After leaving Hopetown, I was reunited with my friends Trevor and Brendon aboard My Life. They had enjoyed a local Full Moon party near Tillo Cay a few days earlier, and as a result had missed their weather window to cross to Eleuthera. I was glad they had, we’ve had an enjoyable and eventful couple of weeks since then.
We stayed at Tillo for a few days, swimming and spearfishing and observing our first launch of a rocket from
Later in the day, Brendon speared a large Amberjack. I rowed over to the rocky outcrop he had climbed onto (when the blood of a fish starts to flow, the sharks aren’t far behind) and delivered the fish back to My Life, where Trevor (crew and cook) took on the task of cleaning the fish. We ate well that night. Lobster and wine as appetizer, fish and wine for main course, and wine for dessert. I’m not sure what sparked my memory, but I suddenely remembered that the rocket launch from
We were fortunate to pick up a very strong wireless signal at Tillo Cay (labeled ‘The Coconut Telegraph’) and getting a weather forecast was easy. We were all eager to head over to Eluethera. This would involve one more daysail to take us to the southern Abacos, which would be our launch point to make the 50 mile crossing over the open
Two days later, we had another weather window and departed. It would be a sloppy day of motoring to begin with. There was no wind, but a large swell still remained from earlier winds. The ensuing boredom of sitting at the helm for 6 hours was getting to me, and to My Life too, and we struck up a conversation on channel 17. My Life shared the story of how their various sails had been named (Jenny, Betsy, Sarah), and I asked if we had missed the exit for Dairy Queen (I was craving ice cream). By mid-afternoon, we had a gentle east wind and set some sail. As soon as I set my genoa, my engine started making the now-familiar racing sound that means it’s being starved of fuel. In rough seas, the fuel sloshes around my dirty old steel tank, and little bits of this-and-that get sucked into the lines and clog the fuel filter. Knowing what a pain it had been in the past to bleed the air out of the fuel lines after replacing the filter, I resolved to not deal with it until at anchor. Now all I could do was pray for more wind, so we could cross the reef before sunset. The wind came, and I was full sail as I crossed the reef north of Little Egg Island. Thankfully I had good charts on loan from
All of this drove home the fact that I had not followed one of my most important rules that I strive to follow, and that is to never rely on my engine. Any journey I make, I ask myself, “If I didn’t have an engine, would I be able to make this trip under sail alone?”. The fact that we were playing chicken with another (and much stronger) approaching norther, and a forecast of little to no wind for that day, begged the question, why had I taken such a risk when I decided to weigh anchor that morning? I don’t know.
I am indebted to My Life, who stuck with me the whole way, even when it originally seemed that we all would be crossing the reef after dark (to be avoided). Once over the reef, after an awesome sail for another ½ hour, they threw me a tow line and towed me close to the southern shore of
That evening, we gathered up our conch that we’d been saving (I kept mine in a mesh bag
The following morning, I turned on my VHF to see what boats were around, and was surprised (and delighted) to hear Road to the Isles. They had left the Abacos close to a month earlier, and were Cuba-bound, so I really never expected to see them again on this trip. Turns out they had a few problems, and they had to change their plans. Now, they were about 7 miles away, sitting at the entrance to Spanish Wells. I couldn’t wait to get there and see them again.
By this point, the wind had picked up, and I had completely drained my batteries by trying to start my engine, which stubbornly held onto those pockets of air in the fuel lines. My Life refused to leave me there alone, despite their boat being quite a bit smaller, and thereby more susceptible to the uncomfortable motions caused by the seas. They had a portable generator that they brought over, in rough seas, in a dingy that barely floats at the best of times, and we tried and tried to get the engine going, to no avail. Don on Road to the Isles strongly advised that we get into a more protected area if at all possible, and I wanted nothing more. Brendon offered to come along and help me sail, but I was not confident in my ability to sail her where I needed to go in those conditions. We tried anyway. The wind was too strong to have the mainsail set, so I had my small jib and mizzen sail at my disposal. I needed the boat to ultimately end up 7 miles due east of my current position, but with 25 kts of wind coming directly from the east, even if I sailed as close to the wind as I could, the boat was making so much leeway (being blown sideways), I was ultimately going west. I looked ahead to see seagrass reaching the surface, and I wasn’t entirely confident in where I was exactly, and I knew there were rocky shoals in the area, so I turned the boat around and started heading to where I had been anchored. Once back to the anchorage, I was further away from my destination that I had been before we weighed anchor. Sailing to safety was not an option.
As the winds continued to build, the boat was hobby-horsing violently, burying the bow under the waves on a regular basis. Trevor had motored out and dropped my second anchor, but still, the sound of the stress and strain on the bow where the anchor line was tied made me feel sick to my stomach. I was just waiting for something to crack or break. We tried to distract ourselves by having a few drinks and playing card games. That was quickly halted when I went on deck to find their dingy being hung vertically on my stern. Their outboard engine was underwater, and only a bit of the bow of the dingy was still above the surface. Grabbing the dingy line, we pulled it alongside, and reached for the outboard. Everything seemed in slow motion as the motor slipped off the back of the dingy and began it’s decent to the bottom. Trevor immediately praised himself for having, thankfully, tied the engine to the dingy with a safety line. We had one more chance. Trevor grabbed a big knife from the galley, and with one whack on the taut line, the outboard was free and we pulled it aboard. Now it became a race against time to get their engine running before it seized. Oy vey.
Probably 2 hours went by. We put the engine in a bucket of water and they took turns cranking it, and Brendon pulled out the spark plugs to dry and clean them, then we’d keep cranking, and the cursing and swearing that ensued as they periodically sustained minor shocks from holding the engine in the wrong place while the other was cranking, and Trevor all the while never set down his beer, it gave us all a reason to laugh at our predicament and we wondered what the hell could possibly happen next. It was probably around that time that I noticed my bilge pump was coming on a little more often than usual.
I best save some stories for a rainy day. You never know when things might get dull.