Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Waiting on weather ...

It is Friday, May 22, and we are anchored at Crab Cay, almost at the top of Little Abaco Island.  We are waiting out a low pressure system that parked itself over the northern Bahamas this week, dumping a foot of water and gracing us with lots of ear-splitting thunder and lightning, one strike so close a couple of days ago that I feared one of the four boats anchored with us here had been struck.  And, later that night when I turned on my instruments to check the wind speed, I thought they might have been affected by the nearby strike ... seems okay now, but I’ve heard that nearby strikes can affect electronics slowly for weeks and months after the event.  We’ll see, as Pen is fond of saying.

Anyhow, we’ve spent three days here and prior to that spent two days a Powell Cay, having a lovely romp of a sail over here to Crab Cay with a slight break in the weather on Wednesday.  The winds have been steady at 25 knots for at least two days, with gusts of 32 knots, and the water in the anchorage has look mighty mean at times.  We’ve not dragged, nor have any of the other boats, and we’ve got a hundred feet of chain out.  I’ll be fun trying to weigh anchor tomorrow morning, I think.  We’re dug in for sure.  Another boat skipper came by and said he and two other boats had been here for eight days now and were sorely ready to get out and head down island to Green Turtle, straight into the wind, of course.

Tomorrow we’re headed for Great Sale Cay, a staging anchorage about 40 miles from the west side of the Bahamas bank where boats often spend their last night or two before crossing the Gulf Stream back to Florida.  We’ll probably spend a night there and then sail north to Grand Cay, where we can pick up anything we desperately need at a local store.  Then after another night, weather willing, we’ll sail west, out of the banks at Manatilla Shoals and cross the 130 nm to Ponce Inlet, the closest inlet into the Intracoastal Waterway to Daytona Beach, which is just a 40 minute drive from Penelope’s house in Deland.  All this planning depends on weather, but I’m hoping we won’t have to wait out another system.

Since my last blog post, we spent the afternoon and night of May 15 (a week ago today) at Green Turtle Cay, anchored off the village of New Plymouth, where we did some resupplying, picked up another “lucky yellow lure” for fishing, and stopped by Miss Emily’s Blue Bee Bar for a Goombai Smash and visited with her granddaughter, Missy, who was running the bar.  Penelope cooked a wonderful Parmesan recipe for a big filet of Mutton Snapper, we called her daughter Erin on Skype to wish her “happy birthday,” and I managed to make a reservation change for our trip back from Budapest in August, which will give us a week in and around New York City instead of an extra week in Budapest.  The exchange rate had us both worried about that, and we’ve got friends in New York to stay with, which will save us immeasurably.

On Saturday, May 16, we had to wait a bit in the morning to leave Green Turtle because of low tide.  After a quiet morning, we dinghied into Pineapple’s for lunch, sharing a cheeseburger and a Mahi-Mahi fish burger, and then getting a bag of ice.  We weighed anchor and sailed up to Manjack Cay, a favorite spot we’d stayed a couple of days at over a month ago.  We’ve gotten very good at leaving anchor under sail, only using the engine to help pull up the anchor and maneuver if we’re too close to other boats.  We’re doing equally as well coming into anchorages, with the sails down only after we’ve turned onto the spot we want to anchor.  And, we’ve gotten some compliments from other sailors for this as well.

At Manjack we dinghied through the Mangrove swamp, going up tributaries that we'd missed weeks before.  Then we returned “home” for Yellow Tail Snapper sushi, cocktails while I played the keyboard in the cockpit until sunset, followed by another wonderful fish dish a la Penelope. 

Sunday, May 17, Pen wrote in her log: “Ahhh, what a life.  I made the bed while James made coffee and now here we sit in the cockpit reading, writing, looking at charts as we plan our slow withdrawal from the Abacos.  Withdrawal would be the operative word because I’m already anticipating the sadness at leaving the islands and this wonderful life on the boat with James.

“Sailed up to the upper end of Manjack, and tacking out the cut to make it into the new anchorage caught two Yellow Tail Snappers!  Nice little anchorage, but we seem to have a few flies with us … a real pain while cleaning fish.  We also had gull company, two of which stayed with us off and on until dusk.  I told them they could join us if they didn’t poop on the dinghy or make too much racket waiting for tidbits. 

“We had sushi appetizer and left-over fish with fruit salad for dinner.  Lots of music from the Ipod and James played along with it.”

Monday, May 18, again from Pen’s log: “Too bad the gulls didn’t take us up on our offer to come along with us.  We caught another Yellow Tail on our way to Powell Cay.  Then I’ll be damned if we didn’t hook another snapper, this one a large Mutton, as we sailed into the anchorage.  It was a little hairy trying to reel in the fish, avoid an outgoing boat, and head up into the wind before we sailed smack into the shore.  We did it all without a cross word or raised voice.  There weren’t even any white knuckles, although I was getting anxious as the shore got closer and closer. 

“It’s a little squally today, and we had to try anchoring three times before we got a position and hold we were sure about.  Once anchored, I cleaned the fish while James tried to find fellow sailors who might like a Mutton Snapper filet.  Alas, he did, and then the fellows, Jim and Rick came by to thank us and helped us drink our rum. 

“To date we’ve caught four Mutton Snappers, seven Yellow Tails (two of which we gave back to the sea), and one Blue Runner.  We’ve caught a fish or two every day for the last six days.  Unbelievable!  He fixed sushi for lunch today … Yum … and is getting really good at the rolls, although we’re almost out of Nori again.  Tonight we grilled Mutton Snapper after an appetizer of steamed Stone Crab claws.  We are sure eating a lot of fish for people who really only like fish if it’s sushi.  But I have to admit we’ve had some good dishes!”

Tuesday, May 19, was our “seven month anniversary” based on the October date we first corresponded.  Rick and Jim in Pitcairn, a 33-foot Tartan, sailed off around 0800 making way to Great Sale Cay, a good eight-hour sail.  I guess they thought the rain and wind from the night before would dissipate, but we saw storm still clouds on the horizon and stayed put.  Wise choice, for it stormed mightily, with gusts of 33 to 35 knots!  With less than an eighth-of-a-mile visibility at times, it was the worst weather we’d been in since getting to the Bahamas.  I took some Stugeron (somewhat like Dramamine) over to the couple on the one other boat in the anchorage, a small sloop … when I’d offered them fish the evening before, they admitted to being a bit seasick and being without medicine.  I offered them some then, which they declined, but today, I just took it over, and they seemed green-in-the-gills thankful for it.  Later, in a slight break in the weather that afternoon, they motored off and into the wind toward Green Turtle Cay a couple of hours away at least.  Meanwhile, we lazed about in the stormy weather, celebrating our anniversary by reading aloud our early emails to each other.  Said Pen: “The thrill and tenderness is all still there and more.  We are blessed.”

On Wednesday, May 20, a small weather window appeared and we decided to move onward and sail to Crab Cay, eight nautical miles and with winds of 18-24 knots.  We considered anchoring briefly at Cooperstown for a trip into the grocery, but decided against it as it would have been an anchorage with the shore alee of us.  So we broad reached and went wing-on-wing up to Crab Cay, reaching as much as 7.9 knots over ground as we surfed the wind waves.  We jibed our way around the upper end of the cay, and when we found ourselves on a beam reach we hit 8.2 knots SOG.  The winds made getting the Genoa in a bit dicey, but we managed even with a small overlapped on the roller furling line and some tangled sheets.  As we anchored between two other boats (an Irwin 37 and a Hunter 30-something), the fellow on the Hunter popped up and yelled: “We’ve all got 200 feet of chain out.  It’s been blowing for four days.”  Noticing he had rope rode, not chain, we said nothing, but we put out 100 feet, which in the last three stormy days we’re glad we did.

The wind lightened enough for me to grill us a steak, which with sashimi appetizer and baked potatoes and veggies made a wonderful meal. 

This brings me back to where I started this entry.  The weather window is here ... not quite soon enough for us to make the 50 miles to Great Sale today, but we will tomorrow.  Meantime, I’ve checked the engine oil and alternator belt, hoisted the dinghy up on the davits (after bailing out twenty gallons of water … the gas tank was floating), and we’re set to leave at 0800 or earlier in the morning.  “God willing, and the creek don’t rise,” says Pen.


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