The Gulf Crossing forecast was ideal with south winds of 10 knots and seas of two feet or less. Neptune has other things in mind. We cast off under cloudy skies and low visibility at four AM and cleared Lake Worth Inlet at 5:30 AM, planning to make West End of Grand Bahama in the daylight. The short ICW transit to the inlet was uneventful except for one unlit anchored boat that had dragged into the channel. Rana saw it from the foredeck in time. The waves immediately offshore were 3-4 feet and choppy. As we entered the Gulf Stream, the winds increased to 15+ knots gusting higher and waves to 10-12 foot on the beam. The new autopilot functioned perfectly. Mike tucked snugly under the dodger with the pilot remote control and sat watch. The winds increased and the waves began to break over the deck. Suddenly, we were hit by a really huge rouge wave that broke over the boat and filled the cockpit. Mike saw it just before it hit but was unable to head into it since the autopilot remote could only adjust 1 degree at a time and pushing the control 90 times was not very practical. The wave shorted out the engine electrical system when it flooded the cockpit. Lesson Learned #1: in threatening seas, don’t rely upon the autopilot remote; sit at the helm prepared to take the wheel if necessary. The big wave also lifted the anchors clear of the new anchor platform. Mike immediately ran to the foredeck and secured the anchors before they could fully deploy. This was especially exciting since some of the lifelines had been torn away. Lesson Learned #2: don’t rely upon the chain lock to secure anchors in rough weather – securely tie them down with heavy line.
Once we made it to West End and checked in, we soaked the cockpit electrical connection in WD40 and could get the engine to start, but the connections were obviously not reliable and eventually would not work at all. We were able to find an old ignition switch (which looked like it came from a tractor) to replace the fried one and we were on our way again. Before we left, Rana bought fresh conch from local fishermen and Mike tenderized it with a hammer and we sauted them with olive oil, garlic, hot peppers, tomatoes and a light curry and served over rice. Delicious!
The Little Bahama Banks
We sailed north and entered the Little Bahama Banks near Memory Rock. It is always worrisome to go from the deep of the Straits of Florida to the shallows of the Banks. The area around Memory Rock has numerous shallows and Rana stood on the deck and directed us through the shoals. The early morning weather forecast predicted an east wind for the night. So we had planned to anchor on the west side of Great Sale Cay at dusk. In transit, we rechecked the weather on the Iridium satellite phone and found that the stalled front was coming through with a thunderstorm and the wind was going to swing and make the west side of Great Sale a lee shore. So, we headed south around the island as night fell in order to anchor on the protective eastern side. At this point the storm hit with a vengeance, we lost our engine again and also lost our chartplotter navigation. To make it all the more exciting, the chart was marked “dangerous shifting shoal (good light required)”. Fortunately, we always mark our paper chart and do not rely exclusively on the electronics, so we knew where we were. We broke out a little Garmin GPS from the ditch bag and gave the shoals a wide berth. 13 hours after setting out, we dropped anchor. We were exhausted, but happy to have made it to shelter from the ongoing storm. Just to top it all off, as Mike let out 100 feet of rode, the chain popped through the bow roller and fell onto the second anchor. The nut holding the brand new bow roller had come off the first time we deployed the anchor. Mike jumped down and caught the roller as it came loose, avoiding it’s loss into the sea. As the night wore on, we found a spare lock nut and repaired the roller for the night.
We sailed to Spanish Cay for fresh water and veggies and spent two days at the dock sitting out a fresh northern wind. We then headed south and anchored off Powell Cay for the night. The next day we attempted to sail south to Green Turtle Cay, but the wind had come around to the south and without an engine, it was difficult to tack south especially in the areas with shoals. So we turned around and sailed north and anchored behind Angelfish Point. This turned out to be a wonderful choice. We spent a week there fishing and picnicking on the natural and deserted beach. The wind made it difficult to sail around the point and our good Canadian friends Captain Larry and Bob came with tools to help us repair the engine and get underway again. The next day, we sailed to Green Turtle Cay.