Seventeen days, 70 total hours of sleep, 810 miles, and one hurricane…this trip was supposed to take only one week but I’m finally enjoying some Bahamian air.
On my circumnavigation of South America, the journey to the Bahamas was the longest and perhaps most difficult based on the length. From here on out it’s day sails.
Once the winds from Hurricane Sandy settled down, we weighed anchor and proceeded along the Intracoastal Waterway down to Beaufort, South Carolina. We anchored in Battery Creek for a couple of days waiting for the seas to settle, and then proceeded offshore. We spent another seven days offshore continuing south and waiting for an appropriate time to cross the Gulf Stream. Once we were about even with Cape Canaveral, the winds were out of the south for a good 24 hours and forecast to be out of the southwest for another 24 hours with 2′ seas. We got across the east side of the Gulf Stream just as the winds were clocking around to the northwest as the front was going through, and had nice following seas southeast to the Abaco cays, entering the channel east of Spanish Cay and sailing through the Abaco Sea to Green Turtle Cay.
When we were entering the channel into South Carolina escaping Hurricane Sandy, I was on ¼ tank of fuel and in some rough seas. The tank was stirred up pretty well, and so was the sediment that has been in there for who knows how long.
Big lesson: when buying a boat, get the fuel tank cleaned because you don’t know what’s in it, and then do it periodically after that. I haven’t had the tank cleaned since I bought the boat a year ago.
Right when I got the anchor aboard and stowed in a South Carolina anchorage, the engine died from fuel starvation but fortunately I had my sails ready to hoist and was able to sail out of the moored boat and shoal we were drifting into (sidebar, I don’t understand people who enter/exit anchorages with their sails unrigged, tied & covered for that very reason).
In the past week, I’ve gone through five primary filters, one engine filter, and one set of injection pipes (always have spares of everything!). The fourth filter was completely black when I pulled it out. Realizing how ridiculous this was, I had to come up with a better solution until I could get to somebody who could properly clean my tank and the fuel in it. I remembered I bought six feet of spare fuel hose before leaving, and I also had a five-gallon jerry can of spare diesel fuel strapped on deck. My solution came to me! I piped fuel from the can on deck and into my engine via my last clean filter. I’ll have to wait until I get to Hope Town to get my tank cleaned, but that’s not much of a problem since I’ll only be using my engine to navigate narrow channels, moor, and assist setting anchor.
Entering the Channels
By the time we arrived at the northern Abacos, the winds were out of the northwest at about 10-15 knots. My plan was to enter at Walker’s Cay, clear customs, and sail east through the Sea of Abaco quickly exploring some of those islands before proceeding to the Exumas. By the time I got to the channel, waves were beating the rocks on both sides of it and the channel was not easily recognizable nor marked. So I changed course to the southeast and sailed through the night another 55 miles to the channel between Powell and Spanish Cays.
We arrived there before sunrise and waited outside the channel for a couple of hours until we had enough light to navigate through it. By this time, the winds were above 20 knots and the seas were starting to build past five feet with some good whitecaps. I didn’t have a lot of sail up because of the winds, and it was difficult fighting the current that wanted to carry us east past the channel. I’d turn north-northwest, and make about one knot of forward progress as the waves and wind pushed us back. Then I’d turn back to the south towards the channel, but this channel too was difficult to spot. Waves were pounding on the reefs to both sides and I dreaded setting my boat upon them and attempting to survive the ensuing beating.
I repeated the process of making minimal progress to the west and then turning south to identify the channel. I could have easily turned on the engine and motored right into it, offsetting the current, but remember how I had my fuel rigged? These weren’t seas that would allow an open can of diesel on deck. I had a difficult time myself trying to stay upright. As I continued south towards the channel, I set a spot where if I couldn’t identify the channel, I’d turn east and run before coming too close to the reefs. I’d then sail another 50 miles to the channels on the east side of the Abacos, again arriving at dark and waiting for sunrise. Just about this time, another sailboat arrived from the Atlantic with his sails down and engine on. I radioed him and told him that I’d like to follow him in. Winds subsided to about 15 knots so I raised my jib for some extra power. I was able to follow him through, finally making it to the Sea of Abaco.
Arrival at Green Turtle Cay
The Sea of Abaco, being only ten feet deep on average, was also fairly sporty with high winds and waves. In that part of the Abacos, there aren’t any anchorages within a few hours’ sail protected from the conditions the weather was presenting.
I also didn’t know how crowded the harbor marinas were, all having narrow channels, and I didn’t want to enter those areas under sail alone. Continuing east, I finally made a decision and bit the bullet to enter Black Sound at Green Turtle Cay, rigging my fuel tank as late as possible to lower the risk of spills. The channel into this harbor was very difficult to spot as the land on both sides all looked like on continual piece of land, and the small wooden markers blended into the background.
I tied up at Black Sound Marina, cleared customs in New Plymouth, took a four-hour nap, gorged myself with food at Harveys Restaurant, and then slept for another 12 hours. I think 12 more hours of sleep is in store for tonight also. Exploration starts tomorrow. Green Turtle Cay was one of the hardest-hit settlements in the Bahamas; it’s sad to see some of the damage but it offers a different perspective on things.