Our crossing last Saturday from Allen’s Cay to Nassau reminded me of the fire swamp scene from the Princess Bride. Instead of flame spurts, lighting sand and R.O.U.S., our dangers were to be confused 4 foot seas, coral heads and water spouts. Just like Wesley and Princess Buttercup, once you know what the danger is, you can avoid it or at least manage it.
Saturday morning came, 5 am, and we started to check weather sources to see if a crossing to Nassau was in the cards. We wanted to get an early start as it seemed most storms of late were developing in the afternoons and we wanted to be tied up in port before the squalls of the day hit. The National Weather Service, out of the US, made it seem like a reasonable weather window, so did Wind Finder (who we find to be pretty accurate most of the time) and now we were just waiting for confirmation from Chris Parker at 6:30 am on the Single Side Band Radio. At this time, we are not subscribers, which means we can listen to his broadcast, but can’t call in for more details or advice about our travel plans. Most often this is just fine, but there are days we wish we could. Out boat came with a full SSB setup (a $4,000 value at least), but if it had not, we would have purchased a receive only just for the purpose of listening to the morning weather (the receive only units cost about $130).
While we waited for the morning broadcast we used the time to make sure the boat was ready to go as soon as we had the all clear. Chris gave a weather report that sat just fine with our crew and at 7:01 we started the engine and prepared to haul the anchor. We were followed out of the harbour by another boat which always gives me confidence in our decision. We’d never leave just because someone else was leaving, but if another boat independently choses the same weather winder, we feel slightly better.
As soon as we cleared the entrance the seas were VERY confused and bigger than we’d hoped for (but no bigger than Chris forecast) and we knew the weather pattern for the day was for wind to drop and seas to flatten, so we pushed on knowing it was only going to get better. The confusing seas lasted about 2 – 2 1/2 hours before we started to notice a difference and our stomachs settled down. Our first “fire swamp” test and we passed.
By 10 am the seas were way down and we were approaching the Yellow Bank, an area riddled with potentially shallow coral heads – our second “fire swamp” test. We’d planned our crossing of the Yellow banks perfectly. The sun was rising and behind us, so with Tim forward of the mast, he could easily see coal heads as we approached and direct me to navigate around them. We were crossing about an hour or two after high tide and therefore we had some extra water under the keel to make it less stressful. Plotting a course to cross at the narrowest section, so the dodging of heads wouldn’t last too long, was another part of our successful Yellow Bank strategy.
As we left the Yellow Bank behind us, we started to relax, we were only 8-10 nm from Palm Cay Marina where we planned to spend a few days, another two hours before we were safely tied up in a slip with shower, laundry and a tiki bar close at hand.
Then Tim picked up the binoculars and started looking closely at the storms which had been skirting us for the last little while… What’s that hanging down under the cloud??
Back on Lake Ontario, we often had warning of waterspouts on the lake in summer storms, but we’d never seen them before. A waterspout is a tornado that is formed over water and some can be just as dangerous as a tornado. The best way to avoid them (so says my internet research) is to move at a ninety degree angle to their apparent movement. We felt a bit helpless out there and since they didn’t seem to be getting closer to us, we stayed our course and kept heading for the marina on the south side of New Providence Island.
We made it safely into the marina and got ourselves tied up and comfortable in our slip. I then made my way to the office to check in.
The sky was now getting very dark and larger water spouts were appearing in the not too distant skies.
Our third test of the day and we’d survived! In reality we were just fortunate to have not been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
There was no drama on this crossing as we had done our homework. We knew the weather and seas that were forecasted and planned for it. We knew how to make the best crossing of the Yellow Bank and knew that if we wanted to avoid any storms we needed to get in early. Check, check and check.
We’ll be staying in the marina while Tim replaces the fuel pump on our Perkins 4-108, just in case the services of a diesel mechanic are required. I’ll be washing the boat, doing laundry and making use of the free courtesy car to do some American style grocery shopping.
On a side note, when Poppy came to live with us 7 years ago, we almost called her Buttercup (after Princess Buttercup), but couldn’t really picture ourselves yelling that in a park situation. 😉