Running to Safety (and running aground)
We have had our eye on a spot that we think will be safe to ride out the storm, and know that we really need to get there tomorrow to ensure we beat the early winds (and always fearful that these things can speed up by hours if not entire days in a heartbeat). This will be our first storm not ducking into a marina and paying for a slip, so we’re a bit nervous and frantically watching the weather reports and looking at all of our options.
We talked about simply staying in the park because of the safety of the mooring balls, but most balls have been taken for days and the ones with the protection we need from the strong east winds have been gone for almost 2weeks since this storm first became a blip on the radar. The winds of this storm don’t look to be quite as bad as the last few we experienced, (35kt winds instead of 40-60kt gusts predicted for the last ones), which is why we’re willing to look at other options, but it’s also supposed to go “round the clock” (meaning the winds aren’t steady from one direction but show high winds from every possible directions throughout the course of the storm). This isn’t great when trying to find an island to tuck behind as in most cases an island can only protect you from one side, and is even worse when looking at how to get your anchor to hold (they don’t really like being pulled in the opposite direction once set).
We have picked out a location behind North Gaulin Cay that looks great for the worst of the predicted winds (from the E/NE) and also has a short “hop” to other nearby islands if we need to move in the middle of the storm because we’re getting beat up by the change in wind direction. We feel good about the plan, but as typical… the more we read about or listen to others’ plans and see everyone running away to marinas we begin to get a bit uneasy and question that decision. Certainly didn’t help that we woke up from our stay at Warderick Wells to find that our watermaker isn’t working (and that our tank is empty). We’ve been low on food for a while, but having no water supply as we move into a storm that we might have to ride out for several days… clearly not good! =/
We scour the charts and find Compass Cay is between us and our destination, but also means we have to stay inside and navigate all the shallows to get there. We call ahead and they confirm having fresh water available (and we really have no other choice at this point) so we drop off the mooring ball and race to Compass Cay to fill our tank.
While there we pause for a brief while to watch the spectacle that is tour boats dropping people off to “swim with the sharks”. People pay hundreds of dollars to come here for a chance to swim with nurse sharks for 10minutes, which are really more like kittens and hang out in droves here because the locals are constantly baiting them to ensure good photos. We heard the squeals of girls jumping in the water and couldn’t help but go take a look. Not exactly a natural environment to see sharks… but the water was crystal clear and the sharks are things of beauty to be certain.
We are watching the clock and concerned about making it to our safe harbour but its almost low tide and we have more shallows to navigate. Not a great situation, and not something we would typically put ourselves in but the “water crisis” has us simply having to figure out what our new best-case-scenario is with the options we have. We ask about a slip here at compass, which is available and we consider staying. We look at going back to a mooring ball in the park, but we eventually decide to keep to our plan and after diving into the charts for another hour to confirm we should be good we take off and make our way south again.
It’s the worst possible time considering our schedule, our tense state and the pending storm… but the territory we are covering is without question the most beautiful we’ve seen since moving aboard (maybe in our lives). The water in this area is impossibly beautiful. The crystal clear water combined with the few feet (or in many case only inches) of water above the sand makes for that perfect blue that The Bahamas are known for. We navigate slowly with Jen constantly watching the charts me on deck looking out for high spots and phone in hand to double check charts.
All is well until we round Sampson Cay and things start to look really shallow. We slow down to get our best visibility but we both clench as we feel the boat start to ride the bottom and quickly grind to a stop on a sand bank.
We are both staring at our charts in disbelief and trying to figure out what just happened. For all the parts of this day that seemed worrisome, this wasn’t (supposed to be) one of them. Both our charts clearly show at least 1.5’ of water over our depth, but there’s no mistaking the fact that we are dead stopped and stuck in the sand. NOT what we needed on a day where we’re rushing to get safely tucked away from the pending storm! We both immediately start to picture worse case scenario… having to ride out several days of a storm stuck here in completely unprotected waters. But a few deep breaths give way to calmer/clearer minds.
It’s low tide and with the rising waters we will surely be freed and able to move on. We dive and check out the bottom of the boat. All is fine and we’re simply sitting on soft sand (certainly the best case scenario if your boat is going to be sitting on the ground). I think back to how some of the storm precautions I read last night actually suggested grounding your boat at low tide as a worst case scenarios to ride out a storm... That obviously wasn’t exactly our plan, but we try our best to laugh off the situation and wait it out.
A good learning for us as newbie sailors that EVEYTHING out here is constantly changing. Not only the tides and the winds but the sand on the bottom as well. While we as humans try our best to map everything out and like to feel as though we have some control over the outcome… the simple fact is that its all just an approximation at best. This seems to have been the worst case scenario not only of us being in a rush and having to change plans/routes, but also insanely low tides caused by the fulll moon (crazy blood full moon at that).
We try again in about an hour and while getting loose the boat still isn’t free so I hop in the water to snorkel, still dreaming about that huge lobster we saw back in the park. No luck, but by the time I round the rock im exploring I look up to see that Jen has the boat moving!! I hop in the dinghy and chase her down into higher water and we continue on to tuck away behind North Gaulin Cay in preparation for the storm.
We drop 2 anchors as close to shore as we feel comfortable and prep for the storm, hoping that we made the right decision and that we don’t regret having passed up the marina at Compass or the mooring ball we were attached to just this am. This was not the calm, short day we had planned and set ourselves up for… but we are happy to no longer be stuck, thrilled have 150gallons of water onboard, and to pour ourselves a well earned sundowner as the sun retreats for the day. Jen makes a nut crusted tuna dish that blows the mind… an amazing feat considering we haven’t seen a grocery store (or shop of any kind) for well over 2 weeks!
In the morning we meet a salty neighboring sailor, Ian, who has been coming to this area for decades. He loves these waters, the nearby islands and has decided it’s the perfect blend of his primary activities (Kiting and Spearfishing). We are thrilled to hear both and even more thrilled as he tells us we have chosen the perfect anchorage and the best spot for our low draw for the pending storm (unlike the 100s of boat he points to just on the other side of neighboring islands).
He is actually full of accolades and confidence inducing praise after hearing that we’re actually very new at this, is impressed not only by our choice of anchorage but that we haven’t simply run away straight to Georgetown with the masses.. but of course still laughs at our having dropped a second anchor for these winds. While we love soaking up his regional knowledge, we’ll take our precautions for now!
Over the following days we watch the clouds gather, the winds double in strength and ride out the force of the storm tucked calmly behind our little island. We watch the masts of those boats in the other nearby anchorages swaying violently from side to side and are more and more confident in our choice. It is a big blow for certain, but we are thrilled we decided to pick a spot and ride it out on our own rather than running away to a marina and spending both time and money to be somewhere we didn’t want to be. These storms are nothing to mess with, but its amazing just how calm they seem if you’ve done your homework and chosen the right spot to wait them out! Our anchors hold firm, though with the rounding winds they prove to be a huge pain as we try to keep ahead of the winds and somehow eventually end up with our backup anchor as the primary during some of the worst winds (and as always in the middle of the night). Still might have to rethink our use of 2 anchors moving forward.
We are learning… little by little and day by day. With each new lesson comes new comfort and new excitement for things to come. Im certain no other “sailors” would tell you how they just grounded their boat… but hey- we’ve always been nothing but transparent about our journey and that means sharing the horrible (or at least laughable) failures just as much as the successes, right? ;)