Our last anchorage before Nassau was nestled between two privately-owned cays, and although we knew we could not go ashore, we couldn’t have been more pleased as we pulled up and dropped anchor. The water was a dusty blue and, for a while, placid as a pond. Though we were hoping to have it to ourselves, and the books all said it was barely big enough for one boat, a catamaran had already tucked up tight in the gap to weather the winds predicted for the next day. We didn’t want to make them feel cramped, so we anchored further out between the islands where we were a bit more exposed. There was not much snorkeling to speak of, but we swam around in that crystal-clear 6-foot deep water, happy in our own little paradise. I found two conch – one we decided was underage and threw back and the other we made into conch ceviche.
When we left Great Harbour we knew we there would be no place to stock up on ice again until Nassau, so we calculatedly used up our cheeses and meats until there was no longer anything to keep cold. Then I cleaned out the icebox and, sadly, ended up throwing a large wheel of water-soaked Camembert overboard. As I did a two-foot remora popped its head out from under the boat and nabbed it. I called the rest of the crew to come look. Remoras are those fish that attach themselves to the underbellies of sharks and live off the stray bits. We could only imagine the size of the shark it gave up on in order to follow us. I went back inside and grabbed a bag of cardamom bun dough that never made it to the grill and we watched him leave the shadow of the boat a second time to snap it up.
As we sat in the cockpit, sunbathing and enjoying our view of paradise, someone started swimming over from the catamaran.
“Well there’s an extrovert,” said Chris.
He turned out to be from Alaska, so he and Chris and Gabe threw around a bunch of names of places where they knew people, or spent time. Then we all introduced ourselves. Vince, a former Air Force pilot, was also heading for Nassau, along with his father, aboard a 35-foot Seawind catamaran named Flight Plan (which is how we clued into the pilot thing). He invited us all to come over later for cocktails and to discuss the weather, routes and anchorages. From that day on you could say we became Flight Plan’s remora: we have rarely been further than a few miles away, and he has become our benefactor in more ways than one.
One of our guidebooks says, “Sometimes an overnight stay in the Berrys becomes unexpectedly extended while you wait out an easterly blow. That always produces a tumultuous sea between Chub and Nassau, owing to the convergence of currents from the Northeast and Northwest Providence Channels and from the Tongue of the Ocean.”
Almost as scripted, the wind picked up and howled all night long. When we woke it had settled down only to 20 knots. If we’d had time to kill, we might not have made the passage. Generally, we don’t like to see more than 20 knots on the high end, especially since the squall. If the predicted high end is 20, then gusts above that are always a possibility. And every book and every cruiser we’ve ever met has warned us that it’s these times, when you have to go, that you get into trouble.
But sail we must. Chris and Gabe had a flight out of Nassau the next day around noon and we had about 35 miles to make – a full day even at a clip. We left the anchorage that morning about 30 minutes before Flight Plan (though they arrived at least an hour earlier) and throughout the day we radioed back and forth, taking pictures of each other’s vessels and getting dockage info.
They were not the best conditions we’ve sailed in, but neither were they the worst. We gauged the seas to be about 4-6 feet on average, tall enough that Flight Plan’s hull regularly disappeared beneath the waves.
I was surprised to see Chris sitting white-knuckled beside the helm, and Gabe went below to lie down for most of the ride. With the wind at our back and two converging seas, steering was a challenge. If we weren’t trying to keep from heading dead downwind to avoid flogging the sails, we were fighting powerful following seas that pushed us first one direction and then another.
“I’m having fun,” I told Chris about a third of the way there, after which she relaxed a bit.
We’d had two days of easy motoring and one day of light sailing as we’d threaded our way through the Berrys and we hadn’t seen seas like this since our tumultuous entrance to Bimini on Day 2. It hit me yet again how this trip was way beyond sailing 101; this was boot camp. As we neared Nassau one or two nine-footers churned under us and when they came out on the other side, it was like staring down from the roof of a building. Chris and I looked at each other, wide-eyed.
I drove the boat into Nassau harbor, just as a massive mail boat plowed out from behind the break wall. Along the starboard side three gargantuan cruise ships were berthed. I had intended to dock the boat, too, but as I turned into the marina, I got flustered, unsure of which slip we were supposed to turn into and scared to death lest I have to back up. But just as I handed the wheel over to Greg I saw Flight Plan and Greg drove the boat in beside them, into the same double-wide slip and Vince and his dad stepped out to help with the lines. Little did we know as we prepared to say our good-byes to Chris and Gabe, we were simultaneously embarking on a new friendship.