February 26, 2010
Rock Sound, Eleuthera 24 52 N 076 10 W
"Nooooo. We don't sell those."
With this declaration the rheumy eyes set deep in the dour face of the aging demon behind the cash register set me in my tracks with a baleful glare.
For a moment I was speechless. It was as if, by asking for a simple telephone calling card, I had insulted her and spit in the pristine genetic pool of ancestors which had produced her.
"Don't know where you would get such a thing as that aroun' here". I have heard judges issue career ending rebukes with less restrained outrage.
The meaning was clear. There was no way on this planet I should be asking to buy something she did not stock.
Desperation had set in on my end of the negotiating teeter totter. I had to make a phone call. My next move was critical and a cold sweat bathed all kinds of parts I cannot name. This was serious.
Let me explain. Meredith set off from Ft. Lauderdale FL for Nassau Bahamas early on Saturday morning. The plan, although why I use that term anymore is beyond answering, was to make easy passage to Bimini and check the weather to see if any greater forward progress would be possible. If so we would continue to motor across the little Bahamas Bank into the light headwinds we faced in the Florida Straits.
Coming up on Bimini we tuned in Chris Parker's Caribbean Weather Centre broadcast about 6:30 a.m. Friends from Newfoundland had fretted that we would be stuck in Bimini for the better part of a week if we left on Saturday. "And at that darlin' it will be a motor job all the way", finished our friend meaning we would not be able to sail even an inch toward our goal. Whatever goal that turned out to be.
Chris Parker gave us a window to make Nassau. A cold front was due through on Monday night. Quick figuring told us we would be to Nassau early Monday morning if we motored through the night. An easy decision was made.
Immediately a decision is made the mind starts to play with it, to see if it can be improved, to probe its weaknesses. Ten minutes later I announced that Meredith would make for Royal Island not Nassau.
My reasoning was that Nassau was a lousy place to be in a blow. It had poor holding for the most part but some good bits could be found if they were not occupied by other boats anticipating a storm. Royal Island on the other hand we knew from experience to be impregnable by wave and pretty much from wind. It was not much further to Royal Island. Royal Island was bucolic. Nassau was sort of industrial and all kind of dirty and busy like a working port, which I guess is a good thing considering that this is what it is. Toronto is not a port compared to Nassau let me tell you.
The Budget Committee answered as she always does when I have a flash of insight: "I already thought of that". "It's a good idea".
Before my mood could be destroyed we found a pod of whales lazing their way through the waters off Bimini. Instant elation. Such company we keep on Meredith.
Entering the banks we came on a field of Portuguese Men of War. Fascinating pulsing colourful creatures they held our childlike attention for the better part of an hour. It was the first time we had seen such creatures.
The pace was set by our faithful Beta diesel, whining its turbine like whine endlessly as minutes turned into hours turned into more hours and then more hours.
About 1 a.m. we came on the Northwest shoal. Let me correct that. About 1 a.m. we came on the light marking the Northwest Shoal. About 1/2 mile wide this shoal poses no issues during daylight. At 1 a.m. after 24 hours of virtually no sleep the light and the shoal it marks takes on different significance.
The term "Oh God, Oh God, We're all going to die" flashed through my head like a Times Square Marquee for about 20 minutes.
Then all was calm. In 15 minutes we moved from 15 foot depths of the Banks to 6,000 feet and then to 14,000. Nothing to it. We were in the Tongue of the Ocean, a tongue shaped (duh) intrusion of the Atlantic into the calm of the Bahamian islands.
The Beta, being one just motored on.
Dawn came or rather exploded into view. Beautiful bright coral pinks and oranges and yellows and all so bright. Wait a minute: Bright in morning a sailor's ....
With the rise of Sol the wind began to build. And build. And build. This was all forecast. Nothing was amiss I kept telling myself. Did I mention the paranoia that arises from sleep deprivation?
By 8 a.m. Royal Island figured prominently. By 8:30 a.m. we came upon the marker for the approach to Royal Island. This marker, juxtapostionally, is the oxidizing remains of an old wreck: the hull of a boat that went where it shouldn't oughta of gone. Handy reminder not to lose focus. Did I mention the paranoia?
Twenty minutes from Royal Island the unstoppable Beta stopped. Dead. No warning, no cough, no sputter, nothing. It just died.
Cool. Paranoia, remember?
The Budget Committee took the wheel and guided the boat under seriously reduced sail (to minimize the force of impact if that were to be our fate) and the rest of the crew started to work through the fuel system.
No point belabouring the thing but it took an hour to change filters and bleed the diesel. Oddly this was not the result of incompetence of crew, sleep deprivation or rampant paranoia. Turns out the Beta has TWO bleed screws but only identifies one in its manual. The second was discovered during a retracing of the fuel line trying to find a leak or evidence of a pinhole.
Fuel system restored we anchored in Royal Island and settled in for two days of 25 and then 30G35 winds. We were snug. Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean a damn thing. It is just protective covering. The well adjusted crew of the boat whose hulk we passed enroute to Royal Island needed a touch of obsessive compulsion and a healthy dose of suspicion. Works for us.
Not having cleared customs or immigration we flew the Q flag at anchor and could not leave the ship. Of course there is nothing on Royal Island so this was not a factor.
When the storm subsided and we were ready to head out we were 5 days out of Ft. Lauderdale and we had made no contact.