This is the first story about some of the “learning experiences” which Jim and I had when we cruised the Bahamas in the winter of 2020. This crazy year being what it is, we shouldn’t have been surprised that some things went wrong. But hindsight is twenty-twenty right?
We had been anchored off a tiny island near Bullocks Harbour Settlement on Great Harbour Cay in the northern Berry Islands for a couple of days. The depths in our quiet little anchorage were shallow, but as a trimaran with a daggerboard and rudder which can be pulled up, we really only needed 20″ of water to float. This anchorage had a tidal range of about 12″ or so and we anchored in about 4′ of water, in what seemed like clear sand.
We had gone to Bullocks Harbour several times and explored down the Cay to Great Harbour Cay Marina as we were to meet friends there in a couple of days. The weather had been pretty fair…sunny and calm. We had enjoyed a great couple of days in that nook with the tiny island protecting us from the south then west winds.
We learned however, that the winds were going to clock around to the north (as they do in the winter) and a cold front was pushing a storm our way. Though the rain was forecast to start that evening, and the 180 degree wind shift had already happened, the big winds were not supposed to come until later the next day. We felt that our trusty 15kg Rocna (33 lb) was dug in well. We decided to wait until the next morning to move the boat into the big harbour. In the meantime, the coming rain meant an opportunity to set up a rainwater catchment system in the cockpit using a small tarp hung off of the folded up bimini aft and a bucket. We do have a watermaker onboard to turn salt water into fresh water but rainwater is free right?
I had gotten into the habit of setting a couple of anchor alarms on our cell phones each night. These use our phones’ built in GPS so no data is needed. Around 3:00 am (of course), my cell phone anchor alarm went off. We grabbed our headlamps and scrambled up into the rainy and now very windy cockpit….just as we hit the little island. The aft part of the port (left) pontoon hit first and the boat pivoted, turning the whole port side of the pontoon to the sharp rock ledge!
Jim and I ripped down the little tarp, threw it and the bucket below, and he started the motor. He yelled over the rising wind and driving rain to grab some fenders to wedge between the pontoon and the rock. I did that and we could see that the wind had grown too strong for our Honda 9.9 hp outboard to push us off.
Clearly we could not sustain the pounding and scraping against the limestone rock. We needed another way to pull the boat away from the island. I yelled that we should try kedging her off using the two anchors. Jim yelled ok and I jumped into the water…with no lifejacket or shoes!!! Dumb move. There is that hindsight thing again.
The tide was up and the water depth was just above my waist. I followed the anchor rode out along the mainly sand bottom. As I walked, I felt no rocks, weeds, nurse sharks, rays or even shells as I made my way to the Rocna anchor. I had my headlamp on and Jim had turned all of the exterior lights on which helped a lot. I grabbed the anchor and began to walk it to windward of the boat as Jim let more rode out.
Then I went back to the boat to get our second anchor, a 10 kg Bruce style (22 lb). I also grabbed my Keen water sandals and my lifejacket. As I walked the second anchor out, Jim put its rode on one of the winches in the cockpit. I scrambled back up the swim ladder aft. The wind was getting stronger by the minute as the fenders on the port pontoon seemed to grind into the rock.
We slowly kedged the boat off the rock – Jim pulled in the rode from the Rocna on the bow and I winched in the rode from the Bruce in the cockpit. The boat pulled off bow into the wind and pivoted again on the aft part of the port pontoon. Then as we gained enough sea room, I carefully motored the boat into the wind toward where the Rocna had dug in. As I held the boat into the wind, Jim began to gather in the two anchor rodes from the bow. Through all of this, the rain seemed to blow horizontally.
Slowly, slowly we inched toward the main anchor. But what to do? We couldn’t stay where we were. There was no chance of anchoring on the other side of the tiny island and although the tide was high, it was too shallow ahead of us and too dark to try to get into the lee of any land there. After a look at the charts, our decision was to motor out into the big water and make our way past Bullocks Harbour into the main harbour and the safety of the protected shallows just outside of Great Harbour Cay Marina.
We had seen the main harbour during the day and we knew that there were about a dozen boats or more anchored on either side of the channel to the marina. (They had likely known about the coming winds and had wisely moved early!) I knew too that we would have to make our way through a steep-walled rock cut to enter the main harbour. How did I know this? I had seen a couple of newbie sailors take their 43′ catamaran through there on a video! (Gone with the Wynns on YouTube: Click Here to watch the episode…the entrance to the cut is at about 19:30 and they anchored close to where we ended up too). I told Jim that I thought we could do it but that we’d have to look really carefully for marker posts outside of the entrance to the cut.
Jim pulled up the Rocna and we headed out to sea. The waves had built to about a 3′-4′ and were topped with white caps blowing off the tops. We guessed that the wind speed was probably 20-25 knots. We kept all of our lights on and scanned for a couple of big sailboats which we knew had been anchored out there. Sure enough, there they were, tossing at anchor… we passed them by safely and started to watch for the two buoys outside the rock cut. We had our big spotlight out and soon we saw the first marker…the red one. We circled around once and several checks of the chart indicated that we needed to keep it to our starboard (right). A green buoy appeared out of the driving rain just at the mouth of the cut. We kept it to port and nosed into the cut.
The big spotlight lit up the cut fairly well. It’s about 100′ wide and 600′ long. It seems much narrower than that on a boat that is 22′ wide! Jim kept us in the middle and we made it though just fine. The next test was to make the big right hand curve toward the marina and try not to hit any anchored boats. We kept to the pink recommended line on the chart, lighting up the vessels anchored just off the channel as we passed by.
We got all the way down to the shallows outside of the marina and set the anchor. It grabbed hard and we settled in to stay awake for another couple of hours until daylight. We turned off the exterior lights except the anchor light, tidied up as best we could and I reset the anchor alarms just in case. But there was no sleeping. We made coffee and I think we ate something too.
We both were sure that we’d see some holes in the pontoon once the sun came up. After all, poor Thunderstruck had been pounding against a sharp-looking rock ledge of the tiny island. The stormy sky seemed to take forever to lighten but the rain had stopped so we were able to inspect the damage not long after sunrise. To our great joy, there were no holes! The gelcoat had been scraped down the fibreglass in a very small spot on the aft part of the port pontoon and there were a couple of tiny scrapes here and there but that was it! The big thick rub rail along the length of the pontoon, along with the fenders, had taken the brunt of the impact. We noticed too that there was a bit of crumbly rock on the edge of rub rail. This was the soft limestone of the island. The tide had been at the right height for the rub rail to scrape along the rock ledge which was eroded away below it….only the ledge stuck out and contacted with the boat! Amazing.
Ironically, we had dinghied along that same ledge the day before and had noticed how the movement of the sea had carved out the soft rock below the ledge.
We moved the boat into the marina later that day and finally slept as the winds howled above the mast for the next few days.
Yes, hindsight is twenty-twenty. Here are some things we have asked ourselves:
-Should we have moved sooner? You bet!
-Did we trust the forecasts too much? Absolutely!
-Should we have checked the set of the anchor before we went to bed? Yes! But as it was raining, we didn’t. Looking back now, we should have at least backed down hard on it with the motor.
-Does kedging off work? Brilliantly …at least in that situation!
-Did I worry about sharks or rays in the shallows as I walked the anchors out? Not really though I did consciously try to shuffle my feet so that I wouldn’t step on a ray.
-Was I lucky that the bottom was smooth and sandy as I walked over it? For sure. But we wondered if the bottom had been “scoured” and that there was only a thin layer of sand over rock where we had dragged. We’re not sure, but the anchors definitely held when we kedged off.
-Was I afraid for the boat? No not really. I knew she could take some damage to the pontoon and that we could fix it if necessary. (I found out later that Jim had not brought any fibreglass cloth with us! I had thought it was a necessary part of our kit!? We’re still discussing that…)
–Was I afraid at the time? No, not at all. I knew we would solve the problem. Besides, we were too busy to be afraid!
There are more
mishaps uh, I mean “learning moments” from our cruise to come. This one however, was probably the worst. The one in Florida? That was the luckiest. But we’ll save that tale for another post.
Fair winds friends!
Click Here to watch a video of our last evening in the tiny anchorage outside of Bullocks Harbour. The boat hadn’t turned to the north yet.
The first two photos below show the main inner harbour from on the road to Bullocks Harbour. The next three show the rock ledge and the rain catchment system we had rigged up in the cockpit, as well as our tri at anchor. The final shots are from where we anchored in the main harbour as well as screenshots of the weather forecast, the anchor alarm on my old cell (the new cell has a circle for the drift range) and the map of where we were on Great Harbour Cay in the Berry Islands.