February 28, 2011
Clarencetown, Long Island, Bahamas
Today we sit aboard Meredith pinned down at Clarencetown. Wind blows 145 degrees at 15 to 20 knots. We have had two squalls in the past hour with wind significantly higher. The sky is full of rising cumulous cloud and the Short Wave Radio is full of static of the sort generated by distant lightning strikes. It is 10:00 am and neither of us has moved save form making coffee and putting on the sail cover we were too exhausted to install last evening. It would be nice if the lightning remains suitably distant.
Wind has been blowing from this unfortunate direction for 4 days now. Twenty knots out out of 140 degrees give or take. Waves are from roughly the same direction and have been in the six to eight foot range on a short frequency, under six seconds. Our target destinations have courses of 90 degrees for Samana or 180 degrees for Crooked and Aklins Islands.
Our boat really hates to sail within 45 degrees of the wind and even if it was handy to windward the incessant six to eight foot waves would set her back a step and a half for every step forward. And of course a wind that is 140 degrees when you are standing still has a different angle when you are under sail and moving. As boat speed increases the apparent wind angle moves forward. If we set off on a course of 95 degrees with the wind out of 140 degrees we would quickly find ourselves with the wind, not 45 degrees off the nose of our boat but maybe 40 or even 35 degrees.
Needless to say it has been rough. The Budget Committee and I are sore from three days of fighting, inappropriately I might add, to move our boat south and east. Leaving Emerald Bay we sought to reach our way to Conception Island, a protected nature area. Instead we fought a close reach to New Bight on Cat Island.
Waking at Cat Island we knew further progress would only be gained at great cost. Our course to Conception was 134 degrees magnetic, wind was 140 degrees at 15 to 20 knots.
We set off smartly from the protected anchorage in New Bight, sailing off our anchor and working our way east and then south. Rounding Hawk's Nest point we ran smack into the fresh South East breeze and then it was game on.
Meredith is not a good tacker and we, her crew, do little to enhance her already troubled performance in that area. That day however was different. Fit for the America's Cup. We tacked and tacked and tacked only missing one tack on the whole day - and that of course with disastrous consequences for both course and velocity made good. Back and forth across the wind and increasingly significant waves we pounded our way to Conception Island, only 22 miles off. Having departed New Bight at 6:30 am we limped into Conception and dropped the hook just as sun set (6:00 pm). This anchoring at the outbreak of dusk is getting to be all too common aboard our vessel and we need to pay closer attention to our timing. That day however it was all we could do to make good twenty one nautical miles in near twelve hours under sail.
Maybe we were just tired and worn from the voyage from Cat to Conception but the next day was worse. We might have stayed at Conception to await better conditions however our fellow anchoring vessels were all of the "happy happy joy joy" set. The radio was abuzz all evening with beach parties and bonfires and plans for tomorrow's group lobstering foray - all this in a protected, "pack it in, pack it out" venue. One night amidst the suburbanites was one night more than enough.
Trying to sail off our anchor we found ourselves stymied for a bit. The anchor would not lift its rode which turned out to be wrapped under a large rock. One nice thing about the water here is that you can see everything, even thirty feet down, with crystal clarity. A quarter hour was spent maneouevering under power to unwrap the chain before we could bend on sail and make for Clarencetown.
Wind continued at 140 degrees and 15 to 20 knots. Our course, straightline would have been 178 degrees, right at the edge of the travelable sector for Meredith. In a perfect world. In a world where the six and eight foot waves didn't change our angle on the wind with six second predictability and push us backwards with a firm parental grip.
We were forced into sailing about 210 degrees to make any way against the seas. This carried us, slowly, to the coast of Long Island where we were forced to tack after about five hours of progress. The tack failed. Utterly. We did not have sufficient way on to press the bow of poor Meredith through the waves and across the wind. Sheepishly, although alone and with no witnesses, we gybed. At that the waves rejoined their assault on our poor hull and the hope that we could sail a course of 90 degrees was shown to be the inept dreams of hopelessly inadequate sailors.
The waves kicked us back and around and back again. With help from the diesel we were able to complete an extended leg eastward, with only a modest amount of north in it, and finally, two hours later, turn again south to Clarencetown. This time we kept the diesel dieseling. We gained propulsion from the diesel and propulsion and stability from the press of sail, attaining a steady speed of five and a half knots. Our velocity made good was a myth while underway. Our poor hull was changing direction in a continuous flowing process interrupted only by the jarring crash as every third or fourth wave, significantly larger than its brothers, ran headlong into Meredith. Only when the trip was over and we could see how far we had come in the measured timespan could the speed made good be calculated.
Anchorage was gained at sundown, again far too close a margin of error for comfort.
It seems to us that since we have been in Bahamas the wind has been out of the South East about 75 to 85% of the time. Even the cold fronts are not producing shifts to the north at our current latitude.
Just now, with another three days of SE wind in the forecast followed by two days of light and variable, Puerto Rico does not seem attainable. We will not beat our way there.
Another time we will not spend time in Bahamas if making for ports south. Just now the I65 route or Connie's Heat Seeking Missile Course seem superior to the Gentleman's Route.