We are floating softly in a horseshoe-shaped anchorage, fringed with coral reefs, on a sea of silver like a mirror.The rising, waxing moon is a brilliant white shield, a beacon of strength and comfort, and we can see the sand below, whiter still.It is night.Innana, the morning and evening star, shines above.There are four other boats here at Fowl Cay, two on which we have good friends: Valinor and Solmate.Tim and Dorothea and Steve and Karen came over for cocktails.It was our turn and we had a great time.
After they left we turned on the country music that we know not everyone loves as we do: Lucinda, Dixie Chicks, Ray Le Montagne, Iris Dement, Johnny Cash, and so forth, and we are rocking out, grilling lobster we caught. And now I am writing.
The water is smooth like a mirror, a sea of milk contained within the dark, and the low rocks of the horseshoe surround us with loving arms, darker than the midnight blue sky.
What a fabulous life and yet.Relationships take work, even in Paradise.I am not the only one who thinks this way.Perhaps not the only one on this vessel.But here we are, two people afloat, working together to make dinner, to bring up and set the anchor, to sail, to keep each other alive.It is good.
On January 6, 2016, we expected a “big blow” with winds shifting through all directions except Southeast.We took shelter in the very well protected harbor at Royal Island, near Spanish Wells and Eleuthera. Sophia is 36 feet long and weighs 13,500 pounds—pretty light in comparison to many bluewater yachts.We have great ground tackle—a 33 pound Rocna and 100 feet of 3/8 inch chain attached to 150 feet of a 5/8 inch nylon rode. We sheltered in the north west corner, in front of the biggest hill on the island.We set anchor, let out all the chain, set a snubber, dove on the anchor, saw it solidly in the ground, and kept a close watch all day.We didn’t budge an inch and felt quite relaxed when we finally turned out the light around “cruiser’s midnight,” 9pm.We were in for our first big cruising lesson.
“Bam!”“Bam!”Silence.I awakened at about 10:30pm.This was a new sound.“Bam!”“Bam.”Something was hitting our hull.Could it be waves? I wondered.“Ryan!do you hear that?” “What?”“Bam!”“That!”He bounded out of bed. The winds were screaming overhead the air was thick with electricity. I raced to the cockpit and could not believe what I saw.We had dragged about 200 feet, right past another boat, and stood 10 feet from the rocky shore with 1.5 feet of water under our keel. Our hull had been hitting either the sand, or rocks, or something else.Royal Island harbor is littered with old cars and other metal trash.
Sheer terror. Adrenaline shot through me, clouding my mind, making my hands shake.Think! I clawed open the stern lassarette and pressed the engine warm-up button, counting with ragged breaths—never had 15 seconds passed so slowly.The engine roared onRyan took the helm and drove us away from the rocks while I scampered up to the bow, shivering in underwear and tee-shirt.It was impossible to see, and we had to rely on flashlight signals to communicate about the operation of the windlass.I had to put down my flashlight to get the snubber off the chain. “I. HATE. THESE. THINGS!” I remember screaming as I urged the metal hook around and off the links.
Finally we got the anchor up and motored to the other end of the harbor. This was a terrifying journey, because not all the boats had their anchor lights on and we couldn’t see where we were going. My eyes were playing tricks on me. I saw two boats where there was only one—later I realized it was a ketch, and it was so difficult to think! Ryan stayed calm, fortunately, and shouted, “here! we’re dropping the anchor here!” We let out all 100 feet of chain plus an 25 feet of line, in 10 feet of water. We were far too agitated to sleep, and finally took turns watching until morning, which came slowly.
The weather got worse the next day.It rained so hard that the bimini leaked, especially right over the wheel and chart plotter, making it malfunction.We clamped a plastic Ikea bag over it, lifting up the edges to see the chart, and stayed soaked for hours while the storm raged around us.The wind roared at 40 knots per hour for much of the afternoon, and gusted above 50.A neighboring boat dragged a couple hundred feet.We sighed with relief when they stablized their position, not far from our stern.We monitored the wind gauge and our breadcrumbs on the chart plotter, watching, watching. My skin crawled with anxiety. It was impossible to settle down, even though there was nothing to do but watch, watch, watch and watch.
I attempted to calm myself by tidying and eventually felt comfortable enough to start a lasagna.Just as the sauce was starting to bubble, Ryan informed me, “we’ve dragged 40 feet.”FREAK!went my system.But I calmlyturned off the burner, put on my rain gear, and went above.It was time to learn how to set a second anchor.Our second anchor is a 23 pound Fortress on 30 feet of 3/8 inch chain and 200 feet of 5/8 inch rode.The Fortress is actually designed for the messy, slimy sand we were sitting on. Setting it seemed like a good idea, but only after a nervous discussion. By this point, Murphy’s law seemed to be in play—if it could go wrong, it would.We didn’t carry on for any length of time, as the winds were still wailing and the rain was still sheeting, thunder was booming, lightining was flashing, and we were dragging.By this point, we were fully suited up in foul weather gear with harnesses ready to clip into the jack lines.We set the second anchor.And we held.
And we held. Ryan seemed to relax finally, but I couldn’t unwind, even when the winds finally went away at midnight or so. I sat up reading and checked our position every hour or so. And we held. Finally, around five in the morning, I allowed myself to sleep.
Chris Parker wrote, “In 13 years, I don’t think I’ve seen an event like this in the Bahamas.He said it may have been a Derecho, essentially a “self sustaining linearly-organized storm.” As Parker explained, “A Derecho often starts as a series of outflow boundaries/gust fronts extending from squall/T-storms, advancing ahead of a pool of cold air aloft. Over time, these outflow boundaries/gusts can merge into a long line, and be self-sustaining.”
We learned a lot.In the long run, we were really lucky, much more fortunate than our friends.For a rousing, well-written tale about how awful this storm was for many folks, please read Neko’s blog.Some other people we care about suffered the worst loss that we know about.Their beloved terrier, who had sailed with them for ten years, washed overboard during the gale.We have talked to many cruisers who have sailed all over the globe for many years, and every one of them says that this was the worst experience they have ever had.
We stayed another night at Tahiti beach because Travis and Mary and the girls liked it there.We were surrounded by noisy, light-polluting charter catarmarans.I hated it.
December 28, 2015
We sailed, with Seahorse, south to Lynnyard Cay, where we found our first very nice, remote anchorage in clear, swimming-pool blue waters.On the sail here the car that holds the mainsail to the boom flew off the end, not for the first time, and the part that keeps it on the boom broke off.Ryan repaired it.
On the way here, we caught a fish: a Horse-Eyed Jack.I made tacos with it.Very lovely.We made water today.
Lynnyard Cay is a long, thin island with some pleasant anchorages and a only a few houses.We anchored off a small beach that had a white picnic table and some plywood tables nailed into trees, also a broken-down platform with a ratty mattress on it, exposed to the rain.We followed a trail from this beach to the ocean side and spent hours walking there.I found a lot of small sea-sponges that had washed ashore, and made two leis to adorn our dodger.I also found an interesting salmon-colored, round float with the words, “Rosendahl, Bergen, Norway,” imprinted on it.
I am feeling a little bit better, but still a bit sick to my stomach and weak.
Sure, it’s nice when the sun shines, but the best thing about cruising are the amazing folks one meets along the way. Guana Cay locals have great stories to tell.
We sailed into Settlement Bay at Gauna Cay, intending to anchor, but the windlass wouldn’t work , so we ended up mooring next to a trawler named “Brokedown Palace.” Isn’t that just the perfect name for a cruising vessel? Oh, don’t worry. The windlass wasn’t broken. We had nudged a fuse while fixing something else and nudged it back into place the next day. No matter. Because we were moored, we got to meet Troy Albury, a true Bahamian hero.
Troy Albury and the Bakers Bay Controversy
Mooring fields are designed to squeeze as many vessels in as small a space as possible. They afford little privacy and less security, since you never know how strong the line or the anchor at the end of it is. But they are easy. You pick up the float and pull up theline attached to it at one end and some heavy object on the other, and loop it around your cleat. Done. Anchored. You pay for this, usually about $20 a night.
Our “landlord” knocked on the hull for payment at 7 the next morning.Ryan popped his head out of the forward hatch, right above the v-berth where we were sleeping, and, after recognizing the man’svoice, said, “Hey! Aren’t you the guy we hear every morning on the Cruisers’ Net?”“That would be my evil twin,” Troy Albury answered.Troy has a great reputation as an all-around good fellow, island councilman, environmental activist, chief of Guana Cay Fire and Rescue, and the very knowledgeable and capable owner of Dive Guana. We listen to him nearly every morning.
It was nice to meet him, and he kindly agreed to meet us over at the dive shop, as we needed to buy new snorkels.First we took our boat over to Fisher’s Bay and anchored off shore from Dive Guana.We were the only boat there, and that was heavenly.After paying Troy for the mooring and the snorkels, we set off on foot for the grocery store, which was incredibly well-stocked.They even had Lactaid!(But no corn tortillas, unfortunately.) If you’re looking to replenish your galley, go here, but first stop at Milo’s farm stand for vegetables and fruit.
As we lugged our groceries back to the dinghy, a friendly old-timer urged us to hop into his golf cart.He set off at a frighteningly fast pace and talked as rapidly and as haphazardly as he drove. His sister, he said, used to own lots of property on the Cay, but “wouldn’t hear no more about the Bahamas.”She still owned a “big mansion,” he said, gesturing towards a driveway that disappeared behind a thicket, but never visited it. She preferred her estate with horses and dogs in North Carolina.He, himself, was the first Abaconian we met who had not been born in Nassau. He was born on Guana, and he loved it, but he had nothing nice to say about Bakers Bay,the exclusive resort for wealthy and famous foreigners that went in about five years ago.
Although by law all beaches in the Bahamas belong the people and are public, Bakers Bay restricts access to the north end of the Cay.You can moor in the bay, and technically can land on the beach, but Bakers Bay guards will harass you until you leave.A patrolled fence with gates prevents all locals and tourists from entry by land. Locals used to be allowed to walk there, but someone took a photograph of some football player, who made a fuss, and that was that.
…the Bakers Bay Golf and Ocean Club development on Great Guana Cay may undermine the environmental health of the region; specifically affecting the nesting sea turtles of Gumelemi Cay and to the north, and impacting the neighboring reefs.
The Bahamian government, reputed to be deeply corrupt and indifferent to environmental concerns, ignored all complaints and let the resort go in.
By no means an expert on coral reefs, even I can tell that these reefs are hurting. Out at Fowl Cay, you can see large swathes of once vibrant brain coral, browned and dulled. But don’t take my word for it. Listen to Troy Albury, via Guana Cay Blog, which “reports on the science of coral reef conservation, and in particular the effects of golf courses, marinas and large developments adjacent to pristine marine habitats”:
What we have seen, and as evidenced by these photos, is an increase in black band disease, white plague and brown spot disease at the north end of Guana Cay, at the Cathedral dive site, which was studied and catalogued well before construction on the golf course had begun. Dr. Risk, Dr. Cervino and Dr. Goreau all dove the reef in 2005 and 2006 and found not a single case of disease. Now, the disease is rampant and the corals are being killed. Also, there is an alarming amount of algae present which is slowly smothering the reef.
Mr. Albury refers here to Dr. Michael J. Risk, an ecologist at McMaster University, Hamilton, Dr. James Cervino, a coral pathologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, and Dr. Thomas Goreau, of the Global Coral Reef Alliance, who all protested the Bakers Bay mega-development and have been monitoring the devastating effect its fertilizer run-off has had on the reefs.
Our voluble host, however, did not appear to be too concerned about the environment. He seemed to object more to the fact that locals could no longer roam the island he grew up on than to the impact it already had and would have on the environment.We thanked him for the ride and scooted back to the boat, where we spent the rest of the day sheltering from rain.
An Evening at Nippers
We headed back to shore for dinner at Nippers, a brightly painted, slightly shabby party spot with cheap drinks and expensive food draped across a 40 foot sand dune. We drank too much and ate too little.I remember twirling on the deck to music I can’t remember.At one point I headed down the beach, found to a dark spot, and lay back in the sand, looking up at the stars.I do not know how long I stayed there.I do know that Ryan was frantic when I finally stumbled back, and justly scolded me for wandering off into the night without telling him where I was going.
Sunrise at Guana Cay
The next morning I made coffee while it was still dark and sat out on “the porch,” our cockpit, to watch the dawn come to Guana.The temperature felt much colder than the actual 68 degrees.I pulled on some capris and a stretch jacket and took shelter under the dodger.Far off to port, a green navigation light blinked steadily, but otherwise the darkness obscured the horizon.As the sky paled, the silhouette of Delia’s Island, a small, scrubby green rock at the mouth of Fisher’s Bay, showed itself 50 yards from our stern.To the north white, triangular rooftops perched like seabirds on the shore.As the sun rose, the undersides of the clouds turned violet and cobalt.Darker masses, still fringed with silver, glowered over the island, portending rain.The Northeast wind ruffled up the lagoon into rippling, milky green waves.Our dinghy, Freya, bobbed at our stern, and the water slapping rhythmically against its aluminum floor and rubber sides sounded almost like someone walking.As the sun rose higher, heavy, puffy clouds swam like manatees across a pale lavender sky.A wan yellow light reflected off the crinkly surface of the clear, green and gray water.It was low tide, and Delia’s bony, dead coral underskirts were showing.
At 8:15 we tuned in the Cruiser’s Net and hear Troy say,
Good morning cruisers and the only thing I can say is, don’t shoot the messenger! There is nothing good to say about the weather! It won’t be good for diving or sun-bathing.So basically in English there is one front on top of us, another trying to come down, they’re both going to merge and make for rainy, breezy weather for the next couple of days.
We sighed.Would this rain ever end?At least it wasn’t raining at the moment, so Ryan drove the dinghy around Delia Island while I hung over the bow, peering through a look-bucket, following a lead in our often misleading “guide”book that said this would be a good place to snorkel.We saw a few small brown fish and plenty of grass, nothing special, so we took our gear back to the boat and decided to go for a walk on the beach instead.
As we headed down the main road that skirts the beach at Settlement Bay on the Sea of Abaco,we saw a bow-legged man in word plaid shorts, a grey tee-shirt and a baseball hat walking his tiny black pincher.Barking like a banshee, the doglet lunged at a cat and the man yelled at the dog in Guana dialect, which sounds like a cross between London Cockney and North Carolina drawl.“Stop that! You bad dog!You cahn’t be barking!The caht has a right to live!”He was still crouched down cursing the creature as we turned down the lane to Nippers.
We walked down through a spooky, shady grove of palm trees clustered around three large, sandy puddles, then headed up past the cemetery, and the well sign-posted Poisonwood tree (do not touch!you WILL get a rash) and climbed the hill to Nippers. We braced ourselves for the crowd that allegedly deluges the place on Sundays for the well-advertised “pig roast,” and I instinctively flinched as we neared the deafening din of pop tunes blaring from under the huge, circular, thatch-palm roof that shelters the outdoor bar.
In spite of the noise, the place was relatively empty.A drowsy couple dangled their feet in the freshwater pool at the top of the hill, but the lower lagoon was empty, as were all the beach chairs around it and on the decks above. A few 20-something men leaned against the worn, horseshoe-shaped bar, nursing bottles of Kalik and plastic cups of Nipper’s signature drink, frozen pink punch spiked with four kinds of rum.
Six middle-aged, white women seemed to be celebrating something at a table overlooking the beach.They all sported red kerchiefs studded with yellow, blue and green plastic globules, which I assumed were meant to resemble fruit.Was this odd headgear the Bahamian version of the short veils Yorkshire girls wear when they bar-hop to toast the bride the night before her wedding?These women seemed too old for that.A few of them had tied tattered hula skirts around their thickening waists.Perhaps this was standard island pig-roast attire?A waitress chatted with a bartender, smiled benignly as we slipped past her and hurried over to the stairs that lead down the dune to the broad beach that faces the third-largest barrier reef in the world.
The rain had stopped but the sky remained overcast.Breaking over the reef, what looked like fifteen to twenty waves of six- and seven-feet rollers raced towards the shore, churning up the bay.Swimming, and snorkeling much more, was out of the question, but we were grateful for a relatively dry walk.Sinking deeply into the velvety sand, I tore off my blue-green sarong and marched ahead in the one-piece suit that supposedly takes ten pounds off my figure.Ryan stuck closer to the water, where the sand is harder. We walked about a mile, down as far as the tide would let us go, then turned around and headed back.
I found two good-luck charms on the beach: a sea bean, an extremely hard nut that grows on African trees and washes up on Bahamian beaches, and a small, white plastic globe on a tattered blue rope.Sea beans polish up beautifully and are often used in jewelry.The float probably came from a fishing boat.Locals hang them from trees like charms or talismans to ward off bad spirits.I planned to decorate our stern with this one.It would also come in handy for the rare occasions when we paid to tie up to a mooring and wanted to mark it as reserved.
As we passed back through Nippers, and a coat-rack that read, “leave bikini tops here,” I noticed that the fruit-headed women and bar-supporting men had been joined by another small group of retirement-age tourists.Otherwise, the place was still empty.Since Ryan and I had spent too much time and money there the night before, we felt little urgency to linger, and frankly grateful leave its ear-splitting speakers.
Milo and Edmond
On the main road in town, which skirts Settlement Bay on the Sea of Abaco side, we stopped to have a look at Milo’s produce. We quickly realized that the bow-legged man with the fierce cat-menacing dog was Milo himself, and a very friendly person to boot. He offers his wares right in front of the old wooden cottage where he was born. We bought a mango, a papaya, four oranges, and a fat sweet onion for 12 dollars.He also had potatoes, red onions, good-looking tomatoes and apples for sale, all grown on the island. When I asked Milo if I could take the picture of him and his dog, below, he said, “For a good-looking woman like you?” One is never to old to appreciate a good flirt.
Having had such a pleasant time chatting with Milo, we settled ourselves down at the quirky little bar that his brother, Edmond, owns nextdoor. Although Milo is well-known among tourists and locals alike for his knowledge about Abaco history, it was Edmond who regaled us with stories about his life on Guana Cay before the tourists began to come.He, too, was born in the little house behind the farm stand, which his parents rented while they farmed the land almost a century ago.They grew tomatoes, broccoli, cauliflower, potatoes, onions, oranges, mangoes, and bananas.Edmond bought real estate as quickly and as often as he could, he said.He recently had to sell a number of his lots, sadly, to pay his wife’s medical bills. After expressing my sympathy, I asked him how he met her.
In the late 1940s, Edmond related, “six girls and one boy” arrived in Marsh Harbor looking for a ride to the southern tip of Guana Cay, where they had rented a house.Edmond happened to be there on business and offered them a ride.After he dropped them off, he said with a grin, he rushed back to his friends and announced that the island had “fresh blood.” He spent the next few weeks sailing back between town and the newcomers, taking them out for excursions while pursuing a girl who ignored him.One day he found himself with “the other one,” and asked her if she’d like to go look at one of his boats. She said she would, and did, and so began their 70-yeartogether.“What was it that made you fall in love with her after chasing after a different girl,” I asked.He looked at me as though I had asked a ridiculously obvious question, and said, “because she was gorgeous!”
Liam and other folks at the bar
While Ryan asked Edmond more questions about farming in the Abacos, I struck up a conversation with thebartender, a strikingly handsome young man with flaming red hair in a bright orange tank top. I will call him Liam.Like most Bahamians I’ve met in the Abacos, he was born in Nassau, where there is a hospital, but grew up in here.He is my son’s age (24), and he told me that his mother, who lived in Florida, had recently suffered a loss.Her long-term boyfriend had died four days ago.Liam hadn’t liked him very much, but he was concerned about his mother, and didn’t know whether or not she would stay in Florida or return to the islands.I put on my therapist’s non-judging, listening ears and tried not to interrupt or direct the conversation, so that he could say whatever he needed someone.He wasn’t telling me, of course, but rather someone who seemed, at least, to hear him without judgment.This couldn’t last much longer than the first drink he poured for me, but I meant well..
While we were talking a group of tourists I saw earlier at Nippers sauntered down the street, heading towards Grabbers, no doubt, a much flashier (and noisier) joint on the spit of sand between the Sea of Abaco and the ocean.Not long after, a fancy golf-cart dropped off two middle-aged men and two women, one of whom was much younger. We perked up, since up until that point we had been the only drinkers at the bar, and looked forward to meeting new people.I looked expectantly in their direction, hoping to catch an eye and start a conversation, but they avoided our gaze.
The new girl, who resembled a young Carly Simon in a baseball cap and large, square, black-rimmed glasses, seemed particularly determined to resist any contact with us.She looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place her.I must have stared rudely, since I was trying to figure out where we had seen her before, or how I knew her, plus it was easy and pleasant to contemplate the guy next to her, who was about forty years older and very good looking in a rugged, overly sun-tanned sort of way, ignored us completely.Their stand-offishness was not especially peculiar, but it did seem a tad atypical for such a tiny locale.The horseshoe-shaped bar seated barely six people, and it would have been easy to chat across it.No matter, I thought, Edmond and Ryan here are undoubtedly more fascinating.Then it occurred to me that the young girl might be some kind of pop star who assumes that everyone knows her, but whom I was too hopelessly out of touch generally to recognize.I didn’t notice when they left. Bakers Bay people.
Shortly afterwards, friendly faces appeared: Dakota and Will, a Polynesian-looking young woman and a young man with closely cropped, blond hair.We had met them the night before, at Nippers.They were Americans who crew on board a 160-foot yacht owned by a super-rich family that travels by plane to wherever they directed the boat to sail.It was currently anchored at Bakers Bay. When I asked Edmond his opinion about the luxury development, he asserted, “love it and hate it.”He liked the money it brought to the island and his bar, “I have 200 to 300 people on a Saturday night here,” during high season, he boasted.“I’d much rather be here than at Nippers,” Will chimed in.“So would I,” urged Dakota.“They all say that,” Edmond said, nodding.
It was nice talking to Dakota and Will until they commandeered the boombox.Somehow they persuaded Liam to play tunes from Dakota’s iphone.I wasn’t interested to learn what this worldly 23 year-old might enjoy, but horrified to hear that she liked only the worst bands from the1970s and early 1980s: Boston, AC/DC, Lynnard Skynard, Kiss.Worst of all, she and Will both started shaking their heads left to right and banging their hands on the bar. I did my best not to notice, but was blessed or cursed by the gods with an acute ear for music.
Shortly before Dakota began tormenting us with bad late 1970s “music,” a new guy showed up who looked to be about our age. He was a tall, bespectacled fellow in a camp shirt, and shorts whose light hair curled out beneath his cap.His name was Bruce and he, Ryan and I hit it off immediately. He said he was a carpenter, a great come-on line if I ever heard one. But wasn’t his aim. He really was a carpenter, and very proud of his work. He told us he had built his house on the island, using rare hardwoods throughout.Ryan had also built a very special house by hand, so they lots to talk about.
Bruce and Ryan agreed that the music was intolerable, and when it became clear that Edmond, too, was losing his patience for it, I had the bad manners to tell Dakota, “You know, I couldn’t stand this stuff when it first tormented us on the airwaves, and find it hasn’t improved with age.”Well!That was enough for her!.She and Will downed their drinks and packed off to Grabbers.Bruce then very graciously invited us back to his house for dinner.
Bruce and Roger
We loaded ourselves into Bruce’s golf cart and took off on a bumpy ride to the southern end of the island, into a gated community that had so far not yet invested in concrete roads. Paths snaked off the main dirtway through thick, dense shrubs of poisonwood, sea grape, and gumbo limbo, and occasionally a sign announced the entrance to an unseen house. I completely lost my sense of direction as Bruce roared towards his home, which turned out to be exquisite, as promised. He had sent most of the lumber from his home in the US and done all the joinery himself on Guana.
Bruce had invited a few friends, two men in their late fifties or early sixties, who lived in houses nearby over and we all sat around his gorgeous, hand-crafted dining tables having a good ol’ time. It turned out we had met one of the friends before, when he was visiting the people who owned the Sabre moored next to us in Hopetown.
The other guy, Roger, said he was retired but it “didn’t take.” He was loving his new job as captain for a rich family, who owned a bad-ass fishing boat with three 300-horsepower engines. He promised to take us for a tour of the island on this fabulous vessel the next morning. Bruce drove us back to our dinghy, perilously, and we thanked him for his incredible hospitality. We felt very glad to have met him.
Roger really did show up alongside Sophia at around 9 am. And what an incredible journey he took us on! He got the boat up to 42 knots in no time at all, and the boat just hummed along without any of the bashing or crashing that one usually gets on a motorboat. Roger said the fastest he had gone was 57 knots, but that the boat really cruised best when doing over 30. He drove us all the way down to Scotland Cay and suggested a few places where we could anchor and snorkel. Later that day, he showed us his lovely house overlooking the Sea of Abaco and the garden that he has landscaped with native plants. He taught us about many of them, and showed us a tree that grows right next to the poisonwood tree, whose sap is said to help heal the rash one gets from poisonwood. I can’t remember what he called it, but am quite sure it was not gumbo-limbo. Roger also took us on another tour of the Cay in his golf cart. We thanked him profusely as well for his kindness to us, as well.
As we have found in our travels so far, it is the people you meet who make the cruising life wonderful and rich. We met some fascinating and genuinely generous, welcoming people on Guana Cay. We felt incredibly lucky to have encountered all of them.
Photos and videos from our trip down to the Abacos.
Here are a few shots of Sophia from our initial journey down to the Bahamas. For a description of some exciting times during that passage, check out “The Passage.” If you’re interested in checking out the boat down below, go to “Sophia Down Below.”
Here’s a video I shot on the second day of the passage:
Travis, Skipper of Seahorse, and Ryan, Skipper of Sophia, conferring about the next destination.
Ryan read my description of our passage–my first, his sixth or seventh–and said I way over exaggerated the drama. “But I told a good story!” I protested. Here is what he has to say about it:
There is nothing about this boat that is poorly maintained or ill-equipped. Things do happen when out sailing — even to well found vessels. Anyone who thinks otherwise is not realistic. This was one of the best passages I have ever done. The weather was mostly good and we sailed practically the whole thing on one tack. It got a little windy at times but the boat handled it beautifully. It was a great passage.
How do you sail a five-day passage 300 miles off the coast in the Atlantic ocean? It’s not for the faint of heart. Here’s how the instrument panel recorded our journey:
It really wasn’t that bad. We had good weather, and Sophia sails herself, practically, she is so well-balanced. When going to windward, even in 25 knot winds, you can simply set the wheel where you want it, and it will not move. The boat rounds up miraculously and keeps herself on course. Naturally, the winds clock around and you have to be vigilant. And going downwind, it’s best to put the boat on autopilot, our lovely friend, which steers much more efficiently than a human.
That lovely friend failed after two days at sea, along with all of our other electronics, including the VHF and SSB radios. For a few agonizing hours, we couldn’t hail our beautiful buddy boat, Seahorse (A Bruce Roberts 43) , or anyone else for that matter.
We were sailing in the Sargasso Sea, and Seahorse had galloped about five miles ahead during the second night. Larger and heavier than Sophia, she easily made 9 knots, while we had to reef in our sails and keep to a safer, slower speed, about 6, under those conditions.
After our friends lost sight of our mast light, they took down some sails and waited for us, but we didn’t know it, since all of our communications systems were down.
I was on watch while Ryan dozed below, and waves kept breaking across the bow.It was exhilarating, yes. There is something incredibly awe-inspiring about being the only person awake on a vessel so far out to sea, where you are not just under, but quite obviously within, the bright tapestry of the Milky Way above, and there is no way to discern the line where the stars begin at the edge of the sea.I basked in the hugeness and beauty of the universe, and felt intensely alive.
But I have to admit that I also registered a steady and palpable current of sheer terror.That night when the radios failed and the sea roared up and over the dodger and poured straight down into the galley, I decided it was time to wake Ryan.“I think we might need to reef some sails,” I said. “And you might want to put your foul weather gear on, since it’s pretty wet out here.” Not exactly to my relief, he agreed immediately that it was time to reef, and helped me to do it. In my sleep-deprived frenzy I steered up straight into irons, and we ended up having to tack out of it and sail in the opposite direction until we got going fast enough to tack back on course. We lost about an hour, I guess. Ryan stayed up with me until we both settled down and Sophia regained a safe speed on autopilot. Then he returned to bed.
Did I mention we rigged up a lee-cloth on the starboard settee for sleeping while passaging? It got quite stuffy down there after four days at sea, but it was still incredibly comfortable to be in it. The boat rocks back and forth like a cradle, and you feel wonderfully warm and secure and happy, even if the winds are screaming above. That is where Ryan went.
I hunkered down again under the dodger (so named because you crouch there, dodging waves? I wondered) and attempted to quiet my mind by reading. I set a timer on my watch to alert me at 13 minute intervals, when I got up, stretched, checked the instrument panels, peered out into the night in all four directions, and curled up again. We still hadn’t made contact with Seahorse, and there was nothing to do but sail on. The instruments were still working, and we had an Automatic Identification System that also functioned, and an operating bilge pump. It had failed, frighteningly, along with the manual backup, earlier in the journey, but Ryan fixed it. I watched the dawn unfold across the sea and sky, and welcomed the sun. When Ryan awoke again we made coffee and soon spotted Seahorse, a tiny stick against the horizon. We motor-sailed until we caught up to them, and then put our heads together about the problem, which turned out to be electric.
We had run our batteries down too far, and they were not charging, even with the motor on. The Honda 2000 came to our rescue. Ryan hauled it up to the foredeck, plugged it in, and slowly but surely the house batteries began to fill up again. After they got high enough to hold a charge, the VHF and SSB radio came back on again. Of course the latter blew up again, after we made land, but that’s another story, and not as interesting.
Faithful Seahorse stayed closer to us for the rest of the journey.