Starting to build
"This is the worst weather we've experienced here in the Bahamas since November, thirty years ago." This was the announcement made on our daily VHF weather report the other day which is broadcast from Staniel Cay at 8:30 AM every day. We can believe it.
When we left the states for this cruise we thought we were being very proactive, what with having solar panels (the sun always shines in the Bahamas!), a wind generator (there's always a breeze in the Bahamas!), and a Honda 2000 gas generator (won't be needed in the Bahamas!), an item I'd heavily campaigned for, and I'm very happy I won that battle. I can't count how many sunless and windless days we've experienced in the last month and now that we no longer have a working wind generator I'm kicking myself that I didn't make Hans buy an additional gas can in order to keep our Honda running.
Hmmm, no wind generator? Well, let me explain.
The wind generator now lassoed down so it can't move
We really considered ourselves lucky to have been in Warderwick Wells for a week during the threat of storm # ? (I don't know, I've lost count). Anyway, it's an extremely well protected horse shoe shaped mooring field with no anchoring allowed. All week long we would hear the plaintive cries of cruisers (and one woman really did cry) hailing Exuma Park, begging for a mooring in order to get somewhere safe. But, limited space didn't allow for that and I kept telling Hans that I didn't care if he thought a week was far too long to spend in any one place! Why the hell would we want to leave a safe harbor only to search out another. We stayed put.
And then the weather cleared and we all left Warderick Wells in a mass exodus. It was quickly filled with a new group of cruisers desirous of finding a hidey-hole because, guess what? Another storm was brewing.
Our next stop was Staniel Cay which is protected from everything but west winds but we weren't worried because nothing was predicted to blow in from the west. Until it did.
Staniel Cay is one of the main reasons we came to the Exumas and I'm almost embarrassed to admit it's because it was on my bucket list (I try not to over expect from life). Otherwise known as piggy beach, this is where pigs literally swim to your dinghy looking for food. I've seen countless videos of this adorable phenomenon and just couldn't wait to see it for myself. On our first day in Staniel we did get to the beach but we were disappointed to be met by only two very fat, surly, sows, and no babies. The sows had ugly upturned snouts complete with dangerous looking, crooked yellow teeth, and they grunted in an alarming manner upon approaching us. I'd soon had enough of that scary business and then we were off to snorkel at Thunderball Grotto which was not on my bucket list but should have been. This is where the James Bond movie Thunderball was filmed. Not being a James Bond fan I haven't seen it but of course now that I've been privy to the fantastic snorkeling to be had there, I'll be sure to watch it sometime in the future. I'm claustrophobic at heart and snorkeling in a cave is not something I would normally do, but since there were probably a dozen or more of us hanging out together I didn't want to be a killjoy.
It was fabulous. We anchored our dinghies in about 2 feet of water and snorkeled into the cave which doesn't really seem 'cave like' because sunlight filters through huge overhead holes. Schools of brightly colored fish darted around us and with the tide beginning to come in (you can only snorkel here at slack tide) if you swam to the far side of the cave and let the current carry you back it felt like you were flying over a fish bowl. I was all about getting there again the next day but of course another weather system moved in.
A couple of days later we made plans along with our cruising friends to go ashore in the evening to the Staniel Cay Yacht Club for a Cinco de Mayo party. But in the meantime we decided we'd snorkel at low tide (late afternoon) and maybe visit piggy beach again. It was an overcast morning and we were playing backgammon when I commented that the music we were listening to sounded kind of ominous. Hans checked our radio and announced it was called 'Nightmare' and for some reason it was set on repeat and not shuffle. Ha Ha we said, and gee we hoped this wasn't some kind of omen.
We were in the home stretch of one of our backgammon games and I was clearly ahead and getting ready to gloat when the wind kicked up. In a very short amount of time things really did get ominous when it started pouring rain and the winds began gusting. Hans asked how the solar panels were doing and just as I said they looked okay a gust of wind hit and the panels looked like twin magic carpets whipping about the deck on their tethers. Crap! Why the hell hadn't we put them away since the wind generator was doing such a good job. I went to go up front to retrieve them and was shocked to feel stinging rain and the wind was blowing so hard it took my breath away. Together we rolled up the panels and crab walked back to the cockpit. I stayed in the cockpit and monitored the wind speed which was gathering force and watched with alarm as the compass showed us heading more and more due west. The seas started to build and the wind was holding steady in the 30's when our wind generator started screaming and let out a horrific sound like a fog horn, and then it died. It kept spinning but was no longer generating.
By now we had the engines running, the wind was hovering near 40 knots, the waves were about 4-5 feet, and as I sat shaking in the cockpit I watched as other boats hobby horsed over and over with their bows diving nose first and then rearing up and straining at their anchors. The wind picked up even more and whipped at the very tops of the waves creating a haze like effect that ripped past us. I could hear people in another anchorage on the radio frantically calling out to each other as they were dragging and when someone (no doubt a teacher's pet in earlier years) told them they were using a hailing channel and needed to move, the resulting answer was, "F*ck you!" Sometimes the wind would ebb to the mid 30's but then my heart would slam when it would pick back up and when I saw it climb into the 40's and then hit 46 knots I didn't know what to think.
In all, I think we ran our engines for about an hour and the storm itself lasted about three hours. When the wind finally started dying down and I was seeing 25 or so knots, it seemed like heaven. We radioed our friends on shore and let them know their boats were still there and I told Hans no way were we going in for the Cinco de Mayo party. Slowly the weather cleared up and we finally dried out. By 5:00 it was dead calm and we actually went ashore for the party and it was still calm when we all came back at eight.
The next day we woke up, got a game of backgammon going, and the radio started playing the Nightmare music again.
We got off lucky though, the winds only blew 25 that afternoon.
Piece of cake!