Crossing the Coral Garden

Leaving Spanish Wells Harbor was a little bit more exciting than we had expected.

We’d spent three nights on one of Bandit’s mooring balls, but we had only paid for one night. It seemed bad karma, not to mention impolite to leaving without paying the rest. So we spoke to Mrs Bandit on the radio the night before leaving, and made a plan for him to pick up the money at 7:00 am – just before we headed out for the day’s sail. Apparently Mrs Bandit never told Mr Bandit the plan, because by the time we hailed him on the radio at 7:30, he was already two islands away. We tossed around some ideas of how to get him the money without too badly inconveniencing ourselves, and finally settled on giving the money to one of his friends at the fuel dock. So, we cruised ever so slowly past the dock and I shouted “Does anyone know Bandit?” When someone answered “Yes. I’ll make sure this gets to him” I leaned over and handed him an envelope filled with cash as we drifted by. Bandit, if you’re reading this, I hope you got your money. I handed it to the old fisherman with the beard. You guys know each other, right?

Then all of our comm systems suddenly blew up. I heard “Sanitas… Sanitas … Sanitas” on channel 71. Then a DSC direct call, which makes our VHF ring like an old-school telephone. Then my new-school cell phone started ringing (which happens so seldom, I don’t even recognize the ring tone). Our friends on Orion and Disorder were trying to alert us that a massive UFO-sized cargo ship had just entered the narrow Spanish Wells channel.

We were already trying to leave the harbor, and were pretty sure this channel wasn’t big enough for the both of us. So we did a little donut turn to slow down, and moved as far to starboard as we could while still staying in deep water. And I walked along the starboard deck of Sanitas fending off dock pilings with my bare hands. A crewman on the cargo ship waved at me. Now this all happened in fairly slow motion, so it might not have appeared at all dramatic to a bystander, but it was hair-curlingly nerve wracking to me and to Capt. Mike! Especially since I hadn’t had my morning coffee yet!

This was our easiest passage so far: smooth seas, light winds, no dramatic equipment failures. Crossing Fleeming Cut was a piece of cake. (Remember my goal for crossing cuts? No stories!) The trickiest part of this day was crossing the coral garden east of Nassau. The charts for this area are covered with plus symbols and warnings such as “Numerous Shallow Coral Heads”, “Unsurveyed Area”, and “Visual Piloting Rules apply”. We had downloaded a set of eight GPS waypoints from Drew on Z-Raye, and we used these points to guide us from Fleeming Cut down to the northern end of the Exuma Chain near Ship Channel. These waypoints helped immensely, but didn’t substitute for scanning the seas ahead, and adjusting course when needed.

From about 1:30 in the afternoon to 4:30, Capt. Mike and I took turns standing on the bow of Sanitas, wearing polarized sunglasses, scanning the waters around us. We kept the autopilot navigating to the next waypoint, but when we’d spot a round, black coral head, the spotter on the bow would provide guidance to the person at the helm on how to avoid it. Things like, “Twenty degrees to starboard”, or ” hard to port”.

The coral was easier to spot than I had expected, and we usually saw them about a football field away. Still, it kept me on edge for the afternoon, especially when we were in the thick of it and there were coral heads to both sides and directly ahead of us. Once the sun got lower in the sky, it was harder to spot the contrast between the turquoise blue of the water and the black of the coral. I’m glad that by that point in the afternoon, we were through the thickest patch, and the need to frequently adjust course to avoid hitting the coral had diminished.

We pulled into the anchorage at Highborn Cay around 6:30 after about eleven hours of travel. Exactly one month after entering The Bahamas, we’d finally made it to the Exuma Islands! In addition to that milestone, we also celebrated six months since we left our jobs, AND Mike’s birthday. Fresh lime margaritas in the cockpit at sunset, using the last of our rapidly melting ice; homemade pad thai with ingredients from the tiny Asian market in Marsh Harbour, and gluten free brownies standing in for a birthday cake.

Now this is more like it!

3 thoughts on “Crossing the Coral Garden

  1. Hey Mike and Jenn-
    Congrats on a nice cruise and hopefully starting to leave the problems behind!

    Happiest bday Mike! What a way to enjoy you birthday:)

    I’m playing electrician these days , I have all the electrical boxes in at the house. Next ordering some lights!

    Take Care

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Oh Jen, I am enjoying your experiences so much! Congrats on navigating the coral heads! Hanging out on the bow to dodge hazards is so familiar to me, especially during night runs. By the way, you haven’t lived until you approach an out island where you’re supposed to line up the two range lights to guarantee you are entering the deepest part of the channel only to find on your approach that one of the range lights is out! Great times! This takes me back to these good old days! Happy 6-months anniversary!

    Like

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