It took me a few moments to realize it, but after we tied up at the Green Turtle Club (GTC), checked in at the marina, and checked in through customs, I ordered a Kalik Gold at the GTC bar and turned around to paradise! It finally hit me when I saw Sergeant Majors swimming around the dock and a 5′ wide stingray just chilling at the end of our finger pier. This morning that stingray was gone, but it was replaced by a lionfish, once again – at the end of our finger pier!
We’ll post some photos of the GTC and the beautiful town here on Green Turtle Cay named New Plymouth. An interesting side note regarding this Cay is that Key West is it’s sister island because in the 1830’s many residents of New Plymouth packed their houses on barges and settled in Key West. Try to imagine Key West without an ATM and only 300 hundred people in town.
But we didn’t just arrive in paradise from a cruise boat, I need to tell the story of our adventures on the high seas and the Little Bahamas Bank…
We woke up at Old Port Cove Marina and departed about 3:45 after topping off our water tanks. Our target was Memory Rock on the Little Bahamas Bank and we had to cross the Gulf Stream to get there. Winds were supposed to be out of the east at 10-15 and turning to the SE during the day, waves 2-3′ with an 11 second period. As we motored out the ICW and the Lake Worth Inlet we hit the ocean and things weren’t exactly what they were calling for. I turned on the weather radio to get the latest update, the only thing that had changed was the 11 second period was now 4 seconds. (For those that don’t know, wave period is the time between wave crests, long period means long swells, short period means steep waves with white caps.) Groan…. If there was one word to describe our crossing it would be SLAM, meaning the bow kept slamming into waves! Furthermore, the wind never did fully turn to the SE, so we motor sailed across the Gulf Stream, but it was calm enough to have a Fox Family traditional Christmas breakfast of “Breakfast Pizza” with fresh fruit. Sadly, no fish were caught in the Stream despite my best efforts. We found a tiny little spot of mangroves (properly called Mangrove Cay) to drop the hook on Christmas night and grilled rib-eyes and baked potatoes with salads for Christmas Dinner. The captain slept like a log and we planned a lazy day of about 4 hours the next day. (Side note: The scariest part of our Gulf Stream crossing was getting out of Lake Worth in the dark, it’s shallow, the markers are unlit, there’s a narrow bridge, and numerous derelict boats without anchor lights, after that the Gulf Stream was relaxing.)
If there was one word to describe this day it would be SNAP. About 9 o’clock while enjoying my morning coffee, reading a dive guide for the Bahamas, and discussing our 4 hour trip to Great Sale Cay that was planned, I heard the anchor snap. Normally this means that it worked itself up the roller and was just settling back down, but then about 5 minutes later I heard the anchor alarm? How could we be dragging? I ran to the bow and looked into the crystal clear water to see the frayed end of our anchor rode – it had cut through! I ran to the cockpit, started the engine and we motored to where our anchor and chain laid on the bottom. This started an exhausting sequence of events:
- We retrieved the spare anchor and set it by hand
- Sabrina and I strapped on snorkel gear, grabbed some fenders and swam up current to the anchor
- After attaching the anchor and chain to the fenders we floated it down current to the swim ladder
- I cut the last link off the chain which had rusted under the previous splice (with a Dremel, bolt cutters didn’t do much)
- I flipped the anchor rode end for end and redid the rope to chain splice
- We replaced the length markers on the rode
- Pulled the spare anchor in by hand and reset the primary anchor
- Finally we got the whole 170′ (down from 200′) back into the windlass and stowed in the locker
And we did all of this while fighting about a 2 knot current
At this point I was exhausted, it was 2:00 and we wouldn’t make Great Sale Cay till after dark, so we settled in for another night at Mangrove Cay, unfortunately the wind picked up and we had a little bit of a rougher night, but nothing like what was to come….
We woke up early, hauled the anchor and were underway at sunrise. Our destination was the north side of Great Abaco, and we were making miles. After we motored away from Mangrove Cay we set the sails and we were making between 5.5 and 6 knots. When we cleared Little Sale Cay the wind picked up and we were doing over 7 knots sustained with long periods of over 8 knots. We carried full sail through a little squall and it was a blast, finally we had to reef the genoa as the wind continued to build from the south. There weren’t many anchorages protected from the south, but we found Crab Cay that looked to have good protection. It’s a little piece of land nestled just north of where Great Abaco and Little Abaco almost touch. As we approached Crab Cay I noticed a sailboat and a funny looking power boat in the anchorage. We set the anchor in about 8 feet of water, it bit hard and I looked up and saw that the powerboat had a “P48” on the side, it was a Royal Bahamian Defense Force boat, similar to the US Coast Guard. There was nothing to do now, it was late in the day and it was too rough to consider going elsewhere in the dark.
It was now that we realized we had another problem that wasn’t related to wind, weather, current, or anchors. Our freezer was defrosting! I started doing the math and realized that we hadn’t motored very long in the last two days and we had run the windlass a lot with the anchor problem and had the autopilot working hard all day in the strong wind. Our freezer compressor was seeing a voltage drop and wouldn’t kick over, we still had power, but it was “sensing” a low battery. I fired up the engine and started dumping 120 amps into the batteries from our alternator, this quickly remedied that problem, but it was a scary until we figured out what was going on. Like most cruisers we PACKED our freezer before we left with chicken breasts, beef, sausage, etc. Estimated value was about $200 to replace it on sale in the USA, or maybe $800 to buy it all in the islands!
While I was messing with the engine, P48 moved to a position 500′ off our stern. About 7:00 they flipped on their lights and I thought we were going to get boarded. Then they dropped the anchor. About 7:02 they flipped on their lights again and pulled up their anchor. Very strange. This scenario repeated itself a few times. I tried to call them on the radio, but there was no answer. It was while I was watching them that I came up with three theories:
P48 is a highly trained group of individuals operating a drug interception sting. They are using our boat to block their radar signature and will be zooming out of the Crab Cay anchorage when they see their target approach.
P48 has already met their quota for boat searches for the day and is waiting around till after midnight to search our boat. That way they can fill their quota and get back into port early the next day.
P48 can’t get their anchor to set and is using our anchor light as an aid to navigation while they motor 500′ behind us.
We went to sleep about 9:00 with all our anchor alarms set and I was able to get a little sleep.
Suddenly I awoke to the anchor alarm clatter! I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter! Away to the cockpit I flew in a flash, after opening the companionway sash! (See what I did there, didn’t want you to get bored.) Luckily our anchor was holding strong, the wind had strengthened and was coming from our least protected direction, WSW at about 15-20 knots. We had white caps and the boat was pitching pretty badly. I returned to the salon from the cockpit and prepared to try to get some sleep. It was now that I heard a thick Bahamian accent come over the VHF radio,
“Sailboat in Crab Cay, Sailboat in Crab Cay, this is P48….”
Uh, oh…. Sheepishly I acknowledged them, “P48 this is Joint Venture?”
“Joint Venture, please switch to 14”
I switched over to channel 14 on the VHF, and checked my watch, it was 12:30, Theory B was right, we were about to be boarded in 2′ white caps and a 20 knot wind! Argh.
“P48 this is Joint Venture on 1-4”
“Joint Venture this is P48, our anchor drag, we on shore”
Looks like it was Theory C!
“You have a sea boat?”
“You mean a dinghy? Yes we have a dinghy on deck.”
“Yeah, can you pull us off?”
“One moment Captain, let me go outside and evaluate the conditions.”
“P48 standing by on 14”
I returned to the cockpit to judge what would happen next, I took a look at our dinghy, uninflated on the foreward deck, once I untied it it would be a kite in this breeze. I looked at our swim platform, pitching and rolling and imagined trying to get our engine off the rail and onto the dinghy, and I took a look at the whitecaps and tried to imagine piloting the dinghy through them in the dark. Then I took a look at their 40′ steel boat and considered what I would be able to accomplish in a 10′ dinghy with a 10hp outboard?
I returned to the salon to make the call:
“P48 this is Joint Venture, too rough for our dinghy, launching it will endanger my crew.
We’ll stand by, if you need immediate assistance, please call, in the morning we’ll reevaluate.”
“Roger Joint Venture, P48 returning to 16”
“Joint Venture standing by on 16”
The wind hadn’t let up, and I called them in the morning to see if they needed anything or needed me to make a call, but they were waiting on their sister boat, P130, to come pull them off. We left Crab Cay as soon as the tide came up and we heard their VHF conversation. They ended up borrowing the dinghy from the other sailboat to take a tow line between the two boats, a much better proposition in daylight.
We had a nice downwind run to GTC, and after all this excitement we’re going to take some time to explore this island. Whether it’s SLAM, SNAP or midnight visitors, as I keep telling Sabrina, “It’s better in the Bahamas!”
Courtesy of the great wifi here at GTC, here’s some photos of these last few exciting days: