January, cuts, cold fronts and our arrival in George Town
Three weeks of sunshine and low winds ended with the New Year and 2018 brought unstable weather to the Exumas. The tail of the low that battered the US East coast with freezing temperatures brought us higher winds and rain.
We started the Exuma shuffle, waiting for a weather window to go to Georgetown on Great Exuma. The shuffle meant sidestepping waves and wind to find a protective anchorage and occasionally returning to Staniel Cay to provision. The 30 mile sail south in the open ocean required a day or two of calmer weather that would lay the seas down and allow us to enter from the banks into the ocean.
Each area of the world has its own particular sailing challenges, which is one reason why cruising can be both ‘hair-raising’ and exciting at the same time. For the Bahamian Exuma Islands, this challenge is navigating the ‘cuts’. The Exumas lie in a line between thousands of square miles of shallow banks and the deep ocean of the Exuma sound. Cuts are the narrow openings between these islands, where millions of gallons of seawater crowd to pour in and out the banks with every tide cycle. This not only generates huge currents, but if the wind should blow even mildly against the current then steep, rough and dangerous seas can build up. In transiting them, timing the tides with a close eye on the wind is critical.
After waiting a week for better weather to make an ocean passage, we became impatient and decided transiting a cut in less than perfect conditions was called for (note to self: patience is an important virtue in sailing). We finally had a forecast with calmer winds the next day, and we were ready to go. The night before leaving, we had another long night of howling winds and squalls that were actually still howling so hard in the morning, we couldn’t get safely out of the cove we were in at first light and had to turn back and anchor again until things settled done.
Steadfastly ignoring this warning that things may not go so well, we made for the cut. The wind was down, the tide near slack and the sea looked calm, so how bad could it be? Another joy of sailing is that one never stops learning. While it is technically correct you want to enter a cut at slack tide with no wind, this does not account for the fact that roaring winds for days before these ‘ideal conditions’ occur make them well, shall we say, ‘less ideal’.
A washing machine (yes, water included but not soap) is what if felt like once we hit the cut. The waves were so big and steep the world felt like it was spinning as we bucked and bobbed and rolled on our sides. Water poured over the coaming into the cockpit and we had trouble standing upright. Cabinets down below flew open and emptied and books danced across the cabin floor. Our grand daughter howled (rightly so), our daughter felt queasy and our son- in- law looked at us like whatever trust he had was quickly evaporating. The whole scene didn’t improve much once we were through the cut and its effects, so we soon decided we actually weren’t in that much of a hurry, and turned around.
The return through the cut was far milder as we were going with the waves, and we were soon back in flat water and anchored in Rudder Cay Pond. It was exciting, and because perhaps it was a bit traumatic to some, we just refer to the whole thing now as ‘the Event’.
January 11 the winds finally calmed down for a couple of days and we weighed anchor at dawn from Black Point and exited the banks through Dotham Cut. As you can imagine our anticipation was high after our last “event”, but the tide was slack and the winds light and we slipped through easily. The passage was uneventful in calm seas and we arrived in Elizabeth Harbor in Georgetown seven hours later without any incidents.
Arriving in Georgetown was exciting and something we had looked forward to since we were here 15 years ago. The memories came flooding back as we motored by Monument beach, Hamburger beach and Volleyball beach before anchoring outside Sand Dollar beach.
There are 165 boats anchored in Georgetown right now. Some return every year to spend the winter, some leave their boats in one of the Hurricane holes, and some like us, are passing through on their way south. There are daily volleyball games on the beach, water aerobics, ladies lunches, kids snorkeling trips and so on, all organized by cruisers. It is a wonderful community of sailors from all over the world sharing knowledge, skills and good times.
Georgetown is where Mika, Eric and Axelia will leave us in ten days to go back to Sweden and we can feel the upcoming shift of their too quickly approaching departure. The past month has been a rare gift for all of us. To be able to spend seven weeks on a sailboat with your family is what I call quality time.