Gimme Shelter


It seems that I was far too hasty in declaring my disdain for George Town.  I now find myself looking forward to it and planning to accelerate our pace in that direction.  The change of heart is due to the weather and the shape of these northern Exuma islands that provide so little shelter from it.  

Over the last five days we have experienced strong winds from every point of the compass.  So far we have moved every single day, and our destinations are not our own choosing but those which provide the best degree of protection.  In truth, we have not moved today and expect to spend a second night in our current location, but only because there is no other place within range that offers better shelter from the sustained 25-30 knots with prolonged gusts higher, even to 40, that we’ve had for the last 24 hours and are forecast to continue through the night.

Protection we do find is never perfect.  We learned this the hard way on our first night in the Exumas, where waves wrapped completely around the island we were sheltered behind to hit us on our beam.  It completely defied logic and made for a frustratingly miserable night.  As a catamaran, we do not roll, but instead suffer from a shorter and quicker motion, like a violent rocking, when hit sideways by these sneaky waves which would otherwise be unfelt if approaching honestly from the bow.

After that experience we select our anchorages even more carefully than usual, and so far have not shared one with a single other boat.  It seems that most cruisers gravitate to the anchorages marked on the charts, which I assume must be based on the prevailing winds, rather than considering the actual forecast.  From where we sit in moderate comfort I can see five masts rolling wildly in an anchorage the chart claims has “all-around protection”, while our location is not mentioned at all.  I have seen only two Exuma anchorages on the charts that meet my definition of “all-around” and they are over 50 miles apart.

The wind is actually the easy part to guard against.  We are receiving excellent forecasts from Chris Parker; by email when we have that and the radio when we don’t.  Wind protection is easy to see by looking at the chart and considering the forecasted direction and any overnight shift.  Protection from the waves is much harder since the forces that shape them are not always visible.  In a perfect world they would proceed straight from the direction of the wind, but it is rarely that simple.  When there is deep water around, one must consider swells that may approach from the direction of a completely different weather system hundreds of miles away.  Then there is the current, which can be considerable, and may prevent a boat from laying into the wind and thus cause it to take otherwise orderly waves on its beam.  But the last, and most insidious factor, is that the shape of an island and its surrounding reefs can very effectively bend waves around into its lee.  I can see a small island with explosions of spray erupting on all sides.

After a week of running from one poor shelter to another, I am tired.  Restful nights have been rare due to uncomfortable motion, concerns about the anchor, and watching for early signs that our position is becoming untenable.  I long for a protected harbor.  I could also wish for the weather to moderate a little.  Right now it is taking a lot of effort to remind myself that this is paradise and I would not find better conditions any place in our wake.