Redwings Round the World

The Bahamas: Nassau North

31 April - 7 May 2001


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April 30 - Norman's Cay to Nassau

Notes - Woke up to rain and made snap decision to push for Nassau at 1000.  Beam reach in 20-25 knots.  Poor Molly sick as dog whole way.  Dark cause of weather.  Crossed between Yellow and Middle reef areas dodging big black heads.  Wet, rainy, crappy, but its only a day out of the life and we were making good time.  Made it in with big waves behind.  Tried to anchor near boats on Nassau side, but shallow, crazy, went to other side and got hook well stuck - will it ever come up?  As night fell tide reversed and we were right up next boats but.  I stayed up to watch for several hours, but finally comfortable enough to get some sleep.

April 31 - Nassau

Notes - Another crap day.  Raining.  Wind 25-30 from NE.  Glad we came yesterday as would have been worse today.  Tried to find a marina but all are full.  Put out second anchor.  Hate this.  Draggy, current, wet dingy rides, etc.  Sucks.  Saw Venla.  Walked to stores.  Found internet place for 10 cents a min.  Not bad.  Killed some time anyway.  Wet, wet, everything wet.  Crashed Aquarius resort and casino aquarium.  Very cool.

May 1 - Nassau

Notes - Brought Molly in to grab taxi at 0730.  Still pissing down rain... but at mid-day the sun finally came out!  New world.  Jerry canned some fuel and did a larger shopping.  Getting ready to go at first break.  Venla came over for dinner.

May 2 - Leaving Nassau

Aaron - The sun came out, the wind dropped to 15 in the harbor, and we made a snap decision to take off at 1000.  As we were putting the dingy on the foredeck, the guy next to us dingied over and asked if we knew anything different about the weather.  No, just stupid and well rested.  Its forecast to be blowing 20-25 again today according to the Florida MET office broadcast, but the weather fax (NOAA) shows 15-20.  

If the traveling is good and the weather looks right for entering the Gulf Stream, we'll keep going on up to Charlestown.  If not, we can pull in at Grand Bahama and be that much closer to the US and in a better position to take advantage of the next window.  We can survive a 120 mile trip pretty easy even if is a bit nasty.

As we cleared the harbor entrance, the wind cranked up to 20 and the seas rose steeply.  But as we got out to deeper water and seas evened out and we were soon making 6 knots with 2X reefed main and 50% genoa with the wind 60 degrees off the bow.  A bit wet and bouncy, but not that bad really.  Glad we came out, but we are gonna head for Grand Bahama.  The Stream would be hairy in this wind.

At around 2200 we rounded the northern-most of the Berry Islands which are North of Nassau and cracked off towards Grand Bahama and into the North Providence Channel.  Lots of ship passing either side.  The speed cranked up to 8 knots and I only got a wave in the face ever 10-15 minutes as the angle improved and we started to benefit from the far off lee of the Abacos Islands.  Nice moon when its not hiding behind the clouds.

May 3 - Lucaya, Grand Bahama

Aaron - We started trying to slow the boat down at 0200 by furling the genny in all the way, but found ourselves a few miles off Grand Bahama by 0400.  Can't see the supposed entrance lights of Lucaya Marina, and not crazy about going in through the reef in the dark, so we jogged back and forth and up and down till daylight.  Where is it?  0600 and still dark.  Big rain clouds to the East.  Finally light enough at 0630 as the rain hit.  Wet, wet, wet.  

Got the main down and headed in.  No problem.  Sun came out as we motored it.  Flat calm inside.  Lucaya is a huge dredged area with two marinas and lots of "waterfront" areas carved out for housing developments.  We tied up at the fuel dock and waited for signs of life.  At around 0700 a couple of guys from Tangent, a boat from Maine who saw us come in, came by for a chat and gave us the scoop on the place.  We got a bit of fuel and all the water we could take for US$5, and headed off to find a spot to anchor.  We got kicked out of our first spot in font of one of the marinas, but then found a great spot back in one of the housing development areas.  Wow.  10 feet.  Mud bottom.  360 degree protection.  Quiet.  Free.  Perfect.

Down to bed and crashed out till 1500.  Now rested: when can we move again?  Started the search for weather.  I have been trying for the last two days to check into "Herb's Net" on 12.359 Mhz.  Herb is the most famous "weather guru" in the Atlantic and gives tailored weather routing advice to mariners from his home in Toronto via SSB radio.  Protocol is to check in at around 1600 and he then calls you back later as he gets to your "area" as he works his way around the Atlantic talking to boats.  We can hear him, but apparently he can't her us or does not want to talk to us.  We sent him e-mails from Nassau, but did not get a response.  Strange.

Wind is still out of the NE.  All of the books say never attempt a Gulf Stream crossing when there is any northerly component to the wind. The Stream runs from South towards the NE so if the winds blows from the NE the waves stack up higher than normal and can get gnarly and dangerous quickly.  Unfortunately, its been blowing out of the NE for three weeks and based on the weather charts we are looking at, there is no sign of a change coming in the foreseeable future.  However, it does look like the wind will be only 10-15 from tomorrow for 48 hours or so.  May make a break for it.  Could be uncomfortable, but not dangerous if the winds stay below 25.  In addition, we will make great time with the 2-4 knot help of the stream.  I can't imagine spending weeks here and then having to rush up to Maine.  Rather take my chances on a small window.  Well for now, lets get rested and ready and keep monitoring the situation.

May 4 - Lucaya, Grand Bahama

Aaron - What a great sleep.  Quiet.  No worries about dragging.  No plans to leave or do anything drastic today.  Needed it.  Cool morning smelling of pine with birds chirping.  Seems almost a bit like the US.  Very different feeling in the air than the rest of the Bahamas.  That much further North I guess.

Life continues to be dominated by obtaining and analyzing weather information.  Morning net confirmed what the weather fax showed: no end in sight to winds from the Northern quadrant, but a possible easing tomorrow to 15 knots and seas of "only" 8-10 feet in the Gulf Stream.  We can either wait here for ever for the wind to come south (unlikely with the new low deepening over Nassau - the guy next to us has been stuck here for three weeks already waiting for a change), or make a break for it tomorrow and hope for the best.  It seems that as we go Northwest the winds will remain relatively benign over the next few days so if we can survive tomorrow, we should be able to make Charlestown no problem.  Plan B is to head straight across the stream to Florida if it proves to be too rough.

Took a walk into town and went shopping for a few top-up items at the Winn Dixy.  Really seems like we are in the USA here.  Spent an hour or so with the guys from Maine/Mass, Mike and Jim on Tangent, going over weather and plans.  They may follow us out tomorrow.  Scary.  They seem to think we have a grip on the weather.  More likely we are just coming up with ways to see and hear what we want to see and hear and sound credible doing it.

Got the dive gear on and cleaned the bottom of the boat in the afternoon.  Lots of barnacles and scum growing in various random areas.  Figured this will be the last chance to get it clean in relatively warm water.  We than got the staysail rigged and the boat all ready to take off early.  Still unable to check into Herb's net, but did copy weather he provided to another boat in Grand Bahama further confirming that there will be a weakening of the wind tomorrow for about 24 hours only (before picking up again and coming even more North which will be even worse for us).  Our best chance.  We'll give it a shot.

Gobbedy, gobbedy, gobbedy.... bump de bump de bump... the cats love it here and are running laps around and around the decks overhead chasing each other as I write.

May 5 - Leaving Lucaya

Colleen - It was hard to tell what would actually be worse, the Gulf Stream crossing in questionable weather, or the anticipation and hype ahead of it.  It seems like everyone in Lucaya is waiting for a weather window, and nervous as Hell to move.  Their tension overtakes you, and you start to second guess your plans.  One boat on the radio keeps calling us because they heard (somehow?) that we were going out and wanted to know if we knew something everyone else didn't.  When we explained our reasoning for leaving, the boat was silent (in shock I guess) and wished us a safe trip.  A man from the boat next door dingied over to say hello as we prepared the boat to leave last night.  He said he has been waiting here for 3 weeks for a "weather window" to go to the Abacos.  I was pretty surprised as the water is fairly protected on the way over there and the trip is pretty short.  He seemed to really doubt the sensibility of our plan to make a run tomorrow.  He started mentioning how freak 100 knot winds came unforecast to Lucaya last month and how his brief Gulf Stream crossing from Florida was "Hell".  I was really starting to get tense.  Not the stuff you want floating through your mind before a passage.

We woke early and motored out of the harbor by 6:15 am, as soon as the sun had peaked out enough to give us sufficient light.  Initially there wasn't much wind, and we motored for a few hours in the lee of the island.  Some boats in Lucaya asked us to call in on the radio our conditions. We called Tangent, who had been half thinking of coming out too, but the crew, and elderly gentleman from New England seemed very wary when we last spoke to him.  He kept reading the passage from the cruising guide to us "Never attempt a Gulf Stream crossing with any northerly component to the wind in winds over 12 knots".  When he came up on the radio, he had more scaremonger news for us; "There ain't no way I'm going out there.  Two boats just pulled in who crossed from Florida last night, they said it was horrible."

After we rounded the corner, the wind picked up, but we still had some protection from the banks so the sea state was OK.  We made good progress bombing along.  I took a nap while things were still stable.  As the day progressed, conditions worsened.  By sundown on my watch we were bashing into waves, and the wind was gusting to 30.  This was not predicted!  I was in full foul weather gear as the waves breaking onto the boat were drenching me every few minutes.  Aaron came up from his nap pretty alarmed.  "We're not even in the Gulf Stream yet and these are the seas? We can't go into the Gulf Stream with winds of this strength." Ughh... We kept heading north.  Luckily, the winds subsided as the evening progressed and we entered the stream.  We probably saw 15-20 most of the time with gusts above 20.  Of course this was a "robust" sail, wet, and hard, but at least I felt it nothing we couldn't handle, and nothing we hadn't braced ourselves for.  We were close hauled and heeled over a lot, making about 9 knots with 2 knots of current helping us out.

May 6 - Gulf Stream

Colleen -  What can I say? Its an uncomfortable passage to be endured.  I can hardly eat, my hair is salt encrusted from all the waves we took over, but I reason with myself that it will be over in a day or so. We are motor sailing by late morning. The wind has shifted more northerly, and we have to head very high to make Charleston, higher than we can go under sail alone. This is truly unpleasant, but I'm driven to push ahead with thoughts of finally arriving in the US after so much anticipation, with this last passage behind us.  There was an excitement in my heart as I looked forward to finally being "home" (with all its comforts!) after so many years.

I try to remain calm and see it through, but every time Aaron downloads a weather fax he has alarming news.  "Well, there is now a gale warning behind us, and there is a front developing off Maryland that Herb said would be a problem...  Keep the engine on, we've got to outrun this gale."  I just rolled my eyes, this is beautiful..  At least we are already in the Gulf Stream, so presumably if shit really hits the fan we can make a run west and it won't be too terribly long before we are out onto the other side.  

As the day progressed, I experienced the "Gulf Stream" conditions as advertised, steep choppy waves, larger than they should be for the wind level.  We bashed and bashed along into the waves, screaming along at 8-10 knots with the help of 2-4 knots of current.

As dusk came, we tuned in for a radio sked with Raven, another boat attempting a Gulf Stream crossing to Florida.  Raven was calling in and getting personalized weather and advice from Herb.  When he came up at 8:00 he told us that Herb was surprised he was still out there.  Herb said the front that developed in Maryland was rushing down towards us, now at the 32ond parallel. He advised Raven to run for a port.  We were now just above the 31st parallel, which meant the front was less than 60 miles ahead of us.  It would hit soon considering we were racing along at almost 10 knots an hour and the front would be moving quite fast itself towards us.  What to do?  We really had our sites set on Charleston. So close, can we alter plans now.  

The deciding factor was a VHF weather forecast Aaron heard with gale warning and reports of 25 knot NNE winds already off Charleston.  He said, well, I always wanted to see Savannah...  lets change course.  Initially it was a huge relief.  As soon as we altered course and were on a beam reach, the apparent wind dropped and  the world suddenly seemed very civilized.  Gosh it was almost pleasant in the moonlight.  We should be in by 6 am, this is lovely.  It seems as though we were out of the Gulf Stream in no time.

May 7 - Thunderbolt (Savannah), Georgia

Colleen - Well, the "lovely" sail didn't last too long.  Before we knew it the front was upon us.  Thank God we altered course and left the Gulf Stream. We would have been murdered.  Winds were creeping up past 25, to 30.  I was getting tense during my watch, but didn't want to wake Aaron as I knew he need the sleep so badly.  I started to see the wind clock even higher, up towards 40 knots, and thought, this is madness, how are we ever going to get the sails down to enter the channel.  The wind was also coming even more northerly, and we were on a close reach now.  I was soaked from the waves, and could barely see through my salty, wet glasses. The boat was really heeled over, it was hard to move at all. 

When we switched watches, Aaron put the third reef in the main.  It doesn't seem to slow us down at all.  I went down for an hour of sleep before I had to return to help get us in the channel.  Aaron said he wanted to leave the sails up until we had the protection of the channel to get them down.  He also didn't want to wait for dawn, claiming we could enter in the dark.  I was pretty surprised by these plans.

When Aaron woke me at about 5 am, the world was pretty messy. We were bombing along in high winds somewhat out of control, there were ships everywhere, we were both freezing and wet. Aaron was having a hard time identifying buoy lights etc.. so we worked together. I sat by the chart and radio below.  A pilot ship started calling us on the VHF.  He said that he had a barge being towed in the channel and that there were three large ships waiting just outside the channel to enter behind him, could we please stay to the south of the channel and wait for the ships to enter first.

I was pretty surprised, responding that this would be a problem, we would run out of water if we stayed south of the channel before too long, and that we were a little out of control with the sails up, maybe unable to slow down.  We "argued" back and forth, and one of the ships captains got on the line and said if you've got sails up and are out of control, you definitely want to be behind not in front of us.  He said, "We've been waiting out here 2 hours for dawn in this awful weather to go in."  I didn't say anything, but 2 hours on a large ship in this conditions seems like the Ritz Carlton compared to the last 48 hours on Redwings.

Racing along before we knew it we had converged with the channel entrance and the barge was just ahead, with the ships behind us.  I screamed to Aaron that we had to get the sails down. I tried steering us up into the wind and we tried to buck the waves to get the sails down.   I kept thinking, this is incredible, we are so close to the markers we could hit them, I can see the ships bearing down on us from behind commencing their run for the channel, and the barge just in front heading for us. The wind lashed, and we were thrown about, poor Aaron had a hard time staying on the boat in such a dangerous situation up by the mast and foredeck.  Finally the sails were down (though we discovered we had a three foot rip along the leech of our main), and we entered the channel.  

I radioed the ships to tell them we had been taking our sails down if they were trying to call us and would like to enter the channel.  This time they seemed a lot more amenable, perhaps they had seen us getting thrown around.  The captain said, lets try to work together, I know you must want to get inside too as quickly as possibly, try to stay south, and if you run out of room, enter the channel and I think we can make room for you.  Luckily the sun was rising and it was easier to make sense of it all.  We started to slow entry in, we were still getting bashed by waves.  The ships were huge, and as we went along, one by one they passed, us, with very little room to spare, but we stayed in radio contact, and it all seemed to work out.....

... and we finally made it to the USA!  Hooray!  This day is continued in the next section entitled Intracoastal Waterway. 

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Copyright 2001 All Rights Reserved by Aaron Henderson and Colleen Duggan