November 26, 2011.
Okay, the long version of the crossing incident, complete with previously unreleased material. This will be an investment of your time that you will not get back. It's not my fault if you miss Dancing With the Stars tonight. Seriously, its like 5 full pages and is still really only the highlights. If you're undeterred grab a drink and join us as we head for the Bahamas.
We left Government Cut in Miami at 0800. The skies were clear and crystal blue; an absolutely beautiful day. We had about 10 knots of breeze just a little too close to the bow to be able to sail so we settled in for a pleasant motorsail across dead calm seas. I would guesstimate that about 35 boats left from Cape Florida, Government Cut and Fort Lauderdale. We were alone and about an hour behind a half dozen boats with several others less than an hour behind us.
We angled the Gulfstream perfectly, never dropping below 6.5 knots and arrived at the North Rock waypoint about 2.5 miles behind the group of vessels in front of us.
While listening to the VHF as darkness fell we followed several conversations and determined what boats we knew and how far along they were. In the darkness I could make out 8 different stern lights all headed towards Mackie Shoal. We knew most of the boats including Options 3. O3's buddy boat was a new one for us though, Serenity 5. Over the radio we learned that O3 had no radar and was trying to stick right to S5's stern in the darkness. O3 was chiding his friends on their inability to steer a straight course, even joking “Where you going, Andros?” During the course or their frequent radio conversations we learned that Serenity 5 has no radio in the cockpit, their radar is below at the nav station and to top it off they were hand steering as they have no autopilot. So on a 24 hour crossing if one of them was napping the other one had to leave the helm to drop below to answer the radio or to check the radar. Which meant that the helm was unattended with no autopilot. No wonder they were wandering all over the place.
They were also trying to match speeds with each other which can be pretty difficult, especially at night. The night was full of radio calls of “which one are you?, I lost you, flash a light so I can find you again.” They were constantly comparing SOG's to try and stay evenly spaced. Every time they called out a speed I noted that we were actually running the same speed or even a tenth or two slower yet we were gaining on them because of their meandering course. Sometimes they'd be well off my port bow and 30 minutes later they'd be way out to starboard while the other stern lights remained dead ahead as we ran the rhumb line.
The rhumb line from North Rock runs directly to Mackie Shoal. The excellent Explorer Chartbooks provide you a latitude and longitude for every turning point. No matter what chart information your particular chartplotter runs on if you take the Explorer waypoints and manually insert them into your chartplotter you can provide yourself with a safe route. Its not like trying to blindly follow your chartplotter on the ICW where your machine might run you solidly aground.
As we rounded the Mackie Shoal Light (extinguished) O3 and S5 were 1.7 miles wide of the rhumb line, off our port bow. Since they had gone so wide in an effort to avoid the Mackie Shoal Light we gained a ton of ground on them and the next time they crossed our bow as they wove their way along they were only a half mile ahead of us.
After rounding the Mackie Shoal mark we had to adjust course 14 degrees more towards the breeze. It was just too much and the headsail wasn't doing anything but blocking our view so we furled it. With Options 3 and Serenity 5 running several hundred yards wide of the rhumb line off our starboard bow we once again set Rover and headed through the darkness towards the NW Shoal waypoint.
Over the next 20 miles we made up the half mile deficit and pulled even with S5 and had O3 off our starboard quarter. For the next 4 miles we ran with S5 400 yards off our starboard side with O3 trailing them by a hundred yards or so. And then there was the incident.....
There was a single sailboat anchored on the banks well off to starboard. By dumb luck I happened to be looking at the anchored boat when I saw Serenity's stern light disappear. I had been watching his portside running light and the glow of his stern light on his dinghy. I realized that after leaving the NW Shoal light (extinguished) well to port they were diving down to leave the NW Channel Light (extinguished) well to starboard. The only problem with that plan was that we were right next to them. We now had a single red light bearing down on us closing the distance quickly.
I called S5 on the VHF and got no response, I hailed again and the wife answered with “hold on”. I chopped the throttle and S5 crossed our bow about 70 feet in front of us. As soon as he was clear I hammered the throttle to move forward as O3 blindly followed his buddy boat and crossed our stern 100 feet behind us.
I can't believe this shit. We're in the middle of the Bahama Bank with water everywhere and I've got to chop the throttle because some dolt decides its time to turn left? We literally passed through a hundred yard gap, in the pitch dark between two boats turning to the left. You might expect me to be upset, I’d say that you were right. When I finally did make contact his impression was that he couldn't believe that we had turned right and cut between he and his buddy boat. He was trying to explain to me the responsibilities of an overtaking vessel. Overtaking? I explained to him that I’d been next to him for over 4 miles, 40 minutes at this speed. It had taken me over 60 miles to make up the 2 miles we had started behind him. Hardly an overtaking situation. I'd been abeam of him for miles. Even though he was the starboard vessel it doesn't give him the right to just turn into us and attempt to pass through us. Livid doesn't begin to cover it, I was vibrating.
Then he started a conversation on the VHF about “this guy turning right and cutting between us” with his buddy boat. O3 is stupid enough to add “yeah, I don't know where he came from, I never even saw him”. That's probably my fault as we often travel on an alternate plane in a parallel universe often just inexplicably popping out of the dark void. Idiot. We'd been off his port bow for the better part of an hour and he hadn't even seen us? Then Serenity's wife got on the VHF and started to explain to O3 how “some people shouldn't be allowed on the water without having taken a navigational course”. Okay, now I wish someone would choke this bitch until her uterus plops out onto the floor. It was one of those moments when I realized how much I appreciate my Mothers efforts to raise me to be a gentlemen. I'm in the Bahamas, its going to be a splendid winter, Ommm, Ommmm. I was really trying to pull it back together so I didn't engage them any further on the radio. It wasn't easy.
Rover had been steering this course for HOURS. We hadn't deviated for HOURS. This asshole is hand steering like a drunk and he thinks we're the ones making unexplained turns. I was in that range between perturbed and HOMICIDAL. But I was trying to pull it back together, Ommmmm Ommmmm.
After ten minutes we altered course onto the final leg for Nassau. The small course change allowed us to once again pop the headsail and we were off like a prom dress. We passed a few boats in the pre-dawn darkness and we left the ass-clowns far behind. I was running “the incident” over and over in my mind and I couldn't fathom how neither boat had a visual on us even though we were lit up like a Christmas tree. They both had genoas up with their steaming lights illuminated. Did the glow of their steaming light reflecting back into their faces off their own genoas destroy their night vision to the point of not being able to see us? I decided I didn't give a shit, it's behind us, they're history. Thank God we had some chits in our Karma box. It's going to be a beautiful winter. Ass-clowns.
We dropped sail and motored into Nassau Harbor at 0715. We make a nifty landing at the tidal flow ravaged fuel dock before heading over to our slip. We were safely tied up by 0830 and a pleasant young woman from Customs & Immigration was on the boat and we were filling out forms by 0900. At about this point Christy said “look”.
Whoever says God doesn't have a sense of humor has never spent the day with me. Serenity 5 was pulling into the slip next to us and Oh Look, Options 3 is pulling in next to them. God, my hats off to you, well played, you funny funny motherfucker.
Customs went exceedingly well, I' was in good spirits and I am not going to lose my mind. We headed into town with Fine Lion, Sapphire and Night Hawk. We succeeded in locating phone cards, sim cards and pretty much everything everyone needed. Then we stopped in for our Thanksgiving meal at the Green Parrot. Christy & I left everyone else downtown and walked back to the boat. The Veranda was still salt encrusted from our jaunt down to Miami so since we were paying for a slip we wanted to wash the boat.
I had the boat clean and as I stood on the foredeck rolling up our hose, Brian from Options 3 walked down our finger pier, leaned against the piling and good naturally said “Hey, Hows it going?”.
I distinctly remember opening with “now that we're off the water with you fucking clowns things are great”. That was to be the end of the pleasantries. Right away he got angry too. Good. Kicking puppies is no fun. We started to argue a bit when “Bruce” from Serenity 5 walked over and joined in. Not surprisingly, he wasn't on my side. This was better because I actually like Brian and having Bruce to focus on let me vent more completely. Rage will eat you from inside so its always better to let it out. It turns out it takes about ten minutes, a lot of which is foggy to me now.
His whole point of contention was that we had turned right abruptly and cut between them and that they had never altered course. I countered with “you left the first maker far to port and needed to leave the next on the starboard side, you absolutely turned to port”. “Nope, no we didn't.” I gave a direct look at Brian like “come on' be serious” and he was honest and said “yeah, we turned but only a little bit”. All of a sudden it turned into Perry Mason versus Laurel & Hardy.
Since Brian seemed to be embracing the notion that they may have f'd up I ignored Bruce and spoke directly to Brian when I went with “this guy's a complete buffoon, he's incompetent, he can't tell if hes going straight or turning, he's INEPT and whats worse is that he doesn't realize it, he f'ing dangerous”. It was the first thing I had managed to say with any composure. Bruce turned and stalked away.
Once the douchebag was gone Brain and I were able to tone it down a bit until we parted civilly. I'm sure the forty or so people on the docks enjoyed our version of improvisational white trash street theater.
After Brian left I finished up on deck and went below. A short time later there was a knock on the hull . The evening security guard stopped in to tell me that “the guy on that boat over there said you was picking on him”. (S5)
ME “hold on here, I'm on my boat washing it, I never got off the boat, I didn't go looking for him, he came over here to give me grief and he thought he was not gonna get some back?”
THE GUARD “well, I guess a man has to wash his boat”.
This shit caught me completely off guard, I was actually astonished.
ME with a little smirk “he said I was picking on him?”
THE GUARD grinning “he said you was mean to 'im”
ME “unless he shows back up over here I think we're done”
THE GUARD “cool, have a good night”
I was mean to 'im?, Christ, inept and a pussy as well. Next thing I know he'll be having his dad exhumed to come over to kick my dads ass. More like a candyass-clown.
I've vented, I've re-centered my Wa and its going to be a beautiful winter......
Leaving today, no internet for at least a week, adios mi amigos...