Thursday, August 19, 2010

Little Farmers to The Abacos – The cycle starts again but we are older and wiser.

Oh S**T we have got to get out of bed before we get thrown to the deck. My head was banging against the mast as I lay in bed and the glasses in the galley were rattling and threatening to fall off the shelf.  Pat and I were on the hook off of Arthurs Town in Cat Island, but it was as rough a sea condition as we have experienced since we left Toronto nearly 2 years earlier. Reeling like drunken sailors we clung to the handholds as we pulled ourselves the 6 feet into the main salon from our forward cabin.

At about 5:00AM I had been awakened by a change in the motion of the boat. The forward hatch was open so I got up and looked outside to see that the wind had swung 180 degrees from where it was when we went to bed. The waves were short and choppy and the boat was bobbing vigorously, but not uncomfortably so. In the distance I could see a low cloud bank that contained the odd flash of lightning. Since it was still dark and the anchor was well set, there really wasn’t much to do except to close the hatches and go back to bed.

Twenty minutes later the first few drops of rain began to hit the coach roof. Within 5 minutes the squall was upon us and the deluge began. We were dry and relatively comfortable, but sleeping was out of the question as the wind shrieked and the thunder rolled around the boat. About 20 minutes into the storm, the surge began. At first it seemed like a heavy wind blown chop, but the up and down oscillations began to grow in amplitude and frequency and within 5 minutes the waves forced Pat and me to leave our bed and move to salon to avoid being tossed onto the floor. There were jarring crashes of waves against the hull and we were tugging and jerking against our anchor snubber as the boat hobby horsed. Combined with the wind and thunder and the noises from the chain there was a Perfect Storm sort of feel to things. At least we were dry and still felt safe. Less than 10 minutes later the squall passed and the conditions calmed as if a switch had been thrown

By now the sky was starting to lighten and a look outside revealed that the squall was rapidly receding into the distance and the sea although foamy from the surge, was settling down. In all the excitement had lasted for about 45 minutes. We dozed on the settees in the salon for about an hour before making coffee and preparing for our departure to Eleuthera about 30 miles of open sea away. Everything seemed normal until I went forward to pull the anchor and called back to Pat to turn the bow to port. The wheel would not turn! It was frozen into place and no amount of tugging would budge it.

I got my mask and snorkel and went over the side to investigate. I had expected that perhaps the squall had somehow wrapped a piece of line or other debris into the rudder and that cutting it loose was the solution to freeing the rudder. I was perplexed when I went under the boat and found the rudder appearing perfectly normal. Puzzled I went back on board and began emptying the lockers to make my way to the bottom of the steering quadrant, now surmising that the squall had jarred something loose and that it had fallen and fouled the steering cables, rendering them immobile. Again the quadrant appeared normal and nothing was amiss?

Thinking perhaps I might have missed something under the boat, I again donned my mask and snorkel and once I was in the water, I positioned myself to try and kick the rudder free. It was then that I noticed that the trailing edge of the rudder was touching the hull and binding, where previously there was a 1 inch gap. I used my knife and pried away at the trailing edge of the rudder where it met the hull and a small piece of fiberglass broke away.

The rudder would still not move but I went back into the cockpit and tried the wheel again. There was a slight movement, but not enough to steer the boat so a further trip below and a little more scraping removed enough fiberglass to allow about 15 degrees of rudder deflection if one really leaned on the wheel. It wasn’t much, but it was enough to allow some limited maneuvering of the boat. Since the nearest haul out facilities were in Spanish Wells about 120 miles to the north, and we were planning to head in the general direction anyway, we decided to haul anchor and head out into open water. All the while we kept our fingers crossed praying that our damaged rudder would not fall off.

We had been anchored in 10-12 feet of water over a sandy bottom. When the squall came up, the ensuing surge drew the water away from the shore. As the boat pitched up and down in the rising waves, the rudder bounced off the bottom as the water level dropped. The fact that our rudder, which is about a foot above the bottom of the keel, slammed into the bottom, indicates just how violent the pitching was. The sandy bottom absorbed the impact allowing the rudder to remain intact, but the pressure on the rudder post caused it to bend aft, resulting in the binding. The lesson here is that if an anchorage doesn’t look right – leave!

It has been a little over a month since that fateful night. I am sitting in the cockpit of Threepenny Opera as she rocks gently on the ferry wakes of Marsh Harbour. Last year when Pat and I came to the Bahamas for the first time, Marsh Harbour seemed to be a remote outpost where it was possible to buy basic groceries and have a dinner out. Compared to the hustle and bustle of Florida the surroundings seemed pretty austere indeed. Today however Marsh Harbour had grown in our eyes to be definitely the “Big” city of 5000 people. There are cars, traffic lights and even two types of lettuce in the supermarket.

Since our last blog posting our sense of time and space has begun a paradoxical shift in that time for us has both sped up and slowed down dramatically. As I write, it seems like our last posting was only a few days ago, yet a check of the log shows that it has been two months since my last update. The change in time horizons has significantly affected our traveling patterns in that we now tend to arrive in an anchorage and set up shop. In the past, a long stay was 2 days, but today anything less than 3-4 days seems like rushing. Our ten days in Conception seemed to rush by, hence the paradox. There has been a definite shift towards quality from quantity in terms of the experiences we are collecting.

The zen like shift is not something we could have foreseen in the days before we started cruising. We felt that life had slowed down when we were full time liveaboards in Marathon’s Boot Key Harbour, but  we retained some of our land reflexes in that everyday had to have a purpose. Although we were much less fussed about schedules, we maintained the habit of to do lists and time tables however relaxed… was grocery day, tomorrow is laundry day and the day after will be the day we polish the stanchions and so on.

These days we tend to do what the mood strikes and perform needed chores only when the need arises. Surprisingly, our clothes, at least the few that we wear, are clean, there is no shortage of gourmet meals aboard and the boat is still neat and tidy. Maybe we have been doing it wrong all these years, or maybe we have just fallen into the cruiser’s groove? Fortunately for us the cruiser’s groove also helped us rise to challenges in a much more serene manner because I’m relatively sure that previously we would have been much more “freaked out” had we awoken to find our rudder bent and jammed to the point of immobility.

Our evolving time horizon has allowed us to spend over a week on Conception Island which is a totally deserted island in the Out Islands of the Bahamas. We explored isolated coves by dinghy, beach combed and horrors just stayed on the boat grabbing a few rays and reading. In the past it would have seemed like a prison, these days it was a real pleasure. We enjoyed Spanish Wells and Harbour Island, spending nearly a week in these places, exploring as the mood struck and hibernating when it did not.

Now we are heading back to the US to replace the rudder as I decided after consultation with Catalina that a repair, while feasible, would always leave me wondering if the fix was going to fail. It has taken the factory about 3 weeks to build us a new rudder, but we are installing the new, improved and much heavier version of the C42 rudder. To make the best use of our time back to the States we will also replace our refrigeration system with a more powerful and efficient one, as the Adler Barbour system installed by the factory system is severely taxed in the high air and water temperatures of the Bahamas. Best of all we get to visit with our friends Richard and Connie.

Georgetown, Long Island, Great Exuma, Conception, New Bight, Rock Sound are just a few of the place names in our log book since our last posting. Each of them have their memorable individual charms, but on the whole, they are blending into our new cruising diaspora. Until now it was always about the destination, but we are now more attuned to the voyage. We are looking forward to adding more place names into the log book, but there is no substitute for just being content with where you are at the moment.

Enjoy the pictures, they are really the chronicle of where we have been, and have a great week, I know I will….wherever I am.


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alan said...

Nice to see you guys are still hanging in there. Great pics. Are you still using your N300>

All the best ,,,

Barb & Alan

alan said...

Nice to see you guys are still hanging in there. Some great pics. Are you still using your N300?

All the best ... Barb & Alan

Anonymous said...

Hi P&A, what a wonderful slide show, always beautiful photos and great narrative. We hope you are tucked away somewhere avoiding the tropical storms that we hear about daily now that it is hurricane season. PCYC cruise to CBYC this weekend, we are thinking of you!
Carol & Helmut

audrey said...

What a wonderful choice of life you have made.

I was on Tobago last May, just a dock away from you in Nassau. I’m really sorry we didn’t get the chance to talk; you seemed so busy, while I, from Montreal, was dead from the heat.

My son skippers chartered sailboats from Canada, Tobago is his 36’ Beneteau Oceanis. I was in Nassau for the convoy of 4 of the sailboats back to Lake Champlain for the summer. We made it to Mooney Bay in just 3 weeks. Way too fast for pleasure, missed all the marine museums in Norfolk and so much more… Would happily do it over taking at least 5 months. The hardest part of the trip: the end of it. You can join the group Nassau-Montreal on Face Book to see the photos.

Rebelliously landlocked, a shanty on my tongue like a roguish old sea dog left behind, to but wave farewell and dream… I saw him off again last Saturday; they have arrived in New York at 79th Street around noon today.

Maybe someday, we’ll cross paths again. Until then, enjoy every minute and have a safe, happy voyage…

Toni said...

I really like the idea of a boat named after that wonderful Opera by Brecht/Weill!!!'Congratulations