Friday, December 5, 2014

Galliot Cut to Georgetown

The moon was setting in the west over Little Galliot Cay when the alarm went off at 4:30 on Thursday morning. It was a dull orange as it sank out of sight leaving the last bit of night very dark. We had moved here, to anchor in the lee of Galliot Cay, the night before in preparation for a run down the Exuma Sound to reach Georgetown.  That means leaving the protected side of the Bahamas Bank and going out through a ‘cut’  - an inlet / outlet between the shallow banks and the deep sound. Practically every cut along this stretch of the Exumas is labeled on the charts with a warning. Something like, ‘Strong currents, often rips on ebb tides, use caution in strong east or north winds and swell, breaking waves.’ And, the previous week was all strong winds from the northeast so the seas were not likely to have settled down much. All just very encouraging.

We checked and re-checked our multiple weather sources and most of them finally seemed to come to agreement. We should see winds of 15 – 18 knots gusting to 23 with waves around 7 feet becoming 8 – 9 feet as the day went on. We are either getting braver or dumber because we decided to go.  Mostly, we were tired of waiting around and it looked like a good – not great – window on Thursday. 

Dinghy on deck
In preparation for the trip, we hoisted our dinghy and strapped it to the deck up in front of the mast. This is much safer out in the big water instead of having it hanging off the davits at the stern. 

We also rigged our storm trysail. It is a smaller, very strong sail that you use instead of the mainsail in high winds, just in case the more pessimistic weather resources (the ones we ignored) turned out to be right in their prediction of higher winds and waves. The trysail has its own track mounted on the mast beside the normal mainsail track so either can be available depending on conditions. We assumed that this would be overkill and did not expect to need it. But, it never hurts to be prepared. On Wednesday, we sailed from our anchorage north of Farmers Cay down to this spot near Galliot cut (in 18 – 23 knots of wind, with the trysail, for practice) in order to stage for an early morning exit at slack tide when the current should be at its least.

Galliot Cut. We were anchored - well - pretty much
on the little anchor shown on the chart. The cut is at
the bottom right. It looks friendlier on paper.
Galliot Cut does have some current. We dropped anchor about noon on Wednesday so we could watch a tide cycle. From our sheltered spot behind the island, we could see the current rolling in the inlet. And, we could tell when it was going slack. Therefore, we thought, in the morning we can get up before sunrise, raise the anchor, motor out into the channel, watch until the current went slack, and leave. Simple.

Neither of us slept very well. The current this close to the cut moved SeaClearly around on her anchor. Sometimes, the current overcame the wind and we sat sideways. I was nervous about dragging the anchor even though we had a ridiculous amount of chain out.  Junie had her own nervousness that kept her awake. But, the night passed and we were soon waking up to the alarm and the setting moon.

Junie had made blueberry muffins the previous night so we had those with, what I believe to be, the last of the Starbucks Frappuccino that we save for passage days. We shift into departure mode. Engine on at 5:00 am. Instruments on. iPads on. AIS on. Execute ‘Ready for Sea’ checklist - a full page and a half of stuff. Anchor light off. Nav lights on – not that there is anyone around to see them. We are all by ourselves. The sky starts to brighten a little in anticipation of the sunrise.  Junie heads to the bow, in the dark, with her cool headlamp on to wind up the anchor. Anchor up at 6:02 am.
We spun around to deeper water and motored toward the channel through the cut. 

Now you get your first view of your path. The ocean is restless. There are breakers on both sides of the quarter-mile wide cut – some crashing against the reefs and rocks, others rolling right down the center as 4 foot swells. The good news is that the current seems to be at slack. The bad news is that this is probably as good as it is going to get.  We do the ‘Are you good?’, ‘I’m good. Are you good?’ confirmation of agreement to go and crank up SeaClearly for running the cut.

The swells get deeper and SeaClearly rides up and glides down. She is a big girl and the weight helps the ride. In the center of the cut, the waves get confused. They slap at you from different directions and the currents tug at you.  The ocean rises from depths of several thousand feet to about 20 feet deep so it really compresses as it approaches the coast. The swell gets steeper and steeper as you go out. Some of the swells grow into breaking waves at your bow, or beside you, or sideways, or across the stern. I add some more power to overcome the feeling that the rocks on the left are closer than before. Then Junie says, ‘Thank you June Bug’.

June Bug.She taught us a lot about the ocean.
Jeffrey riding shotgun on a calm day in the canal.
It takes a moment to register. Then I catch the meaning and the significance. We have been here before. June Bug is our Grady-White fishing boat. Our first boat. We took that little boat out through the infamous, nasty Oregon Inlet back home in the Outer Banks many times. She was our education in running inlets. We knew what we were in for today because of her. We knew that we had a few hundred yards to go and we would be out in the ocean, away from the tumultuous cut. We just needed to keep tracking, pay attention to the currents, watch out for sneaky waves and we would soon be out. And, soon we were.

We got exactly the weather and seas that we expected. Which is to say that it was an interesting ride. SeaClearly loves this stuff. We did not do a lot of climbing down into the cabin during the trip due to the constant motion which makes it unappealing and, sometimes, dangerous to be walking around. It is gorgeous trip down the coast. The waves crashing against the rock of the islands is breath-taking. Although you are sailing along in 800 feet of water, you are not very far from the shore so the view is spectacular. Looking back at Galliot Cut from a distance, it appears fairly serene. We know it isn’t. And, as the tide begins to flow out, it will be much worse than we saw.

Wave pictures never tell the story so I'll just
give you a pretty one instead.
You fall into a rhythm once you get your direction set and the sails trimmed out. There is not much to do since it is only a 6 hour trip on, basically, a straight line. The ocean is entertaining with 6 – 8 foot waves with the
occasional 10 foot – on top of an underlying swell of about 4 feet. So it is like a big undulating surface with waves added on top. Sometimes, the waves appear huge because you are at the bottom of a swell and the bottom of a wave trough at the same time looking up 10 – 12 feet. Then they roll under you and you sail on.

Of course, the ocean has its own sense of humor, too. Once in a while it will toss a wave at you just to see you startled when you are suddenly soaking wet. Or, as in Junie’s case when she turned her back to the wave as it broke towards the cockpit, have it hit you square between the shoulder blades and knock the wind out of you. Never take the ocean lightly. And, apparently, never turn your back on it.

Anchored in Elizabeth Harbor near the monument.
The passage went smoothly and we arrived at Conch Cay Cut, just north of Georgetown, 6 hours later and near slack tide as planned. This cut, however, is wider, has much less current and no drama. We sailed into Elizabeth Harbor gracefully and worked our way into the inner anchorages. Eventually, we dropped the anchor near the hill with the stone monument (don’t ask me what the monument is for, I have no idea). 

More beautiful Bahamas scenery, more new colors of blue and – a town! We have not seen a town with more than about 8 cars for over a month. We needed to hoist the dinghy off of the deck, get it in the water, get the motor on and fix the gas line but we were already headed the mile across the water towards town by 2:30 pm. 

View to the left. Not bad.

This is a milestone for us. Georgetown is a sailing mecca in the Bahamas and a real cruiser destination. We have read about this place for years. It is also our last stop in the Exumas.

Our next stop is not definite yet but may be Long Island - or, maybe, not even be in the Bahamas. Tales from Georgetown next time!


  1. Duane, do you have pictures of your trysail when it is set? The dedicated trysail track on Curlew doesn't run all the way down to the deck (the mast winch pads are in the way), and I don't see how I can prepare and stow a trysail on deck so that it is ready to hoist when you need it.

  2. Thierry, we will take a few pictures today. We will probably be taking the trysail off today as it looks like we have collapsing wind down here. We may be motoring to the T & Cs.