Sailing east

Sailing east

For almost a week the north winds howled. When the wind blows at 30 knots it seems to follow you everywhere, whipping at your clothes and hair. Wind like that gets in your head; you have to turn the volume up a little higher than usual on the radio and raise your voice to be heard. Gabe told us about friends of theirs who live in the Aleutian Islands in Alaska, where 50-knot winds are a daily occurrence. They have to attach their toddlers to a harness when ascending the steps to their house or the wind will sweep them away.

Last Sunday, when the winds were at their coldest, we walked up to Resort World again. We pretended like we owned the place and we pretty much did. We found only a handful of other guests scattered about the facility. Most of them were hunkered down in the casino bar munching on burgers and fries.

We found the only hot tub on the premises, where we all hoped to unwind, but soon learned why it was empty: it felt like lukewarm bath water. Still, it was colder outside than in, so we stayed in as long as we could. Then we started our conch crawl back down the island.

On Tuesday the winds finally changed, and reduced to 20 knots. You could escape down below deck or go inland a block and not even hear it. I felt like someone had turned off a giant leaf blower in space. While for the past three nights the boat has bucked like a bronco, with winds so strong she was occasionally heeled over in the slip, last night we slept with the boat gently rocking.

Still, reports showed that the seas over the Bahama Banks, which we must cross to get anywhere further into the Bahamas, were 4 to 9 feet high. So while the wind was settling a bit, the waves were not. Plus, the winds were coming from the east – exactly the direction we want to go.

In mid-afternoon a family aboard a 25-foot boat that had been out in the anchorage with us a day or two before came in from the ocean. They pulled into the slip beside us and stepped out onto the dock. The dog was the only one that didn’t seem shell-shocked. Chris stopped to ask where they’d been and the woman told her that they’d attempted to head east toward the Berry Islands. (It’s worth nothing that of the handful of boats that have been waiting out the wind with us here, no one else has pulled up anchor.) The woman told her how, they had been tacking into the wind and making only one knot per hour! About twenty miles out, when the seas starting building to nine feet, they decided to turn back.

They took shelter in the marina beside us for a night, but the next day I watched them depart mid-day. As the winds are still coming from the east, I hope they headed back toward Florida. Nine-foot seas with two kids and a dog in a boat with poor rigging and flimsy looking sails is simply poor planning and bad judgment. As I wrote before, people far less prepared than us have fared far worse.

Still, after being in North Bimini for a week, we understood the itch. So after a day spent exploring South Bimini, an island just across the way from us, we decided to get a change of location and wait out the east winds in the lee there, in a place called Nixon Harbor. And finally today, after three nights there and several great days of snorkeling and a visit to the Shark Lab, we finally got our weather window. At 8:45 am we official departed for the Berry Islands with light winds from the southeast.

Right now we are heading north around North Rock at the tip of North Bimini, then we will head east following a channel that runs along the top of the Grand Bahama Bank. We plan to sail all night over the bank, which is rarely more than 20-feet deep, yet there will be hours during which we will not be able to see land in any direction. If all goes well we will emerge on the other side in roughly 16 hours and anchor at Great Harbor in the Berry Islands.