February 16, 2009.
Today’s forecast was for west winds at 5 to 10 knots in the morning. It was supposed to build into the teens before a front came through late in the afternoon bringing winds from the north northwest at 15 to 20 knots.
So we all pulled our hooks and set out southward at 0800. As soon as we were clear of the reef strewn approach to the anchorage we had all sail set and we shut the engine off. I figured that we could put up with some light air sailing (read that as slow sailing) for a while since there was the promise of more wind to come later in the day and our planned day was only 40 miles.
When I saw that the other boats in our group were pulling away from us I realized that there was an alternative train of thought on the matter. It seemed that the rest of the group had once again opted to motorsail the entire way. They wanted to get to the next anchorage before the wind picked up, and here I was looking forward to the wind picking up. It never even dawned on me to scurry on my way to get the hook down before the breeze started. Maybe I’m wired wrong, I dunno.
The trip south involved crossing an area of coral heads known as the Yellow Banks. The water on the banks is generally 10 feet deep and some of the scattered coral heads stick up several feet. They don’t break the surface and you can’t really tell a tall one from a short one until you’re upon it, so it’s best to dodge em’ all. This involves having someone stand on the bow and point the way through. Christy actually enjoys this duty so she stood out there for the forty minute trip across the banks. I was glad when it was over, as the banks always make me nervous. Sometimes you’ll dodge one head then another and you’ll find that you’ve put yourself in a spot where you have to go straight over one. Last year when we crossed the banks a sailboat ahead and off to the side of us hit one pretty hard. There was no harm done to the boat, but it still sits there in the back of my mind. One guy’s glancing blow may well be the next guy’s disaster.
We started the day doing about 4 and a half knots and our speed slowly built to 5 and a half by early afternoon. The wind was supposed to keep building but suddenly we found ourselves down to less than 4 knots. This period of time is known as the calm before the storm. We had been beam reaching and now that the wind was petering out, the boat was beginning to roll from side to side as the seas had a bit of a swell and there wasn’t enough breeze to keep the sails full.
I still wasn’t willing to start the engine, so I had to go to the bag of tricks. First, I tied a long preventer from the end of the boom to a cleat at the bow. This immobilized the boom and solved the problem of the mainsail slamming.
If you’ve been following along you might remember that we have a Veranda Racing Products item on board, The Boat Pole of Incredible Speed. I used to use the extended boat pole as a whisker pole in light air to keep the genoa from collapsing. While we were in South Carolina I found an eleven foot long piece of bamboo that I thought would work even better so I grabbed it. I put the bamboo in place and the genoa was held out to where it couldn’t spill any of the air that it caught. So, we picked up three quarters of a knot and stopped both sails from slapping. Life was good again.
I was keeping an eye on an ominus looking wall of clouds that were gaining on us. After an hour or so I decided that I better reduce the amount of sail we had up. I dropped and stowed the main and got rid of the new and improved Bamboo Pole of Speed.
Approximately 15 minutes later the front slowly overtook us. The winds built to a steady 20 knots and we were pretty much running dead downwind. We had to sail off the wind a bit to keep the genoa full but after an hour of sailing at over 7 knots we gibed towards the anchorage. We ran in under headsail alone and when we were about a mile out we realized that we’d better start the engine. Oops, almost forgot.
The anchorage is in the Bahamas Land and Sea Park system so there are moorings available, but there’s also room to anchor if you opt to. When the front overtook us it caught the rest of our group just as they were either anchoring or grabbing mooring balls. From the chatter on the radio it seemed that nobody really enjoyed the experience. From what they were saying, the anchorage was completely exposed to the wind and rollers and was pretty rough.
When we got close enough to see the anchorage I was more than disappointed. All the moored boats were bucking wildly at their respective moorings. We weren’t ready to resign ourselves to several hours of being pounded. Even if the wind clocked to the northeast during the night the northwest swell would still be slamming into the anchorage for hours.
We headed down the coast a bit further and watched as a small catamaran headed into an alternative spot that we were considering. We watched as he dropped his anchor and started thrashing wildly in the rough water. Our options were dwindling when Christy said “Can we hide behind Elbow Cay?”. It was right there, just a mile away, and it runs east and west which would offer great protection so it was off to Elbow Cay.
It was at this moment I decided that we should furl the genoa, probably a mistake. The big sail had held us fairly comfortable as we traveled parallel to the large, close set swells. Once the stability of the genoa was gone we were treated to a very rough and rolly ride down to and around Elbow Cay.
Once on the southern side of the cay the waters surface laid down and became much more doable. We snuck up as close as we dared into the lee of the cay. We dropped the hook in 12 feet of water and put out 120 feet of chain.
The waters surface was smooth but there was a nasty swell coming around the cay. We dampened this uncomfortable side to side rolling motion by attaching our anchor snubber at the starboard bow and stern. This turned the boat broadside to the wind, but facing the swell. The swell is still there, but with the water rolling under the boat from bow to stern it was much less noticeable.