Monday, April 3rd
Weather: Partly cloudy, 10-15 knot winds, 3-4 foot swells and very warm (mid-80s)
Route: sail from Allan's Cay --> the Yellow Banks, motor across the Yellow Banks -->sail to Palm Cay Marina waiting area --> let the NavTours pilot motor the Alexian into slip 47
- a good day for sailing with favourable winds and some play time
- safely crossing the Yellow Banks
- a hot shower at the Palm Cay Marina
- dinner at the Poop Deck in Nassau
The Captain wanted to be crossing the Yellow Banks at noon, so we had an early breakfast of cold cereal, kiwi, mango, yoghurt, tea or coffee, juice, bread, jam and peanut butter. The ladies were not even finished cleaning up the galley when the First Mate raised the anchor at 7:50. Hubby stayed near the VHF radio on Channel 06 to listen for today's weather. As predicted yesterday, the southeast wind had increased considerably during the night.
Once we were clearly away from the shallow water around Allan's Cay the Captain pointed the boat into the wind and we started raising the sails. It was a multi-step process. Hubby and First Mate balanced their way forward to the master winch at the base of the mast to manually hoist up the Main sail. I watched from the stern to be sure it was going up straight through the rigging without catching and to be sure the reefing lines were not binding (as we learned during our previous sailing day). After the Main sail was up all the other riggings could be controlled from the stern. Making sure the Main sheet lines were free to play out the Captain turned the boat slightly in the direction we wanted to sail so we could adjust the traveller, pulling it to the side to which the Main sail was being pushed by the wind. Finally, the Main sail was adjusted by pulling in the main sheet ropes and locking them when the sail was in a good position. Deploying the Jib sail was a simple matter of unlocking the lines on both sides of the boat, loosening the furling rope and manually pulling in the Jib rope on the side away from the wind, then locking the clutch on the rope once the Jib was out. After the Captain locked in his GPS course he had the crew 'trim the sails', i.e. pull in or let out the main and jib sheet ropes to change the positions of the Main and Jib sails for optimum performance on our heading. With a 10 knot wind gusting to maybe 15 knots we were able to sail at 6-7 knots on the almost downwind course the Captain set to reach his next waypoint.
Because of the south to southeast wind direction we had to tack once to correct back to the Captain's course. Tacking was a little more complicated with the second (unused) jib in the way. On our first try the Captain turned the boat into the wind, we moved the traveller to the middle position and unlocked the Main sail ropes. Next he turned the boat to the new heading. Two of the crew were ready to pull at the jib ropes. The wind smacked the Main sail over to the other side as intended but the wind wrapped the forward Jib sail around the second furled jib. Hubby bravely ran forward, managing to pull the sail free without being whacked with it as it filled with wind. The traveller again was adjusted to the lee side of the boat and the sails were trimmed.
The next time we tacked we made sure the Jib was pulled through while it was luffing, before the Main sail smacked over and caught the wind. It worked much better that way.
For about 2 hours we enjoyed sailing without any motor noise. At 11:00 finger foods were brought out to munch on. We were on autopilot but Hubby took the Captain's chair so the Captain and First Mate could eat. I passed a few veggies to Hubby. We reached the waypoint to the east of the Yellow Banks at about 11:30. It was time to stow the food and bring down the sails.
The swells felt rougher as the Captain turned the boat into the wind to start dropping the sails. The furling line to roll up the Jib was very difficult to get started. It was good that Hubby was strong enough to do it. Hubby had a difficult time dropping the Main sail because its line was tangled inside the anchor storage locker so wouldn't feed out easily. He had to open the locker lid with one hand and untangle the ropes while stabilizing the sail with the other hand. I watched to be sure the sail was dropping neatly into the sail bag and guiding the Captain so he could use the wind to help.
Now all eyes had to be watching for shallow coral heads as we motored slowly at 5 knots through the Yellow Banks for the next two hours on the new course the Captain had set in the GPS. Now that we knew what we were looking for the passage was much less stressful, even though there were more dark cloud shadows on the water today. I had read that some cruisers take time to stop and snorkel on their way through 'the Banks' but our course seemed too deep to safely anchor. Hubby used the time to try to recover from the queasiness induced by facing backward and looking down at the sail ropes as he was dropping the Main sail.
Safely on the west side of the Yellow Banks, with Nassau in sight, the Captain took a vote to see if we wanted to expend the energy to sail again. Of course we did, but we didn't want to tack again. The First Mate wanted to sail towards Nassau on a 'fast' heading to see what speed we could reach without staying on course, then motor to arrive at our Navtours meeting point before 16:00. The crew agreed to let him play for 30 minutes after the sails were up. Our maximum speed was about 8.6 knots.
At 15:00 the Captain contacted Navtours base to get instructions about where to wait for the pilot boat. He informed them that we didn't have power from the port engine so could not maneuver as well as we could with two working engines. They told us to wait outside the red ball channel markers. While we were waiting, a monohull flying a French flag turned towards us, seeming to deliberately be trying to get as close as possible. They had seen our tattered Canadian flag and wanted to know if we spoke French and if we could tell them how to enter the channel (between the red balls? or to one side?). We did a miserable job of yelling bad French back to them, trying to explain that we were waiting for a pilot to take us into the channel in about 10 minutes. They said they would follow us, but must have finally managed to raise a French speaker on VHF 16, because they motored into the channel between the red balls. We never saw them again. Our pilot, Yasmin, arrived 15 minutes later, doing a quick review of the engine issue and testing it himself to confirm the problem was not user error. Once he could see how the boat handled he deftly maneuvered us past the fueling station straight to Navtours Slip 47. He gave us a good scare as he turned into the slip, coming inches away from ramming the port hull into a pylon, asking later if we were impressed with his boat handling skills. We were! Yasmin gave the order to tie a bow line and a spring line to the pylons but not so tightly that the boat couldn't drop with the tide. What was a spring line? By watching the Captain and First Mate I learned but wasn't very helpful.
Upon hearing that our flights home were not until tomorrow Yasmin invited us to enjoy the Marina for the night. He would come back in the morning to do the boat check and inventory. Without hesitation we gathered our shower kits and made the long walk to the showers. Along the way we spotted a large Hawksbill Turtle swimming in a quiet section of the Marina. Although there was still enough food to eat on board, we were all looking forward to dinner at the Poop Deck tonight even though we weren't able to make a reservation. We were assured there would be no problem getting a table. While waiting my turn for one of the two showers I asked the Navtours super multitasking logistics coordinator, Charmain, to order us a taxi for 18:30. She also gave me 3 wi-fi logins for our group to use, although I never could get logged in using it.
Curtis Deveaux, taxi #141, arrived at our slip just after 18:30, taking us on a "shortcut" which gave the two Canadian couples a small tour of Elizabeth Estates (where Curtis lived), Fox Hill and the upscale neighbourhood along Eastern Road. At the restaurant we had a 15-20 minute wait, which we filled by sipping a beer at the bar. I finally had a chance to try a Bahamian Craft beer, Pirate Stout, while my friend tried the Pirate version of lager. The others opted for a Sands. Having tried Sands and Kalik previously I agreed with a reviewer who claimed Pirate was the best tasting of the three, although I am not sure it was a $7.25 beer value. (We had just missed the 19:00 end of half-price Happy hour.) Did the floor feel unsteady because of the beer or did we not have our land legs back yet?
Our veranda table had a lovely view of Paradise Island, Atlantis Casino and the Nassau Marina as the sun set behind the Sidney Poitier Bridge. Two people ordered Snapper, two ordered Grouper fingers, one ordered a pork chop and I chose a salad. Hubby shared one of his Grouper fingers with me. He was disappointed that the fingers were deep-fried. Curly's grilled Grouper fingers at the Arawak Fish Fry were more to our liking, and less expensive. Hubby and I felt lucky to get away with a bill under $100.00 once the 7.5% VAT and the 15% Gratuity were added.
During dinner the Captain realized he had left his Tilley sailing hat in the taxi. Fortunately, Curtis had given us his card. He showed up 15 minutes after we called, with the hat. On the ride back the Canadians explained ice fishing to Curtis. He had visited Chicago several times but never in winter. We had a difficult time convincing him that we weren't tricking him and there really was such a crazy activity.
It was late but back at the boat we had our tea, biscuits and chocolate while reviewing the ups and downs of the trip and the weather that would greet us at home. Hubby and I made one last trip to the bathroom to brush our teeth before climbing into our bunk for the last time. At least for me it was the last. Hubby woke up in the wee hours thinking it was almost time to get up, so did the walk again before realizing that he could sleep for a few more hours.