George Town to Black Point

February 12, 2011

Repeat after me: don’t play with cold fronts, don’t play with cold fronts …

We left George Town in the morning with the stated intention of getting out ahead of the cold front due in the afternoon.  The front would arrive with strong NNE winds, and the breeze would fill from the E in its wake.  This would make exiting George Town, travelling 40 miles NW up the coast in the Exuma Sound, and re-entering through a cut very uncomfortable.  Meanwhile post-frontal conditions would be ripe for a run to Florida.

I’ve stated that we can only predict the weather about 4-5 days with any certainty, and we could not see far enough ahead to sit in GT long enough for conditions to abate there, and still expect good conditions all the way to FL.  We’re eager to get home and hated the idea of losing this window.  When the morning forecast showed the front arriving later than previously expected and extending into the next day, we suddenly realized we were going to lose a day of our good forecast AND get hammered on the first leg.  In the space of about 10 minutes, we decided to go.  

Our bottom had not been cleaned in a few weeks, and I had planned to do that.  I also wanted to take our last load of trash ashore, get some ice for all the fish we were going to catch, and run some other minor errands and boat chores.  All were optional, and I opted to skip them.

It was a beautiful day; flat calm with about 5 knots from the NNE.  We can’t reasonably sail in less than 8 knots and the angle was a little tight, so we left an engine on.  I could feel the dirty bottom and props and estimated we were down about a knot of boat speed.  We did some fishing with three lures out, but only caught one barracuda.  We were happy with our decision to go.

The wind gradually built up to 10 knots, but went farther north, making it harder to use.  Around our half way point, the GPS was showing a 4:30pm arrival at Big Farmers Cut, but I wasn’t confident we could keep up our 6 knots that long.  The front would arrive earlier than the forecast as we travelled north to meet it.  I was not concerned about the front itself at this point, though I probably should have been.  What was on my mind was the cut, and that we would arrive in the middle of an ebb tide.

When we were going south on our way to George Town, we left through Galliot Cut (right next to Big Farmers) on an ebb tide and a light onshore breeze.  The effects of wind against tide on that day were mild, but still pronounced, and the current carried us through it.  This day we could have up to 25 knots opposing the flow and we’d have to fight our way into it.  It was not going to be fun, and possibly even dangerous.  Once we got to the cut, if we didn’t like it, we would have no options except to wait offshore until the current slacked near 8pm. Yuck.

Or, we could turn around and take the Square Rock Cut, which we had just passed.  It was a longer route since we would have to go around the large Galliot Bank on the inside, but that appeared to be the only downside.  The tide was currently slack, so the cut would not be a problem.  We expected the inside route to offer protection from wind and waves from the front.  We would have to motor upwind for about 10 miles, but did not expect that to be a problem.  So we turned around and headed for Square Rock.

It was about 2pm when we entered Square Rock Cut.  There were a couple boats anchored inside.  It occurred to me to join them, but I dismissed the thought.  It was still early and I had my mind set on getting up to Little Farmers Cay.  It would be dark when we arrived, but we were familiar with the area and didn’t see that as a problem.  We continued on, travelling south, then west, then northwest as we rounded the back side of Galliot Bank in about 10 feet of water.

The front arrived at about 4pm and the wind built quickly from 15 to 20 knots.  We had put a preventative reef in the main, so were not overpowered from a sail perspective.  The 20 knots turned into a sustained 25 and we rolled up a little jib.  We were moving at about 8-9 knots at this point.

The waves coming off that bank were quite surprising and we were bashing into them pretty hard.  Large amounts of heavy spray, and occasionally partial waves were washing along the decks.  At one point I was standing at the cockpit door and saw a wave come up from between the hulls and over the salon windows.  It came across the cabintop and heavy water dumped on me at the door.  In retrospect, we should have put another reef in the main, or otherwise slowed down.  We were being too hard on the boat, inside and out.  This went on for about an hour.

At some point I realized the trampolines were becoming detached from the boat.  I ventured forward to investigate and saw that the catwalk out to our crossbeam was also broken from the force on the trampolines.  We started the engines, but could not put them in gear because of all the lines in the water, and it was too dangerous to go on deck to get them.  In the ensuing chaos, we accidentally tacked the boat.  

Silence.  It was like everything stopped.  We were hove to and it was wonderful.  We were drifting at about 2 knots, I’m not sure which direction, but didn’t care since the wind was from off the bank.  I went forward and cut away the lines holding the trampolines, and hauled the tramps and the catwalk wreckage aboard.  While I was forward doing that, the port engine stopped.

With the foredeck cleared, we got back underway, now with the starboard engine, a second reef in the main, and no jib.  I went to look at the port engine and realized pretty quickly that the bowl of the fuel filter was full of water.  That meant the pickup was immersed in water at the bottom of the fuel tank.  I checked the gauge, and sure enough, we had about 5 gallons more “fuel” than we should.  It wasn’t going to be a quick or an easy fix.  

With only one engine, we weren’t going to be able to motor into this wind for the 10 miles to Little Farmers.  We needed to hunker down and regroup.  It was finally clear that we should have stopped in the vicinity of Square Rock.  So we picked a spot about an hour behind us where we could tuck up close enough to land where we could anchor comfortably, and once again turned around.

Sailing in 5-6 feet of very choppy water, in the dark, was a little bit nerve-racking.  We eventually dropped the main and just motored.  We found that we could not motor upwind at all.  The boat would slow to the point where the rudders stalled and we fell off, for some reason always to port.  With only our starboard engine, it was hopeless to bring the nose back up to the wind and we had to gybe around.  We did this three times, each time getting closer to some rocks marked “position approximate” on the chart, before we learned not to go upwind and instead just motor with the wind about 30 degrees to port.  With such limited maneuverability we couldn’t get to an ideal spot, and we were getting more and more nervous about the depth.  So eventually we decided we were close enough and just dropped the hook.   Putting the bridle on the anchor chain without the trampolines or catwalk took a little doing, but once done we settled down quite comfortably.

A quick dinner was made and the kids went to bed.  It was 9:45pm.

February 13, 2011

We rested today and waited for the cold front to pass.  We also cleaned up and got everything shipshape again (at least as much as it was before).

The catwalk is destroyed.  It was a box section and only the top layer and one side remains intact.  It can’t support any weight at all.  Neither of the trampolines was damaged and I have retied them to each other underneath the catwalk remnant.  Between the time when the catwalk broke and I discovered it, it was hanging in the water, and with each wave it was bashing the front and bottom of the bridgedeck.  I can’t see any serious damage, but I haven’t looked under the boat yet.

I pumped all the fuel from the port tank over to starboard and then opened port and cleaned the remaining water out.  That transfer pump sure comes in handy.  Then I pumped half of the fuel back, drained the water out of the Racor filter, primed the engine, and… it wouldn’t start.  The filter has a little ball that floats on water and shuts the fuel supply before the engine gets water, so that shouldn’t be the problem.  I’ve starved the engine of fuel a few times before due to plugged vents, but have never had any trouble getting it started again.  This time I had to bleed the fuel system, but eventually got it running again.

Our fuel and water fill ports are recessed below the deck for some reason.  The compartment drains, but not fast enough to cope with the water we were taking on deck.  We need a better hatch over the compartment to prevent water getting in that fast.  Since our water fill is in the same place, our port fresh water tank was also contaminated with salt water.  Unfortunately, that can’t be fixed as easily and we are the proud owners of 80 gallons of brackish water.  We probably won’t try to rinse and reuse the tank until we get to a dock with a hose.  Fresh water is too preciously made.

The interior was a mess.  We had lots of water come in through hatches that weren’t dogged tight, as well as things that were precariously stacked and fell down.  Our confidence in our stability allows us to get away with some bad storage practices… for awhile anyway.  But the boatbuilder bears some blame too.  The catches he put on the galley drawers were not enough to keep them from flying out.

February 14, 2011

Back on that horse cowboy.  

Conditions today are a clear sky with NE 14-18 and occasional gusts to 20.  We had to psych ourselves into picking up the anchor this morning.  We started with a just a reefed main, and gradually added the jib until confidence was fully restored.  Thankfully, the wave machine isn’t on today.  What a difference 10 knots makes.

Thinking back to our decision to leave Saturday, if we had not escaped George Town when we did, we would have been stuck there Sunday too, and just left (maybe) today.  It would have been a raucous day in the Exuma Sound and we probably would have ducked into the first cut and stopped, perhaps even at Square Rock, and perhaps with rage conditions at the cuts.  As it is, we’re now past the Galliot Bank and making an easy 6-8 knots toward Black Point.  We’ll stop there briefly to unload trash, update our weather forecast, and post this.  Then we’ll pick back up and keep moving north. 

Despite our missteps and wounds, I’m feeling pretty happy with our progress.