You Can’t Miss the Super Bowl

By the time the 5Fs festival was over, we were desperate for some fresh provisions. Because the one teeny tiny grocery store on teeny tiny Little Farmers Cay sold out of everything by 10:00 am the morning the supply boat arrived. No eggs. No milk. No bread. No produce. We did buy the last three limes, a liter of rum, and a ziplock bag of ice. That and my store of canned goods got us through the festival weekend. Since woman cannot live on rum alone, we backtracked north to Black Point on Sunday afternoon where Adderly’s Friendly Market set us up and we even found eggs at the Laundromat.

Have I told you about the Rocksound Laundry on Black Point? Ida Patton runs an amazing business offering everything a cruiser might want or need. Clean and well-maintained laundry machines, of course. But also hot showers, a place to charge electronics, cold drinks, homemade carrot cake and conch fritters, fishing supplies, and haircuts! I got a trim while enjoying the best view in the islands, and got tons of compliments on the cut.

We had the opportunity to meet fellow Pacific Seacraft owners in the Black Point Harbor. Amy and Roger on Shango spent five years circumnavigating the globe. (Wow!) And Charlie and Nancy on Tracey J split their time between working in a hospital in Seattle and sailing in the Bahamas. Always interesting to learn how other folks are making their sailing dreams a reality.

They invited us ashore to Scorpios for the big Super Bowl party with the enticements of a new big screen tv, chicken dinner special, and 2-4-1 rum punches. I’m not much of a football fan, but how could we turn that down? Elixir’s dinghy was giving them trouble, so little Bug towed them to shore like a prince and a princess.

David at Scorpios really does make the best rum punch I’ve had in the Bahamas, and he has the nicest, friendliest smile to go with it. His picture is a bit blurry because it never stopped moving all night.

The game wasn’t terribly exciting, and the Patriots won, but everyone in the bar was friendly and in the mood to socialize. Even the Maroon 5 half time show sounded amazing when blared at Bahamas high volume. I met another Women Who Sail friend Cindy in person after several earlier Facebook chats, and Trish and I “borrowed” a few of the Junkanoo parade costumes in the pool room when we had had enough of football.

The next morning, we moved Sanitas just around the corner to the beautiful little bay by the Sand Castle House. This beach is also in the running for most beautiful in the Bahamas, and we took our time exploring the rocks and sea creatures, floating in the cool waters, and soaking up the sun on the sand. Several new friends we’d met at the Super Bowl party had moved here too, so we threw an impromptu sunset happy hour on the beach. We made good use of the fire pit and the coconut palm tiki bar in the trees, staying ashore until the bugs drove us off the beach and back to the water.

5 Farmers 5Festival 5First 5Friday 5February

5Finally !!!

One of our main goals for the 2019 cruising season, was to make it to Little Farmers Cay in the Exumas in time for the 5Fs festival. It’s the tiny island’s annual homecoming festival, and the regatta race for Class C Bahamian wooden sloops from all the neighboring islands. It’s kind of the little brother festival to the National Family Islands Regatta that we attended in Georgetown last year. So we considered ourselves lucky to find a small weather window to leave Warderick Wells on Thursday 31 January to head south.

Slightly chaotic leaving the Warderick Wells mooring field…. the current was absolutely ripping when I dropped our mooring lines, and Capt. Mike asked where was the floating mooring ball, to make sure that he didn’t run it over or tangle the thick lines in our prop. Well, I looked to port, looked to starboard, looked forward, and looked aft but couldn’t see it. So we kept drifting in neutral, almost to the point of running aground. Finally we gave up and motored off, trying to decide if we needed to anchor and dive the boat to determine whether we were dragging a 24 inch diameter ball under our keel. But Kevin on Leef Nu dinghied over to check out our spot, and radioed to tell us that all of the mooring hardware and lines were still there, except for that big white ball. It must have popped or broken in half during the night. So THAT was what woke Capt Mike up at 4 am! We radioed the info to Sherri at park headquarters and continued on our way.

By 2:30, we were anchors-‘down near Little Farmers Cay and I’d say there were at least 100 other boats already in the anchorage. One or two of them were definitely pushing the “no anchor zone” in front of the air strip, lol. You’re the one risking your mast – not me!

We hustled to get Bug in the water and get ourselves over to the Farmers Cay Yacht Club in time for Happy Hour and FREE FOOD. Perhaps I should restate that. Where cruisers are concerned, you have to be at the front of line when free food is advertised. Our attempt to wander in an hour late was not successful. By then, the lines were long, we made our donation to the Methodist church for the buffet, got to the front of the line, and learned that all the meat was gone. So our $15 dollar donation got us each a scoop of peas and rice. Oh well. It’s for a good cause, right? And we got a chance to meet and talk to lots of fun people.

The first race of the Regatta was on Friday, and we were so excited, we couldn’t contain ourselves. We had watched the race boats come in on the mail boat and have their masts restepped. Unfortunately, the boat in this picture, Legal Weapon, got dropped and was damaged too badly to actually race.

Even though the weather was nasty with wind and rain, we hopped into our trusty Bug and dinghied out to watch the race. And out…. And out …. Only later did we learn that this was the “Ocean Race” – one long sprint from the staring line a couple miles out to the finish just off shore. So by the time little Bug made it out to the starting line, we got a quick view of the start and then and long, wet, miserable ride back through rain and waves that almost swamped us. No fun at all! But watching the start of a race up close is still very exciting. The crews start at anchor. And when the horn blows, the biggest guy starts hauling up the anchor rode, while the next biggest hauls on the halyard to raise the sail. Then there’s a free-for-all of shouting and swearing and jostling for position and to claim the best position to the wind. Be still my beating heart!

After warming up and drying off and fortifying ourselves with caffeine, we headed ashore followed the sound of dance music to the party on the lawn of the Ocean Club. Capt. Mike got scolded for assuming that the folding table covered with bottles was an honor bar, and attempting to pour his own drink. Oops. But we also had the chance to meet the captain and crew of the Long Island boat, Whitey K, and Mike gushed about how much he admired their sailing prowess. Their captain said “And we’re handsome too!” And posed for a selfie.

We learned our lesson, and watched the rest of the races from the deck of Ty’s Sunset Bar, leaving the chasing to those with bigger, stronger dinghies. Still lots of fun to listen to the trash talk between Bahamians from different islands, and to watch the betting go down. In between races, there were games, drinking, and dancing, and a pop-up conch salad stand right on the beach.

We did dinghy out a little ways to cheer on the finish of the final race. Sometimes you just gotta get right out there in the middle of things. All the more exciting because our new besties from Long Island swept the Regatta and won every race.

Ok 5Fs Festival. Your weather could have been better, but otherwise, you didn’t disappoint!

My Favorite Place in the World

Once we tackled our jack line and solar panel repairs, we could relax and enjoy our stay in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park – one of my very favorite places in the world. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again…. I would be perfectly happy staying right there in the north mooring field until I ran out of $20 bills to pay for the daily mooring fees, and emptied the bilge of cans of tuna fish for meals. On our first full day in the mooring field, the cruisers organized a beach happy hour potluck, complete with live music.

The Park was established in 1958 and protects 176 square miles of islands and seabed. It is a no-take zone for fish and turtles, which means that the marine life is glorious and varied. My favorite part of the Park is the hiking trails on Warderick Wells Cay, which provide an excellent opportunity to stretch the legs after days and nights on a tiny boat! There’s a cruising tradition to make a sign for your boat out of natural materials (no plastics, please) and to add that sign to the collection at the top of Boo Boo Hill. A half mile into our hike, I found the perfect piece of wood…. and then found myself committed to carrying it for the next five hours!

This year, I finally managed to pack enough water, snacks, and sunscreen to hike from the park office all the way to the south end on the island to Pirates Lair and Turtle Beach. It took us five hours to make that round trip – way longer than you’d expect from the mileage. But often, the trail is only a suggestion, and it’s always a mixture of sharp eroded limestone rock and dry loose sand. Even at sea level, the hiking is slow going! But Jeff and Trish of Elixir were good company, and we peer-pressured each other into continuing south at each trail intersection. Phew!

Capt. Mike thinks that Perky Turkey Jerky should sponsor our adventures. Here he is practicing his brand placement and his Vanna White skills.

Beach planks! Gotta stay in shape!

We collect photos of Sanitas’ sister ships wherever we meet them. Here’s the beautiful Island Lady – a 31 foot Pacific Seacraft captained by Cree.

For the final ritual of our stay in the park, the whole crews of Sanitas, Leef Nu, and Elixir climbed Boo Boo Hill one last time, and added our sign to the pile. We were here! In case you were wondering, our Dock 4 sign from last season is still there too.

Recovery Mode

After the crazy weather and scary sail into Warderick Wells, it was a wonderful feeling to be safely tied to a mooring ball in the north mooring field for the next few days.

Our first order of business was to assess the damage to our lazy jack system and solar panels. By covering one panel at a time, we figured out that the cracked solar panels still partially functioned. Great news! Because if the flexible panels weren’t functioning at all, we wouldn’t have the capacity to generate enough power to run our instruments and to keep the fridge cold. We’d have to run the generator or the motor every day to keep our house batteries topped up – loud, smelly, and requiring a lot of fuel. However, they were definitely compromised, and a google search informed us that they could catch on fire because of the damage. So we pretty much knew we needed to replace them, but where the heck would we find solar panels in the Bahamas? And exactly how many arms and how many legs would they charge if we found them? So I had a brilliant idea……

Drew and Sharon of SV ZRaye, our friends from St Petersburg, planned to leave Florida for the Bahamas as soon as they got a good weather window. Maybe they’d be kind enough to hand deliver two new solar panels to wherever we happened to be? Before I could reach out to ZRaye to propose our plan, or to start shopping on line for new solar panels, I had to figure out how to get cell coverage and data from within the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park. Last year, we figured out that if we took a 20 minute hike to the top of Boo Boo Hill, and stood behind and bench, and held my cell phone up in the air, I could usually get signal. This year, this old dog learned a new trick. We put my Google Fi phone in a waterproof bag and raised it up the flag halyard (which will henceforth be known as the “phone halyard”) We used my phone as a WiFi hot spot, and could sit comfortably in the cockpit surfing the interwebs on Mike’s phone and my iPad. Thanks to Elixir for the tip! An hour later, two new solar panels were ordered, shipping to Key West arranged, and ZRaye agreed to don her superhero cape and swoop in to rescue us with an international delivery. I love it when a plan comes together.

Next order of business, repairing the lazy jacks. Jeff from Elixir came by to help me hoist Capt. Mike up the mast. Safety third! It’s always good to have a backup line attached in case the main halyard fails when he’s 50 feet up in the air! Together, we hauled him up, where he was able to knot and repair the lazy jacks, instead of having to order a whole new system. Check one more repair off the list!

Finally, Capt. Mike used spare nuts and bolts and washers to replace the hardware that had broken on our dodger and Bimini. Not pretty, but it worked! Its amazing what a difference 24 hours makes. Yesterday we were wet, tired, and scared with lots of expensive repairs to make. Today we were dry, well-fed, and basking in the sun, with all our problems solved for about $300. Not bad! We celebrated with a hike up Boo Boo Hill to stretch our legs and enjoy the views from this little slice of paradise.

Well That Was a Shit Show (Pardon my French)

If you’re reading this … and you’re my mom … you might want to skip to the next blog post. I’ll post about beautiful beaches and sunsets again soon, I promise.

Quote from the Explorer Chart Books: “Warderick Cut is wide and deep. This is probably the best cut between Highbourne and Conch Cuts unless you encounter a north wind against an ebb current. The current can be particularly strong here.”

The cuts in the Exumas are gaps in the island chain that divide the deep, rough Exuma Sound from the shallow, protected Bank. When the tides change, massive amounts of water funnel through the cuts driving extremely strong currents. On a good day, you aim right down the middle and let the current carry you through. On a bad day…. you don’t go through at all.

I have a rule, or maybe more of a goal, that I never want to have a good story about passing through a cut in the Bahamas. I always want us to have reviewed the weather reports in advance, researched the tides, planned the time of day, and then simply glide through each cut like we’re floating on a lazy river. Unfortunately, this time I got myself a story.

We left Rock Sound on Eleuthera in a veritable parade of boats. Everyone had weathered the most recent cold front, and decided to use this good weather window to move on before the next one hit. Six boats were traveling the same route as Sanitas; a straight shot of 46.5 nautical miles to Warderick Wells, halfway down the Exuma chain. Weather forecast was for 10 knots, increasing to 15 knots over the course of the day. Totally benign sailing conditions. Until they weren’t.

At about 12:30, we were seeing 20-30 knots directly on the stern, with at least 3 meter swells. Tricky sailing, because the swells really bounced Sanitas around, changing her direction relative to the wind just enough to trigger some accidental jibes – a fast powerful swing of the boom from one side of the boat to the other, ending in a powerful crash. We use a break system to control how far the boom can swing, but the force was still significant.

Jeff, on Elixir, radioed and asked us to double check the tides. When we expected to arrive at 3:00, it was supposed to be mid-tide, when the current is the strongest and fastest. We agreed to monitor conditions, and radio ahead to other boats to ask about the conditions. If it looked too rough, we’d wait.

Then, chaos erupted. While Capt. Mike was trying put a second reef in the mainsail, the starboard lazy jack lines snapped, and suddenly about 75 feet of thin line was whipping around crazily in the wind. On the next accidental jib, the unbalanced sail put pressure on the remaining port lazy jack lines, causing them to snap too. Double the amount of lines whipping in the wind. One failure cascaded into the next. While Capt. Mike went forward to grab handfuls of line and wrap it in duct tape to get it under control, one piece of line snagged on the corner of our dodger canvas and ripped the hardware right off, folding the canvas and our flexible solar panels in half. We used the knife mounted on the steering pedestal to cut that line to relieve the pressure. So much for saving the lazy jacks! Now I had control of the helm while Capt. Mike had to finish corralling the lazy jacks, and also had to dig spare lines out of the cockpit locker to lash our solar panels on before they could sustain more damage. So now, with our mainsail double-reefed and falling out of the destroyed sail bag, and our view from the helm partially blocked by the sail, we arrived at the Cut.

We hailed The Colonel’s Lady on 16 and asked what the conditions were like when they passed through the cut just before us. Their Captain responded, “Are you familiar with the term ‘a rage’? When northeast winds are blowing against the easterly flowing ebb tide right at the strongest mid-tide levels, forming big standing waves? Well it’s raging right now.” Capt. Mike asked, “But it’s doable?” And the Captain answered, “Well …. how heavy is your boat?”

At this point, we didn’t have a lot of options. Winds were over 30 knots, gusting higher. Swells were 3 meters with a very short period between waves. Our buddy boat Elixir reported “falling” down the waves at over 11 knots. You’re not in control of the boat or able to steer at those speeds. When the boat ahead of us entered a wave trough, it disappeared from view until it climbed up the next one. We couldn’t simply do circles out on the Sound and wait for better conditions. And our mainsail was a mess (we were afraid to turn into the wind and finish dropping it without our lazy jacks and sail bag in these conditions), the dodger and solar panels were barely tied on using a spare line, and stuff was thrown all over the cabin. So we went for it.

Capt. Mike was standing at the helm, tethered in and hand steering; trying to simultaneously keep us from going broadsides to the waves, and to keep us off the rocks and shoals. I was sitting close to the companionway, tethered in, holding up the iPad with Navionics so he could see the best route to take between the hazards. He said, “Don’t be surprised if a wave washes over the cockpit.” Yes. Really. He’d spin the wheel all the way to one side, then spin it quickly all the way back, trying to hit the waves head on so that we wouldn’t be knocked down by a sideways wave. He tried to stay on his feet, but Sanitas was bucking so hard, he got knocked back onto his butt on the cockpit bench. When he’d look back over his left shoulder to try to time the next wave, all he saw was frothy white water higher than our heads. The rock bars on either side of the cut looked awfully close, and Warderick Cut didn’t seem so wide anymore. But good steering and running the engine at maximum rpms got us through it. Capt. Mike would have a sore back and shoulders the next day.

Once we had enough sea room, we turned back into the wind and dropped the sail, manually flaking it and lashing it in place with dock lines. We had already passed the entrance to the mooring field, so we pointed Sanitas’ bow back into that wind and aimed for the narrow entrance. A fellow cruiser jumped into his dinghy and zoomed over to help us pick up the mooring ball. Thank goodness. It was still blowing 22+ knots in the protected mooring field when we got there, and we had to make a very tight turn to head upwind to the mooring ball inside a channel only two boat-lengths wide. Once secured, we took a deep breath, gave each other a hug, and radioed the park office that we’d not be coming ashore to check in that night. Did a quick survey of the damage and decided to put that off until tomorrow too. We confirmed that Elixir made it through ok (although they’d actually been spun around 360 degrees in the cut!), and we poured ourselves a whisky and watched the sunset, grateful to have made it to a safe harbor.