Weather worries redux
After weeks of waiting on weather, Talespinner and Rough Draft departed Fort Lauderdale around 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 17th and headed across the Gulf Stream towards the Memory Rock entrance to the Great Bahama Bank. The winds were 10 -15 from the ESE. I had put a double reef in my main in anticipation of increased winds later in the night, and my stout little 33-footer couldn’t keep up with that Lapworth-designed Islander 36 and her 150 genny, so to start out, I was motorsailing while on board Rough Draft they were motor-free and still having to slow down to stay behind me. Since I had the AIS, that was where they wanted to stay.
Although we encountered several passing ships, the funniest one was one of those plug-in tugs pushing a barge which remained on a collision course with us for 10 minutes after first sighting. Finally, I took evasive action, but it required us to fall off and sail north. With the Gulf Stream already pushing us north so fast, I didn’t want to change course too much. Finally, I decided to call him on the radio. I identified myself and told him I had changed course 10 degrees to port, but we were still going to pass within less than a mile. He came back and asked, “What do you recommend I do?” There was a long pause of radio silence. I’ve never had a ship asked me that before. “Maybe you could change course 10 degrees to your port?” He did and we passed a little over a mile apart, but he left me there staring after him wondering who in the world they’d had on the helm that night.
Since I do sail singlehanded, you might think it’s lonely or boring out there in the dark in middle of the ocean. But in fact, I sailed with an 18-month old Yorkie pup which is sort of the equivalent of sailing with a hyperactive 3-year-old child whom you’ve fed nothing but sugar. The Terror was in fine form. He wanted to be in the cockpit, he wanted to go below. He wanted to be on my lap, then he wanted to snuggle into his towel nest. He wanted to play tug of war, to bite the noisy autopilot, go out on deck. Trying to keep him safe made the night pass very fast, but when he finally collapsed after 2:00 and was content to go to sleep in his crate below, I was also finally able to relax. Of course, that was when the winds came up.
By 3:00, the winds had risen to match my sail configuration, and I was able to shut down the engine and sail just as fast. Soon, the winds were blowing a steady 15-20 with occasional gusts to 25 and seas to match. I never like charging like a freight train down on shoal water, so at daybreak, we rolled up the headsails and motored across the Memory Rock passage.
We were anchored off the NW corner of Great Sale Cay by 5:00, and there were another 6 or 8 boats there as well. There was lots of chatter on the radio about the weather. After the stronger than forecast winds the night before, everyone wanted to know what to expect in the next 24 hours. There at Great Sale Cay, you are out of range of the Coast Guard/NOAA broadcasts, there is no cellular, and the next Chris Parker SSB forecast wouldn’t come until morning. Then one boat volunteered that they had Sirius satellite weather and they shared and promised to do so again at 6:00 a.m. While we had a day or two to get to cover, another front was on its way and strong NW winds were coming. Though strong southerly winds were forecast for that night, they remained light enough so that once my head hit the pillow at 7:30, I didn’t wake until my alarm went off at 5:30. Staying up all night will do that to you.
We’d hoped to make it to Green Turtle Cay the next day, but Rough Draft was having more engine overheating problems. We were aboard sailboats, after all, so we shut down the engines. The winds were light and we had some lovely 3 kt. sailing in the morning, but by early afternoon, the water was glassy, the sails limp and the autopilot was constantly beeping its off-course alarm. We fired up the iron genny again and headed for the anchorage at Alans-Pensacola with me muttering, “Too much wind, not enough wind . . .”
After another good night’s sleep, the weather forecast on the single sideband made the coming front sound even more ominous. By nightfall we were to expect 15-20 from the NW with squalls to 30 or 40 knots. Normally, I would have sought shelter inside White Sound, but because all those boats that had been at Great Sale with us were already there, I had to weigh crowded anchorage where boats might drag into me vs. less crowd and less protection. I opted for the latter and both boats had our anchors down at Manjack Cay by early afternoon. During the calm before the storm, it was lovely, hot and sunny. But by midnight, my boat was bucking in 3-foot seas and heeled over in 30+ knot gusts. The Yorkshire Terror was trembling and we moved to the main salon bunk in the center of the boat so as to not get pitched out of bed. Not fun. Not much sleep. And me wondering, when is the weather going to give us a break?
Thursday, we finally motored over to Green Turtle Cay and anchored out in a bouncy, blustery anchorage off the village of New Plymouth. The winds were still 15-18 knots and there was only one other sailboat out there at anchor. Mike and Mary gave me a lift in their dinghy and we went ashore, cleared customs and had a huge lunch of conch at 2 Shorty’s. Back at the bouncing boat, I got logged onto the Internet and downloaded 468 unread emails after four days offline. I was too tired to read them after standing anchor watch most of the night before, so I retreated to my bunk for a nap.
Finally, this morning, Friday, the winds are calm again, but the forecast is for another front to come rolling through tomorrow bringing 20-25 from the SW then NW, making the anchorage where we are now very exposed. There is no way I’m going to sit out here in this open anchorage through that. I can’t get any writing done when I’m standing anchor watch all night. I’m hoping that today’s calm weather will break loose some of the boats inside the White Sound anchorage and maybe I’ll find room in there. If not, tomorrow, I’ll move back over to Manjack Cay (although there’s no Internet there).
So while we did finally get ourweather window to cross to the Bahamas, we continue to worry about this parade of cold fronts that keep marching through, clocking the winds around, and blowing like stink. But I must admit, a nine-dollar plate full of cracked conch makes the worries a whole lot more bearable.