Friday, July 24, 2009

Amazon Adventure # 35. Crossing the Grand Bahama Bank.

A tense time approaching Gun Cay.

Usually we have always made long crossings at night so that we would have the dawn`s light and a full day ahead to deal with a landfall and it`s possible problems. This was especially important in the Bahamas where navigational aids were often either not supplied or broken. For this long passage however, I argued we needed to see the widely spaced markers along the route by daylight and that at the end of the day there would be a major lighthouse visible for many miles right at the place we wanted to anchor. Just sail all day, finding the occasional markers along the way and when it got dark we would simply head for the big flashing light, zip through an easy cut between two islands and anchor in the sheltered lee. We should have known that ‘simply’ was a warning word to think again. That light too was out.

           Passing a marker on the Grand Bahama Bank.

The journal:
Feb 19th.
Woke up in the night with Heather re-lighting the mosquito coil ( no-see-ums). Then later, to someone singing a little crooning song to accompany the sound of bailing. Our Bahamian friends in the lovely old sloop next door. It had been flat calm all night and the met. office predicted NE 15 knots, so off we went at 8am with full sail plus washing and bedding drying. Two other boats, Scamp and Nomad, left at the same time. Wind light, under power as well, headed for the first buoy 14 miles away.

We hoped to make most of the 75 miles before dark and increased speed with a light beam wind and Honda assist. We passed Russell beacon and passed ‘Karma’ ( last seen in Spanish Wells) and chatted on VHF. The breeze picked up as daylight faded. Amazon was now surfing on following seas. Still no land. We could faintly pick out Bimini radio tower off our starboard bow. A beautiful sunset. We expected to begin picking up the 10 second flash of the Gun Cay light but no luck!

We started seeing lights all over the horizon before us. We identified Ocean Cay and Bimini Town lights and could see the loom of Miami`s lights over the horizon. Still no flashing beacon light. Karma called and said we were north of track so we altered course farther south and rapidly found ourselves in rising wind and waves with no idea where we were. A wave broke and splashed me. The wave pattern felt very shallow so we turned and reversed course and motored back into the choppy sea. Heather nursed the throttle as we bucked slowly forward while I steered. We remembered now why we had always tried to arrive in daylight. Things at night were so disorienting with many lights and no sense of distance off.

We saw a masthead light and contacted Karma who flashed his light to confirm it was him and we turned again and followed Karma towards the screen of lights ahead.

We headed for some bright lights ( It turned out the Gun Cay light was lit, sort of, but not flashing, so it blended with other shore lights) intending to follow Karma through the cut but he called to say it was very rough in the pass so we swung around and anchored beside ‘Scamp’ who put on his spreader lights so we could orient ourselves in the darkness. Two anchors out in the strong wind. No shelter or tent tonight so Heather set up the propane stove in the shelter of the galley boxes and made crinkle soup and soda bread. Then it was time to put out the bedding amid boat bounces and the whine of wind in the rigging. I fell asleep watching the stars and woke at 5am. Slept like a log!

We talked to Scamp this morning and he says there is a small craft advisory for crossing the strait to Florida so we agreed it is not crossing weather and moved through the cut to the sheltered side. Everything looks ridiculously easy by daylight.

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