18 January 2022: First Bahamian Sail
18 January 2022
West End, Grand Bahama, Bahamas
Lucaya, Grand Bahama, Bahamas
Cumulative Mileage (NM)
Crew on Board
Skipper, first mate, chef, entertainment and more; I guess that is solo sailing for you!
GENERAL WEATHER OBSERVATIONS
12 knots, perfect sea state
Not a cloud in sight!
Quintessential Bahamas winter: sunny and warm with a refreshing breeze
Dry, thank goodness!
Despite the last three days waiting out stormy weather at an expensive (to me) marina, the decision to cross was the right one. The looming US visa timing was no longer a weight in the back of my mind and I felt like I got most of what I needed to organise before leaving the continental United States in terms of preparation for projects. The weather window I took was ideal and the timing of arriving early in the day to allow for problems – which did occur – still enabled me to get into port before sundown.
(Self pat on the back!)
Other than the cost of a marina due to lack of anchoring options nearby the customs check in, I had no problem with sitting tight for three days of bad weather. Most people would make the most of paying for a marina by using the facilities (i.e. hot showers, swimming in the pool and enjoying being tied to land to go for a walk whenever the mood strikes without the logistics of dinghying to shore). I, however, slept – shamelessly – for at least 12 hours a day or more.
From the moment I bought the boat two and half months prior, I had been running on caffeine and adrenaline, so the crash was always going to come. A constant balancing act of visa timing, boat projects, learning to sail, avoiding winter, getting south, etc. The thought of staying put in West Palm Beach to finalise provisioning seemed like the luxury stop I was striving to get to, and I thought that would help me to reset. As it turns out, though I was stationary for three weeks, I was busier than ever: ordering supplies, provisioning for the Caribbean, hardware store trips, project planning and changing my rigging. Not to mention the temptations of a social life with other cruisers and new land-based friends and the festivities of Christmas, New Years and my birthday happening during this time.
And so a crossing followed by bad weather was the perfect reset for the pending adrenaline crash. The peak highlight of my Bahamas arrival was sleeping. I stayed put and I did nothing!
Probably not a typical Bahamian highlight.
The time had come to leave the marina and my plans were different to everyone else in the marina I had met so far (despite hibernation I met a bunch of cruisers from my neighbours in the next two slips to the day two covid tests which were a real social occasion as we all crossed on the same day and needed to coordinate tests at the same time). My plans to sail southeast to the Berry Islands consisted first of a short 30 nautical mile sail so my departure could be a bit later in the day. Every other person I met at the marina with more miles to make to the northeast on the way to the Abacos would have to depart bright and early. When I poked my head out of the companionway hatch at 9am to prep for departure, the marina was an absolute ghost town. There was not a soul or boat in sight, staff or cruiser. It was almost spooky.
I realised that this later departure was not my best move as I started to evaluate the options for a single-handed sailor getting out of the slip with the current wind conditions. The wind was pushing me sideways off the dock into the next slip, so, as soon as lines were released, I would immediately have an issue laterally. And goodness knows how the tango with the wooden piling separating the two slips just off my transom would turn out – especially if the dinghy – which I planned to tow that day – got involved in that little dance as well (my imagination was picturing the dinghy wrapped around the wrong side of the piling as I sandwich myself in with the stiff breeze making it impossible to correct this error as it pushed me onto the piling and dinghy at a level stronger than my biceps could counter).
To date, docking and undocking solo has been a non-issue. Maybe a little strenuous leaving the marina slip where I bought the boat (tall pilings are the enemy with a dinghy on davits in my opinion). Generally, going against current (or wind, if no current) to maintain control and not get in a runaway situation and taking it obnoxiously slow even then – thanks Ed for that tip – means that any issues that might arise have milder consequences than making a mistake at speed.
I also have survived the learning curve of solo sailing in every aspect, including docking, with extreme levels of visualization and imagination. Trying to determine beforehand everything that would go wrong and then altering my plans to compensate before taking any action.
So I was not in a rush to get off this dock, instead I plopped myself down and started talking to myself like an absolute nutter (i.e. “if that take that line off first because it is slack, the boat likely will not move. This line has the tension but cannot be the last line I untie as I would have to run to the bow to untie it. Would the boat be in gear or in neutral when I make that run? Maybe I could attach it some clever way…”).
I decided to tie the dinghy to the bow temporarily so that it would not interfere in the difficult part of getting my transom backed out past the piling. By the time the dinghy would come into play, I would be able to be in gear and at the helm and pointed into the wind and make more controlled movements. Taking one complication out of phase one of the reversing out of slip – where there were already plenty of things to worry about – and moving it to phase two which was expected to be the easy bit. A major component of my solo sailing strategy is to spread out of the difficulties so they are manageable by one person, avoid having all difficulties hit at the same time.
In retrospect, I cannot remember how I did the lines. It was a complex web of various lines that I could undo in stages while walking the boat back with a hop onto a boat once it was halfway out of the slip. Throw in the fact that I decided the best thing to do was to be at the lowest possible idle in reverse (without me on the boat) while I walked it back because the opposing current was strong enough that really the boat was not moving, it would just be easier for me to push. With the boat in gear in reverse and the propeller coming slightly out to the port side this would facilitate a little bit of helpful steering before I could be at the helm properly steering. That is probably all sounding very dramatic, but just know – it went GREAT! Zero issues, visualization wins again.
I navigated out of the marina with the dinghy trailing off the bow and about six lines sitting in a heap on the bow. Remants of the spiders web slowly released one at a time as I walked the boat backwards out of the slip. As soon as I was past the entrance to the marina and in deeper water, maybe only a few hundred feet out, I reduced speed to a low idle and turned on the autopilot with a heading out to sea and away from land so that I could set about bringing the dinghy back for a proper tow on the bridle behind the boat. That went smoothly, however, I should really have attended to the lines on the bow first. After securing the dinghy I had a small heart attack seeing that a couple of lines had started trailing in the water, so I immediately put the engine in neutral. I guess it was a lucky break that none got tangled in the prop and I immediately pulled them up and grabbed the entire bundle of lines from the bow and threw them in the cockpit where they could not cause any more worries.
I put the boat back in gear idling low, turned to point into the wind, raised the mainsail and was ready to be on my way.
Based on the last time I left West End to sail to Lucaya in 2018, I had this vision in my minds eye of what a first Bahamian sail would be like (photo of that special day from 2018). Back then, we were ready to quit before crossing to the Bahamas. The budget was low, we just finished resewing the old sails (again), we had dragged anchor, had a leaky boat, dealt with engine dramas and more. I thought sailing
was not for me, I thought we had bitten off more than we could chew and the idea was tossed around about giving up and selling the boat. But cruising friends and supportive family convinced us to keep going. And they were right, who would have known that 50 nautical miles over the Gulf Stream was a much more manageable kind of sailing. The kind you picture when you buy the boat: island hopping in blue water with a light breeze and sunny skies.
And this first sail of round two, was no different.
It was a perfect day. Shorts and a tank top, full mainsail and full jib flying, sunglasses on with the polarized lenses emphasizing the beautiful place I had made it to.
After so much noisy motoring through the intracoastal waterway and fighting the cold with many layers of clothing, this day (and my fresh out of hibernation energy) left me feeling fully rejuvenated. Reminding myself that sailboats move in the quiet, with the wind instead of the hum of a motor, and that in proper sailing grounds and seasons the engine is able to be turned off much more than it is on. Not to mention, personally, my mood can be directly correlated to my vitamin D levels so a little bit of time in the Bahamian sun during this perfect sail was the icing on the cake.
I have been feeling lately that from the moment the last boat was sold in Grenada that every decision and experience in my life was a slow, accidental or subconscious steppingstone to solo sailing. I did not know I wanted to sail alone for the past two years but the actions that I took progessively prepared me (against my knowledge) to consider tackling that challenge until the point where solo became a conscious decision only a few short months ago. And even since I bought my boat, every experience both positive and frustrating seemed to be designed to slowly upskill me and ready me for the next thing coming my way.
Just like last time, this first Bahamian sail really signified that I was where I should be in life and doing what I should be doing.
Do you believe in fate?
“I knew it like destiny, and at the same time,
I knew it as choice.”
– Jeanette Winterson