We left Monday night (12/21) and it was a miserable experience. It had to be the longest night of my life! We were already anchored in Lake Worth and waiting for our buddy boats to arrive. I think the waiting made me even more anxious. Mike and Angie (Lady of Lorien) finished their last minute shopping and joined us in the early afternoon. Joe (Onward) along with Carl and Sue (Wind Rose) joined us by late afternoon after traveling south from Stuart. We were waiting for Brian and Daniel (Naiad) to arrive.
We spent the whole day preparing for the offshore passage. I stowed any items that would fly around, prepared the safety equipment, and got a bag together of snacks and seasickness medicine to keep in the cockpit in case it was too rough to go below. We also put a reef in the mainsail (shortened the sail). It’s easier to start out with a reef and take it out than try to shorten sail when the wind gets to be too much.
The flotilla of boats left around 6pm. We soon found out that the crew of Naiad was very new to sailing/cruising and needed some advice on getting to the inlet and heading out to sea. We motored out the inlet and put up the sails. It was quite rough with seas hitting us on the beam. Early on I heard Mike tell Brian on Naiad that they had to put up a sail. They had not prepared the main so they let out their jib and their boat settled a little. Meantime, they said that their provisions were tossing about below deck and they had broken glass in the cockpit – not a good start.
We were able to sail for a while before the wind died – it felt like someone just turned the wind ‘off’. That didn’t stop the seas from bashing us around. I didn’t see much since it was dark and I had my head in the bucket most of the time. I had to pass the bucket to Skip a few times but he was able to manage the boat while I was sick. Bailey was a real trooper. He never needed the bucket.
We mostly stayed in the cockpit all night. There wasn’t much to do but check the course once in a while. The Gulf Stream current wasn’t as strong as usual so we adjusted our course to compensate. Lady of Lorien was much farther ahead of us. The 4 other boats stayed together all night. We were glad to have AIS which shows us ship traffic. We saw a freighter approaching our course and Joe called him on the radio to make sure he saw us. The freighter was very nice and actually changed course to keep out of our way.
We chatted occasionally on the radio just to see how everyone was doing. At one point we talked to Joe to see how he was doing. He has the biggest challenge handling his boat alone plus he had been underway since early Monday morning. When he reported that he was down below cooking chicken, meatballs and fettuccine, I couldn’t believe it! At that point, I didn’t need to hear about food!!
I went below and slept a few times in the night. By early Tuesday morning, I felt better and was able to relieve Skip so he could rest. By 4am we left the Gulf Stream and approached Memory Rock. It was a welcome sight to see the 12 – 15 ft depths of the Bahamas bank. As the sun came up, the conditions were settling down and we could finally see the beautiful green water. We arrived at Great Sale Cay around 12:30pm and anchored in the protection of the island. Although the night crossing was miserable, it was worth it to finally get here! For everyone who said that I would do fine on a night crossing, I think the confused seas on the Gulf Stream did me in. The boat was pitching around so much and I couldn’t see anything. I was also very nervous about the ocean passage and being underway for much longer than we ever have before – around 18 hrs. That being said, it was the right decision to make the long crossing. It didn’t look like there would be another weather window for a while and we didn’t want to cross over to West End and get stuck in the marina (at over $100/day!)
In the evening, we celebrated an early happy hour on Onward. It was fun to meet the crew of Naiad and Wind Rose – we had been talking all night and it felt like we knew each other but we hadn’t met. The main topic of discussion was the weather prediction and deciding when to move on. A front was expected to pass on Thursday and Friday (Christmas) with an unfavorable wind direction and chance of strong squalls. There was also the issue of checking into the Bahamas. We must fly a ‘Q’ (quarantine) flag (and technically stay on our boats) until we officially check into the country. We weren’t sure when the customs offices would be open. They would likely be closed on Christmas and Boxing Day. It would be a shame to reach a settlement and not be able to go ashore. We decided to listen to weather in the morning and decide on a plan at that time.
Wednesday morning everyone listened to Chris Parker weather and got on the radio to discuss options. Lady of Lorien, Onward and Moondance decided to stay at Great Sale until after Christmas. Wind Rose decided to leave and head for Green Turtle Cay. Naiad also decided to stay with us. Since they had such a bad experience rushing to leave Florida, they decided to take it easy for a few days. A big concern was the ability to contact family to let them know we arrived safely. There’s nothing on Great Sale Cay – no telephone or internet access. Joe graciously offered use of his satellite phone which eased our concerns. I was able to talk to my mother and let her know we arrived. She was very glad to hear from me and anxious to tell me to look out for Tiger Woods who supposedly left for the Bahamas on his boat. I was also glad to talk to my brother and to Skip’s daughter to let them know we made it and would be out of contact for a few days.
We spent the past few days relaxing and getting into Bahamas mode. Bailey enjoyed a few runs on the beach. We’re not supposed to go ashore but there’s no one out here to see us. Joe had to fix his light at the top of his mast so we all went over to help. That meant hauling him up there and having a good time talking and hanging out in his cockpit with the usual jokes about bribing him before letting him down.
We enjoyed happy hour on Lady of Lorien, complete with very festive Christmas lights in the cockpit. While hosting a grill night on Moondance boaters from a catamaran in the anchorage came over to ask for advice on navigating in the Abacos. It was 2 guys, one with a small child. They only had one old chart at a very large scale for navigation. We couldn’t believe it! We tried to help them with advice and they did leave the next morning. Who knows where they will end up!
Christmas day finally brought the pre-frontal weather – high winds and small rain storms. I was happy to have rain to clean the salt off the boat. We gathered on Onward mid-day for a real feast. Angie made smoked salmon appetizers and a mincemeat pie. Daniel brought his ‘famous’ lemon and rum drink. Joe made his traditional Italian antipasti salad along with turkey tenderloin. I made turkey dressing and brought a ham. Oh my, it was delicious!
Early this morning (Saturday) we pulled up anchor and started south towards Spanish Cay where we can check ino the country. We motor-sailed with the wind behind us. We checked in without any problems. The marina where we tied up had advertised free dockage while visiting customs. Apparently, they decided to start charging $50 that can be used as a credit for staying there. We were planning to get further south so they offered us the credit to be used in the Spring. Oh well, maybe we’ll go back… BTW, the cruisers we met without decent charts made it there as well–someone must be looking out for them.
Right now we’re anchored off Manjack Cay under calm winds and seas. AND, I finally have Internet access–yaaay! Tomorrow, we’ll visit Marsh Harbor to do laundry and replenish groceries. We also have to buy a new SIM card for our Bahamian cell phone (the number went dead over the summer when it wasn’t in use.) We’re looking for a weather window to cross to Eleuthra and then to the Exumas. An opportunity might occur on Tuesday. If not, New Years in the Abacos is fine with me!!
(It’s taking forever to upload pictures…I’ll add them later when I have a stronger connection.)