Date: 03 May 97 14:48:29 EDT
From: Gene Gruender <>
Subject: Rainbow Chaser Leaving Bahamas

April 24, 1997

We left Rum Cay on Friday morning, the 25th of April. The night before we had a cold front pass about 6:30 PM. We were expecting it and would have liked to leave just as soon as the wind shifted, but the night before we'd been rocked and battered all night by the pre-frontal storms, including lightning. Lightning scares the dickens out of me. There are precautions I can take for most things, but I can't think of a thing I can do about lightning.

Our plan was to head southeast past The Crooked Islands, Mayaguana, and turn southwest just north of the Turks and Caicos Islands on a shot between Cuba and Haiti. A run with the wind behind us to Jamaica would put us right into port. With the wind out of the north, we could easily go on our southeast heading. Our plan was to go the whole trip to Jamaica on one trip, from 3 to 4 days most likely, sailing around the clock.

When we got up at daylight we hoisted anchor and took off. We're still preserving whatever life is left in our transmission and drive train for emergencies, so it was sail up and get the anchor, turn, and sail out of the anchorage. The wind was still out of the northeast, so once we cleared the reefs and coral we could go nearly east and hope to get plenty of easting before the front died out and the wind shifted to its prevailing east to southeast.

By 9:30 the wind had made a 90 degree turn and was coming out of the southeast. Of course, we had to make the same turn, putting us on a course of almost due south. That not only wouldn't get us on the east of Crooked Island, it nearly wouldn't get us to the passage on the other side of the island. We had to sail as close to the wind as we could to stay enough east. Fortunately, Rainbow Chaser sails very well on that point of sail and the seas were very flat, so it was not uncomfortable, either.

Sometime in the morning my fishing line started screaming out. We had to heave the boat to get any line back in from the fish (heaving to means you turn the other way, putting the wind on the other side of the boat with out changing the sail position. This makes the boat go very slowly and quit rocking, allowing you to do things like get fish in!) A few minutes later I was trying to gaff a 47" Dorado, probably 35 lb. or so. I gaffed him once and he jumped and flailed, nearly pulling me and the gaff overboard. He got off the gaff and took off again. About 5 minutes later we went at it again. Eventually I got him on board and he ran everyone out of the cockpit with his flopping and jumping. Eventually he quit and I got to fillet him, although the whole cockpit was bloody from his thrashing.

Going the direction we had to go changed our entire plan for the trip, though. The original route left us lots of sea room between us and any shoals or islands. The route going down between Crooked Island and Long Island had area of shoals and a lot to look out for. In addition, the wind would pick up in a day and be 25 knots or so. If we could have left as soon as the front had passed and the wind had shifted, we could have taken the original route and it would have put us nearly to the point of turning southwest when the wind got high. 25 knots behind us made us go real fast. The new route had no such luck. We'd be pounding into the wind and waves and all that would do is make us wet and miserable and pound us badly. A new plan was in order.

A look at the charts showed we would reach the northern tip of Crooked Island about 9 PM. There was no harbor, but we'd be on the west side. With the wind from the east, even if it was blowing by then, we'd only have wind, not waves. We'd just get there, sail up near shore until it got to about 30 feet deep, then drop the anchor. When daylight would come the next morning we'd see what we were near.

There are no rocks or coral heads shown in that area, so I wasn't too concerned about hitting anything, especially if I stayed out in 30 feet of water. There are a couple complications, however. First, the charts in the area are pretty detailed, but going by the GPS can get you in trouble. The charts were drawn a hundred years ago, sometimes more, and GPS didn't exist then. Now that it does, the charts and GPS don't match. They are sometimes as much as a mile apart. In the daytime, it isn't too much of a problem - the GPS will get you in the area, then you can figure out by eyesight what corrections to make. It is probably apparent where the problem is at night. The second problem is, the sea goes from several thousand feet deep to 30 feet very quickly.

Just before dark, another Dorado hit the line. He was just a bit smaller, only 42" and about 20 to 25 lb., but when he got to the boat, I was able to gaff him the first time and flip him into the cockpit. He still had a lot of fight in him and Nellie learned why you try to beat the dickens out the fish as you land them. He cleared us out of the cockpit again, and really made a mess, much worse than the first fish.

There is a light at the end of the island, supposedly flashing every 15 seconds. I couldn't find it. It's apparent that the notes on the charts mentioning that all lights in the Bahamas are unreliable was there for a reason. The light was out.

We got to the point where we thought we should pull into shore about the same time we should talk to Martin on the SSB radio. When Martin called, Nellie had to take the radio - I was very busy working us in under sail power. While Nellie brought Martin up to date on our travel for the day, I brought us into the shore. About a quarter mile from shore I was having trouble deciding how close I was and worrying I would get up too much speed and go too far in. I used a few minutes of our transmission life to work us in very slowly and dropped the hook in about 25 feet of water. We talked to Martin a little longer and settled in for the night.

The next morning we looked out to see we were about 100 yards from the shore, and in no danger. (22 48N, 74 21W) We had several choices. We could stay where we were or we could move on down the island to a couple of places. With the wind howling at about 25 knots, we didn't want to go farther than the island. It would give us protection from the waves, but still have lots of wind. If we went farther, we'd get pounded badly. The first choice was French Wells, about 7 miles down the way. Next was the end of Long Cay, about 15 miles. If we went farther, we'd have to go another 22 miles before reaching an anchorage, most of it across a less protected area with about 20 miles of fetch. (Fetch is the distance the waves can travel before hitting you. 22 miles would give them some time, but nothing like crossing the Atlantic.) We chose the end of Long Cay and set out.

Sailing a half mile off the lee side of the low island gave us all the wind and none of the distortion or waves. We took off with the small working jib and one reef in the main and were FLYING! We were at about 15 degrees of heel and doing about a steady 7.5 knots. Our 15 miles to the end of Long Cay took 2 hours. (22 35N, 74 23W). The anchorage didn't sound too good in the guide books, and it was worse when we saw it. We quickly elected to go on the south end of the Crooked Islands to an anchorage called Jamaica Bay at the end of Acklins Island. The only drawback was that as soon as we passed the end of Long Cay, we'd have all those miles of fetch for the waves to build up. But each mile we'd go would make the fetch about a mile to 2 miles less, so in one to two hours, it would settle down.

About a mile from the end of the island Nellie suggested I put out a fishing line. About a quarter mile later it started screaming. As Nellie wheeled the boat around to heave too, I started reeling the fish in. At first there wasn't much resistance. He seemed to be just swimming towards me and I kept reeling in the slack. As he got near the boat, I suppose he knew something wasn't good, and he took off down. He went nearly straight down and went below the boat. I put all the force I could against him, straining the heavy casting pole, stretching the 40 LB line to the limit. I could slow him down, but the drag kept slipping as he'd jerk his head, and eventually he was down about 200 ft. He must have gotten into the rocks that are on the side of the drop off, fought a while there and eventually bite through or broke the 60 LB steel leader. At any rate, I lost him. My mistake was letting him get his head turned away from me and getting control of the situation. I never expected him to be so big and wasn't prepared. I've caught fish up to 60 lb.. on the same tackle and never had a problem getting them turned and in, so this guy was fairly big. I'll never know for sure, though, just what I had.

After that lesson, I got out the big tackle. With the 9/0 Penn reel and 120 lb. line, the next one would have a little bigger battle. It didn't take long, as 1/4 mile later, that big reel took off. It didn't take much to get him in, though, as it was only a 20 lb. barracuda. I hear of eating Barracuda, but we haven't and didn't want to, so he went back.

Soon we cleared the end of the island and were in much bigger seas. It was running about 4 feet, close short steep waves, splashing all the way back in the cockpit. It wouldn't be fun, but it didn't last too long. About 2 hours later we were getting close enough to the island that the waves were getting to be less and less.

As we approached Jamaica Bay, our intended anchorage, we could see the lighter water, indicating it was getting shallower. By shallower, I mean the bottom came straight up from a thousand feet or more to a hundred feet or so. We immediately started catching fish. We got one Spanish mackerel into the boat, then caught another. As I was reeling him in, about 100 feet behind the boat I could see a big (and I mean big!) brown form come up behind my fish. We all watched as he chomped down on the last foot of my 2 foot Spanish mackerel. I couldn't tell from the angle if it was a shark or a giant barracuda, but he didn't cut in half cleanly, and he had to fight to get his half. He yanked and fought and exploded the water until his half tore off. As I reeled in what was left, he followed, wanting more. About 10 feet from the boat, he reared up to take another bite. I yanked it in before he could get it. I thought about it and decided I'd I wanted to catch him, so I dropped it back. He took another bite, but didn't get caught. I still couldn't tell what he was.

As we made our way the rest of the way in, we caught several barracudas. We sailed on in until we got to about 25 feet and dropped the anchor. Later, I put a huge hook over with some fish scraps on the hook hoping to catch a shark. We had all sorts of fish, 2 to 4 feet, down there, several taking off with it. We didn't get any hooked, though, and I suspect it was due to the size of the hook.

The next morning, Sunday, I put the inflatable boat back together and went fishing while Zach and Nellie had school. It took 100 yards before I had a big one on. Another Barracuda. With several others right with him. I continued to catch a bunch of Barracuda and one small grouper. They all went back. Eventually I caught a 5 LB Barjack, which would be good eating. He had a bunch of barracuda following him, trying to take him away, but I got that one.

Now it's Monday and we want to leave for Great Inaguana. The problem is, the wind is still howling, in spite of what the weather men all say. We've got about 20 to 25 knots, with gusts of 30 at times. There is no way we want to sail into that. We'll try to get away early on Tuesday morning. In the meantime, we'll engage in one of cruising's more frequent activities - waiting!

Gene Gruender
aboard Rainbow Chaser