This appeared in Southwinds, May, 1998. Read it, print a copy and share with a friend, but please don't republish without permission.
Austin.sailor at yahoo.com
Rainbow Chaser arrived at Big Major Spot anchorage in the Exumas on a Tuesday after a 4 hour pounding sail with the wind on our nose. For some unknown reason, that seems to be our most frequent point of sail. Big Major Spot is protected from north through east to south and it's located next to Stanial Cay in the Exumas. Between the two is Thunderball Cave.
Thunderball Cave is in a small rock island which is hollow inside. It has two entrances which are underwater except at low tide and several small openings in the top which allow some sunlight inside. It was used in the James Bond move "Thunderball" and also in the movie "Splash". It's a very popular place to visit and most people who come through the area snorkel into it. Many of them bring food for the thousands of fish which swarm around the swimmers, making for some pretty fast action. Of course, we had to make our trip through this tourist attraction, which I'll have to admit, was more interesting than I expected. Once inside, the clear water is full of fish. It's about 10 feet deep and the dome inside is probably 30 feet across and 20 feet high, making the whole little island nearly hollow.
Once we finished that important business, we got settled in to live on the hook in our new anchorage for a few days. We planned to stay for about 3 days - fish, swim and snorkel - and then head for George Town to see if our mail had arrived.
We were anchored with about 20 or more boats - this is a big anchorage - and two of them were boats we'd met previously. Isle, with Fred and Nancy aboard, was slowly working her way down the Exumas to cut across to Guatemala later in the spring. They had stayed so long at Allan's Cay, where the iguanas were, that Fred had acquired the nickname "Mayor of the Iguanas".
Elisha E, with Donnie and Lisa, was like us - on her first visit to the Bahamas. We'd first met them back in Nassau when they taught us the value of a glass bottom bucket. We'd spent more time with them back at Allan's Cay along with Isle. They would return later in the spring to Kentucky to fix all the shortcomings they'd found. In the meantime, we all had a lot of fishing and swimming to get out of the way.
We'd been listening to the weather forecasts and knew there was a possibility of a front hitting us. In fact, there might even be two. The predictions varied, but it sounded like the wind would go to southwest, or maybe even west on Thursday. The first prediction of a front and wind shift came to nothing. Thursday was one of the nicest days we've seen. We had the crews of both boats over to Rainbow Chaser for a pot luck supper. When they left in their dinghies the nearly full moon and clear calm waters left them looking as if they were flying about 15 feet off the ground. We started to wonder if the forecasts meant anything.
Later that night Zachary noticed that fish were swimming around our boat. You could look down in the clear waters and see the fish in the moonlight. We needed more fish for a fish fry so we grabbed some rods. It didn't take long to figure out they liked hot dogs. Even without a light we could see them swarm around our hooks and see them bite. Soon we had a nice pile of snapper in the cockpit waiting to be filleted.
Friday that same front was still forecast to arrive. We woke up to flat calm, crystal clear water and sunshine. This kind of bad weather would do nicely. We could stand on the edge of the boat and look down to see the boat hovering 15 feet in the air. Oh, there was some water in between, but you couldn't see it. This would be another fine day of trying to find fish.
In the afternoon, the wind did start blowing a little bit and shifted around to the south. We had to wonder if there might be anything to the forecasts, but it didn't seem like cause for alarm. It was still under 10 knots, the sunset was fantastic, and nothing looked bad from where we were. Still, the front could make things miserable. That morning there were more than 20 boats in the anchorage. By mid afternoon, there were the three of us. What did they know that we didn't? We did find comfort when a couple of new boats arrived and dropped the hook late in the day.
Where we were sitting there was probably 50 miles of open fetch to the west. With a possibility of 30 knots of wind, sitting on a lee shore in 15 feet of water didn't sound like a smart thing to do. We all three studied the charts and guide books but none of us were able to identify another anchorage that had any protection within 30 miles. We had very good holding here, and maybe this forecast would be a flop also. We'd set out more anchors and wait to see.
After a fish fry on my boat, the crew of Elisha E dinghied home and we all got lazy for the night. The front was supposed to have already been to us and the winds were only about 10 knots, and that was from the southwest, which was about half protected. This front was turning out to be a total flop.
About midnight we woke up to rain coming down by the buckets full. The wind was piping up to 30 knots or more and had veered to the west. We no longer had any protection at all. The seas were starting to build and our calm anchorage was getting wild. We closed all the ports and hatches, checked the topsides for loose articles that could take an airborne trip, let out some more chain and went back to sleep. With all the rocking and rolling, though, it wasn't very peaceful.
Donnie, aboard Elisha E, didn't have a horn. He had perfected blowing a conch shell to make a loud horn-like noise and at 1:30 AM I could hear him blowing away on that thing, making a terrible racket. Something had to be wrong and I jumped up to see what it was.
When the boats swung around with the wind shift Isle drug anchor and ended up about 10 feet off of the bow of Elisha E. Donnie was at the front of is boat trying to keep them off of each other. It was Lisa standing on the top of the cabin blowing on the conch of trying to get the attention of Fred so they could do something, although I wasn't sure what that might be. I grabbed my hand held air horn and tooted it a couple times to help wake Fred, although I think the conch shell had already raised the dead.
I could see them on the ends of their boats, Fred on the stern, Donnie on the bow, trying to yell to each other across 10 feet of howling wind. There was no way I could hear them, but I assumed they reached a solution when Donnie let out about 100 more feet of chain, leaving a more comfortable distance between them.
I was getting ready to go back to bed when I noticed that Donnie was motoring around close to shore in his dink. Now, his dink is only 8 ft. long, is 15 years old, the transom leaks, it usually has about 4" of water in it and the 5hp motor is hard to keep running. I couldn't imagine why he'd be out in a gale in that thing with 4 to 6 ft. waves, running around in the dark next to a lee shore.
After making several trips around Elisha E and back near shore, he beached his dinghy. In looking around, I noticed that Isle no longer had a dink tied behind. I made a guess that Isle's dink was in the rocks. These were very jagged lava rocks that would tear something to shreds in minutes.
Soon there were spotlights shining on the shore from both Isle and Elisha E. I thought I could see the lost dink every once in while, but it never did come out to the boats. I couldn't figure out what was going on. I assumed that Donnie had taken Fred to shore and they'd come motoring back. It just wasn't happening.
It finally sunk in to my sleepy mind that Lisa was yelling at me to turn on my radio. I couldn't believe I hadn't thought to turn it on to see what was going on and see if I could help. Once I did, Lisa told me Donnie needed help and asked if I could take a line to shore.
I got my dinghy started and went to see what was needed. I expected to see Donnie and Fred working with Isle's dink, but only found Donnie. He'd just taken off to get it without waiting on Fred. He also didn't take time to get shoes or a life jacket. I could only imagine what his feet looked like. He'd been yelling something to Lisa and I tried to relay the message. When I could finally hear him, it was "Turn off the damn lights - you're blinding me!".
By the time I got there he'd taken the motor off, the tank out and was trying to deflate it to roll it up onto the rocks. I learned later that the shear pin had gotten sheared as soon as he started it and he couldn't get it motored out. He decided to just disassemble it in the raging seas. Instead, I tossed him a line and towed the half water filled, half flat, punctured inflatable back to Isle. The motor and other stuff stayed on shore for the night.
We all made it back to our boats and tried to settle in for the rest of the night. However, with the fear of dragging and all the boat motion, there wasn't much sleep. Everybody was getting tossed around in their bunks and worrying about ending up on the rocks.
Later I learned that when Donnie let more of his chain out, the painter from the dink was tangled in it. It was pulled from the back of Isle and was gone!
Now it's morning and the wind is still raging. We're sitting here on the hook rocking from rail to rail and taking water over the bow every once in a while. Donnie and Fred are collecting dinghy parts from the rocks. We've all let out a little more anchor line. The forecast is for another front to hit us tomorrow and for this weather to continue for 3 days. I don't think I'll get my mail in the next day or two. I think I'll go let out some more chain.