DAY 1 ON THE BANK WENT SOMETHING LIKE THIS...
After our experience when entering Bimini (see Gulf Stream Crossing post), we were much more cautious about planning our departure. We choose to go out with an incoming tide as we learned the rushing water from the shallows to the deep sea causes massive disruptions in the form of huge waves. This particular time of the outgoing, or ebb tide, is known locally as “rage,” and rightfully so.
So our time was set, we would leave around noon to catch the last of the incoming tide, this also was suitable for the upcoming passage as we would cross several shallows.
Our trip for the next 5 hours was straight out of the “life-long dreams” book. Beautiful crystal clear water, 15ft deep (yes, you could clearly see the bottom), light winds and about 2ft waves (if that)—what a dream! We approached our anchorage near Mackie Shoal, a small patch of “shallow” water about midway from Bimini to the Northwest channel (the passage from the Great Bahama Bank to New Providence and other islands) at about 6pm. Once the anchor was dropped, I quickly got to work de-stowing the dinghy from the deck. It had been packed away since our Gulf Stream crossing and we had been waiting for calmer weather to get it out. By the time it was inflated, Bethany had already whipped up a mean bowl of grub, and we all sat down to eat.
This is the point in the fairy tale where all forces of evil come out and show their worst.
Almost as soon as dinner was over, the wind and therefore waves, began to pick up. Not in the Oh that gentle breeze is now a picturesque fan flowing through a supermodel’s hair type of way. No, no, no—it was if it were howling: “Oh you think you’ve seen wind?!”
Our boat began violently heaving upwards and back down again as the waves, that were once only a couple feet in height, now became monsters of the Great Bahamian Bank. Over the next several hours we chased down noises our boat was making that seemed of impending importance. You should’ve seen us—we did everything from strapping the inflated dinghy down to the deck (just in case), to repositioning and lashing down the rode (anchor rope) to keep it from riding up out of the roller in which it is suppose to ride in and stowing dishes we had washed after dinner, etc.
Several times, my attention was needed out on the deck. Bethany insisted I wear my lifevest and harness with tether and explained that I looked like I was a rag doll being catapulted up into the air and then launched back down with every movement of the bow.
We finally laid down about 12 or 1am, though obviously, not much sleep was in store.
DAY 2 ON THE BANK
As the hours passed, and the noises of thumping and banging were consistent through the night, dawn finally broke—but the waves did not. As our boat was still pitching up and down, like a cross between a sub-standard carney ride and a mechanical bull, we un-tied the dinghy and got it in the davits (the mounts on the back of the boat that hold the dinghy out of the water), and hauled up the anchor. Both were feats no man should ever have to accomplish alone.
We set off on our next leg across the bank. Our journey was to lead us to a little-traveled area known as Morgan’s Bluff, on the island of Andros (the largest, but for some reason, less spoke of island in the Bahamas), some 40 nautical miles away.
About an hour into our journey I noticed a slight wheeze come from the engine. My instincts urged me to take a look at our gauges, and upon doing so, I realize the evil plot was thickening. Our engine had begun to overheat though only slightly. We backed off the throttle, and Bethany kept us on track while I went below to have a look.
The belt, which runs both the alternator and water cooling pump had begun to slip. This was not a surprise, as I had notice the day before that it had done the same thing (only in a not so drastic way). As I began to loosen the bolt on the alternator bracket to re-tighten the belt I realized the bracket had BROKEN. My mind quickly raced through many scenarios on how to fix this as I had no spare bracket on board, but unfortunately came up short of an “good” idea.
Out of necessity, I marched on and decided the old belt was shot, so I would at least replace it. I took out the new belt and installed it. To my delight, it was extremely tight. I had purchased spare belts for our trip and thought they would be the same size, but apparently not (and thankfully so). The belt was so tight it held the alternator against the engine and had no room to move. Still unwilling to accept this as a “fix” I went back on deck to get the sails out thinking we would just sail to our next destination without the use of the motor. As we began to unfurl the head sail it got jammed about 4 feet out. The evil plot rearing it’s head again. I went up front on deck and tried, without success, to help it along to get it out. Perhaps the forestay (cable that runs from the bow to the top of the mast) was too slack. I proceeded to get out my tools and try to tighten it with, of course, no success. It was at that point that I also dropped my last flat screwdriver into the water! Clearly not being able to sail to windward, and no engine, we would drift endlessly for several weeks drinking our urine and hallucinating about land on the horizon.
But alas, with a tablespoon of ingenuity and a 50lb bag of God’s grace we got the engine in just enough working order to continue on. We re-checked our bearings and decided that our original course of Morgan’s Bluff was still the most optimal place to journey to, so off we went. Motoring for the next eight hours we reached the edge of the bank and dropped off into the deeeeeeeeppppp waters of the “tongue of the sea” where I had Bethany take the wheel again so Zion & I could throw some lures in the water and have a chance at landing a huge fish. That didn’t happen, but we had fun trying!
About an hour later we rounded the point of the bluff and snuggled into our calm little cove for a much needed rest.