Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Course Correction

One of the lessons we have learned over the last few years traveling on SeaClearly is - if you have any questions about your chosen path, change your path. Our track on the 'Where are we now' link tells our story. We are back in Florida after less than 30 days in the Abacos.

It seemed like many aspects of our trip were conspiring against us. We were having a good time. We were enjoying the travels and the sailing. But, the weather was problematic. We had about 2 days of good weather followed by 5 days of bad. Every week. Ever since we started south from Charleston. We were constantly looking for the next good anchorage to hide from the next round of bad weather. Consequently, the 2 days of good weather each week were spent running to a place to hide.

We kept thinking that, once we got to the Bahamas, things would improve. The weather did not improve. The places to hide from the weather did not improve. The Abacos exhibit a different environment from the southern Bahamas in both weather and attitude - and neither suited us very well. It was too cold for snorkeling (for us, at least). We were spending far too much time in marinas because they had the best protection from the, supposedly, uncommonly bad weather fronts.

So, after only a couple of weeks, we were ready to move on. The question was, where? Should we go through the Abacos and south to Eleuthera as planned? Stay the course and, eventually, make it back to the Exumas? Or do something else entirely? In the end, 'something else' won. We turned ourselves around and headed back toward the USA.

The beach at Grabber's, Fiss=her's Bay, Abacos
We spent our last few days in the Bahamas with friends Bo and Joyce visiting some cool spots - Grabber's at Fisher's Bay and Nipper's on Great Guana Cay. We met up with fellow Cabo Rico 42 owners and friends Jim and Wendy on 'Patty Jean' also in Fishers Bay. Then, we made the passage back west through Whale Cay Cut to begin the journey home. Or somewhere in the US, anyway.

Two beautiful Cabo Rico 42's - SeaClearly, Patty Jean - at
Fisher's Bay


Famous Nipper's Beach Bar - Great Guana Cay, Abacos

Oceanside near Nipper's

Junie and Tilly relaxing in the shade by the beach

Powell Cay

There were dozens of starfish in the shallows
just east of our anchorage at Powell.

Our intention was to take our time, visit a few nice spots along the way and wait for a good window to cross the Gulf Stream back to Florida. However, common sense and reason were totally overwhelmed by the desire to move on to the next thing. Albeit, we had no clear idea what the next thing  might be yet.

Against the advice of our weather guru and despite some obvious signs that we were making a poor decision, we made a fast move from a very nice anchorage at Powell Cay all the way back to Great Sale Cay to stage for a crossing. Even after double checking the weather and finding that it was, still, a bad idea to leave on Friday morning, we left anyway.

We had a fabulous, if spirited, sail for the first 10 hours of our trip. We had reefed the mainsail (shortened it to about half of its full area) before we left Great Sale, subconsciously acknowledging that we were headed into bad weather even if we wouldn't admit it to ourselves. That, with just the staysail gave us a nice ride in the 20 - 25 knot winds from the south. Of course, that wind was predicted to switch to the southwest and then west - which would put the wind directly on our nose for the entire trip across the Gulf Stream. Then, it was predicted to veer to the northwest - directly on our nose as we turned toward  our chosen destination, Port Canaveral. How, you might ask, does that sound like a good plan?

If you have not grasped the gravity and stupidity of our decision yet, please stand by. It gets better. As we approached Mantanilla Shoal late in the afternoon, the winds were gusting to 28 knots. The tide was coming onto the Bahama Banks and drove the waves into steep 8 foot waves with crests on the top. SeaClearly rides this stuff pretty well but it became obvious that we were on the verge of a no-turning-back situation. We were now hours past any good anchorage on the Banks. The Gulf Stream was in front of us. And it was getting dark. Tilly was already nervous (clearly the only smart entity on the boat, at this point). We were still holding out hope that the weather would settle down as evening came.

That did not happen. We started the engine to give us a bit more control and motor-sailed into increasingly big waves that, relentlessly, moved more on our nose. By the time the sun went down, several things had become very clear. First, no one was going to be sleeping and certainly not in the cabin. Second, there would be no meals served in any class on this evening's flight. Third, Tilly was not going to get her evening trip to the fake grass on the bow to pee. Fourth, and most significant, we had made an error in judgement and were going to pay the price.

We did our best to secure the boat. We dropped the mainsail entirely and reefed the staysail enough to keep it from harmonically beating itself to death in the high winds. The only purpose it served, at this point, was to provide some stability as we rolled, pounded into, and cyclically fell off of, steep 10 foot waves. We actually had one wave break over - yes, over - the top of the full enclosure of the cockpit. And, we were just reaching the Gulf Stream.

SeaClearly is an amazing vessel. We never felt scared but we felt bad. We felt bad that we were putting our poor puppy through this maelstrom. We felt bad that SeaClearly was under such stress. All because we made a hasty, poor decision based on irrational optimism rooted in a desire to wrap up our trip early and head home. It sucks being responsible.

This same wave action and wind went on for the next 16 hours. It was a very long night. We contacted multiple large ships to make sure they knew we were there. We talked to a Disney cruise ship whose female captain (perhaps understanding what we were going through) wished us a safe passage through the night. More than once we agreed that this had been a bad idea.

Tilly could not find a comfortable spot. Of course, being comfortable in a lifejacket and tether is never easy but it is especially hard with the boat pitching and rolling incessantly. She finally ended up on the cockpit floor looking just pitiful. At one point, as she tried to move around the cockpit, she accidentally (or not) stepped on the iPad and triggered the SOS on our InReach satellite tracking app. Junie had to cancel the call. Once again, perhaps Tilly is smarter than us.

This is the screen that Tilly would have
quickly confirmed if Junie had not intervened.

So, now, it has become April 1st. April Fool's Day. The dog has tried to call for help. Even the Disney ship 'Fantasy' has wished us luck. How much more confirmation do you need that you have chosen poorly?

None of us slept for more than a few minutes all night long. Even if you could wedge yourself into a corner of the cockpit, after a few minutes the anti-syncopation of the boat and the waves would jar you awake. Saltwater was everywhere. SeaClearly is a stable boat in heavy seas but she is not a 'dry' boat. She ships water over the rails and it cascades down the sides and around behind the cockpit. We stay dry but we are surrounded by seawater many times. During the night, we managed to save two large Flying Fish that had ended up on the boat right outside our cockpit. We could just reach out and pick them up to toss them back into the sea. We hoped that would buy us some good karma with the sea gods.

As morning came, we started to see a little lessening of the wind. By 8:00 am, it finally got under 20 knots for the first time in the entire trip. Junie and I both managed a quick nap in the cockpit - not at the same time. Tilly passed out from exhaustion. About 10:00 am, we slowed SeaClearly to a crawl and I took Tilly to the bow. Still in 4 - 5 foot waves that caused the bow to rise and fall sharply, she could finally, after many hours, pee.

The calm that we had anticipated would happen sometime around midnight was finally delivered on the last leg of our trip as we approached Port Canaveral in the afternoon on Saturday. We motored into Cape Marina a beaten and salt-encrusted boat and crew. Once again, our fine ship had saved us from our poor choices and delivered us safely to port.

We parked at the fuel dock and Junie called into US Customs and Immigration. Our pre-filed Float Plan with the Small Vessel Reporting System (SVRS) allows us to check back into the US via telephone. By 4:00 pm, we were officially back in the USA. Alive and well.

So, now what? In a total Course Correction, we are parked here for a week. We are one hour from Orlando. Believe it or not, we are going to Disney World.

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