Friday, February 15, 2008

The Other Side!

Wednesday, January 30, started just like most days of that month. After breakfast and letting the dogs out, Mark and I checked our list of things to do for our “big adventure”. We were down to just a few tasks, and hoped to get them all done, that day. There was finally another weather window to make the infamous crossing, and we didn’t want to waste our chance… Our main errands were checking the engines, filling our water tanks (if possible), distributing some weight, and taking a nap. First things first: Mark checked the port engine. All seemed fine. Then, he serviced the starboard engine. When removing the air filter, he discovered that the whole inside padding was shredded. Of course, this was about the only thing we didn’t carry spare parts of. All the hopes of getting out of there that Wednesday, immediately dissolved…

We took our chances, though, and Mark started calling several engine dealers. Luckily, we picked up an internet signal to find the necessary phone numbers. No luck; nobody had the part in stock. Experience had taught us that part numbers sometimes change. Mark went back online and, sure enough, his research provided us with a different part number. Another few calls later, and we found three air filters. Mark set off to hunt them down in West Palm Beach. Our friends Shawn and Alison lent him one of their bikes. While he was on his mission, I reorganized the boat a bit, moving some heavy items more to the back of the boat. We didn’t want to flip over on our first real journey! Later that day, handy man installed a new filter, and we managed to fill our water jugs in a nearby park. We also took the dogs for a last American walk to the beach. Unfortunately, they were not allowed on it (we really couldn’t wait to get out of there!), so Mark and I took turns to check to ocean out. I wanted to see the white sand and the pretty blue water, his objective was to see and feel how strong the wind was blowing.

The nap never happened, and all of a sudden it was 8 pm: time to leave. Lake Worth is a good departure point for the Bahamas, especially if headed for the Abacos (northern islands). The distance is only about 60 miles, but the trip is a tricky one. The current goes from south to north at a pretty fast pace, so you need to avoid all wind directions with an N in it and adjust your course. Northern winds are extremely dangerous because of the huge waves the opposing wind and current create. That night, the wind was blowing out of the south west, a bit stronger than expected (about 15 miles per hour). Irie was headed straight into it.

This was the first time we drove the boat at night, an interesting experience. The stars, rising moon, and the bright fluorescent creatures in our wake were the nice things. For twelve hours we fought waves and exhaustion, taking turns at the wheel. When the sun finally came up, we were in the Bahamas!! Checking into the country was quick and painless, fuelling up a bit more painful ( about $5 a gallon). Our friends Gray and Cindy, who had left the US two hours before us, arrived at the same time. They had gone “the long way”, but were able to sail most of the night.

Our first real stop in the Bahamas was Double Breasted Cays, an area skipped by most cruisers on their way to Green Turtle Cay. First hand, we got to experience how tricky the narrow anchorages and shallow waters are. Sure, the previous day, after our first shock of seeing the bottom of the sea, we practised reading the water by the different shades of blue, but the channel had sufficient depths. The day we arrived at Double Breasted Cays, however, we favoured the light blue (thought to be a good colour), over the darker water which was closer to some pointy rocks. Wrong choice! We hit a sandbank and got stuck pretty seriously. The light blue was apparently too close to white. Everything we tried with the engines failed, and we had to do something quick because the tide was going out… We lowered the dinghy into the water and I handed our anchor and plenty of chain to Mark down below. He dropped everything in front of the boat. We tried to simultaneously let the steaming windlass pull us forward on the anchor and let the hard working engines manoeuvre us off the sand. After twenty stressful minutes, we finally succeeded, realizing our colour reading skills needed to improve drastically. In the Bahamas, reading the water is the best way to navigate around the banks (shallow water), since other aids are absent and the GPS waypoints aren’t always accurate. Depending on the colour, one should be able to estimate the depth of the water. Yeah, right!!

Double Breasted Cays were quiet something else, though. Talking about how a perfect anchorage should be (other than the strong current for which we needed two anchors). Or the picture everybody has when thinking about “sailing in paradise”, the thing we were supposed to be doing... For once those people had it right. White sandy beaches, beautiful clear blue water, sunny skies, picturesque rocks and reef in the background. We could jump of the boat and swim to the beach, the dogs played around in the wet sand, we chilled out in the cockpit, finally ably to read a book. At five o’clock we had our cocktail, with or without our friends. The nights were unbelievably clear with millions of stars. Yeah, it sure was “irie” over there!

Since then, we got to sail about everyday, visiting a few other islands, walking on new beaches, hanging out with locals and cruisers alike, living a basic life on board, with showers in the ocean and conserving water. The solar panels do their best to provide us with electricity, so the engines can find some peace.

On Green Turtle Cay, we sat out a few cold fronts (very challenging for the anchor and the night sleep), visited the cute little town and reconnected with friends. Our next mission is to pick up our friends Sabine and Michael, from Germany, who we met on our RV trip through Central America. They will arrive in Marsh Harbour (Great Abaco Island), and we hope to immerse them into the primitive, but fun sailing life!

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