First published in Southwinds Magazine . Read, print for your friends, share it, but please don't publish it without written permission.Southwinds Magazine, P.O. Box 1190, St. Petersburg, Florida 33731 (813) 825-0433,
Austin.sailor at yahoo.com
We had just crossed the Gulf Stream and checked into Bimini. in 72 hours we had to be sitting in the International Airport in Nassau. My nephew, Jason, would arrive from Missouri and if we weren't there, he'd be lost. My brother would be very upset over me losing his oldest son. It was only another 120 miles or so to go, plus a taxi ride from downtown, but we could see many things that could go wrong to make that an eternity. We've learned - don't make arrangements to meet someone until you're there - but we'd made this commitment before learning that lesson.
We needed sleep more than anything, so we dropped our two anchors,as was customary in the anchorage. We all sacked out, expecting to sleep until early morning. I woke up in the middle of the night with the keel bumping the bottom. We'd swung over a hump, the tide went out and we had a problem. I found myself putting the dinghy together at midnight to set a third anchor. What an introduction to the Bahamas. We had a lot to learn.
The next morning we were off early. We rounded Bimini on the north side and headed across the banks, sailing in around 15 feet of clear water in the middle of the ocean.. For anyone who has spent time in the Bahamas, the clear water is old stuff. For us newcomers, it was spooky to see the bottom mile after mile.
Strangely enough, this was a very uneventful trip. We just sailed all night and were near Nassau early in the morning. We were a little intimidated by the thought of going to Nassau's harbor. We'd read about the harbor control, where you had to get permission for any movement, and heard about the poor holding bottom. In addition, it was a long way from the airport. Nellie had been reading the cruising guides and realized that a marina called Lyford Cay was in it's own little harbor. It also was near the airport, meaning a much shorter taxi ride. We decided to go there instead. Surely we could anchor there if we bought some fuel.
We had no trouble finding it. When we got in, we saw no place to anchor, and it looked pretty high class. We fueled up and asked about anchoring or a slip. No anchorage, and slips were $1.90 per day per foot. The fuel attendent told us this was the place the high rollers came. The prices kept the rifraf out. This certainly included us, so we went on to Nassau. We learned later that Sean Connary was at Lyford Cay the same time time we were. I suppose he can afford $1.90 a day per foot.
The trip into Nassau was surprisingly easy, harbor control and all. We anchored and found the dinghy dock, all with 24 hours to spare before Jason arrived! 24 hours may sound like a lot of time to make a plane connection, but keep in mind that we'd made this comittment months before back in Texas. Any little problem could have made us much too late. I don't recommend our method.
After checking out the town and getting over the sticker shock of the price of supplies, we went to the airport and met Jason. When we got back to the boat the people on a neighboring boat, Elisha E, called to us. They offered to let us use their glass bottom bucket to check how our anchor was set. Donnie and Lisa had been there before and found the holding was poor and were concerned since they hadn't seen us check ours. Someone had offered to sell us a glass bottom bucket back in Texas, but when you can only see a few inches into the water, it's not much use. Now we could see the value.
Donnie and Lisa were going to go to Allen's Cay. They had been there before and raved about how pretty it was. They mentioned coral, conch, and fishing. They mentioned playing with the iguanas. They asked us to go along, but Nellie had already planned another route out.
Nellie's route started out with a trip to Rose Island, just 10 miles or so from Nassau. From there we'd go up to the island of Eleuthera. Rose Island is less than two hours from Nassau Harbor, so we had plenty of day left when we got there. This was our first time to work our way in through reefs and we were successful, sipping in between several large coral formations. We got a very real reminder, though, of how serious this business can get when we saw the remains of a very recent shipwreck. Up on the beach, fairly broken up, was a Hunter 33. It had been run onto the beach in a recent storm, the hull broken, and half filled with sand. The mast was laying in the surf with shreds of the mainsail still attached. The colors were the same as Rainbow Chaser, and the lines are similar, just a bit smaller.
We were anchored about 100 yards off the beach in 20 feet of water. The bottom was white sand and the water was crystal clear. We hadn't been there long when Zaachary said he saw an anchor on the bottom. I was skeptical, but he was right. There was a danforth, about 20 or so LB., just laying on the bottom. I looked up on the beach at the Hunter, then down at the anchor. It didn't take much imagination to picture that Hunter in high winds blowing towards the beach, the crew panic stricken. "We're going on the beach! Get the anchor out!" the fearful captain yelled. The anchor went over, the line snapped, the Hunter kept going to it's doom. Of course, that wouldn't explain why the main was still up. And I had no proof that anchor below us had anything to do with the boat on the beach, but it still made a pretty interesting picture.
I figured I'd try to get the anchor. You can always use another anchor, especially a free one. I wasn't used to diving to th bottom in 20 feet of water, and once I got there I'd still have to attach a line to it to raise it. I studied it for some time before I realized it wasn't really in very good shape. Today there is probably another sailor anchored over it, looking at the shore, then at the bottom, pondering, "I wonder how.....?".
We spent the rest of the day snorkeling and swimming, anchored out for the night, and then set sail for Eleuthera. Eleuthera is a long skinny "U" shaped island, sort of laying with the open part of the "U" pointing southwest. On the southwestern tip there is another long straight island, Current Island, with a narrow passage between them. We headed for the northwest part of Eleutheras hard on the wind on a starboard tack.
Now, I have to admit at this point that Captain and crew don't always communicate on the same frequency. Nellie was planning this part of the trip and showed me on the chart where she thought we could anchor before "Going on up in the morning." Her anchorage was on the south end of Current Island. I assumed we'd go on past Current Island and to the northern end of Eleuthera. She really meant to cut east, going south of the whole place, ending up on the inside of the "U", on the other side . To make her anchorage to spend the night, we'd have to tack back southeast due to the wind direction. If we continued on our course on the starboard tack, we'd make the northern end of the island before dark, far from her proposed anchorage. You're probably reading ahead, but, yes, we ended up more than 20 miles from where we wanted to be.
We figured out our misunderstanding about the time we got near the north of Eleuthera, but there's a very sheltered anchorage nearby on Russel Island. The only drawback I saw was a mention of "poor holding" quoted; in the guidebook. We were to see it often and soon learned they don't mention it for nothing.
We were just beginning to learn our anchoring techniques and didn't really know what to expect with "poor holding", but soon learned that it meant if you drop your 60lb. CQR anchor and back up, it will slow you down a little. We tried that exercise several times and tired of it quickly. We tried it with our Bruce anchor. Same results. We just harvested a bunch of weeds and kept moving. I quickly remembered why I brought a big fisherman's anchor along. Once that was assembeled and stuck in the weedy, sandy bottom, we were set for the night. Zachary and Jason went off in search of treasure and Nellie and I got settled in for supper and the evening.
The next morning we got our heads together to figure out what our new plan was. We could save some mileage by going through the cut at the north end of Current Island, called of all things, Current Cut. The depths looked fine and it seemed to be a nice day trip, ending up at ???, which, unfortunately, also was listed as having "poor holding".
As we approached Current Cut we could see the tide was flowing out towards us. Rainbow Chaser will motor at about 6.5 knots at a fair amount of throttle, 7 knots wide open. As we got into the cut, I ended up with the engine wide open to make one knot. I then saw why the cut had that name. This was like white water rafting, upstream, in a 24,000 lb. sailboat. It was also nerve wracking. Imagine what could happen if the motor died? 6 knots of currrent could do some serious damage if we got washed back down that cut. I must have wished just right, as we made it through with the engine still screaming. Our nerves were not in as good shape, but they'd recover in time.
Once we made it through that narrow place we had the whole bay to cross, maybe 15 miles of open water. The charts showed it to be deep enough on out from the cut, so I set it on autopilot and went up to start raising sails. The darker water ahead seemed to indicate it was getting deeper. About the time I got the cover off the main, we slammed to a stop!
I quickly learned that coral is darker than deep water. We had driven our keel right up onto a coral shelf. As I've mentioned before, we have a lot to learn. We were pretty lucky this time, we were able to back ourselves off and retrace our route. We followed anew path a little south of where we'd gone the first time and made it into the open bay. A few hours later we made it to the harbor at ????.
There were 20 or so boats anchored there when we arrived. We slowly motored around to make sure we knew what we were getting into. We found that, just lke the charts said, it was a steep sided hole in the ground. You could anchor on the angled side in shallower water and hope it would catch, or anchor in about 35 feet in the middle. We tried the edge First went the 33 Bruce anchor. No good. Next went the 60 CQR. Still no good. Then both. We backed up and drug both anchors all over the place. All the gear was pulled in and we moved to the deep water.
The second try got the 60 lb. CQR buried very well in 35 feet of water. I was a comfortable distance from the next boat, leaving enough room that we could swing on our anchors without hitting if the wind should change.. I was sitting back, pleased that I'd finally gotten anchored properly when the fellow on the next boat came on deck. I was commenting on how difficult it was to anchor when he told me he didn't know because he was on a mooring. Oh, NO! We may be new at this, but we knew that boats on moorings swing differently than on an anchor. I'd swing a lot bigger circle than him and if the wind changed we'd be bumping hulls in the middle of the night. Nellie got on the radio, found a mooring that was open and we paid up for the night. I hate "poor holding".
We were hoping to find nice beaches, fish and coral to snorkel over. I wanted Jason to see some of these things before he left and I wasn't finding anything interesting. We kept lookig through the guide books, trying to find something we'd all enjoy and came up empty handed. After a conference, we came up with the plan of sailing on to Governer's Harbor (which, by the way, was listed as "poor holding"), check out the town, and then head for Allen's Cay, where Donnie and Lisa had gone.
We hoisted anchor and we were off.