Ships Log

April 9, 2006

Crossing the Gulf Stream to Grand Bahama Island

Wow what a ride! We cast off our mooring in Las Olas at 11:30 PM at night with all systems working great. The weather window was closing and we knew if we didn't make it out by midnight, we would be stuck stateside for at least another week. The weather had been perfect two days earlier, but as we went through our pre-departure systems check, we found that the tricolor light was not working and neither was the port running light. These are redundant systems in that the running lights have red port, green starboard and white stern lights at deck level and the tricolor has the same lights at the top of the mast. Only one system should be lit at a time. We use the running lights in harbors and channels and the tricolor at sea. However, neither system was completely working, so we spent a couple days getting them repaired.

To work on the tricolor, Mike had to ascend the 57 foot main mast. He used an ATN Topclimber unit that consists of a good boson's chair and ascenders separately attached to foot stirrups and to the chair. This allows a person to climb the mast theoretically without assistance. However, Rana also tailed a safety line. Mike inched his way to the top. It was a scary climb since it was the first time we used this new unit and it took some time to get it right. By the time he got to the spreaders, he had it down. When he got to the top, he changed the bulbs and the light still didn't work. We were able to communicate with Osco mini walkie-talkies (what a great tool). Mike asked Rana to inspect the wiring at the foot of the mast. Rana removed and reattached connections and the new bulbs and repaired wiring did the trick.

In the dark, we made our way down to Port Everglades. The winding channel had few lit markers, and Rana illuminated them with our million candle power spot light (which we call the chicken cooker). We met a few small craft. The 17th Street Bridge failed to return our hail and open for nearly 1/2 hour and the tide drew us quickly toward the bridge so that we had to circle.

We had a very brisk sail across the Gulf Stream under a three quarter moon and in fairly high seas. During the night, we could hear porpoises off the bow. We had to get to West End on Grand Bahama before the winds clocked around to the north (or any part of north - i.e. NNW, etc) when the waves get really big and close together. Gulf Stream regulars call this the "Elephant Parade" and wisely refuse to enter it. We figured that we could cross ahead of the storm even if our engine was to fail.

When the bottom dropped to over 2000 feet and our depth sounder went blank, the water changed to a very deep cobalt blue. We maneuvered around several monster thunderstorms during the night and morning. The diversions slowed us down so that we had to motorsail part of the way, but we made it ahead of the nasty north front that came roaring through 2 1/2 hours after we arrived, bringing a torrential rainfall. The winds blew through with gusts to 60 mph producing more than 20 foot waves on the Stream.

We came into the West End Channel in 5 to 6 foot breakers and the old sailboat behind us was having a very hard time. They waited for us to show them the way into the narrow, nearly invisible channel (if they only knew it was blind leading the blind).  When we arrived on Grand Bahama, we met a crew that made the trip the same night and shredded their sails. They had been unable to avoid the storms.

We arrived in the foreign port flying the yellow quarantine flag as well as the Bahamian courtesy flag. After filling out a myriad of forms presented by the dock hand, the Captain walked to the small Customs and Immigration building and spent a few minutes checking into the country. The officers were extremely friendly and helpful. When asked if they were going to inspect the boat, they looked surprised and asked, "do you want us to?" We then sat snug in the well protected little harbor awaiting the storms to pass so that we could gunkhole our way across the shallow Bahama Banks.

The rain stopped, but the high winds and waves continued, so we explored the west end of the island by bicycle. The area was a sad and desolate moonscape. Much of the local village has been abandoned and many square miles of the countryside has been bulldozed and burned. Only a single major banyan tree survived. We supposed this was to make way for future resort or condo development.

The original inhabitants of the Bahamas were the Lucayans, who lived here peacefully for thousands of years. We all know the story of Christopher Columbus sailing with his 3 caravels the Nina, Pinta and the Santa Maria, landing at what he would call San Salvador in the Bahamas on October 12, 1492. This was the first European contact and it changed the New World forever. We get a glimpse into the thinking of Columbus through his log talking about the Lucayans:

"The people here call this island Guanahani in their language and their speech is very fluent. They are friendly and well dispositioned people who bare no arms except for small spears and they have no iron.... I showed one my sword and through ignorance he grabbed it by the blade and cut himself. Their spears are made of wood to which they attach a fish tooth at one end or some other sharp thing... they ought to be good servants of good skill because they repeat very quickly all that is said to them... with fifty men they could all be subjected and made to do what one wished."

The Lucayans had no immunity to diseases and almost half perished. The priest Bartolome Las Casas wrote about the cruelty and trickery of the Spaniards in capturing the native people and taking them away and using them as slaves in mining operations and pearl diving:

"I have found many dead on the road, others gasping under trees and others in the pangs of death crying: "Hunger! Hunger!". Many others killed themselves in despair, and even mothers overcame the powerful instinct of nature, and destroyed the infants at their breasts, to spare them a life of wretchedness"

Ponce de Leon, arrived in 1513, seeking the Fountain of Youth and gave the islands the name of "shallow water" or Baja Mar, which became Anglicized as the Bahamas.

By 1515 the Bahamas' native people were completely extinct.