This year, we are thankful that our post-holiday blues are primarily (not exclusively… we’ll get to that in a second) characterized by the beautiful waters around us: teal, cerulean, navy. In addition to their splendor, the shades of blue and green also help differentiate suitable sandy patches to drop anchor from treacherous patches of slippery sea-grass. Which brings us to our present position: holed up in high winds in Georgetown on Great Exuma Island, awaiting the arrival of Conner’s parents in early February. It’s been consistently blowing 30+ knots for two days and we spent last night getting small bouts of sleep, each of us awaking periodically to check our position (both visually and implied on our chart/anchor alarm) as Contigo violently sailed to and fro at anchor. Did we mention that we are surrounded by a veritable forest of masts? Sailboats everywhere. We find ourselves in deeper prayer than anything practiced in India. And more high winds are on the way!
Karl’s family converged on Bimini for the holidays, which gave us a two-fold opportunity to see loved ones and spend a few nights on dry land. Unfortunately, the great company and respite came at a price.
First, the positive: we were able to share the experience of sailing on Contigo (in similar fashion to our Martha’s Vineyard outings) with family on two separate sunny days. These would prove to be the last fair weather days in a long streak we had enjoyed in the Abacos and the Berrys throughout most of December. Sharing the boat with loved ones, and giving them a better idea of how and where we live, has become one of our favorite aspects of cruising.
Four Continents, Three Generations Converge on Bimini
The current at the Bimini docks proved fierce, however, even at what we thought was slack tide, and we were inelegantly pinned up to it when departing with group #1, requiring the assistance of two dock-hands (plus Karl’s sister’s deft help!) to pry ourselves off. It’s the sort of thing that we are learning only happens when you have friends and family with perfect front-row seats to the action. The return to the dock later that day was equally interesting, but went much better, as Karl motored into the slip against current in a maneuver that felt like docking the space shuttle – we only had one shot to get it right!
Coming off the high of the second group trip, we tied up Contigo as best we could for the upcoming weather. You see, half way through the family vacation, a new weather reality rudely ushered itself in, and the first of a barrage of cold fronts came through that three weeks later still has Bahamian locals reaching for their parkas and beanies (no joke).
As we left the dock the second day, neither of us really felt great about it (we later confirmed with each other). The strong current, “tired” dock, and wakes from large passing boats in close proximity was unsettling enough, and the weather coming in would not help. We spent two lovely nights on land in spare beds in Karl’s family’s house. Alas, during a brief break in the rain, Conner ran back to the marina and found Contigo a bit bruised from a night spent rubbing up against dock pilings (her fenders slipped in the rising and falling tide, of course). Not a great feeling.
It felt like we had left (abandoned?) Contigo for a few days and she had let us know it. It was a cosmetic repair that we could have tackled ourselves, but we evaluated our options and settled on expert hands at a boatyard in Freeport that could help bring Contigo back to her factory luster.
We wanted to be done with the Bimini dock experience, so after the departure of family, we seized on another break in strong northerly winds to quickly make our way up to Freeport. Or so we thought. What we had planned on being a 8-9 hour sail turned into a stomach-churning beat into choppy seas that often brought Contigo to a near standstill. We finally did make it to Freeport 14+ hours later, but our desire (well, impatience) to get the repairs started had taught us a lesson or two. Once through Bell Channel, we were ensconced in a Shangri La-like tranquility that couldn’t have been more different than conditions seen a few miles offshore. Hot showers and popcorn that night restored us from our limp noodle states, and encouraged us to develop a better transiting plan and lay down a few ground rules, such as don’t leave for a destination dead upwind when it’s still blowing 20 knots with 4-6 foot seas on the nose!
Knowles Marine Yard in Freeport
After completing the repair, we began making our way to the Exumas via the Berry Islands. We took advantage of a few breaks in weather to make our way south, and enjoyed several great sails (averaging nearly 8 knots in stretches, which is not too shabby for a 43-foot sailboat) that reinvigorated our love of sailing. Words don’t do the Exumas justice, but hopefully pictures do:
Several days ago, in advance of two (maybe three) successive fronts coming our way, we ducked down to Georgetown at the bottom of the Exuma chain to await the arrival of Conner’s parents in a few weeks. Five minutes en route, we caught an amberjack trolling a line through the cut near Black Point. We spent 9 hours down to Georgetown fantasizing about that delicious “Jamaican Rundown” we’d have for dinner, but upon arrival and filleting, this guy proved host to a generous helping of white parasitic worms! Barring the odd fish (or conch) that we catch, we eat mostly rice, beans and vegetables on-board, so this was one meal we were sorry to toss out.
Surely these nurse sharks didn’t mind though!
Our latest assessment is that living aboard a sailboat is about 80/20 great/not-great. If you had asked us a month ago, before all these cold fronts started rolling in with panzer-like precision, we might have gone as high as 95/5. For this post, we decided to share some of the not-so-good and offer some corresponding perspective.
First, the not-so-great times are making our highs that much sweeter. Case in point, we managed one beautiful day in Georgetown before the weather rolled in, including an extended yoga session and a sunset swing on the new hammock reading a book. Forty-eight hours later, we are cooped up in Contigo’s cabin while it screams and howls outside.
Second, we are learning some lessons along the way. Though they can come at a monetary or emotional price, we are trying to take it all in stride. It’s hard not to get frustrated at the ocean or the weather for throwing less than ideal conditions our way, not-too-gentle reminders that we are just along for the ride.
Heaving-to, for the non-sailors in the audience, is a “wait-it-out” maneuver that brings a sailboat into a gentle drift when conditions warrant, like rough seas or limited visibility. Rather than trying to force and bash our way through difficulties (we can’t help it, we’re New Yorkers at heart!), we are working to develop patience and acceptance of that which we can’t control. In other words, it can’t all be moonbeams and rainbows. This stretch of bad weather has to break sometime, right?
Conner and Karl