On March 10th, we finally headed south from the Sea of Abaco. After 10 days in Marsh Harbour, hiding from nor’easters, we had staged ourselves off Lynard Key, watched the weather, and listened to the cruisers net every morning to hear the status of the cuts. The cuts are gaps between Bahamian islands that allow you to pass from the protected waters of a sea or bank (such as the Sea of Abaco) into the open ocean. They can be tricky; narrow with rocks and reefs on either side, and a strong current either pulling you forward or fighting your progress. You need to time a cut passage properly, preferably at slack tide, when the wind is not working again the current and building up strong, high waves. I have a goal for cut passages, and that goal is “No stories.” There are many salty sailors who take pride in their horror stories, “I was passing through Whale Cut in northerly winds of 35 to 40 knots! The waves were as tall as houses! Only my arcane skills as a sailor and my brave heart enabled me to make it through unscathed!” Well personally, I prefer the uneventful, safe passage. Oh, and I passed through Whale Cut a few days ago. It was fine. Nothing happened. That makes for a boring blog post, I know. Sorry!
Anyway …. We had listened to the cruisers net hosted out of Hope Town every morning. The net coordinator shares a weather report from Barometer Bob, and invites folks to describe the conditions they are observing in the cuts. We decided to head south when the Little Harbor Cut transitioned from a “bouncy 3 out of 5” to a “very passable 4 out of 5 and improving” We had mapped out a course of approximately 60 nautical miles to Spanish Wells at the northern tip of Eleuthera. The trip was supposed to be calm and uneventful. We might even need to motor if the winds were too light to sail. We departed the anchorage just at sunrise, giving us almost 12 hours of daylight to make the passage. I had a book ready.
And the weather man was wrong! Winds were as high as 25 knots. Seas were 6 feet in the wrong direction to the wind. On the positive side, we sure had enough wind to sail! We spent the day heeled over at 15 to 25 degrees and sailing at 5 to 6 knots (fast for Sanitas). The wind was on our bow, as it always seems to be, and the seas were on our beam, so it made for “uncomfortable” conditions. I claim that I don’t get seasick, but I put that claim to the test today! At one point, I built myself a little nest of pillows in a corner of the salon, and wedged myself into the small space to avoid being tossed around.
All three ships in our tiny flotilla were battered today. On SE of Disorder, a bail broke on their main, causing lots of noise, and tangling the main sheet in the rigging. On Sanitas, the bilge pump stopped working, and the propane sensor broke so that we couldn’t use our stove. But Orion had the worst luck of the passage. They had sailed all day, bearing west of our rhumb line because it provided a better angle to the wind for a close reach. We could just barely see them on the horizon when they started up the engine and planned to motor straight into the wind to reach our destination for the evening. Over the radio we heard “Orion is having a very bad day.” They were getting absolutely no thrust from their motor, and feared the prop was missing – the victim of a large patch of seaweed they’d sailed through ten hours earlier. Bob had to get in the water, in those high seas, out of sight of land to check on the prop. (There would have been a lot of tears shed if that happened on Sanitas) Bob diagnosed that the prop was there, but the prop key was missing, allowing the prop to spin freely. Essentially, Orion had no working motor, and could only proceed under sail. That meant they couldn’t make it to Royal Island which was directly into the wind, and couldn’t get to Egg Island Cut and the hopefully calmer waters on the other side. Instead, they sailed all night long in deep safe waters, until they saw the lights of Nassau, and headed back north to join us in daylight and under better wind conditions. Capt Mike and I felt terrible as we watched them sail further away from us, and we instead made our turn toward Royal Island. We knew they’d soon be out of radio range and on their own for the night. And I have never been happier to hear Bob’s voice than when he hailed us at 6:00 am the next morning, after making it safely through the night, and only about three miles from our anchorage!
We’ve nicknamed Disorder “Toolbox” because Stan, a retired fire fighter, has every tool and part and spare you could possibly need aboard. Between our three boats, we had everything Bob and Mike needed to replace the prop key with Orion in the water. Even a small dive tank to facilitate the underwater repairs. The trip that took 12 hours and 60 miles for Sanitas took 120 miles and 30 hours for Orion, but she was finally anchored, repaired, and safe. And her crew could get some much needed sleep.