Saturday, May 27, 2017

First and almost last trip to the Bahamas

Our first trip to the Bahamas. Not just that but our first big trip ever.  Sure we had done over nighters, even gone a couple of nights out.  Never though a long journey.  And not just that, but ocean sailing, Navigating, weather watching, coral dodging……. There were going to be a lot of firsts.  We were nervous to say the least.  I planned and planned as much as one can.  Read all I could, but my ocean sailing was very limited and we had never pushed our boat to any limits.  I felt as prepared as I could be and Ashley had full faith in me, so off we went.

I had done lots of reading about sailing offshore, watching weather and what to expect for the Gulf Stream.  I decided that for our first leg from Canaveral to Ft. Pierce, we were heading offshore.  Well…… that didn’t go as planned.  The seas ended up being more out of the South than expected and over the day, the wind and seas built.  The first hour or so offshore things were a bit rough. I told Ashley that we could turn around and head for the ICW, but it would mean a day delay due to the closing of the Lock in Canaveral.  She said No and that she would be fine so we pressed on.   That day ended up being a hellish day. We sailed as much as we could but we were not making the speed we wanted and we needed to get into port before nightfall.  We motored most of the way and the bow slammed the seas the whole way.  Ashley stayed tough and kept an eye on the pets and we pressed on hard.  Come evening, we warily approached the entrance to Ft. Pierce Channel.  Tired from the trip, we were excited to get into safe harbor.  I had called ahead to Ft. Pierce Municipal marina and reserved a slip.  They said to call upon approach and we would be directed.  We tried their phone, their working channel, everything, no answer. Being so tired, we just went straight in and picked a slip.  Well much to our surprise, the current in that marina is 3+ knots. Something I did not discover until we were making a slip and found ourselves being quickly pushed into a million dollar yacht. We both pushed with all of our might to keep from hitting this boat and almost comically, as I’m about to sacrifice a leg as a fender, a woman steps out from a door up above my head and calmly states “ Oh goodness, do you need some help?” With that, she and three other people rushed to the dock to help grab lines.  We got the bow over but the stern was a struggle. I pulled and pulled and pulled and then POW!!! I was down. Pain washed over me like a wave.  I took a few short breaths. Somehow we got the boat alongside. Not sure how, but we couldn’t have done it without the kind help from those on the big Yacht.  We thanked them profusely, and we truly meant it.  Come to find out there is exactly  a 30 minute period when there is nobody on shift at the marina. GREAT!! And that Pop, well that was a rib separating from my sternum.  It was a hellish ending to a hellish day, but in the end, we had a safe dock, cold drinks and we laughed it off before a good night’s sleep.   It was about that time It dawned on me, why didn’t I use the Jib sheet winch to bring the stern over??  Next time.

The next morning after being well rested, we decided it best to go find an anchorage and fix all the things that went wrong while offshore.   We quickly ran into town to a hardware store and headed south to find an anchorage.  With a 6 foot keel, finding a safe place to anchor outside the channel can be quite a challenge.  After running aground trying to head up the St. Lucie river, we turned around and anchored just North of the inlet outside the channel.  We ran the dinghy around and found a nice island for the dog to frolic. Back on the boat, we checked the weather and saw that we most likely would not be heading anywhere for quite a while. It was anchored here, in the alternating current of an inlet along with the High gusting winds of passing storms that I learned just how poorly a CQR anchor will rest itself. We spent two sleepless nights there waiting on weather and constantly resetting our anchor. A 45# CQR with 100 feet of chain just wasn’t cutting it. I put new anchor at the top of my list.

The rest of the Journey South down the ICW was mostly uneventful. It was a beautiful and scenic trip. I highly don’t recommend going through Jupiter on a Saturday. I find it hard to believe there aren’t daily boating deaths in that crazy area. We finally made it down to Palm Beach and anchored up in the Northern most end.  We spent two days there shopping final groceries and waiting on weather. We met an extremely nice Preacher and his wife who live aboard their Trimaran while there. We were struggling with our Honda 2000 and he came over and helped me repair it.  They were a truly interesting couple and it was nice to find such friendly help along the way.

On the day prior to our departure, we shifted down and anchored in the busy area South of the entrance channel.  I took the dinghy over to a few other boats and spoke with fellow sailors about the crossing. They all saw what I saw and all agreed that an early morning start was the best time to leave. I felt good knowing that seasoned sailors saw what I saw with the Weather.  The problem with this anchorage is there is no easy place to take a dog ashore. The best bet is peanut island which is almost a one mile dingy ride.  We planned to leave at 2am but we couldn’t store the dingy or outboard on deck until we took the dog ashore one last time.  This made for quite an early morning.  We were a bit nervous leaving a busy anchorage at night. On top of it all, they were dredging the harbor and there was dredge pipeline all around. It all went well and before we knew it, we were out to sea again watching a beautiful sunrise and bound for the Bahamas.

The crossing was smooth. The wind did not favor us and we found ourselves motoring once again.  It took a bit longer than we anticipated so therefore we arrived just after High Tide to Grand Bahama Island.  I had made a reservation at Sunrise Marina and I had carefully checked all charts and watched the tide tables. I called when we were outside the channel and the lady said we should wait for the next tide. Well it was late, the dog needed to go ashore and I naively felt confident that there was enough water given the tide height and the charts.   Ashley was on the bow and we slowly made our approach in the channel. It was apparent there was some shoaling, but we took it slow and felt our way along.  Inside the jettys we bumped the bottom. We backed up some and went to Stbd to go around the shoaling. Again we bumped. At this point I decided the charts were wrong and we would go back out and wait on the tide.  So we were backing and all was going fine.  I had to go back about 20 more feet and we would be clear to swing the bow around and head out. I gave the engine one more thrust astern to give plenty of room and that’s when it happened…. Well actually no, that’s when nothing happened.  I tried forward, nothing, I tried astern, nothing…….. Shit.  Panic started to set it.  There was a 2 foot following sea pushing on us and we were not yet in the clear. I yelled something incohearant to Ashley and ran down below.  My first thought was the shifting cable  had come off the transmission. I ripped the stairs off and flung myself over the hot engine. To my dismay, the cable was still connected.  So I manually shifted the transmission…. The shaft spun but nothing… Shit shit shit.  Where is my propeller???? How can this be?? It was all BRAND New!! New Shaft, new coupling, New everything!  I ran up to a panicked scene.  The Rock jetty was coming up fast and we had no way to stop it.  What do you do? We had no propulsion! I yelled for Ashley to put the pets in life jackets and I ran up to the Bow. I grabbed our 45# anchor, but it was Jammed!! The seas had jammed it in place. I then grabbed our 35# day anchor and threw it as far as I could.  I made the line fast and hoped for the best. I ran back to the cock pit and Ashley asked if she should call Mayday? YES!!! Great idea!!!  She called for Mayday and I grabbed the airhorn. There were fishing boats just a couple hundred yards off. I Blew and blew that horn.  Ashley got an answer on the radio, somebody was coming! But they were 5-10 minutes out! The anchor had slowed the bow from drifting but now our stern was on the rocks. With every passing wave we slammed higher and harder on the rocks.  We were panicked. Our house was on the rocks! I told Ashley we had to cut the dinghy loose. We keep emergency diving knives by the hatch for that exact reason She cut it loose while I pulled out anchor rode.  (Might I note here that later I learned Ashley thought we were abandoning ship which caused her more panic. In reality, I was going to go grab our anchor and row it out further in hopes of using the winch to pull us off the rocks) Just as we were about to shove our dingy overboard a 50 ft fishing boat pulled up.  More like a fishing yacht.  The only problem was we were so far into the rocks they couldn’t get very close without them hitting rocks.  They had to come back around for a better angle.  I knew we only had one chance at this. I grabbed two 40 ft lines and tied them together.  Here my professional life paid off. I know and have practiced the perfect way to throw a line and to throw it accurately.  I took my time in spite of the events around me and coiled the most perfect two coils.   I had to throw the line about 50ft to the guy on the bow.  When I threw that line, it was all in slow motion.  The first coil in my right hand paid out then the second coil in my left hand. The line flew and landed directly in the hands of the man on the bow!!! He made the line fast and so did I. That boat pulled us to safety and off the rocks.  Then we met Gary, the local salvage man. He took our lines and towed us to safe harbor in Lucuaya.  Shaken, scared, and confused we tied up to the dock and finally sat down to take it all in.  The boat was a disaster, we were a disaster. What just happened? I checked the bilges and we were not taking on water.  The steering cable was broke, but we were safe. Finally, 19 hours after leaving FL, our dog got to Pee.

The next morning we assessed the situation.  Much to my surprise, the propeller was still there, but apparently not spinning. I fixed the Steering cable and we put the boat back together as much as possible. We explored the area, paid customs and tried to figure out what the hell was next.  The marina said we had to leave since we couldn’t pay their going rate. They gave us a friendly rate for two nights since we were towed in, but we had to go. Ashley, somehow found us a Marina just around the way. I called and they said they had a slip available and we could come over any time. Gary showed up and towed us over to Flamingo Bay.  He promised to return and help us with the boat.  This place turned out to be amazing. It was part of Taino Resort and by staying at the marina, we had full access to the resort! It was fantastic! Upon Further discovery, we learned that the Prop shop had used a Nylon Bore Reducer so that the new shaft would work with our old propeller.  The nylon bore reducer had compressed which caused the propeller to hammer on the prop key. Finally The prop key sheared and it all came disconnected. Apparently that one last thrust astern to get away from the jetty was the final straw. What great timing, what luck. Geeeesh.  And even more maddening, they do sell brass bore reducers. As to why the prop shop didn’t use one I don’t know, but I now will never use the prop shop in Canaveral again.  We ordered a new reducer and had it shipped overnight to my parents in SC.  My father then fedexed it to us. We did not know you are supposed to attach your cruising permit to your package. So one Customs broker and two and a half weeks later, we finally got our parts in the Bahamas.

During those two and half weeks though we were stranded at a Resort on Grand Bahama Island and we had enough beer, gin and food to last us through!! It was a grand time. We spent our days at the beach and the pool. We explored the island. Went snorkeling and met lots of great people.  It started out poorly but our time there was amazing. We planned for our wedding and learned the place we were going to have it was a waste and ended up doing it all at Taino. We would never have found it if we hadn’t got shipwrecked. With the help of Gary we repaired the boat.  Some people told us of an anchorage on the West End we could use and soon we were on our way.  The trip home was nice and uneventful.  We caught the stream up to Ft Pierce and once again stayed at the Marina, only this time we planned for a slack water arrival!

We were glad to be home and glad that things worked out.  It was a scary start and truly a very trying first big trip.  A seasoned sailor told me later that I am lucky to have gotten that out of the way so early in my cruising story.  He said it happens to us all, and now that we had gone through it, we should be safe. I sure hope he is right. I don’t need that in my life again for sure and I know Ashley doesn’t either.  We learned a lot along the way and it made us better sailors. It hasn’t deterred us but it has made me a bit more nervous for some things.   Our next trip was much better but not without its own issues, but that’s for another time.


 
Heading down the ICW

Sunrise on our crossing to the Bahamas





Ashley enjoying a drink by the Beach



Well Deserved drinks