Bonnie and Jim Miller sailed their Newfoundland-registered Victoire yacht ‘Vagrant Sea’ from the Queen City Yacht Club in Toronto via the ICW to the Bahamas
Sailing the Bahamas – ICW South part 7
Most people planning an extended cruise need to contemplate how they would deal with the illness of a loved one or other crisis at home. We like to be in touch at least weekly by phone, e-mail or HAM radio. We often sail solo, but we tend to let other boats know our plans and to chat by VHF with at least one boat a day. In the Bahamas, where we did not have the blanket Coast Guard coverage found in Canada and the United States, we often tuned into one of the morning cruisers’ nets on VHF, HAM or SSB. Of course, the nets disseminate gossip much more than they cover disasters, but that’s fine too. Our favourite message of the season was a request for anybody knowing the location of so-and-so to ask him to call his brother immediately: “There’s a tree in your house.”
A few weeks ago we learned that Jim’s family needed us back in New Brunswick. It is impressive how the ability to respond to the unexpected which is so much a part of sailing helps carry you through this situation as well. The boat was ready to put to sea since we were in Nassau, prepared for a run to Spanish Wells and on north to the Abacos. We reviewed the status of the essentials: fuel, water, food. The timing could not have been better. Just a few hours earlier, we had waved good-bye to dozens of boats who were heading stateside. Some of them had waited weeks in Nassau for the right weather window, so we considered ourselves very lucky. As we made the decision to sail, we realized that we had unconsciously absorbed a great deal of information which might be helpful for a quick bail-out, for example, the best flight connections back to North America, reliable marinas where we could leave the boat, local ex-pats who could help with arrangements. We certainly felt there were several options, but taking the boat home was right for us.
At 2:45 p.m., on Saturday, March 28, within an hour of deciding to head for the U.S., we motored out of Nassau harbour, our dinghy dragging along at a rakish angle as we prepared to hoist it on to the foredeck. I am not good at long passages; anything over eight hours I regard as hardship. Sailing through the night is not something I enjoy at all. The advantage of leaving unexpectedly was that I had no time to worry about the trip ahead. We sailed almost due north into New Providence Channel, east of the Berries. We expected a dark night, with no moon and few lights visible from the sparsely-populated islands nearest our course. Were we surprised! Our route intersected with that of a sizable proportion of the world’s largest cruise ships, all on the move to ensure a fresh view for their passengers’ breakfast. Those monsters sure are enormous as they zoom toward your tiny vessel in the dark.
At dawn we used SSB to hail some friends who were six or eight hours ahead of us. They gave us an account of wind and sea conditions and we discussed possible por or arrival. We elected to steer for West End on Grand Bahama, arriving 26 hours after our Nassau departure. For most of the passage we were close-hauled and sailing very well. During the night we had taken quite a bit of spray over the side and heavy rain squalls soaked us during the second afternoon. We furled the sails an hour before making port and shook the water off our wet clothes and canvas as the sun appeared. Stig, the cat , noticed the action on deck and slipped out of his bunk and on to the deck. Jim was puzzled to see him digging between the water cans and the spare anchor line coiled on the coach roof. After a few minutes puss strutted triumphantly back toward us, lugging a large, dead, flying fish. He was pretty excited and we were terribly impressed. Jim filetted the catch and Stig ate every morsel.
At West End we found several boats who had come from the Abacos and were stopping for the night on their way to Florida. The boats which had departed Nassau before us had either stopped at Chubb Cay or Bimini, or gone non-stop across the gulf stream. The first time you sail to the Bahamas you may be as surprised to find that the guides devote plenty of ink to descriptions of how to get there, but precious little is said about routes for the return trip. The reasoning must be that by the time you have spent a winter in the islands you are capable of finding your way back. We settled on Cape Canaveral as our landing point and calculated that we could make the crossing in a bit under 24 hours. We waited until mid-day on Monday, hoping for calm seas conditions and away we went to the west.
The early evening was beautiful and the tiny sliver of a new moon was a bonus. At about eleven o’clock, Jim was snoozing in the cabin when I felt something brush against my back. I could not see or feel anything which I investigated. I turned up the music blasting into my headphones and persuaded myself not to get hysterical. Next I felt movement against my ankle. This was more easily identified, as the cat’s porthole opens on to the cockpit sole and he sometimes grabs a foot if he sees me tapping my toes to the music. I was surprised to see him climb out into the cockpit and rush back behind the tiller post. I switched on the flashlight and found Stig struggling with a tiny, struggling flying fish. My attempts to rescue the fish were thwarted by Stig seizing it firmly in his teeth and darting down the companionway.
We made good time until about 2:00 a.m., when the wind had dropped off so much we were uncomfortable in the long swells. We saw only one vessel all night and it was quite a distance away, though we occasionally thought there might be a small white light off to one side. Early in the morning Jim checked in with the Mississauga net, which had been relaying messages for us. A few minutes after his conversation, we heard another caller to the net saying “We are now about two hours out of Port Canaveral.” Sure enough, there was Allura, from Oakville, just a couple of miles away, and about half a dozen other boats eventually came into sight. We picked our way around two submarines (or, as they insist on calling themselves, “naval units”), past the shuttle launch pad and into the big commercial harbour. We lucked into the nicest immigration officer anyone could ask for and were legal in no time. Back in American waters and back in the ICW.
Fair winds and snug harbours,
Bonnie James – Vagrant Sea
Share this article with your friends