WAITING AND WAITING IN GREEN TURTLE
THE SONG BEGAN
Soon the winds begin, again. They blew nonstop for several days. The docks and moorings were full of boaters seeking refuge. We were all hunkered down, day after day, just listening to the mad flapping sounds of flags and woe some sounding halyards as they wailed in orchestration with the flags creating this strange cacophonic symphony.
Green Turtle was still offering the same dockage deal which meant you could apply the money you spent in their restaurant and bar towards a deduction in cost to your daily dockage fee. Thus the restaurant and bar were bustling as everyone was taking advantage of their “generous offer”. It was a bit of a conundrum as the inflated prices added a sour taste to their gesture of good-will. Nevertheless, we all enjoyed the break from cooking and the comradery of the other boaters gathering together at the bar.
It was nice to have a break from cooking no matter how slanted the prices were, especially when the jaunt to the grocery store required renting a golf cart for a mere $50 a day. You could say that was a bit steep for an errand that took no more than an hour. No one could take the less expensive mode of travel to town, which was by way of their own dinghy, as the seas were too choppy from the strong winds. So it was fine with me taking our meals at the restaurant. The food was really good, well prepared, and the ingredients were always fresh, better than what you could find in the limited grocery store in town. But I have to admit after several days you wished for some variety in the choices on the menu.
ROYAL TREATMENT FOR THE LITTLE POT CAKE
By now we were on friendly terms with the Bahamian waitresses as they liked to joke with us about Ziggy. They got a kick out of the fact that we would endure sitting out in the brutal wind to eat lunch just so Ziggy could sit with us. I don’t think Bahamians understand the way we spoil our dogs treating them as if they were human. Most of the little pot cakes you see on the cays are fending for themselves, running around the dusty streets looking for scraps to eat.
We didn’t like locking Ziggy up in the boat especially when the winds were blowing. He gets nervous listening to the strange sounds the winds bring on. His one and only goal in life, no matter the burden it puts on us, is to just be with us no matter where we go. Normally if the wind was blowing the waitresses wouldn’t serve anyone outside on the patio but they made an exception for us. I’m sure it helped that Larry left them bountiful tips in appreciation.
DINNER TO GO
At night Larry would venture down the windy dock to get dinner “to go” from the restaurant and bring it back to the boat. “Food to go” is very common in the Bahamas. The Bahamians love to get their food “to go” and take it back home or to work, or where ever, so it was no problem. It was still as hot and delicious as if served in the dining room.
Larry would order the dinner and while he waited, would have a drink in the bar commiserating with the rest of the boaters. One night he came back with a smile on his face saying the bar was really crowded. He said the one really big black Bahamian waitress that works behind the bar could barely squeeze by him and had to brush up against him as she went by. She merely chuckled and said “Don’t worry darling,’ you don’t have to get up, it’s only me and my 54 triple Ds going by”.
HOUDINI FOR DINNER
One night when the winds weren’t so bad we decided to leave Zig on the boat while we went to the bar for a drink. We then decided we might as well head into the dining room for dinner while we were there. We were just starting to eat our dinner when guess who decides to join us? Yep, it’s Ziggy. I had this strange feeling and looked up from my plate only to see his little white fury face peeking through the screen door of the restaurant at me. Somehow that little Houdini-dog managed to nudge open a window on the boat just wide enough so he could contort himself Houdini style, just enough, to squeeze through a small opening. He then amazingly jumped and cleared the wide gap off the boat onto the dock. Ordinarily he insists he can’t jump off the boat onto the wooden fixed docks, so we have to either pull the boat over or lift him off and on. It’s all an act though as evidenced by how limber the little stinker was that night. It comes as no surprise to me either that he knew exactly where we were.
I quickly jumped up from the table and Lickety split was out the door. I grabbed him and managed to sneak him back into the restaurant to stow him under our table without anybody noticing until I could finish my dinner. He was quiet as a mouse while we finished and after signing the bill we three just got up and walked out like as if nothing was wrong or unusual. Nobody said a word. I think the waitresses must have known Ziggy was there but pretended to look the other way.
PHANTOM WEATHER WINDOW
Our weather windows (to head back) came and went several times before it was even due to arrive. It was like the phantom weather report as it would mysteriously appear and disappear almost by the hour. It eventually got so bad that not even the phantom weather window would appear. There were no windows to leave.
Everyone one was walking the docks and discussing our common dilemma and I might add getting a bit crazy. We were all stuck. One couple had flown in some friends to help crew their boat back to North Carolina and finally had to put them up in the marina hotel temporarily just to get some piece of mind. Others were discussing their options which were null and void. Others were thinking they could make their way through the Lucayan cut across Grand Bahamas Island and come out near Freeport. That meant they had to battle their way across the Banks in bad seas just to get to the cut. They kept justifying the idea by saying at least they’d have a different place to sit and wait. (Maybe they were looking for a different menu.) They said when the next window came they could then make it up the Atlantic side to the West End and then wait again for another safe window to go back across the Gulf to Florida. Most talked about this idea but only one boat went. The day they left, all day that day, the winds blew like crazy, 35 knots and more. I guess we’ll never know how they did, where they ended up.
We were all stuck. We wondered about our friends on Final Approach. They were stuck in Marsh Harbor now and still had the Whale Cut to get through. They were on a deadline as they had to get back to put their boat in the West Palm Beach International Boat Show. We began to wonder if they were going to make their deadline. It was looking doubtful. Every day the winds blew 25 knots and more. The seas had been building for days now and weren’t calming down soon.
BORED AND GROUCHY
We did our best to make the most of our time but it was hard with the unrelenting wind. The beaches were windy and not fun. Larry rented a golf cart so we’d drive around the cay doing the big loop a couple times a day just out of boredom and finally turned it back in.
We were getting grouchy. We started noticing stupid stuff out of shear boredom, like people only waving or saying “hello” with the index finger. Or that people didn’t ride dinghies sitting but standing up. I was also ashamed of some of our fellow Americans as they were rude to the Bahamians and disrespectful. We saw several teenagers putting their feet up on the very tables that we ate on each day with parents sitting right by not noticing.
The other very annoying thing was that the internet was practically null and void here. When the docks were empty we had it but when they were crowded forget it. We couldn’t get email or on the internet, and barely were able to get the weather reports. Larry said it was because of all the boaters in the harbor had nothing to do so they were all trying to get on the internet. It was like one big internet traffic jam.
BEE-LINE FOR MY LEGS
I was getting bitten by no-see-ums and starting to have a skin reaction. If there ever is a mosquito or no-seem-um within miles of me they will manage to find me and bite me. It was getting humid and sticky and it took forever to wash our clothes in the marina laundry. Everyone was complaining about it. Each load cost a whapping $4.50 to run the washer and another whapping $4.50 for one dryer cycle which never completed the job. We were all going broke in the laundry room. It was ridiculous the time and money spent in that notorious laundry room.
One night they finally brought in the Gully Roosters to play in the bar. They didn’t start until 9:00 pm so by then we were in bed and sleeping. We were awakened several times during by rambunctious drunks on the docks. Turns out the Green Turtle’s owners new sports fishing boat was stolen that night and was only two slips down from us. One boater got so drunk he was climbing all over people’s boats waking them up and had to be taken away. People were getting antsy and itchy enduring day after day of doing nothing in these retched winds that it seemed were never going to stop.
Went to grocery store the following day and the robbery, was the talk of New Plymouth. I guess there have been many robberies and boats stolen recently. I asked if the police found the culprits and they just laughed. “Who, our Bahamian police catch anyone? You must be kidding.” The town’s people are thinking about installing web cams at all the harbor entrances because the problem has gotten out of hand.
WHAT BLEW THEM IN?
It was going on 7 days now and still no weather window for anyone to leave. It’s stilling blowing but not quite as bad as it has been. Then, to our surprise late Wednesday, in comes a small sports fishing boat. Where the hell did they come from? The dock master put them in the slip right next to us. Oh God, look at all the people on the boat! I couldn’t count them all. Let see: three little kids, one teenage boy, three white guys and one black guy, all adults, two adult women, and at least one smoker. “Oh geez, why oh why, do this to us” I asked myself. It’s bad enough to be in this limbo land but now this? They were very loud and doing a lot of smoking drinking.
I asked them where they came from today. “Lighthouse Point” he said. That’s just north of Fort Lauderdale I think.
“You mean you came here all in one day?” I asked.
“How were the seas?”
“Pretty bad but we had the winds behind us.”
Wonders never cease to amaze me.
Anyway, they ended up not being as bad as I thought. Mainly it was because two of the families got hotel rooms. But I had to laugh that night as Larry was watching TV in the salon and I was in my bunk and I could hear the TV at first was really loud and then really quiet and then really loud and then quiet and so on. I couldn’t figure out what Larry was doing and then I heard him cussing to himself.
I came up to see what was wrong and Larry said “those gull darn kids! They’ve got a Bose System on their boat and are messing with the remote and it’s turning ours on and off.” Oh great, what next?
Later that night we smelled this God awful smell and finally figured out it was a Canadian boat that anchored by the marina entrance. He was running his generator and it was blowing into everybody’s hatches at the marina. At first we thought they were doing a night burn at the city dump but no it was the Canadian. He finally turned it off about 11:00 PM. Between smelling that and the smokers next door; it’s going to be a long week.
Anyway, first thing next morning (Monday), I got up and Larry had the heater on. Geez its March and we’ve got the heater on and in the Bahamas no less. He had a glint in his eye though and says he thinks we can get out of here on Wednesday. He’d gotten up early and managed to get online to get the weather report before the other boaters started getting on line and locking the system up.
NOW WE’RE TALKIN’
“We can get to the West end and right now looks like there is an opening to cross the Gulf over the weekend!”
“Really???” I said enthusiastically. I thought to myself that we might never get out of here!
SOME GAVE UP
Later in the morning we walked down the dock and learned that the poor couple that had to put crew up in the hotel finally was giving up. They said they were flying home and would come back in a couple weeks when the weather settled down. We told them about the opening but they said they already made plans to leave. They were fed up.
Now that we were actually thinking we could leave, I finally allowed myself to start to complain a bit about the food.
SICK OF GROUPER
“How much grouper can you eat??? Fried, battered and fried again, grilled, blackened, in a sandwich, over a salad, cooked in foil? “
I couldn’t wait to go somewhere else to get something else to eat. One day they had a special: curried chicken over rice. Hmmm yum, that sounded good, we couldn’t wait. But by the time we sat down and ordered it was completely sold out. I guess they didn’t expect that everyone would order it as we all were starving for something different than grouper to eat. Rats, another grouper sandwich for lunch today.
BEING ON THE SAFE SIDE
I took a quick inventory of our food in case we get stuck in the West End again. There is no store there so I didn’t want to be stuck with the only option of eating in their one and only marina restaurant. We decided to rent the golf cart again to go to the grocery store and get some provisions just in case.
Surprisingly, the town was hopping. Boaters have come out of the woodwork finally and were milling around town. Most of them had the same idea as we and were stocking up, getting ready for the weather window and the next leg of their journey trying to get home. As I stood in the checkout line at the small grocery store, I couldn’t help eavesdropping on a boater talking, very excitedly, about when and how he’s getting out of here. He said there was a weather window to leave to get back home again. His synopsis of the weather matched Larry’s.
OUR PARTNER FOR THE CROSSING
It was definitely confirmed now. We’re going tomorrow. The winds are settling down and Larry says we can do it. We’ll go to the West End and wait. Just as we were discussing it I could see over Larry’s shoulder in the distance a boat coming into the channel. It’s Final Approach ! Yippee, they made it! We will have a partner to go back with.
It was great seeing them again. They said they had a really rough ride through Whale Cut but didn’t elaborate. We all took one last walk on the beach had cocktails on their boat that evening and discussed our plans to leave first thing in the morning.
WEDNESDAY (9TH DAY)
We both were up at 5:30 AM. We wanted to get started as soon as it was light enough. We just turned the clocks to daylight savings this last weekend so that will hold us up an extra hour. Larry says if the seas look good when we get to the other side, we’ll go all the way (which means across the Gulf and to West Palm Beach). We’ll also have to check our fuel when we get there to see if we have enough. We were planning to refuel at the West End. Larry says we should have enough to make it to West Palm Beach but I’ll need to make sure.
It’s pitch dark out. I look over across the marina to FA. They are up. Their lights are on but I don’t see any movement yet. I still have to take Ziggy out but I don’t want to in the dark because of the bugs. Bugs love me and will fly miles to taste my blood and leave itchy bumps on my legs and arms.
I WANT, I WANT
I AM SO READY TO LEAVE! The wind has been hurting my ear which has become quite sensitive to it, I’ve also got a gazillion scabs from itchy bug bites, my hair needs to be colored, my clothes are ratty and faded from the crummy washing machines and dryers we’ve encountered and I’d really like to soak in a bath tub. It’d also be nice to have some room to stretch, eat regular American food and go to a grocery store with fresh veggies and meat and have hundreds of selections of junk food. It would be nice not to have to scrimp on water, to just let it run from the shower head and to get in a car and just go anywhere I pleased, imagine the freedom of it all.
I HEAR THE ROOSTER CALLING
I will probably regret all these statements once we get back. It surely will be madness there with the chaos that Spring Break brings to Florida and add to that the upcoming Boat Show will be setting up just down the marina from us. Crowds will be merging in mass on us at the marina. I might be wishing I was back here.
I’m sick of the Bahamian price gouging too: in the restaurants and their steep dock, water and electricity fees, and add to that the expensive groceries, well heck, just about everything is jacked up to the max.
IT’S TIME TO GO
The waiting has been really stretching my patience if you haven’t figured it out by now. It’d be one thing if the weather was nice but it wasn’t. It was the pits, day after day of it. We can count on one hand the decent weather days we had. I hear the rooster calling, it’s time to go.
I think all the boaters have gotten a little crazy too, like me, with this last batch of weather. Everyone has a different opinion on when they can safely leave. Some have a fear of leaving and getting stuck at the West End for many days because they can’t afford paying their high prices. Others talk of trying to make it through the Lucaya cut saying they’ll wait it out there until the weather changes. “It’s cheaper there” they say.
And then others say they are staying, waiting until the weekend, hoping there still will be enough days of good weather to make it all the way. That means to some they need three straight days of good weather. Good luck with that idea.
MOTHER NATURE’S WHIMS
It’s like a crap shoot, betting on Mother Nature’s whims. The only thing we all have in common is that we all are intimidated by the crossing as the weather has been bad. I know just one thing: I don’t want to have bigger seas than what we had coming over.
STILL WAITING FOR SUN UP
Will the sun ever come up? It’s a long 25 minutes more before we can go. The sky still looks dark. Zig won’t go potty on shore this morning. He suspects something, but not being sure what it is, decided to be stubborn.
“This is going to be a long day Ziggy, you better wise up!” I say to him.
ON A MISSION
Suddenly FA starts his engines and is getting the lines off the dock. It’s still pretty dark. Soon they head start backing out the slip and Peggy yells over at us to “hurry up”. I guess Bob is getting anxious and leaving early. He’s on a mission I guess.
We get going too but I’m a little worried about seeing the markers as it’s still too dark out. Once we got into the channel we could see them, just barely, but a minute before I’m not sure if we could have seen them. I think Bob is re-tracking his trip on the chart plotter and isn’t even looking at the markers. We didn’t save our track coming in so had to use our eyes.
TOO LATE ZIGGY
I rode out the channel standing on the bow watching the markers. Ziggy came up to the bow and had a look of panic of in his eyes having now realized he should have gone potty on shore. He barks at me with a nervous bark. I say “I told you so!”
GOING ALL THE WAY?
As we near the end of the entrance channel Larry waves me to come back in. I realize that means he wants to get going and wants me in a safe place. Zig and I head back down the gangway. I finished stowing the lines and fenders as Larry puts the pedal to the metal. Bob is heading off too equally fast into the darkness of the West leaving a white wake for us to follow behind him. It’s obvious to me that these two guys have one unified idea in mind and that is they are going all the way. They are not wasting one minute BUT pushing the speed on both boats to the max hoping to take advantage of this brief window to make it home.
LEAVING ON A DARK NOTE
It’s grey and creepy out, and there are scary dark clouds in the sky. The sun is not going to come up cheerfully with this thick dark cloud layer obscuring its awakening.
Larry tells me to go out on the back cockpit and turn the key to empty the holding tank. We made it for 9 days at Turtle Cay without having a problem. They have no pump outs and the weather didn’t permit people to head out of their slip to dump their tanks in an acceptable area so many weren’t as lucky or considerate, and just pumped out right in the marina. It was disgusting.
If it is nice weather and boaters are staying at the docks for an extended amount of them many temporarily leave the dock to go dump their holding tanks away from the marina. You have no other choice as I repeat, there are no pump outs here in the Bahamas, and it’s too difficult to head out through the reef to dump it in the Atlantic. It’s disgusting situation but that’s the way it is.
CONDITIONS ON THE BANKS
For the first half hour the Banks are flat calm and things are looking incredibly calm but then we start to feel some swells. It’s strange to feel ocean swells in the banks. I start to wonder if it means the Atlantic on the outside will be rough if we can feel the swells on the inside.
DISCUSSING THE OPTIONS
Bob and Larry are talking back and forth on the radio and in agreement that they want to head all the way to Florida if we can. They’ve been discussing their options. That’s why the rush, why they were pushing the boats so much to make as much ground as possible while the window was clear.
“We’ll see how it is on the other end” Larry says, “if it looks good we’ll keep going”.
“Do you think you have enough fuel to keep going Larry?”
“I won’t know for sure until we get to the Manjack Cay and then we decide to head to Indian Cut and the West end or continue to Memory Rock and West Palm, but I think I have enough to make it all the way.”
They’ve (Final Approach) decided they aren’t going out through Indian Cut but further north where they have a shorter route if they decide to go to West Palm Beach. My stomach is getting queasy just thinking about it. I shouldn’t have read the cruising guide the other day. Also, the reluctance of many of the cruisers has made me a little skittish too. I have respect for their fear as we witnessed the real experience on Whale’s Cut.
I don’t remember having all these serious concerns last time. Well, I know why. We had the bigger boat, the sea going vessel, that sturdy Nordhavn. Now we are in the little lobstah boat with sliding windows with air cracks and only thin wood doors separating us from the back cockpit. This vessel is not air sealed like the Nordhavn. We have only one engine, not get home engine for emergencies. We have a crappy dinghy that is impossible to get down, and certainly impossible in an emergency. We also ride low to the water and the seas look gigantic next to us and we look like a little peanut out here in the big sea. It was intimidating. You couldn’t help but notice that we were about the smallest of the cruising boat in the Bahamas. It had me a little scared.
WHAT ARE THE LIMITS?
We’re in a small boat, smaller than the majority of boats that cruise to the Bahamas. I feel like the seas are so big compared to us. The boat rides low in the water unlike the other cruisers riding high in their pilot houses so we get more sea spray over the bow. The boat handles fine but what’s the limit? I’ve always asked that question of every boat we’ve owned. If I knew the limit then I wouldn’t have to wonder and be afraid, I could just know the situation and conditions and then go or not go. But there is always that for me that nagging question.
I also wonder if the seas will be more than the forecast. Boating is one big guessing game to me, like life. You hope you make the right decisions, go in the right directions, at the right times. You will either be rewarded or punished.
I know it seems silly, and some don’t think about these things, thinking it silly. They just bravely or stupidly go and suffer and recover and some rare times don’t. Me, well, I’m always wondering and questioning and at times like today am afraid.
There’s not one dang soul out here except for FA and us. It’s nice to have a companion and a second opinion. I just hope we’ve all made the right decision. It’s good to have someone with you just in case something goes wrong with the boat. The cruising guide said never to cross without another boat.
ZIGGY IS WORRIED, BUT FOR A DIFFERENT REASON
Ziggy was crying reminding us that he didn’t go potty back on shore. He had such a worried look. I took him out to the cockpit and pointed to the Astro-turf door mat and explained the situation. He went over to the mat to check it out but it was obvious he didn’t like the idea and I could tell was hoping there was another option. I know I wouldn’t be able to go on that mat with the seas spraying a few inches away and the sound of the engine droning out my senses.
“Nope I’m not doing it!” he seemed to say and headed back in the salon.
So we both came back in. I guess he’d think about it. We made the trip outside a couple more times to assess the situation and finally he gave it his first attempt. He did a few circles on the mat to get in position. Nope not right.
He had to restart again a couple times but finally the poor little guy managed to get his circling down right and do the dirty deed while facing the corner of the stern. He quickly finished leaving a neat little pile as proof. We all celebrated big time as we always used to do on the Nordhavn when he accomplished this tremendous feat. Larry turns the helm over to me while he went back to the cockpit to toss the proof overboard and then hose down the magic mat with fresh water from the hose by the swim step.
We continued along for several hours at maximum cruising speed making good head way across the Banks. I think to myself that I don’t know if I’ll ever come back here again though I love the beauty of the Bahamas and its magic turquoise water. The constant wind and bad weather really did us in this trip and then the bugs, those no-see-ums, they got to us again in Green Turtle. It’s a beautiful place but it sure is a lot of work to enjoy it and so much work and discomfort to get here. To do all that and only to be able to enjoy it for just a couple days just didn’t make any sense anymore. Sad to say, but I think it will be our last trip here.
I’m not sure what we’ll do next winter as we’ve decided to ship the boat in a couple weeks with Yacht Path to the Pacific Northwest. We had thought about shipping the boat next fall to La Paz, Mexico so we could explore the Sea of Cortez but with all the insane violence going on in Mexico that’s really not going to be an option for us either. I never did like the politics of in Mexico, all the bribes and under the counter pay offs, so why would I like it any more with all the dangerous drug trafficking and beheadings going on? Nope, we’re not going there. The recent killing of two innocent Americans was the last straw. They can have that place. Actually I wish the US would just take over that country like the emigrants have taken over California. They’ve got such beautiful beaches and vast open spaces. Maybe we could trade California and for Mexico? There’s so much that could be done in Mexico but their present mix of the few extremely wealthy and the many living in poverty don’t make for a successful mix.
KEEPING OUR FINGERS CROSSED
Well I hope we can make it all the way to Florida today. It would be great to get back today and not have to sit it out for many more days looking for a window. Larry said if we don’t make it today we could spend another week, looking for it. I hope we have enough fuel. Larry thinks we’ll have 30 gallons extra. He says the weather report looks good for the next few hours.
ANY BODY OUT THERE?
It’s about 11:00 now. We’ve been going since 7:00 AM. We see a boat go by. Larry hails him on the radio and asks if he just came from West Palm Beach. He says “Yes and the seas were not so bad. We had 2-4 feet, with long swells. It was pretty nice”. Wow, sounds good. After Larry gets off the radio, FA calls Larry to say he heard the conversation and asks what he thought about going on. They conclude that we can do it. I can’t believe we may actually be back in the States today. Ziggy is curled up next to me sleeping with his head on my knee.
We’re approaching Memory Rock now. That is the cut to the Florida Straits and once through there we are out of the Banks. We will be committed for the crossing. It’s getting choppy and starting to rain, I see some dark clouds on the horizon. Larry’s hands are clammy and I continue to type on the computer. Each of us has our own way of coping. We all are apprehensive. I can hear the tension in Bob’s voice over the radio. It’s one o’clock. It won’t be until 5:30 or 6:00 before we get to Palm Beach.
Do we have a clear safe window? We think so.
I must admit, as it’s surely no secret by now, and that is, I’m one big chicken when it comes to these kinds of crossings. It doesn’t matter how many thousands of miles of cruising we’ve done, I’m still apprehensive. Ziggy agrees with me on this. If he could only talk, I know he’d say the same.
NO SUCH THING
We all want perfect weather and perfect seas to cross the Gulf Stream but you know what I finally realized? There is no such thing. There is no perfect weather window or perfect seas to cross that current, and if by a miracle there was, you’d never have enough time or patience to wait for it.
SOMETHING NOT SITTING RIGHT
I listened to the weather report that Larry and Bob were so frequently reviewing and discussing as we crossed the Banks that morning. Updates were coming across the computer every hour. There were two things that worried me: (1) that the weather window was brief and (2) that the seas and winds would increase by late afternoon. The current weather report was East winds 6-14 knots, 2-3 foot seas, with long swells on top of them.
IN STORE FOR SOME AFTERNOON DELIGHT?
I asked Larry when we would get to West Palm Beach. He estimated we’d get there about 5:30 or 6:00. That’s well past late afternoon just when the seas are to get worse I thought. We’ll just have to risk it.
I didn’t like idea of taking that risk but I was just as anxious as Larry and Bob to get this over with so I didn’t object or even say anything. I think we all knew what might be in store for us but we were committed now having left Bahamas Banks. We were well into the Florida Straits now. I’m sure if we all said what was on our minds it would be, “Hell, let’s go for it”.
Maybe the report will be off by a couple hours. Maybe we will have enough time to get across before the seas pick up. Maybe we can push the boat harder, faster, cover more distance quicker. Maybe, maybe, maybe….
HIT THE JACK POT?
It was another crap shoot which I’ve come to realize is common in this world of cruising. The seas were looking fine. Right now the odds didn’t look that bad. Maybe we would hit a black jack and have a smooth ride all the way.
DIDN’T FILL UP
The other thing that was of concern to me was our fuel situation. I know Larry was concerned too. He assured me that he had calculated how many gallons per hour we were burning according to how hard and fast we were pushing the boat and what distance we had to yet to go and was convinced we will have 30 gallons left in the tank by the time we reach Florida. I hope so, but I wonder.
“Are you sure?” I ask.
I’m sure, I’ve double checked it and I’m convinced.” It was like that program, the million dollar question. He could have added, “and that’s my final answer.”
Larry had planned to fuel up at the West End until our spur of the moment decision to head across the Gulf. He later told me if he had known we were planning to go all the way today he would have definitely filled up in Green Turtle yesterday before we left. It wasn’t like him to take chances or be reckless.
KEEPIN’ EM AT THE DOCKS
Speaking of the fuel situation, while we were in Green Turtle, they ran out of fuel for a couple days during our stay. One boater had wanted to head out to make the cut to Lucaya but couldn’t because he couldn’t get fuel. He had to wait two days for the fuel barge to come and fill marina’s fuel tanks and by then the weather window was gone. He got stuck like the rest of us. I guess that’s one way to keep customers at the dock.
I started to relax a bit. It looked like the ride was going to be decent. I sat down at the settee, opened my computer and typed a few things. I had Ziggy beside me on the seat. He was snuggled up and seemed unusually relaxed. In fact, he was soon snoozing on his back completely exposed and unabashedly unashamed of his immodest position. (Goofy dog.)
LIKE A TIME WARP
From my seat I was facing the cockpit and would occasionally glance up to watch our white foamy trail as the props churned the water up behind us. The West End of the Bahamas had quickly disappeared as if it was only a mirage. There was no visible land mass to mark the cut, just a strange change in the water from turquoise to indigo and flat calm seas to sea swells. It was like going through a time warp, you know those science fiction movies where they step through an invisible gel type clear material and suddenly are in a different place. That’s what it’s like to go through the cut.
DARKNESS COMES AND GOES
We had a smooth ride for about three quarters of an hour, maybe less, before I noticed the sky becoming increasingly dark south of us. These black clouds were heading our way. I don’t like those black clouds that blow off the coast of Florida as they remind me of when we got caught in a 50 knot plus white squall off the coast of Cape Canaveral. I was starting to get edgy. I didn’t point the clouds out to Larry as I’m sure he saw them too, so I just watched in silence with great intimidation.
The menacing clouds came and went. We had some sprinkles but nothing to worry about. Whew! I breathed an internal sigh of relief.
A few minutes later another cluster of black clouds began building in the distance. They were growing quickly in size and soon were heading this way. This batch had more momentum than the last batch. Why couldn’t they just head south away from us I asked myself? The sky darkened again with their arrival. It became almost like night and the seas grew very restless. I could hear our flag reacting to its arrival. It began to make snapping noises in the wind sounding a bit like a whip.
More showers came with these clouds but this batch of rain was more plentiful than the last. I watched as it came down in droves pock marking the choppy seas with millions of miniature craters with white ruffled edges. They spread quickly in waves across the sky darkened black sea, and repeated in swarms like locusts devouring a field.
The seas were no longer that heavenly turquoise color or the beautiful Indigo blue color that we saw as we left the Banks. They had somewhere along the way turned to an evil looking black color, like the black anvil shaped clouds now hovering above us. There was a brief flash of light that momentarily lit up the dark sky and then moments later the boat vibrated with the low powerful rumble of thunder.
WE WERE IN FOR IT
Without any more warning than that, the thunder announced the onslaught of the winds that immediately switched direction and brought about terrifying seas. I slammed the computer shut and pulled Ziggy to my side holding him tightly as he began to shiver and pant. I watched in fear as the sea became an angry monster.
The winds now instead of coming behind us from the South easterly direction had completely switched and were coming directly on our nose from the W and NW. The sea and sky were gradually animating themselves together into an ugly dance. They gathered us up like a small toy, tossing us about in their nastiness.
The flag was now extended straight off the stern whipping wildly in the wind so much so that I thought it might rip to shreds. The seas were building quickly. I watched as the tops of the swells were now being sheared clean off by the wind and thrown wildly to the sky, now becoming crazy airborne trails of sea spray. The waves were coming from all directions and meeting together creating these strange volcanic shaped peaks. The previously long gentle swells were now developing into quick, steep, rigid obstacles. It was like a black diamond run full of tall moguls.
“The winds switched direction!” I said anxiously to Larry.
“Yeah, I’m surprised. That wasn’t in the forecast.”
“I can’t believe how quick it happened!”
“It looks like we’re in for some bad seas.”
We both are speaking calmly but inside I know we both are worried.
DEALT A BAD HAND
Larry hails Bob on the radio. They both discuss the conditions and their surprise at the switch in wind direction. There was nothing else to say. We had to keep going and were going to have to deal with whatever it was going to dish out to us. We had several hours to go and that meant the seas will build even more if this keeps up. I guess we lost our hand and got busted. There was no Black Jack today.
I looked at the clock and it was about 2:00. We weren’t even half way across. I wondered if we should turn around and go back. This could get worse I think to myself, way worse. Can this little boat handle it? How much can it handle? Crazy thoughts are going through my head BUT we just kept going.
The winds increased. I’m not sure what they were as we have no wind meter like we did on the Nordhavn but they must have been strong, at least 25-30 knots. They were enough to create air borne white caps that were turning into spray and enough to build huge seas that were dwarfing each side of the boat.
NO SILLY EPITAPH FOR US
I decide this is another ride that requires putting those life jackets to use and not just hanging outside decorating the cockpit wall. Wouldn’t that be a silly epitaph? “…and their life jackets were still hanging on their hooks”....
I got up from the settee and Ziggy followed. I grasped anything solid as I made my way to the back door. It was almost impossible to move about the boat as it was rocking so badly. The door was open but the life jackets were just beyond my reach. There was no way I could go out onto the cockpit to get them as the floor was slippery, covered in salt water spray, and the boat was rocking so much that I could easily be thrown out. It simply was too rough, wet and dangerous.
I managed to hold on to the door frame with one hand and during an instant, a momentary break between the waves, I stretched myself more than I thought I ever could and grabbed all three life jackets in one swift swoop and threw them inside and on the floor. I then threw one to Larry. He put it on. I then wrestled with Ziggy to get his on and then me. They were wet and salty but it didn’t matter.
I picked Zig up again and we managed to get back into the settee where I felt we could sit without being thrown about. I held onto Zig with one arm and reached across grasping the other end of the table to hold us in. It was like holding on while riding a wild bull.
We were being tossed around like a little toy boat in a washing machine. Larry accidently fell against the engine throttle revving the engine which made a loud groaning sound. I thought there was something wrong with the engine for a moment. We were already pushing her to the max, maybe she couldn’t take it. The sound scared me. Larry turned back to look at me and saw the fear on my face and said it was an accident and he was sorry.
WASN’T LETTING UP
We spent hours like this. It never let up. Salt spray was coming over the bow and on the windows. The windshield wipers were working constantly barely able to keep the window clear. Sea spray was flaring out from the sides of the boat up to mid height of the windows.
I didn’t have the courage to look forward and now decided not to look sideways out the window because the seas were too big and just plain scared me too much. I just stared out the open door to the cockpit and watched the seas behind us and the spray come in. Everything was getting soaked and there was nothing I could do about it. It was amazing how this all happened so quickly. I never had time to shut the door and now it was too rough to try and too late as salt spray was on everything anyway.
Bob hailed us on the radio. He said he was going to have to slow down as their boat wasn’t taking the seas very well. He thinks if he slows down the boat will ride better. We had to keep up our speed as we rode the seas better going faster. Larry kept track of them on the radar screen with Marpa.
DINGHY WAS COMING LOOSE
I gripped the table and Ziggy for hours as Larry gripped and steered the helm. I also watched with great concern as the dinghy banged back and forth putting a tremendous strain on the davits. I could see the straps to secure the dinghy were slowly working their way lose and the more they did the more the dinghy swung. I told Larry but he said to forget it. “Whatever happens with it will happen”. He said it was too dangerous to go outside and try to tighten the ties.
A foam pad that the previous owner used to lodge between the dinghy and the back of the boat to keep the dinghy from rubbing against the stern of our boat finally ripped in two and blew away. Now the dinghy was rubbing against the sharp edge of the metal plate of the davit. I watched helplessly as the plate was slowly cutting away at the oar mount on the top of the dinghy. Eventually it cut the thing right off and now I watched as it was starting to work away on the dinghy itself. There was nothing I could do but watch.
The fenders that we throw into the dinghy as we are underway were bouncing about and the lines that tied them securely to the davit were also slowly working their way free. I couldn’t see one fender and assumed it was already gone, lost at sea and perhaps another. It looked like the other two might not make it either.
We heard a “Securite” on the radio from the USCG warning boaters of something. The message was so garbled we couldn’t make it out. For the first time I wasn’t interested in knowing what they were warning boaters about. It probably was a warning for boaters not to be out here in these crazy seas, or that a water spout was headed our way. Whatever it was, it was too late for us to do anything about it so I didn’t need anything else to worry about. The annoying thing was they just kept replaying the announcement over and over again every few minutes. It just drove you nuts.
Hours went by and still there was no let up in the seas and wind. Larry surely is exhausted at the helm. I was completely fatigued holding on to the table and Zig with no break. My muscles were tense and exhausted.
WHERE ARE THEY GOING?
Every so often Larry would hail Bob to see how they were doing. At one point he began to notice on the radar screen that FA was off course, at least from where we were heading. He wasn’t sure for how long they had been off course but they definitely were not heading in the right direction. Larry hailed him and asked if he knew he was off course and if they were alright. After a little while, Bob called back and said that he forgot to put in a way point for the Lake Worth inlet. If he had continued on that course he would have landed at least 15 miles south of the inlet. I’m not saying he would have run it on shore but would have had to turn and head north for 15 miles to get in. After a treacherous day like today, that would be a total bummer to find out you had to do that. He immediately corrected it. He said again that the boat was pounding on the seas and not handling it well at all.
For awhile I was able to see them behind us but eventually they just were beyond my view but Larry kept in contact by radio and kept them tracked on the radar.
THANK GOD FOR LARRY
All I can say is “thank God” for Larry as he drove the boat so well through those seas. He continued to tirelessly steer the boat, hour after hour, keeping her on track and weaving us safely through those big seas. If I could choose anybody in the world to take the helm to get through it that day I would still choose Larry. He never panics in any situation and seems to always gather some kind of super strength and skill when things get bad to get us safely through it. Me, I tend to panic and see the all the dangers and impossibilities of the situation. Larry just takes charge and manages it.
We began to pick up a conversation on the radio. It was a boater talking with the USCG. Again it was garbled but sounded like he was giving them his position, which we didn’t quite get so didn’t know exactly where he was. It sounded like he wasn’t in serious trouble but was afraid of the seas and just wanted them to monitor them as they were making their way to the inlet. Every so often you’d hear the USCG calling them back to check to see if they were OK.
LAND IN SIGHT!
Besides watching that dinghy swing about all afternoon I also watched the clock as it slowly made its way around each hour and finally at around 5:00 Larry says “there’s Palm Beach”! For the first time in several hours I let go of my grip on that table and stood up to see and there it was, the grey silhouettes of buildings on shore. I think we both were never so happy to see something like those grey box like images on shore. I really and truly thought maybe we would never make it but thank God there it was. We were finally out of trouble. .
CRIPES, WHAT NOW?
But just when things looked on the bright side…now an alarm was going off. At first we didn’t hear it as there was too much noise going on, so we’re not really sure when it started. The read out said we had water in the fuel tank! It was the same thing that happened to us on Albemarle Sound last year.
Just when I thought there was an end to this day of terror now we have this problem.
USCG STANDING BY
We heard the boater again talking with the Coast Guard. They were sounding very close now as the radio transmission was clear. The boater said they were fine now. I think the boat was a Grand Banks that saw ahead of us. They were stopped in the water a mile or so off the inlet and were trying to tie down their bimini that was ripped and flying off to the side in the wind. The Coast Guard still insisted that they let them know when they were safely inside the inlet.
BLEED THE FILTER
We too slowed down as Larry was going to try to bleed the water out of the fuel filter. He had me take the helm and slow the boat down as he opened a floor hatch to try to bleed it. The seas were still too rough and we were afraid the hatch would slam down on him. We decided to wait, get inside and find a wide space inside the ICW where it wasn’t so rough and bleed the filter there. There was not much water and the alarm did not go off so He just switched fuel filters and turned the alarm off. We will take care of that later.
SHIPS OF FOOLS
So I drove the boat in the inlet and finally into safe waters. As we entered we saw a USCG pontoon boat hovering in the waters just at the mouth of the inlet. Maybe he was watching and waiting for the Grand Banks or just standing by just in case some of us fools get into trouble. It sure is nice to know the USCG is there in case we need them.
HAILED FA AGAIN
As we headed in, Larry hailed Bob again. He said we were just entering the inlet and asked how they were doing. He said they were still taking it slow and were about an hour behind us. They said they’d see us at the docks.
It was crazy now to be inside the safety of the ICW after what we went through. Boaters were puttsing around like they do every day. Larry thinks that since we were so low on fuel in the tank and that the seas were so rough that it stirred up some debris that had been in the bottom of the tank. By the way, we had exactly 30 gallons in the tanks when we got through the inlet.
Though our boat is small and I was very afraid, I have to say that it rode the seas like a champion, better than the big power cat and never faltered. Larry pushed it to its max and it got us home safely. It could take more, probably lots more, but I don’t want to ever see what more it can take.
BACK TO PALM HARBOR MARINA
I drove the boat down the ICW towards the marina and slowed to a crawl for the manatee zone. I hailed the bridge for an opening while Larry was on the phone with customs. Once through the bridge I hailed the marina and they directed us to our old slip. It was like coming home again.
It was so strange as we headed into our slip and the guys were there with smiles to take our lines. They had no idea what we just endured. It was like the world was at peace and we had just fought the toughest battle of our lives, but who would know that but us? It was our secret as we pulled into the slip. Everything was so quickly back to normal. No one had a clue as to the terror that was going on out there on those Florida Straits today.
And so as if nothing ever happened, we were settled in and another hair raising experience out on the seas behind us. It was good to be back. I was happy to see the little white egret with bright yellow feet was still hanging around our slip. Zig and I noticed him right away as we headed down the dock. I didn’t waste any time taking Zig up the dock so could do his duty like a normal dog, not out on the high seas rocking and rolling and doused with salt spray. We also noticed another new resident, a big ole pelican. Even after the ordeal of the day Zig had the energy to chase him off “his” dock as we headed up towards solid ground filled with familiar smells of the other pooches Zig has come to know in Palm Harbor Marina. It was good to be back.
PS…. the water in the fuel problem turned out to be crap in the fuel that got lodged across the water sensor in the Raycor filters. When the filter was removed it was hardly dirty. The Raycor did its job of spinning the heavy stuff out before it reaches the filter. There was no water in the fuel, just this dirt that was stirred up from the seas and got trapped in the sensor.