White Pepper spent 7 days in Nassau at the Nassau Harbor Club Marina waiting for weather. There was 2 days waiting for the weather to arrive and an unusual 5 days waiting for it to blow over. There were two strong associated late season low pressures with trailing cold fronts—very unusual for this late in the season. The weather was not bad or cold in Nassau, but the front maintained strong head winds for us--West, Northwest and North wind for 5 days. Indeed, it was still blowing light out of the North the day we left. (NOAA had called for SE all day.) We headed for the Berry Islands and Frazier Hog Cay. We were delayed by being boarded by the Harbor Patrol. They did not give a reason, although I suspect accidentally getting close to a cruise liner had something to do with it. They were very professional, and we were on our way in 45 minutes. My late friend, Bruce Ray, single hander, had always spoken well of Frazier Hog as an alternate to Chubb Cay, just 5 miles away. After an agonizingly slow sail we got there just at sunset. We used the outer anchorage and did not take a mooring inside in front of the Bimini Yacht Club. I could not get the anchor to set in the rocky, grassy bottom. The anchorage was quite exposed, esp. to the south. I put out all of the chain which held us all night in the quiet conditions. But I do not think I am going back to Frazier Hog any time soon.
That night I checked the weather again. Now there was a mention of yet another cold front moving off of the Florida coast in two days. It was very mild. The GRIB files (computer generated predictions) showed only 10 knots from the north west then clocking East and dying rapidly. What could go wrong? I even foolishly thought that it would help. The wind would blow gently from the North. I would set the sails up to go West. The Gulf Stream would push North. The boat would go Northwest which was our destination. Sort of like squeezing a water melon seed between two fingers. Later we were to learn what that felt like. Besides to wait meant going into Chubb Cay Marina and paying exorbitant fees. Staying a Frazier Hog did not seem feasible. We took off.
We passed the Northwest Channel at noon. There was not much to see—just a color change as the depth changed from thousands of feet in the Tongue of the Ocean (blue) to dozens of feet (aquamarine) on the banks. The famous Northwest Channel Light is long gone and, indeed, is now a hazard to navigation. In truth with universal use of chart plotters, navigation lights are no longer necessary. But still it makes one wonder about a government that will not even maintain the basic aids to navigation. We made a long slow crossing of the Grand Bahama Banks exiting them at 3 am via Great Issac (also light extinguished) and the Hens and Chickens reef. We alternated watches but did not get much sleep.
Red Sun in Morning, Sailor Take Warning
The next morning dawned with a red sky--'sailor take warning.' The Gulf Stream was extraordinarily calm. The water was at times mirror like. White Pepper trudged along at 4 knots—two from the sick motor and 2 from the Stream. Then about noon a light Northwesterly sprung up--”Great” I thought. Boat speed picked up to 6 knots. Cool wind dried the sweat. We were in business. Then about 1 pm all hell broke loose with 15+ knots of wind gusting to 20 knots from the North. We were now only 5 miles east of the axis of the Stream. Thank you NOAA! Thank you GRIBs! Jan quickly reefed the Genoa. We both reefed the main. The boat took off to the Northwest on the close reach. We were making 9 knots, once touching 10. This was 3 and half knots from the Gulf Stream and 6 and half or seven knots from White Pepper. The waves were never too bad. Legends are told of great “elephants” marching down from the north in these conditions, but we never saw any. There were a couple of dozen gnarly waves, but White Pepper shook them all off like the through bred she is. Poor Aphrodite, however, was completely miserable. She spent the entire afternoon gripping a cushion with her claws. After the waves set in speed “dropped” to 8 knots. At least we were making tracks away from ground zero at a rapid rate. By 3 pm things were reasonable. This was after we crossed the western wall of the Gulf Stream. We raised the jetties of Lake Worth (between Palm Beach and West Palm Beach) about 5 pm.
Just inside the jetties the motor overheated again. We had to shut her down. It was a really mad scrabble to sail into the crowed Lake Worth anchorage. Jan expertly steered and wove the boat through the anchorage. She picked out a likely spot. When the time came she brought the boat to a stop at just the right place and dropped the main sail. I was on the bow and let the anchor down. Thankfully, the anchor bit and held.
Jan and I were both exhausted—mentally and physically—after two days of grueling boredom , 4 hours of a roller coaster ride and 30 minutes of sheer panic somehow getting anchored without causing huge damage to another boat..
For readers who have patiently read this account of misery are there any take home lessons? Yes. Never believe the GRIBs, but most of you knew that anyway. Never go out in the Gulf Stream when there is any chance of North Wind, but everyone knows that. Third, I guess you got to do what you have to do. If we had returned to Nassau, it might have been another 2 or 3 weeks before the weather opened up again. This year has been severe. Despite all of the losses, we are very grateful and glad to be back in the USA. Indeed it seems to me nothing short of miraculous given all of the set backs of the past two months. And finally, Aphrodite, is a really great boat kitty.