Monday, June 11, 2007

Alacrity to the Bahamas - Out and Back again

Lewis I Hansen sailed his Alacrity ”Barnacles” from Florida to Grand Bahama. This is his account (previouly published in Twin-Keeler Newsletter 1/2001).

In preparation for a trip to Grand Bahama, I built three new sails for ”Barnacles”, our 18.6-foot twin keel Alacrity, from a larger suit of sails. The new main has 106 square feet compared to the original 91. The new furling genoa has 109 square feet compared to the origina hanked-on genoa of 78. I fashioned a cruising spinnaker from the racing chute by cutting one side to the length of the forestay and making it a dedicated luff; and cutting the other side 42 inches shorter to form a dedicated leech. This sail now has 262 square feet of fabric compared to 200 for the original (racing) spinnaker, and is useable with wind abaft the beam. My existing 100% hanked-on jib, with a longer luff, has 63 square feet compared to the original 48.

I completely rebuilt the rudder out of necessity, with the backward belly of the blade removed to change the shape toward higher aspect ratio, as described by John Letcher in ”Self-Steering for Sailing Craft”.

I tapered the after edge of the rudder to provide the knife-edge of the NACA wing section, reducing drag. The reduced size rudder steers as well as before and the wake is a lot cleaner.

I expected to replace the original forestay with the integral forestay in the furling genoa, but was able to move the existing shackle forward to a new hole on the bow fitting, providing room to shackle the furling unit at the after end of the fitting. The upper swivel on the furler attaches via stainless straps to the stud on the mast, which anchors the spreader stays. The furling genoa operates just aft of the original forestay, eliminating the necessity of flying and emergency jib loose-luffed if the furling unit jams, and providing a redundand forestay. Apart from these modifications we have a stock boat.

After two years of anticipation and preparation for our 25th wedding anniversary, we departed from New Hampshire on Sunday the 9th of May, 1999, towing “Barnacles” behind the Emerald Queen, our faithful Chrysler. We arrive in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on Monday, and launched from Harbor Towne Marina in Dania about 7 p.m. On board are my son and first mate Ben, 24, daughter and second mate, Anna, 22, and myself.

Almost immediately “Bill”, our Clinton Outboard, ceased to run prperly. The furling jib gives us difficulty as well; it will not unfurl. As we motor (sort of) out to the Intracoastal Waterway, we see a couple of Florida Manatees. Great! Our first wildlife. As we exit from Port Everglades inlet into the open ocean, we have a westerly wind force 1 to 2, which does little to move us east under mainsail and hanked-on jib during this first, memorable night. We are intending to sail due east and allow the current to carry us north toward Grand Bahama.

“Bill” runs sproradically, but shuts down altogether, leaving us making good way in a northerly direction with almost no headway to the east. The sights are marvellous. Florida, with its many hotels, is like a miles-long lighted billboard. Even ten miles offshore there is plenty of light. Surprisingly, it is chilly. Although the west wind is cool, the water is warm. I wear a wool cap and swearshirt over my tee shirt and shorts.

At 2 a.m. on Tuesday the second mate begins her watch and continues until 7 a.m. The first mate passes the helm to her with no encouragement: “The motor will not run, there is no wind, and we are drifting north. Don’t get hit by a ship”. She sees a couple of ships and sails sideways for five hours. We are hotbunking, using the two quarter berths only. The entire forward end of the cabin is full of supplies to a depth ofabout two feet.

At 7 a.m. we are only 16 miles north of Port Everglades outlet and 12 miles east. The Gulf Stream obvoiusly is not too close to shore or we would be much farther north. The water is a deep clear blue. After I get “Bill” running again, we motor on a course of 150 magnetic to counteract the Gult Stream pulling us inexorably northward. “Bill” eventually quits entirely. We pray. We want to go to Grand Bahama – not Cheasapeake Bay. We get some wind and average almost four knots for a three hour period.

A male black-throated blue warbler lands on the foredeck, migrating north and needing a rest. Off goes after a few minutes. The clevis pin securing the main sheet to the boom has lost its retaining ring and drops out as the sail slats. I am thankful that we are not close reaching at full speed right not.

In the afternoon we have the privilege of sailing through a pod of Short-finned Pilot whales, between 12 and 18 feet long, including a cow and a calf and about 10 others resting on the surface. We inspect them and they inspect us. My father, in Texas, is fearful that Killer whales will capsize us and eat us. But we do not encounter any of those on this trip.

It is dinnertime and the propane stove will not light. Most of our “underway” food is canned or bagged, so we eat it cold. The halyard shackle at the head of the mainsail breaks, leaving the halyard up the mast. We hoist the main on the jib halyard and use the spinnaker halyard for the jib. We watch thunderstorms move across our path ahead of and behind us. A little rain catches us. I will be glad to have some rain if it brings some good wind.

After 24 hours at sera, we are over 61 miles from Port Everglades, but much too far north, on a latitude with Memory Rock. 16 miles north of West End, 28 miles north and 39 miles west of our goal, Freeport. Tonight we cannot see Florida but there is still a lot of light. We see the horizon for 360 degrees and the the moon has not risen yet.

We are now getting force 4 winds and 3 foot waves. We cruise nearer to the Little Bahama Bank and its shallow water where we can drop the hook to rest and regroup. The second mate sees a shooting star streak across much of the sky. “The best one I ever saw”. I estimate that we are on the bank. The first mate puts an eight pound Danforth, 15 feet of chain and 100 feet of nylon over the sides. No we are not there yet.

Later, a re-check of the GPS and chart suggests thar we have arrived. We try again. This time we are successful, anchoring at 1 a.m, in what turns out to be 23 feet of water. The GPS works fine, the motor does not, and the Danforth depth finder weighs too much. Playing musical bunks, I am left without a berth and flop on top of our pile of provisions. Fatigue facilitates sleep.

At 7.30 a.m. on Wednesday, after a sound sleep for all hands, we heave anchor. We are 12 miles north of Memory Rock, and my wife is flying into Freeport tomorrow. Last night, as I lay exhausted on my bunk, I put my hand into a bucket and found the second spare spark plug, so now I have the motor running again for a while. The water looks like “Ice Blue Aqua Velva”, and we can see the bottom clearly at 20 to 30 feet. The wind is force 1 to 2 from the west.

During much of the day we average less than two knots. Now a femal American Redstart lands on the cockpit coaming, appearing very fatigued. They winter near Miami and head north to anywhere from the Carolinas to British Columbia. The second mate tries to feed and water her. She will not eat or drink our offerings, but makes herself at home in the cockpit, on the tiller, below in the cabin, and back topside. She takes flight and appears to hit the water far astern. Soon we observe her returning, alighting on the dinghy painter, then back aboard. An hour or two later I see her dead in the cockpit. Sorry, little bird, I guess you got pushed off course also, and paid the ultimate price.

Toward evening we watch several flying fish eluding predators. At nightfall we are east of Memory Rock. 12 miles southing to show for the entire day. I is chilly again. I put on my cap and sweatshirt. A storm is overtaking us now, the wind gusting to force 5 and 6 with some rain. Suddenly we are flying. Bam! A gust almost knocked us down. The first mate is asleep below. The second mate is emerging to take the helm. I douse the main as fast as I can. Bam! We are blown way over again, 45 degrees or more. “Barnacles” is self-righting, so I do not fear for the boat in a knockdown. People and things, however, get thrown about and damaged.

The wind is increasing. I crawl forward to douse the hanked-on jib (Why is the furling jib jammed?). I drop the Danforth over the bow. It is convenient to sail in 20 feet of water. It is midnight now, and what a night! We toss, lift, and then slam down on the water with a bang at intervals of about 20 seconds. How discouraging it is to have only 12 miles to show for an entire day. Our position is 1,5 miles eas of Memory Rock. We have traveled over 106 nautical miles in 48 hours of sailing, but the rumb line from Port Everglades to Freeport is only 82 miles.

At 6.30 a.m. on Thursday we are under way. The wind has diminished to force 3, so we average 4.6 knots for two hours. Now we see fishing boats pass Sandy Cay, sight the water tower at West End, cut the corner on a shoal named “Awash” on the chart, and are warned by a Bahamian fisherman in an outboard runabout. He doesn’t know that our twin-keeler draws less than two feet. The first mate has been sounding with a canoe paddle whenever it looks shallow. He actually hits bottom at three and a half feet once when it looks like six inches.

We approach the Indian Cay cut in the reef and can see the breakers to the north and the cay to the south. There is little room for error here and the motor is running as though it will quit any moment. We are bound west, off the Little Bahama Bank into deep water and we make it. Now we head south toward the breakwaters. I call Bahamian Customs at West End on VHF. “Just come on in and someone will meet you”, we are told.

We head east outside the breakwater as the chartbook indicates we should. At the east end of the breakwater, however, we discover it has been changed (just months ago). We motor back west, against the tidal flow onto the bank. With wind and motor we make it inside. The wind is masked and “Bill” dies. But we have made it to the Bahamas, travelling 114 nautical miles.

It is noon. I have a pleasant exsperience clearing customs at the Old Bahama Bay Marina, next door to the former Jack Tar Marina. We make a phone call to New Hampshire. “Yes we are alive”. The second mate is dispatched by van to Freeport to meet her mother who has taken a flight not knowing whether we are safe or not.

I un-jam the genoa. Don’t ask me what I did. I just unfurled it and it works fine now. I also rescue and repair the broken main halyard shackle and the bitter end of the jib halyard, which climbed the mast while we dropped the main during our eventful entry into harbour. Motor repair? “There is a guy who gets home from work at about 5.30 and he can look at it”.

Since we have paid for a hotel in Freeport tonight, we decide to head for Freeport. We limp out of the channel with a rebelloius motor into a force 4 breeze. The tide, however, is against us. As we are about to give up, a local runabout with three our four Bahamian teenagers and a 200 horsepower Mercury offers to tow “Barnacles” out of the channel. “Whew!” They have plenty of power to get us out into blue water off West End.

After a series of tacks, we squeeze by Settlement Point. Once around the corner, we fly the assymetrical spinnaker to starboard, main to port with a preventer, furling jib poled to port, a total of 477 square feet of sail. Theese winds are notably light during May and we correctly prepared by bringing this much sail, which “Barnacles” is carrying well.

At 7.15 p.m. we are off Freeport harbour. A jet prop plane flies over from the southwest and enters the landing pattern. Later, I find out that this was Jan’s plane and she sees us from the air. (260 square feet of red and yellow spinnaker helps identification). She is relieved, having had no word from us.

We have averaged 3.5 knots since we turned east. By 11 p.m., however, the wind has dropped to force 2. We are creeping toward Bell Channel in Freeport/Port Lucaya. The GPS waypoint I have is intended to enable us to identify the correct channel in daylight. By the loom of Port Lucaya, I identify the lighthouse to port. It is a notable landmark of the channel.

Slowly we inch forward under mainsail only, watching and listening for breakers that indicate the presence of the reef we know is here, prepared to turn back to deeper water. Suddenly, looking back we can see the outer channel markers invisible from the sea (navigation markers are really casual here). We had missed the channel! Well. no matter now, we had crossed the reef, thank God and are in the sheltered water.

Now we approach the inner channel markers, red and green. These are visible from the sea anyway. We enter Bell Channel. The wind is masked and the motor will not run. We float backwards out of the channel with the outgoing tide. We sail back into the channel and the first mate jumps ashore with the bowline to pull us along. I tie the tiller to port and paddle from the gunwhale. This is a slow way to make progress.

We come to the oper lagoon inside the breakwater, ghost across, paddle some more, the tie up to a decrepit sea wall. We cannot identify ut but discover later we are only 500 yards from our hotel. We are 82 nautical miles from Port Everglades, but we have sailed 140 miles to get here.

It is midnight and we are tired. We take the dinghy, which we have been towing and end up at the Port Lucaya marketplace. A Bahamian pizza shop driver offers to take us to the hotel. Nice, friendly people, these Bahamians. Soon we are all four united. Hurrah! It is 1.30 a.m. on Friday.

Next morning there is “Barnacles”, sitting just across the channel. After securing the dinghy, we tow our twin-keeler across the channel to her dock at the hotel. Now follow five days of snorkeling (Paradise Cove is a great place), shopping (we prefer the Internatinal Bazaar to the Port Lucaya Marketplace), dining, beachcombing (beautiful white sand everywhere) and touring (Garden of the Groves is worth visiting, and the trip to Paradise Cove passes through some “real” beautiful places to snorkel. Go and see for yourself. No one, however, has even heard of a Clinton outboard, so we purchase a rebuilt Johnson 6 horsepower motor.

On Thursday, I take Jan to the airport. Yes, it has been a lovely 25th anniversary, and a great time with two of our four kids. Jan takes off from the airport, and I return to await the arrival of the crew. We cast off a 3 p.m. The wind is force 3, varying from 30 to 60 degrees aft of the port beam, as we head for Great Isaac Island with its light. We average 3.8 knots for three hours, then the wind dies and we motor at ½ throttle for three hours. This time we are following our waypoints easily with no current to force us off course.

After dark it is not chilly as it was on our two earlier nights at sea. The east wind is prevailing and carries lovely warmth with it. It is shirtsleave comfortable all night. The wind is coming up, so we kill the motor, raise main and genoa, speed two knots.

On Friday after a couple of false sightings (ships) we sight Great Isaac Island after daybreak. This is a 23 mile light but it is not working. I am glad we have a GPS. I don’t even want to try the sextant on this rocking horse. At 8 a.m. we leave Great Isaac to port. With the wind nearly astern, the genoa poled to port and the spinnaker flying to starboard, we are making only one to two knots. At 10 a.m. we pass Hen and Chickens (five rocks visible) one mile to port. It is 18 miles to Alicetown, 42 miles to Bell Channel.

Later we cross a foul area on the chart, visually tracking the shoaling but passing right over it. The Alacrity, with its draft of less than two feet is ideal for these waters. We see four or five large black whales on the surface at a distance. I see a solitary beige colored creature with dark mottled accents swimming past us while submerged, about ten feet away. It is nearly the size of “Barnacles”, so it must be a whale.

In the afternoon we are surprised by the arrival of 20 to 25 Atlantic Spotted Dolphins. They frolic around us for about 15 minutes, allowing us to video and photograph them jumping, gliding, cavorting, until, as one, they move on to their next venue. What a sight! There are sportfishing boats here and there, so perhaps the dolphins are visiting each one.

Soon we are at the coordinates for the “Atlantis” stones right off the coast of North Bimini. We are tired and decide to forego the pleasure of snorkeling. We have been motoring for a while and continue to do so, arriving at the Alicertown harbour entrance at 4 p.m. We watch out for the sand bar. We have come 63 nautical miles from Bell Channel.

At the fuel dock we “fill it up” so we have 12 gallons, just in case. We are not going to be forced north again on this trip. The second mate and I take a quick walk about Alicetown. As she logged it: “Bimini is trashy”. We have seen much of what the guidebooks tell about in Alicetown by walking 500 yards and spending 15 minutes. We are 49 miles from Port Everglades and the end of our Odyssey. By 5 p.m. we are underway again and clearing the breakwater: course is 270 and wind astern at force 4. We are flying the main to port, the spinnaker poled out to starboard and are surfing in the following swell.

Once in the Gulf Stream our course made good is 284 magnetic, speed made good 5.8 knots according to the GPS. Ride ‘em cowboy! This requires good concentration because the waves are trying to broach us. The knotmeter is pegging on the six knot scale during our surfing, so I don’t know how fast we really are going.

The wind has been building, so it is time to douse the spinnaker. I have it almost all down when a bit gets overboard. Whoosh! Crunch! There goes the chute and there goes the eight foot pole bent in half. We are really traveling. The first mate assists in dragging the soggy mess aboard, to be lashed on the foredeck for the night. We unfurl the genoa to port, as the wind is 60 degrees abaft the starboard beam. We still are making four knots, surging to five plus when surfing.

It is after midnight on Saturday. The second mate has been alone on deck for over three hours and loving it. Before the trip she said she wanted no solo duty in the cockpit at night, but now she is a veteran. Later she casually mentions being nearly run down by a freighter during this time. It materialized to starboard, was coming closer, the suddenly was crossing close astern, its speed faster than she had anticipated. Perhaps they saw our radar reflector an their radar.

It is 33 miles to Alicetown, 16 miles to Port Everglades. We have averaged 4.6 knots since leaving the breakwater and are west of our waypoint by over four miles, giving us a cushion in case of engine failure or wind shift. I swing our bow northward to bleed off our excess westward progress. We don’t want to come out of the Gulf Stream south of Port Everglades.

At 3 a.m. we are 3.6 miles from the Port Everglades inlet. We pick out the lights and the flashing beacon on top of the hotel. We pass the outer lights with a freighter astern. He pauses to wait for two tugs, which pass us, pounding their way out of the channel. We pass the inner lights. We turn to port onto the Intracoastal Waterway. We have only about ½ mile to go now as we enter the cutoff canal. It is just dawning as we arrive at the Marina dock. And there on the foredeck is a stranded flying fish, just as in sea stories.