Poor Wilbur lies atop my foul weather gear. It was used far too often during this trip.
When we reached the end of our voyage and reversed our route to head home from the Bahamas, we suffered a disastrous re-crossing of the Exumas Banks from Nassau to Cat Cay, and 'I'm With Stupid' is what I truly feel our boat should be named. I'm not kidding when I say we experienced a text book Sail Magazine 'what we did wrong' with very little of 'what we did right' kind of experience.
We departed Palm Cay Marina (where we performed a successful surgery on Windy), anchored in West Bay for a night, and then crossed the Northwest Channel (with a touch of the Tongue of the Ocean) the next day. Along with a cruising couple who'd left us in Blackpoint in order to reach Georgetown and then actually caught back up with us, we dropped the hook together at the Northwest Shoal anchorage for the night. We were feeling pretty darn good about everything and early the next morning we both hoisted our mains at anchor and beat it for the long trek to Cat Cay just south of Bimini.
The wind was perfect, we put out the jib, shut the engines down and exalted in a beautiful day at full sail, until the wind died at noon. So we furled the jib and let the main do its thing.
At one point we noticed a line dangling in front of our dodger and were shocked to find it was the topping lift from our boom. Hans had tied it with a bowline knot and a couple of half-hitches several years ago and I guess after all the slamming and banging we endured over the last couple of months it finally gave way. The fully raised mast is what kept the boom from swinging around like a billy club (or smashing down on our on bimini). So while under sail Hans was able to tie it back to the boom.
Not long after that I remarked that I didn't like the look of the clouds way off to our port side and shouldn't we drop the main? Since we now had next to no wind and about seven hours to go (we'd already been underway for five) Hans agreed. Why I didn't say something, I don't know, but when we started furling the main into the boom I thought it sounded strange. Damn! The topping lift Hans had tied off earlier had too much slack in it and was now caught in the boom furling mechanism tight as a drum. And there was no releasing it. We had no choice but to drop the main onto the boom and try to secure it. Our main is new and crackly and stiff, so dropping it was a chore. We ended up with each of us standing on either side of the boat while we tossed a long dock line back and forth over and under the boom and cinched it tight. In that short amount of time we got pretty soaked because those pesky clouds I'd spotted earlier had moved in and it had started raining.
Our main lashed to the boom.
Whew! we said, aren't we glad that's out of the way and cranked up the engines just as the shit hit the fan. The non-existent wind kicked up and we were suddenly seeing 20 plus knots on the beam and it kept getting worse. Poseidon then pulled a filthy shower curtain around the Knotty Cat and let loose with all kinds of mayhem. The wind continued to build, and our boom, thanks to our lashed down yet billowing main sail, started swinging back and forth with a vengeance. We ended up utilizing yet one more dock line and this time we tied it around our main sheet and yanked it tight to a rail. I leaned out and ventured a peek at the main, shuddered, and staggered back to helm where I stood for the next five hours in the wind and rain. Wilbur, who normally stays with us in the cockpit, hustled his little pitty butt down below when the rain started slashing through the cockpit.
That black line tied to the main sheet kept the boom in place
We slalomed and slid up and down the waves that had built quickly and they were pretty sizable considering we were only in 12 feet of water. I'd hate to think what we would have experienced if we'd still been in the Tongue of the Ocean which is thousands of feet deep. The wind settled in at a steady 30+knots, the gray clouds continued to empty buckets of water on top of us, and while Hans sat in the captain's seat, I found I was most comfortable standing and grasping the handles of the helm and companion way with each hand (the next day I wondered why all my knuckles ached). I ventured down below in an attempt to use the head and even though I did my usual crab walk I still managed to get body slammed into a couple of walls.
Every time I slid the companion way door open to check on Wilbur, I was apprised of yet one more horror taking place down below. Stuff was falling all over the place, and when Wilbur expressed interest in coming up top, he immediately lost his footing and fell heavily on his side. He turned tail and shot back down below where he panted heavily even though he had plenty of water. At one point he stood with his front legs on the companion way steps and it wasn't until later that I figured out why. The settee where he would usually lie now contained along with various miscellany, our heavy road rocker, and our berth (I didn't get down there until we anchored) where he likes to nap, was covered with tons of books. These books reside on a shelf in the center-most part of the boat and I'm still amazed that they fell. I finally quit looking down below when I saw the garbage can had tipped over and my 'First Mate' Tervis Tumbler was in pieces on the floor.
And once again we forgot to roll up our portable solar panels but I'd tied them down pretty securely on top of our upside down dinghy stowed on the bow. Except; Dear God! I'd forgotten to secure the dinghy itself to the deck and a couple of hours into our little adventure I was horrified, when we fell hard to starboard, to see the dinghy slide in an alarming fashion across the deck and come to rest on the lifelines. Hans forbade me to go up front and try to fix the situation I'd put us into but I was afraid the dinghy would become airborne and take out our fore stay. This also put a huge strain on the solar panel connectors because they were now stretched to the limit and we'd already ripped those connections apart in Ft. Myers.
I guess there's something to be said for wishful thinking because for the next few hours (and I mean hours!) I stood there clutching the helm and willed that damn dinghy to stay in place. It did. Finally, the wind and rain started to ebb and at around 7PM we finally motored into Cat Cay and dropped the hook in surprisingly calm water. We stripped off our foul weather gear and after comparing our pruny fingers and toes we set about straightening up the boat. I was totally beat and after our friends expressed their intention to cross the Gulf Stream to the USA the next morning I told Hans no way was I up for that. We didn't have enough weather information and I also felt that after such a long strenuous day we shouldn't push ourselves.
Of course the next day turned out to be a perfect 'crossing' day and the Atlantic resembled a huge mirror; absolutely calm with zero waves. By the time we realized this, it was too late.
If this were that Sail Magazine article I'd list what we did wrong along with what we did right, but you can already see what we did wrong along with basically nothing done right.
Thank goodness for Lady Luck.