December 30, 2010.
The forecast this morning was for 13 to 18 knots outta the east, building to 20 later this afternoon. So at about 0700 I turned on the anemometer and was disappointed to see that even in our protected little anchorage the wind was already hovering around 20 knots. I wanted to wait a while for a more favorable tide but I decided the best choice was to get going immediately.
I put a double reef in the main and after sailing off the anchor we let out about half the genoa. Once we had everything trimmed it was evident that we still had too much sail up so we reduced the genoa even further. We had been barreling along at over 8 knots in the smooth waters in the lee of the cay. We were still slicing along at a solid 6 knots with the wind just ahead of the port beam.
It was to be a 35 mile day but there was a bit of timing involved. With 20 knots coming in from the east and the tide ebbing from the west the potential for an ass kicking was huge. I shouldn’t even say “potential”; you are going to get your ass kicked. I wanted to leave a little later but didn’t want to risk the forecasted increase in the wind. It was already 20, so what’s it gonna be in the afternoon?
Picture the Bahama bank as your dining room table. Take a full bucket of water and dump it right in the center of the table. That’s the way the tide ebbs off the banks. It just rushes outward and off the edges. Our route would have us paralleling the edge of the bank. The water to our starboard averages 20 feet deep while to port we have water several thousand feet deep. It’s a very strong current and when the wind is opposing the current, conditions can be unbelievably rough.
We covered the first 6 miles too quickly and as we came through the narrow gap at Man O War Cay it wasn’t looking good for our hero’s. Holy shit, rough? Confused 8 to 10 footers. Shit. At one point we had our bow buried in a trough and our asses pointed up towards Saturn. Whenever Uranus aligns with Saturn it’s bound to be a rough day; I think the Fifth Dimension mentioned something about that. Anyway, we literally had our asses kicked for the 3 mile jump to Jamaica Spit. The chart in this area has fine purple print that’s reads “CAUTION: Rough when wind opposes current”. ALWAYS BELIEVE THE PURPLE PRINT!
Before leaving we considered staying in Flamingo for the next several days but opted against it. Flamingo is a really nice “settled” weather anchorage, but can get very rolly and ugly with any big winds. Then we debated pulling into Jamaica Spit to hide. We’ve hidden there before but several nights there just might drive you batty. The tide was due to change in less than an hour and for the next 8 miles we’d have a series of tiny cays, rocks, reefs and shallow spots between us and the sea. So we continued onward. But oh look, the wind was building…..
We reduced the headsail yet again, eased the main and still barreled through choppy 4 footers at better than 6 knots. Despite the 25 knots of breeze as the tide went slack you could literally see the water calming. By the time we got to Seal Cay and the truly unprotected 8 mile stretch beyond it, the worst was behind us. Hallelujah.
Once into the lee of Nurse Cay, then Buena Vista and finally Raccoon Cay the waters were dead calm and made for a nice finish to a taxing day. We arrived at Raccoon Cay to find that the only boat we’ve seen in 3 days was anchored at the north end of the cay. We like the south end so it worked out well. They’re over 2 miles away and because of the contour of the cay we can’t even see them. So it looks like we’ll have the place virtually to ourselves for the better part of a week. Priceless.