ARC Bahamas Journal pt. 5

ARC – Euro Trash Girl (Part 5)

I really gained a lot of valuable sailing/cruising knowledge on this trip, perhaps even more than I had expected. The formal “US Sailing Certified” sailing courses that I’ve attended so far have all been taught by JWorld Annapolis, they include 6 Day Basic Keel Boat, Basic Cruising and Coastal Navigation. They have terrific equipment and more importantly a team of professional instructors who really know how to teach the art of sailing. The additional skills that I learned during this blue water passage from JWorld’s Director/Captain Jeff and Captain Tony is priceless. Like all of the previous courses I took these two captains provided instruction in a clear and comprehensive way while always maintaining a relaxed environment!

We all know that sleep is essential to our daily health and I learned my threshold the night of Tony’s injury. I will guess that I probably had maybe 10 good hours of sleep during the first 3 days. I had been awake since before dawn the entire day of the injury. Just before the end of our 1400-2000 hour shift I began to feel nauseous from fatigue. Crew was telling me to eat dinner, however I declined and told Captain Jeff that I was “physically done” and he let me hit my bunk early around 1930 hours. I eased into my bunk and firmly pressed my back against the cool hull wall that was heeled over to starboard. I slept like a rock for over 4 hours. I guess my internal clock was programmed by this point and I awoke just prior to our 0000 hour watch and I felt like a new man! After oatmeal and coffee I tethered myself safely and comfortably into the cockpit. Tony was awake allowing Jeff to also recharge his batteries a little.

I have been fairly lucky over the years with the maintenance issues on newer charter boats and perhaps spoiled by the convenience of on-call mechanics and chase boats. On the open ocean you really do need to be a MacGyver of sorts or at least have that type of person with you. Being prepared for a variety of “what ifs” is essential. We had discovered that our running lights were continually shorting out every couple of minutes. Even though we hadn’t seen another vessel in 3 days we couldn’t guarantee that everyone out in these waters had AIS or radar onboard and we needed these lights on to be safe. Tony used a multimeter and discovered that the current was failing somewhere between the junction box in the head and the top of the mast or towards the bow, that would be impossible to troubleshoot. We had 2 sets of portable battery operated running lights in our supplies. JWorld really planned for everything! I volunteered to strap into the jack line and make my way to the bow to duct tape a portable light to the rail. I was thankful for the full moon that was shining it’s amazing light down on us this evening. My walk to the bow would be slow and steady and my legs would flex with the motion of Euro Trash Girl who was moving around 7.5 knots. Once I safely reached the forestay I wedged myself in against the bows safety rail. I prepared the light with a length of duct tape and tried to protect it from the spray. I would try to time my taping as the bow reached the crest of a wave and then held on when it raced down into the trough. With the full moon and my red headlamp illuminating the surface of the water I saw something large and grey cross just inches from the bow from portside. I stopped taping as we dove into the trough and another large grey object swam inches away from the starboard side….I remember thinking “we’re not alone out here!” I scanned the water and discovered a large pod of dolphin playing in our bow wake both on portside and starboard. I was frozen in amazement! Once back at the cockpit I was telling everybody about the dolphin and I happen to glance over the dodger at my handy work and…….REALLY? NO I DIDN’T?!! Was I thinking “red right return??!” Strapped once again to the jack line I returned to the bow to reverse the lights, only this time no dolphins greeted me. That is perhaps my personal favorite memory of the trip.

At 0400 the next watch assumed the helm and I forced myself to lay in my bunk until 0630 hours. I could see the brilliant yellow, orange and red glow through the portholes, so up I went. This was Friday morning and our goal was to arrive at the Man-O-War cut before sunset. Based on our average speed and distance calculations we could realistically arrive at the cut around 2000 hours. Unfortunately this would not afford us the daylight we needed to navigate this treacherous cut. Tony’s hand was evaluated and all was still good. Nothing to do but stay the course.

It was another beautiful morning aboard S/V Euro Trash Girl. Actually we had near perfect weather since we departed Portsmouth Virginia. I remember only a little sprinkle on our first night heading through the Gulf Stream. I was really doubting my fishing ability because I had been skunked up to this point. I tried every color and shape lure that we had, greens, yellows, purple, pink, pink and white but the fish were not interested in my presentation! I’m not a quitter, so I would once again put a lure on the Maui hand line. Before Jeff went to lay down he reminded me that we saw something large chasing a group of flying fish, which by the way were always a treat to watch flying by the boat. We figured that a blue colored lure with a white, blue and silver flaked skirt might be the ticket?! I intently watched that lure dive through the waves of the rolling seas for about an hour. I became frustrated and bored once again and took a seat in the low side of the cockpit to drink my coffee. The seas were really rolling this morning. The swells were long and well spaced out. ETG would race down into the troughs and it was fun to watch walls of water grow on both side of us, I felt small out there! As we enjoyed the hypnotic ride and got lost in conversation I saw Tony pointing to our stern…..FISH ON!! I scrambled back up to the stern and carefully started hand reeling in the line. I almost lost this gorgeous Mahi Mahi at the boat when a wave hit it and put slack in the hand line. This beautiful bright green and yellow treat from the sea would soon be breakfast Sashimi for the crew!

The rest of our day was spent daydreaming about checking into our resort and draining every gallon of hot water they had in their showers! Hard to believe but not a single crew member took a shower during these five days at sea. Baby wipes were plentiful and are very effective… and a wonderful thing! Conversations also included which beverage of choice we would savor at the first bar we see. Alcohol was not disallowed on the boat and in Portsmouth we had discussed grabbing a couple bottles of wine so the off-going watch could have a snort before climbing in their bunk. Ultimately nobody seemed to care enough to go to the store prior to departing, C’est la vie!

We were making great time by motor sailing after noon. Still miles away from the Abacos we made visual contact with the first boat way out on the horizon in the direction of our final sunset at sea. AIS revealed that it was one of our competitors. They would be the first to arrive at Marsh Harbor, however we discovered later that they had engaged their motor for propulsion a total of 40 hours compared to our 23.5 hours, that’s about a 33 hour penalty for them! WE WIN! The sunsets were consistently colorful and this one was just as beautiful as the others.

At 1815 hours we were an hour away from Man-O-War cut. Oddly enough, even before seeing the lights of the island I could smell what I believed were steaks being grilled in the distance, interesting! Not only had the sun almost completely set but we were cautiously watching a storm front slowly approaching us from behind. The huge wall of black clouds was concerning! With the use of paper chart and new technology the captains and crew sat in the cockpit and contemplated navigating the cut in darkness. Our initial thoughts were to circle outside of the cut until daylight, this would include riding out the impending storm. Using two different navigation apps we plotted a course through the cut and beyond to the Marsh Harbor Marina. It looked like it would take an hour and a half to make this trip if we collectively agreed. All crew members were convinced with the data we had before us, including checking tide tables, that a night time arrival was prudent and our best course of action. Captain Jeff could be heard saying “We’re a performance sailing school, let’s perform!” I remember thinking this trip had the makings for a good made for TV movie! With an hour to reach the cut and another hour and a half to the marina from there Jeff instructed us to prepare our dinner. It would be macaroni and cheese, however it was gourmet chicken macaroni in a nice white cheese sauce, yum! In hindsight this was a great idea on Jeff’s part, it kept the crew busy and we needed everyone mentally strong, so no time for hunger pangs during this approach. During dinner assignments were made and I would be on the bow with a monster flood light with Tony nearby. After a quick dinner we geared up for the approach. The weather was warm and I wore shorts and my awesome crew jacket in case it decided to sprinkle. With all hands on deck we slowly approached the narrow cut. Unfortunately there are no lighted channel markers at this well travelled entrance? I held onto the forestay and lit up the shallow waters with the mega flood. The depth quickly drops here and we had about 11 feet under us with a 6.5ft draft. The overcast skies were blocking the moon tonight but with the mega flood light I could clearly see the reef out to our sides and my eyes would strain to stay focused to identify anything that could possibly be in our path. I could hear commands at the helm instructing when and to which bearing to turn the boat. We would make a handful of these turns during the approach. As luck would have it and after 5 days of dry weather the skies opened up and Tony and I wished that we had our full foul weather gear on. Half way through my flood light quickly dimmed and fortunately we had a second mega flood light handy, again JWorld prepared for everything! As we made our final turn towards the marina the lights of the resort were a welcome sight. The floodlight identified a series of obstacles at this narrow entrance including many large rocks and a series of old dock pilings that stood out of the water in the most unexpected spot in the middle of the channel. Nearing the docks I heard a voice coming from the shadows….it was Kristen from JWorld and Jeff’s wife Patty there to greet us, awesome! They would guide us in and assist us at the end of the dock. We made it, let the celebration begin!!

P.S. Tony was seen by a doctor the night we arrived in the Bahamas and flew home in the morning. Happy to report that his hand is healing nicely!

The End….until next time

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