The Day All Hell Broke Loose
19.05.2014 - 19.05.2014
Day Three Itinerary: Stocking Island to Rat Cay (23 miles)
It was our first morning on the boat. We were all excited about getting underway.
Unfortunately, we hit our first snag of the day early. Apparently, the cruising permit for the boat had expired and we didn't have a new one yet. We couldn’t leave Elizabeth Harbor without it.
While we were waiting, Teresa twisted her ankle. I blame myself. I had talked her out of her comfortable, familiar, strappy, hiking sandals and convinced her to buy a pair of flip flops. Apparently, it is not a good idea to wear flip flops for the first time at the age of 58, particularly when your first experience with the flip flops is on a slick, wet, perpetually moving surface. We iced her ankle down and continued to wait.
Snag #3 came when we realized the air conditioning was not working on one side of the boat.
The guy finally showed up with the permit, but by then, we needed the a/c fixed, so he spent the next hour fixing the air conditioner. And while he was at it, we asked him to see if he could get the fan in John & Teresa's cabin working.
It was finally time to go. (He was probably really happy to see us leave).
We would sail on the rough outside passage for about 20 miles, then we would take a narrow, current and rock filled cut to the inside passage, where we would spend the remainder of our trip.
Keith and Sydney were used to sailing the Virgin Islands and this was their first experience in the shallow waters of the Bahamas, where eyeball navigation is more necessary than a fancy GPS. John & Teresa had never been on a sailboat for more than a day trip. Matt and I know about power boats, but not sailboats. We were all a little nervous.
“Anyone who has sailed the Exumas chain in the Bahamas knows about cuts….the cuts tend to be rather narrow, so the amount of water flowing through a cut can be quite impressive….add a little wind opposing the current flow and you can very quickly develop 6 to 7 foot seas in a very confused state combined with a vicious current making for a dangerous situation with land on both sides of you.”
We all took a deep breath, battened down the hatches (literally), secured anything loose, emptied the toilets, and strapped an ice bag to Teresa’s ankle.
This day was already a doozy and we hadn’t even made it out of the harbor yet.
The morning started off great. We cruised along the length of Great Exuma and the water was fairly calm. We lounged. We listened to music. We napped (because some of us hadn't slept well the night before...ahem).
Snag #4 came in the form of this ominous tornado looking cloud that brought with it torrential rain that lasted just long enough to get everything good and wet and make the waves really big.
We were starting to worry that this day was not going well, but then there was this beautiful rainbow. Maybe all our bad luck had been frontloaded and the rest of the day was going to be a breeze. (And maybe a dingy filled with singing gnomes was going to show up with a pot of gold. Yeah. Right.)
We continued on until we were at what we believed to be the correct cut. We were already testy because of all the mishaps that had occurred that morning, and knowing how treacherous the cuts could be, we were extremely on edge.
As we made our way toward the cut, we began to get pummeled by 7-10 foot waves. That’s when the rope to the jib came loose.
Did you know the term “three sheets to the wind” refers to a boat whose sheets have come loose? That should give you a visual of what was happening to us at that point, in 10 foot waves and strong currents with our sail flapping uncontrollably and the boat meandering at the mercy of the waves.
We couldn’t go into the cut. We couldn’t keep sailing past it. We couldn’t just sit still. So we started going in circles while the guys tried to catch and contain the jib.
Do you know what happens when a boat goes in circles in 10 foot waves? 10 foot waves wash over the boat sideways.
Unfortunately, when Teresa (and her purple foot) had “battened down the hatches” in her room, she didn’t latch the giant hatch over her bed properly.
As we sat up top, clutching anything that looked stable with white knuckles and trying not to cry or vomit, water was POURING into her cabin and flooding her bed.
It was about this time that I heard a loud “BANG!” in my cabin, so I ran (rocking and swaying like a mad woman) down to see what was going on. The hatch in my head had popped and water was pouring into my bathroom. The floor was completely flooded and was about to overflow onto the wood floors of my cabin. I did the only thing I could, I braced myself inside the shower as the boat rocked violently back and forth, and depressed the drain button.
Do you have any idea how long it takes to drain the water from a boat shower? It is agonizingly slow. Worse than the toilet. The best part is that you have to continue to hold the button down until it is completely drained. This took about 6 minutes.
By the time I got back up to the salon, Teresa had discovered her flooded cabin. She managed to re-latch her hatch, but the damage was already done. Her bedding and mattress were saturated and there was about 3 inches of water in the storage area under the bed.
“Leave it,” I said. “There’s nothing we can do about it right now.” She looked miserable.
The guys had gotten the sail secured and we were headed back into the cut. The narrow passage between the rocks literally seemed smaller than the boat. The currents were insane. The water was rough and we were all rattled.
Waves started pitching over the boat again. We heard a lot of commotion up at the helm. That’s when Keith jumped down, hit the deck that was now covered with slick salt water, and fell on his face. Literally landed right on his face. He jumped up, eye bleeding, grabbed a chart book and ran back up to the helm.
You know how, when someone falls, you don't know whether to laugh or pretend to be concerned? Well. It wasn't like that. We were HORRIFIED. Blood was pouring down the side of his face and we were pretty sure he had lacerated his brain and his eye was going to fall out. Sydney, Teresa, and I stared at each other wide-eyed.
We crept through the cut and came out the other side unscathed. The water was calm, the sky blue. It was as though the world on the other side of that cut didn’t even exist.
Everyone was shaken and unhappy. Teresa’s foot was swollen. Keith’s eye was turning blue and he was bleeding. One of the cabins was completely soaked. That’s when I got the great idea to make lunch.
Yes. I am an idiot. I'm that person that thinks a ham sandwich can cure cancer. "You just lost both of your feet in a car accident? I'm sorry. Here. Have a cupcake."
Food makes everyone happy, right? We were through the cut, we were in calm water, the bad stuff was over. As we made our way to our anchorage, I would surprise everyone by having a lunch spread ready by the time we stopped the boat.
I started making a fruit platter. When that was done, I cut up cheese and salami and put it on another platter with an assortment of crackers. I was smiling and patting myself on the back when I felt the boat make a 180 turn.
“We’re at the wrong cut,” I heard Matt say. “We have to go back out.”
Teresa started to cry. Sydney put her head in her hands.
I braced myself in a corner, holding a platter of meat and cheese in one hand and a platter of fruit in the other so they wouldn’t pitch over when the waves hit us again. Stupid cheese. Stupid crackers. I hated them. I wanted to throw them overboard.
Apparently, I suffered from premature mastication.
I held those damn platters for 20 minutes until we found ourselves at the correct cut and were safely on the inside passage at Rat Cay. It was remarkable how beautiful the world was on this side of the cut.
We found a safe anchorage at Pigeon Cay and stopped to assess the damage.
John and Teresa’s bed was soaked. Keith had a black eye. Teresa had a sprained ankle. The davit clip that held the dingy up out of the water had broken and the dingy dangled sadly from one hook. We looked like a Chinese laundry boat with John & Teresa’s mattress, pillows and bedding strapped to every available surface.
It had been a day.
We ate our smoked salmon wraps in silence, happy to be alive.
Everyone spent the afternoon doing what made them happy. That meant Matt and I took the dingy over to a nearby deserted beach with rum punches.
It’s amazing how easily an hour on a deserted beach with a rum punch can completely wipe away a bad morning.
As we pulled up to Island Girl, she looked more like a Haitian refugee boat than a cruising yacht, loaded down with wet blankets and foam mattress pads, but she was ours and she had brought us safely through the cut. Twice. She was family.
As the sun began to set on our first eventful day, we fired up the grill and made burgers and hot dogs. You think God could have thrown us a mercy pass at this point, but no. It just couldn't be that easy. As with everything on a boat, nothing is “quite right.” The grill had two speeds: raw or on fire. It was more like cooking on a campfire than a grill.
We couldn’t find a metal spatula for the grill, so I had to use a pie server. The fact that the grill was on fire and the pie server was only about 5 inches long made this quite a challenge. It was also tilted at an angle and there was no lip or edge, so I lost a few hot dogs that just rolled off into the water. That meant I had to hold them onto the grill with my 5 inch pie server.
And we never had found those hot dog buns, so we had “hot dog baguettes.”
But with a bottle of wine, good friends, and a beautiful sunset at sea….it was all good.
It was a rough start, but we knew there would be a learning curve. We just knew tomorrow would be better.