I was glad to finally leave Georgetown. While Richard was at the helm slaloming around the boats anchored in front of the marina, I quickly set the course on the chart plotter, activated the Spot homepage, and sent the first “Ok” message. A large Russian yatch passed on our port side but nothing else. We had the channel for ourselves. In less than one hour we were in open waters headed towards Cape May in Long Island, motoring with a double reefed main. Wind less than 8 Knots.
By 5:30pm the sun was about to touch the ocean. I poured myself a double G&T, handed Richard a beer, and sat in silence in the cockpit waiting for the night to take over. Our glasses empty, Richard went down and extracted from the fridge the bag of frozen fried rice which had been wrapped with an old edition of the Financial Times. He put the content in the wok, turned the solenoid and stove on, and waited. Since the ocean was still quite flat we set the table and had a proper dinner in the main cabin.
I did the first watch (7-11pm ). Uneventful, except for a ghost barge that passed close-by and didn’t have an AIS. Nobody replied to my VHF calls either. With light winds, the plan was to motor during the night trying to do as much easting as possible. Thus, after rounding the cape, I set course towards Samana Cay which lied 90 miles away. There wasn’t much to do. I sat-down in the cockpit to contemplate the night, immense, reaching the depths of the universe. Eventually, I updated the log, wrote and send e-mails, downloaded weather files, an started reading a guide book about the islands surrounding us; the hours passed. Richard also didn’t have much to report after his watch. It was during my second watch (2-5am) that I discovered that the bilge was 20%. I got a bit worried and started to check the seacocks. In my second try I found the potential culprit: the discharge of the lavabo in the head was licking. Access to that, bronze, seacock is not easy, but after a few tries I was able to close it using tongue-and-groove pliers and reduce — not completely stop — the leak. Then I pumped the bilge. By the end of my watch the wind was blowing steady above 15 Kts and the sea started to become alive. I took off one reef in the main, unrolled the genoa also with one reef, turned off the engine, sailed as close to the wind as possible, and engaged Constancia the wind-vane. We could no longer hold the course towards Samana Cay. Instead, we headed south east in the direction of Gordon’s Bluff in Crooked Island. Once there, we would motor east along the coast taking advantage of the night lee that, according to Bruce Van Sant’s “Passages South,” neutralizes somewhat the trade winds.
When Richard got up to prepare coffee the motion of the boat was uncomfortable enough to require some concentration boiling water and handling the French press. But Antares was riding the waves with grace, up and down, without slamming into them. We sailed all day with the same sail configuration and without altering our course. My entries in the log book only updated the latitude and longitude. Great sailing that we interrupted just before sunset when we saw land and the lighthouse over Little Bird Rock. We hoved-to, brought a couple of jerry cans to the cockpit and filled the diesel tank. Then I turned on the engine, rolled the genoa, gave Constancia a break and set course to the east, along the coast, with the auto-pilot in charge. As expected, the wind dropped and stayed below 12 Knots all night. We had our daily drink followed by dinner, beef stew that night.
At dawn, North East Point was abeam, I was on watch. The wind started to pick-up again and, like the previous day, I took-off one reef in the main, unrolled the genoa also leaving one reef, turned off the engine, sailed as close to the wind as possible on starboard tack, and put Constancia back to work. This time the new course was taking us towards West Plana Cay and we had two options. Continue and eventually tack to sail south of the islands towards Mayaguana Island, or tack before getting to close to West Plana and then tack back sailing north-east of the Plana Cays towards Mayaguana. We opted for the latter and it was probably a mistake. When we tacked back the wind had shifted and we end up sailing almost south instead of East-South-East. Eventually, we had to turn on the engine to clear the reefs that extend east of Plana Cays. By 2pm, once cleared of all dangers, we killed the engine and set course towards Devil’s Point in Mayaguana. The wind was in the high teens and Antares sailed, almost close hauled, at 7 Knots.
The motion inside was not very pleasant and we were thinking about following another of Bruce Van Sant’s suggestions and anchor in Star Bay. The next day we could either move to Abrahams Bay and explore the island, or sail to South East Point, anchor until midnight, and then start the crossing of Caicos Passage. Van Sant argues that it is a much better way to do it: 40 miles on a beam-reach vs. 60 closed hauled. But it was Richard who suggested to simply continue and so we did. One reason was that we would have had to anchor at night and we didn’t have a good flash lamp (not a very good reason I guess). Although we didn’t know at the time, we would also have had the problem of not having a working windlass. So, at the end, we never really saw Mayaguana. When we approached Devil’s Point it was pitch black and there didn’t seem to be much human activity in land. Instead of changing course towards Turks and Caicos right away, we had a drinks and dinner and waited hoping to get a better wind angle. It was close to 9pm when we adjusted our course but without any noticeable improvement in motion; we still ended up sailing closed-hauled on port tack.
The first part of the passage went well. This time it was during Richard’s second watch that things started to change. I was sleeping in the quarter berth (I like to sleep there in passage close to the navigation table) when I was awoken by the sounds created by Antares crashing into waves. I went out to the cockpit and asked “What is going on?” “The wind picked-up an hour ago. It has been in the 20s” was the answer. “Why didn’t you wake me up?” No answer. Antares was under stress, clearly overpowered, with the starboard rail in the water. “We have to reef, now” I said. I should have just released the main, connected my harness to the port jack line, and go to the mast to put the second reef. Instead, I decided to disengage Constancia, sailed on a broad reach to stabilize the boat, and asked Richard to take over the helm. I was not sailing single handed after all. Only then I went to the mast, released the main halyard, let out the first reef cringle, set the second reef cringle, tensioned the halyard, and started to winch the reefing line when Richard gybed accidentally. “Sorry” he yelled. “Let me bring her back.” “Nooo” I yelled in turn. “Leave her there.” I finished winching the reefing line now in starboard tack (at least we had right of way) and went back to the cockpit. There I released the starboard genoa sheet, got some speed up wind, and tacked. During the night the wind had become more East-North-East so that in our new course towards the entrance of Sandbor Channel we were sailing almost on a beam reach. And we were sailing fast.
But then another sound started. Something was banging with force when Antares went over a wave. At the beginning I thought something was loose in the forepeak, maybe the big can of duck cassoulet that I had brought from DC. I inspected and nothing. Then I went back to the bow and discovered with horror that one of the anchors, the one connected to the windlass, was loose, flying and hitting the hull. With the harness connected to the jack line and making sure not to fall overboard, I tried to bring back and secure the anchor. Right there, at the bow, the waves were boarding Antares and in a few seconds I was drenched. Worse, the chain was too tight to just pull the anchor over the rail. I would have had to recover it through the bow roller and that was a more involved, and possibly dangerous, procedure, requiring me to stand over the pulpit. So I went to turn on the windlass. Once back at the bow I pressed the windlass “Down” button and nothing. The windlass was death. I didn’t have a choice but to bring the anchor as close to the rail as possible and then secure it with the line I use for the secondary anchor. In the process a wave came over and took my, relatively new, glasses away. I was not happy with the situation. Because this was a short passage and we could have anchored somewhere, I didn’t think about stowing the anchors. But I should have at least checked that they were secure. When I returned to the cockpit it was time for my watch. I stayed outside trying to dry.
By morning Antares was gliding in 20+ knots of wind. Richard thinks those are optimal conditions for her. I agree. We had coffee in the cockpit braced against the starboard seat-backs with our feet against the port seats, our torsos in a 20 degree angle to the water. A beautiful morning, the sun raising slowly in the east, the seas formed, reflecting photons in all directions. Soon we saw land and, shortly after, a beautiful schooner sailing south. No other boats or signs of life.
To enter Sanborne channel we rolled the genoa and turned on the engine. Depth and colors changed fast. We were soon over turquoise water going around coral heads. Once in the channel we started to tack back and forth. With 20 Knots of wind in our nose it took us close to 4 hours to round Bay Cay and head to South Side Marina, our final destination. Once close to the entrance I talked to Bob, the owner, on VHF. He started to give us directions to negotiate the entrance but eventually we run aground; the depth-sounder showed less than ½ feet of water below the keel. The tide was rising and soon we were floating again but it would be dark before there was enough water further down the channel. Bob, who was managing the process from his bar which overlooks the bay, suggested that we anchor outside for the night and enter in the morning. Richard was not happy. I guess he had been looking forward to a hot shower. But we didn’t have a choice. Thus, after failing to get the windlass to work, we dropped the secondary anchor in just over 6 feet of water close to Copper Jack Rock. We had drinks (now several) while admiring the sunset and talking about different scenes of our short passage; three nights and one day. Richard’s mood improved immediately. It was not only the drinks, but also the fact that it was my turn to fix dinner — pasta with chicken and a bottle of Californian red wine, Robert Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, that I had been able to buy in GT (one of the benefits of trade and globalization). That fourth night, at anchor, we slept close to nine hours, like stones.
Next morning, we were drinking coffee when Bob came in his power boat to guide us to the marina. It was really not needed but he told me he wanted to make sure everything was fine. The previous night, he had been concerned about us having steering problems because we were not following properly his directions. I blamed it on Richard.
South Side Marina is a very welcoming place. Bob has a beautiful house built over the hill. To the side is the Bar which connects to a japanese style field or garden (a la zen rock garden of Ryoanji) where you can play “pétanque” — the french game with three balls and a small marker; the one go gets the highest number of balls close to the marker wins. The floating docks are just in front of the office, bath-room/showers, and laundry room. We waited for the migration and customs officers while tiding the boat and walking around. I also took a shower and changed clothes. When they arrived we sat under a porch and handed our passports and boat papers. We soon had our stamps and cruising permit but we stayed there with them chatting under the shade and drinking a beer. We didn’t do much for the rest of day. At 5pm, when the bar opened, we headed up there and sat-down to enjoy the views. Richard ordered a local cocktail, I stayed with my G&T. Everything was perfect except for me having to wear sunglasses at night…