooring ball in the channel, now a temporary hazard to navigation, while we go pick up another mooring ball. Damn, if that wasn’t a revolting development. Happy that this happened in daylight, at a quiet time, not much wind… AND we were aboard, didn’t hardly have time to be royally pissed off. Happy Hour re-commences while we ponder where the mooring and/or chain failed. Russ surmised that the shackle that connects the chain to the cement block came undone which meant the mooring would have enough weight to remain where we moved it after casting us loose in search of a different view.

Monday morning our wayward mooring was dragged in like a runaway pet, too ashamed to bark at the door.

Naughty mooring soon to be hauled in to sit in the corner!

Naughty mooring soon to be hauled in to sit in the corner!

The view from our stern of the mooring/docks before we were set free.

The view from our stern of the mooring/docks before we were set free.

The next day we got a second pennant on our new home, complete with marina provided seizing wire and the assurance that all moorings would be pulled this year and inspected.  They were likely due anyway. Our new home sits just opposite the dock where we spent the past two summers; maybe Ms. Ortolan needed to be closer the familiar surroundings and all that dancing around with the wind and current lately was a way to break free. We still think our decision to be on a mooring this summer was a good one; maybe we chose the wrong one is all.

Eleuthera Bound

For the past few days a shoot had been growing up from the tops leaves of a succulent in my two and a half-year old cactus garden. This morning we saw the result- more yellow – a flower! In fact, a cluster. The flower dies each night and two days later another one opens. I was thrilled.

A Lovely First Flower

A Lovely First Flower

Tues or Wed, Wed or Tues; which day to head out for Eleuthera’s Rock Sound Harbor. Tuesday, our sources agreed, was looking to be the day most likely to sail well and Wed not so much so but the seas would have calmed down more. Oh, let’s go and get there, we are the “big cat” after all, no? The cut was swelly (a new nautical term), the tide still going out and us with it; the wind on our stern quarter. Russ was likin’ it and I found a positive thought in that we’d arrive sooner than planned. After a few hours, the wind backed down a bit and the waves with it- ah- at this point any improvement was appreciated.

Within minutes of this thought, Russ looks to starboard and says, “big one coming.” While I believed him, the Captain does tend to exaggerate at times, but NOT this time. The swells had been about 5-6 footers and this one (and only one, thankfully) must have been nearly 10. I heard crashing in the cockpit, where I was of course, and as I looked toward the stern, the wave top hit all the way across to the grill on the port side. I quickly saw that the crash noise was only the box of fishing gear flying off the side bench seat, along with everything else. A few things on the bathroom counter ended up on the floor; nothing broke but we did notice the door frame no longer is sealed well to the fiberglass wall. I guess that guy didn’t get the calm down memo.
Not long after we began the 10 mile approach into Rock Sound Harbor, our angle to the wind crapped out with each course change until the main came down and we began to use those often inactive engines. The southern end of Eleuthera is a perfect whale’s tail that waves to greet all who pass by. As we turned east in Davis Channel, passing the shallows of the Bight and the huge shifting sand bars off our starboard, turquoise and indigo blues surrounded us; we never tire of that view.

Very large sand bar marked with a stone beacon.

Very large sand bar marked with a stone beacon.

Not surprisingly, we found 12 boats in the harbor. One had come in ahead of us, but the rest must have sat out the front here. The harbor has protection from west wind and so is one of the few.

Ortolan resting peacefully in Rock Sound Harbor

Ortolan resting peacefully in Rock Sound Harbor