Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Its an Adventure

It wasn't that the wind was all that strong or the waves all that big, it was that the timing of the waves was just perfectly wrong. Kintala's anchor roller would just touch the water before her bow pitched up the slope of the incoming wave, lifting anchor chain as it went. Moments later the leading edge of her keel kissed the night air then fell back toward the next wave, the anchor chain tugging the bow back into the trough . Sixty five feet worth of mast pitched forward and smashed to an ugly stop that shuddered through the rigging, a violent clash of opposing forces sparked by a seemingly harmless 15 knots of wind ... working with 419 miles of fetch.

That's how far it is from Mangrove Cay in the Bahamas due north to North Myrtle Beach, though the GRIB file suggest the wind was using only half of that distance, veering from out of the east to out of the north around Jacksonville.

All I know is that Mangrove Cay felt like the darkest, most remote, most uncomfortable place on earth. A prudent sailor would have pulled up the anchor and gotten out of dodge. Then again a prudent sailor would, a) have known better than to drop the hook there in the first place and, b) not been struggling to keep from blowing chunks out into the night and thus being in no shape to either pull up the anchor or move the boat in the pitch dark of the Little Bahamas Bank. The best I could do was fix and tighten every halyard we had (4), set and snug tight both running back stays, secure the inner forestay, and hope Kintala was tougher than I was stupid. Working out on the pitching deck made avoiding blowing chunks a bit easier. The pitching deck didn't help, but I was working hard enough to stay on the boat that it helped keep my mind off how bad I felt. On nights like that, one grabs every bit of good news one can find.

I was sure morning would never arrive but of course, after an eternity, it did. Out of the confines of a pitch black night I could function well enough to get the deck rigged and the anchor up and secured. Deb motored us north still teeth into the waves and wind, cleared the tip of the Cay, then fell off to the east, bow pointed to Great Sale Cay. The head sail spun out and filled, the sheet snapped tight, and just like that the world was a better place. What had been a bitter clash of forces turned into the joyful dance of a sailing vessel under way. Same wind, same waves, same bow pitching up and down, same water flying, and yet a completely different reality.

Hours of some of the best sailing I can ever remember ended as we dropped the hook in the protected waters of Great Sale Cay. Here we finally had the full immersion experience of what being a cruiser can mean. Only the barest hint of man-made light smudged the horizon, the stars and the Milky Way blazed in unfettered glory. Well protected from the winds Kintala rode easy to her anchor in glittering turquoise waters. We stayed an extra day and night, off the grid, our only company being a few other cruising boats that came and went. No one anchored close.

Though we did some boat chores during the day, evenings were quiet hours sitting in the cockpit, completely cocooned in the soft embrace of an utterly natural place. Perhaps it was inevitable that my thoughts would stray to the people I love most, all but one of whom are very far away. I wished I could share this place with them, lie on the deck and marvel at the heavens in their company, and hear their laughter echo across sparkling waters. As magical a place as it was, it was less so because their laughter was nowhere to be heard. The best I could do was store this place in my heart with the hope that, when I get to share my heart with them once again, they will get a hint of the magic that flows from places like this in the world.

Crab Cay was next, reached after a sailing day that saw Kintala gliding along under a full rig of jib, staysail, and main. Not as well protected as Great Sale Cay and somehow feeling even more remote, Crab Cay pinned the magic meter again. We shared the night with two other boats and departed early for a short sail to Green Turtle Cay. The winds were light giving us a chance to practice poling out the headsail and working the main as hard as we could to keep way on. Eventually the winds died altogether and we motored the last 7 miles. So dead was the wind that, working to find a sand patch in which to set the hook, we both completely forgot that the main was sill deployed overhead. I hope the crews on the other boats thought we were sailing onto the anchor, but I'm pretty sure they were just shaking their heads.

This morning we got the first hint of a weather forecast since leaving West End. Talk of an approaching cold front had Friend John, who has been our buddy boat since leaving Biscayne Bay, make for Marsh Harbor while the making was good. Kintala moved onto a dock at Donnie's Marina in Black Sound, adjacent to the settlement of New Plymouth. Here we will wait out the weather and experience some Island Life. A whole slew of cruiser boats have filtered in seeking shelter, and a lively little clan of wanderers formed at our end of the dock in all of about six hours.

New Plymouth is a place unlike any I have experienced, a tiny community packed close on a tiny spit of land that marks the south end of Green Turtle Cay. The houses are painted a pastel of different colors and the ocean embraces the place. The people seem to treat everyone as if we are all lifelong friends, greeting, laughing, telling stories ... it is like the whole town is one big neighborhood bar. For the next couple of days we are back on the grid and within walking distance of civilization. Somehow it is civilization that feels more civilized than the civilization we left back in the States, but experiencing the things we have experienced since leaving Miami is the reason we came this way at all.

Green Turtle Bay in the Abacos Islands ... it's an adventure.


Rharriscpa said...

So happy you made it and all went well. This is soo much better than the Florida west coast. This is what it's all about. Now you can explore and see the Bahamas. Enjoy Fairwinds and No Hurry Mon. no worry Mon.

S/V Veranda said...

This front should be a doozy. Sorry about your Mangrove Cay experience. We stopped there once for about 4 hours...

Pat and Joan said...

TJ what a wonderfully worded post. Your description was very thought provoking. We just finished closing on our boat so hopefully we will not be to far behind.

S/V Island Bound said...

TJ, Your comments about wishing you could share the experience tugged at my heart. As we are preparing to cruise full time this summer, this is one of the things that I know will be very challenging emotionally. Well written!