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by Dan and Jan Ahart
While waiting for good weather to cross the Gulf Stream, we worked our way South along the Intracoastal Waterway. Our thinking was that since we had to wait, we might as well explore what we could and since the Gulf Stream was going to carry us North anyway, we might as well explore South. Sailing through Biscayne Bay and the Miami waterfront was a wonderful experience. We lived in Miami Shores in 1974 and had seen the bay from the highways and bridges only, so seeing the area from the water was a unique vantage point for us. The city looks smaller from the water and much more pleasing to the eye. We saw a lot of familiar sights, like the "Rusty Pelican," which was one of our favorite restaurants and the palm tree lined causeways. But much had changed in the 25 intervening years. The Miamarina, which was a cozy marina years ago, is now filled with mega yachts and sight seeing boats. And of course the port of Miami is now huge with many freighters, tankers and of course the ostentatious cruise ships, which tower over everything and everybody. It is a marvel to look up at such huge ships from the deck of Sojourner.
We eventually made our way to Crandon Park Marina on the Northern tip of Key Biscayne and topped the fuel tanks. We then sailed to the Southern tip of the key, where we anchored for the night at the state park there, which provides a very nice protected anchorage for cruisers called "No Name Harbor." For $10 a night cruisers can anchor and have access to the park and fresh water. Very nice. The next morning, December 16th, we departed at 0700 and headed out to sea. Conditions weren't perfect, but according to all weather sources we could review, it was the best we were going to get for at least a week. The wind was out of the East at 10 to 15 knots, which combined with the Northerly flowing Gulf Stream, created very choppy waves of about three to five feet. If the wind had been from the North, in direct opposition to the stream, the waves would have been eight to ten feet and very steep, which was the forecast for later in the week. If the seas had been calm, we could have crossed the 50 odd miles to Gun Cay in about eight to ten hours, but because of the waves, we had to motor slower or we would have had a rougher ride. Powering back combined with the wave and wind action resulted in a 14-hour trip. While in the fastest moving area of the stream, we were steering 135 degrees in order to move 90 degrees or directly East. It was not a real comfortable ride and we stayed inside most of the way to stay dry and away from the spray that inundated us every time we encountered a particularly large wave. We finally reached Gun Cay at 2100. It was quite dark, with no moon, but thanks to our GPS (Global Positioning Satellite) navigation system, accurate charts, our radar and depth finders, we were able to find a safe anchorage on the West side of the cay in 15 feet of water. The next morning, with good visibility, but higher winds that had clocked around to the South, we motored into the safety and comfort of the small harbor on the East side of Gun Cay. We spent the day relaxing and washing the salt off Sojourner. It is amazing that under conditions where she is constantly sprayed with salt water, she will accumulate deposits of salt all over the deck, cabin top and sides. It is not really unsightly, but those areas stay wet and slippery. We have a salt-water deck wash pump that provides a nice volume of water via a garden hose that is primarily for washing the anchor and anchor line, when we pull it up, but it also enables us to rinse off the surface of the boat. Surprisingly, the excess salt rinses off and the decks will then dry and look cleaner even though the rinse was with salt water.
The following day, December 18th we headed East across the Great Bahamas Bank and its 15 foot depths for Chubb Cay, some 75 miles away. Unless we have ideal conditions, it is not possible for us to sail that far in daylight, especially in the winter, with such short days. So, we need winds less than 15 knots in order to anchor overnight on the bank without bouncing too much. We ruled out sailing overnight in this area because of the shallow water and we sure didn't want to negotiate the Northwest Channel at night. The channel provides the only safe way to exit the East side of the bank into deeper water. Conditions were again not the best, but worse weather was coming, so off we went. As expected, the night at anchor on the bank was rather bouncy, but it was tolerable. We were anxious to get on to Chubb Cay; the first island in the Berry Islands chain, where we could find protected coves in which to anchor and wait out the expected worsening weather. All went well until we crossed the Northwest Channel and headed out into the Tongue of the Ocean, with its 6,000-foot depths. We had Chubb Cay in sight at noon when the clouds we had been watching all morning really began to build in a hurry. It is incredible how fast thunderstorms can grow under ideal conditions. It is not uncommon for them to rise at over 5,000 feet per minute. Apparently, these clouds had ideal conditions because right before our eyes, what had looked like an average rain cloud suddenly became a super cell and developed that sickly green sky look and boiling turbulent activity. It was moving from South to North about five miles East of us and we were trying to sail East. We decided to turn around and stay as far away from it as we could. But, another storm was directly behind us. We had been watching it also, and it had not appeared to be a threat, because it was moving Northeast. We could see the trailing edge of the storm and clear skies to the West, just behind it. But to our amazement, three funnel clouds appeared simultaneously on the Southwest edge of the storm just where one would expect them to form according to the meteorology course we took. As we watched, they developed into full-blown waterspouts in seconds. We could see huge volumes of water being lifted into the air about five miles West of us. The VHF radio suddenly came alive with other boaters reporting the waterspouts and warning each other that they we taking evasive action. What to do? After some rapid head scratching, we decided the best course of action was to steer Southwest to Andros Island and look for shelter at Morgan's Bluff as expeditiously as possible. It was ten miles to Morgan's Bluff, which is a small town that owes its existence to a natural small round harbor. As we turned we were able to observe the water spouts very clearly. Each one lasted about 20 minutes and incredibly a fourth and then a fifth waterspout developed. We did not hear of any damage sustained by any boats, but we could hear the concern and stress in boaters' voices. Our course paralleled the West side of the super cell and we had some anxious moments, when it looked like it might grow large enough to spread West and over take us even though it was moving North and we were moving Southwest, but we were fortunate and received only a light shower.
Andros Island is the only island in the Bahamas that has ample fresh water thanks to large inland lakes that stay fresh due to sufficient rainfall. Daily water tankers ply the 40 miles between Morgan's Bluff and Nassau to ferry fresh water to the Nassau inhabitants. We were told over a million gallons a day is transported. Because of the importance of this resource, the channel into the harbor is well marked and easy to follow. A pipeline to transport the water is probably not practical because of the 6,000-foot depths between the islands. The commercial waterfront is very small with one bar/restaurant that looks like it could have been a cantina in a spaghetti western. The restaurant may or may not be open depending on what happens to be happening that day. But the people are super friendly. When we asked if we could tie up at the pier while the storm passed, the answer was, "Stay as long as you like and can I help you with the ropes?" Our kind of place. As it turned out we did stay two nights and enjoyed every relaxing moment of it. The town is named for Sir Henry Morgan, a Welshman, who was a buccaneer (pirate) in the seventeenth century. Buccaneer by the way, is derived from the Caribbean Indian word "buccaning," which is a technique of sun-drying meat. Morgan spent most of his buccaneering career plundering Spanish settlements in the Caribbean, namely Cuba and Panama. However, in 1672 England and Spain signed a peace treaty and as a result, under Spanish pressure, Morgan was arrested and taken to England for trial. But, after listening to his story, King Charles II, Knighted him and made him Lt. Governor of Jamaica, much to the consternation of the Spanish. What Morgan ever had to do with the Bahamas is unclear, but a man that persuasive is certainly due a town namesake, however small.
The weekly mail boat came in while we were in Morgan's Bluff,
which caused considerable excitement. The boat carries everything
from mail to automobiles. Most everyone in town had something to
collect off the ship, so it was quite a gathering at the wharf at
2100 hours that evening. The next day, the monthly fuel tanker arrived
and off-loaded diesel and gasoline for about two hours. The islands
use diesel fuel to generate electricity and of course gasoline to
drive their cars and trucks. We're not sure what most people do for
a living on the island, but fresh water delivery to Nassau is the
largest employer. There is also some sport fishing and scuba diving,
plus the occasional cruiser like us, who stops now and then to buy
some fuel and groceries. That night a ferryboat came in with more
supplies and a couple more cars. No doubt, a lot of extra merchandise
was being delivered because of Christmas. It was fascinating to watch
ships maneuver in and out of the commercial area of the harbor. Most
of them have bow thrusters that enable them to turn in a very small
area, but even so, watching a 200-foot vessel come into a turning
basin that is only about 400 feet across, turn around and then back
into a loading area so cars can be driven on and off is really fun
to watch, especially at night. Until we saw all of this activity,
we really didn't appreciate how much the Bahamian economy is dependent
on boats.soon as the weather improves, we will continue toward Georgetown.