Saturday, January 25, 2014

Bumpy ride to Lucaya

We left Chub Cay on Sunday, on short notice, after deciding to sail overnight to Port Lucaya, Grand Bahama. We wanted to make some progress north and the timing was such that this overnighter seemed to be a really good option. We needed to go out of Chub Cay and then slightly northwest for a few hours, through the Northwest Channel, before turning almost directly north. This would take us up the east side of the Berry Islands. The wind was in our face as we left but promised to lessen and, when we turned, should give us some easy sailing through the dark hours. The plan, therefore, was to motor until we got past the channel.

Chub Cay to Port Lucaya - 86 nautical miles.
Drop-offs clearly visible. And, again, the water color
differentiation is pretty accurate.
The Northwest Channel, which we also came through on our way south, transitions from the deep water of the Tongue of the Ocean onto the Great Bahama Bank – so, once again, we go from thousands of feet of water to 15 in a very short distance. This day’s passage was uneventful except for the number of boats we saw. It had, clearly, been a good day to leave Florida and come to the Bahamas. There were probably 15 or 20 boats coming our way, several actually still flying their quarantine flags indicating that they had not yet stopped to check in to the Bahamas. It is likely that all of these boats crossed the Gulf Stream, bypassed Bimini, and were arriving at the channel at sunset as we were coming from the other direction. It appeared that they had a long, but pleasant, trip and good weather window. We went through the channel as the sun set beautifully in front of us and then took a right. We already had sails up to take advantage of what wind we could as we motored. Now we could actually sail.

For a while.  We shut down the motor and, with the genny and main, glided along quietly – slower, slower, slower. The wind dropped as expected but maybe a little further than expected. We didn't want to go all that fast because of the timing for our arrival. If we went faster than 5 ½ knots, we would get there in the dark. This is not usually very helpful. However, the 2 ½ knots we were making wouldn't get us there for a long time. After about an hour, we lit up the motor and, just above idle, we could make 4 knots. It was a clear, dark, starry night. The red and green running lights on the bow were bright enough to see the bottom through the clear water.

At some point in the night, when Junie went down to catch some sleep, I was still motoring along quietly and the wind bumped up a little. Over the course of the next three hours, the wind increased by degrees. I backed off, and finally shut down, the engine. We had 6, then 8, then 10 knots of wind. First in a close reach, then a beam reach as it swung through north and northwest as predicted. We were sailing along nicely! Eventually, the wind clocked all the way around to the southwest and we were downwind sailing.
Here, I have to stop and review a ‘SeaClearly practice’ that we have. We decided, early on, that we would not go into a night sail with any more than a staysail and reefed main. That way, you don’t get caught with too much sail in the dark. This particular evening, you remember, we only had 2 – 3 knots of wind and the prediction was for under 10 all night. You can probably guess the next turn in this story. 

As I sailed on, the wind slowly, insidiously, moved higher just slow enough to lull me into complacency. Oh, sure, it went up to 12 knots for a minute but it went right back down to 10. Then up to 15, but only briefly. So it went for two hours. At about 2:00 am, when the wind touched 22 knots and the waves were starting to push us from behind, it dawned on me that I had been caught. I was going to have to go wake up Junie and get rid of some sails before it got worse. We were already beyond the wind strength the forecast called for. Now, all bets were off and we didn't know how much weather we were going to get. Junie came out of the cabin just about then and, of course, immediately made the observation, 'Wow, it got windy!’ 

This is a screenshot of the AIS showing
the ships in Freeport as we were approaching
Lucaya (just to the east). Many of these ships
  had crossed our path during the night.
Yes, it did. And, almost predictably, this was the time when the genny furler jammed and we could only get it 2/3 of the way furled. Given that, and the now 24 knot winds and 4 foot following seas, we dropped the main entirely. Now, none of this is easy in the dark and wind and bouncing up and down. Coming up into the wind to take the stress off the sails means pointing into the steep, now 5 foot, seas.  But, we got trimmed out and the, unintentionally, reefed headsail gave us all the speed we needed in the 25 knot winds and 6 foot seas. So much for the weather forecast.

Now, for the kicker.  We were, by this time, crossing the Northwest Providence Channel that separates the Berry Islands from Grand Bahama Island (not to be confused with the Northwest Channel we passed through earlier) . In fact, we had been in the channel already when this episode began. This is a huge section of ocean with Freeport on the other side on Grand Bahama. Freeport, we have learned, takes advantage of the very deep water that stays deep right up to the coast. It is s a major transshipment hub for international traffic. If you want an education in shipping and logistics, go look that up some time. As a result, it is a major thoroughfare for cargo ships, tankers, tramp steamers – oh, and cruise ships. Earlier in the night, before the wind kicked up, I had no less than 10 large ships – 4 going left, 6 going right – crossing our path. Well, I guess technically, we were crossing theirs. I felt like I was playing ‘Frogger’ and we were the frog. The AIS kept us painfully aware of where they were going to hit us so we could try not to be there. This level of activity went on all night. While we were fighting the sails, waves and wind.
If Monet painted grey seas...

Sunrise showed us some waves. Believe
me, bigger than they look.
The wind continued to do us no favors and now backed around to the west. Nice. Now we have steep, 6 – 8 foot waves on our beam. We rolled back and forth. Not violently but a lot. Somehow, Roux had found a comfortable spot in his stern bed and wedged himself in. He never complained. We just kept riding towards our destination. The sun came up and we could now see the waves we were dealing with. As is often the case, it doesn’t help. It may be worse. The waves that give you the worst motion are not always that ones that look like they will. And vice versa. It just messes with your nerves.

By the time we were approaching Port Lucaya, we were ready to be done with this trip. The early sailing was great, the night was unbelievably pretty. Even the ships were interesting. The waves, not so much. We made it into Port Lucaya with no problems and got fueled and docked. Port Lucaya is, by far, the most commercial location we have stopped. We didn’t know exactly what to expect. 

It turns out that, although the cruise ships actually dock miles from here in Freeport, they bring busloads of people here from the cruise ships for shore excursions – snorkeling, dolphin watches, etc . There is a little touristy village with the typical T-shirt shops, local arts and crafts, restaurants. Not our normal stop. But, good for a couple of days. And, right at the end of our dock – a Pizza Hut!

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